Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Holly Holler in a Gentle Snow

In early December, long ago when snow was a joy to see and walking the trail in a blanket of winter was a delight to pursue....
I set out on a quest for good photos of the American Holly (Ilex opaca Aquifoliaceae) trees found in Holly Holler on the MST section 1 in Watauga County.
At BRP mile post 277.9 across from Osbourne Mountain Overlook is the entry point for the south end of section 1. The large maple at the edge of the tree field is a landmark maple with a heritage and history in Watauga County. A grave yard from the 1800's is marked with field stones at its base. You can see more photos of this tree by following this link: Deep Gap Maple

Cross the parkway to the west side and enter the field at the fence post shown in the this photo. Follow the edge of the fence up to the entrance into the forest.
The trail is very gentle through a pine forest and shortly into the Holly Holler.
As you begin to approach Holly Holler you will notice the abundance of Holly trees.
A unique attribute in the winter is that all the other trees are without leaves and browns and greys abound all around, but within Holly Holler everything remains green!
Quite beautiful and enjoyable indeed.
My quest was to find an abundance of holly berries. First finding was a pleasant frozen moment of the season as snow melting created icicles on the tips of the holly leaves. But, not one single berry could be found on any trees! I found that curious since I had seen an abundance of blossoms on these trees last spring.
I finally found one and ONLY ONE tree in the entire holler that had berries on it this year. Why?
I wonder why and hope to learn more about the sexuality of holly trees.

But, I made the most of the pleasure in finding just one and took a few photos to share...

Another discovery as I was walking back out was this lovely nest from last spring.
It was half filled with snow and constructed in the most interesting manner.
Woven pine needles and straw mostly formed the frame. But pieces of paper from a hornets nest were also woven into the structure.
I enjoyed spending a few minutes with this nest and love the light shining through onto the snow in this photo.
As you step back out into the field at the south end of this section the view is amazing. In this photo you are looking out over the Hwy. 421 valley toward Snake and Elk Knob. The orientation is north and west from this point.
Zooming in a bit you can see the Snake on the left and the Elk Knob on the right.
This close up offers a clear understanding of how Snake Mountain got its name from the serpentine ridge line. Also evident is the dramatic height of Elk Knob. Elk Knob is the tallest mountain in Watauga County at 5,520 feet. It is also one of the newest state parks in North Carolina. There is a trail under construction to the top that has some remarkable stone work. For more information: click here
Another real treat from this section is the first view of Grandfather mountain from the Watauga Section. As you step out onto Osbourne Mountain overlook Grandfather Mountain can be seen to the south west.

In the next few photos I have relied on a holly shot I made a while back. This was a cultivated holly (non-native) that I photographed at another location.
I share this with you as a glimpse into my application of nature in art photography. I hope you don't mind as I share a little of my art work in the next two photos.
This is a photo mandala I constructed in December. You can click on them to enlarge for a full screen mandala view.
enjoy in peace ~ shelton

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Hits Watauga ~ Trails, Trials, Tracks, and Tales


Trees fall in winter
pieces of nature growing
beneath our foot prints.

swhaiku 01-07-10

What is this?

Is it a track? Is this a trail marking?
(answer to be found later in this post :)

First, let me catch you up on what has happened up here in Watauga and Ashe along the Blue Ridge Parkway in our section of the MST.

First we were pounded with 21 inches of snow. This huge dump had a couple of freeze-thaw days before the worst ice storm in 50 years hit and layered a solid 1 inch plus of ice on every surface. Then the frigid air came in as single digit temps and all forms of water turned to ice as solid as granite.

As you will recall we had completed quite a nice stretch of the trail by October. This is our trail as you would find it today, January 7, 2010.
Somewhere, under there, can be found our clean cut edges, flat foot tread, and clear shoulders. This is typical in any area that passes through forest. In this case a stretch of pines. But, as you will see it was not just the softwood trees that got pruned this time. These piles and piles of limbs, tree tops, branches, vines, and mayhem occur approximately every 10 feet in some stretches. There are some openings, where the sun has revealed the trail tread and turkeys, squirrels, and chipmunks have begun scratching back to seeds beneath the straw.

I imagine we will have 10 days of chainsawing and as many of clearing easily to be done to even catch back up to last October standards.

So, let that be a "heads up" to all volunteers who would like to come do some trail work in these mountains this spring! I recall there was a chainsaw certification class recently and I hope there are many new certified operators and volunteers eager to put your skilz to work! :-)

When I finally got out of that stretch of trail, I noted there had been some spirited cross country skiers (Nordic style) who had come into our trail early on in the big powder back country. When the 21 inches dropped it was wilderness powder and fluff, awesome! (I have not considered that, but most of our trail would be ideal for cross country trailing.)

However that fun has been long forgotten once the icing began. This was my first view of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is closed. It is blocked. It is dangerous. There are fallen trees, limbs, ice, no shoulder, and deep snow. This is fully two weeks since this mess began and there is no end in sight anytime soon. Since I had not been able to hike up to the trail yet I was not fully aware of the damage done on the parkway. The sign should say closed due to


But there is beauty, and there is light, and the brightness of a crisp blue sky on a field of white is its' own reward after too many days of grey clouds and enclosing cabin fever indoors.

So I will take you along on this brief interlude

to see where I looked when I needed to look beyond

the limitations of winters' reality and recall the joy of a trail well known

and the gift it offers to all who make this journey. Remember this fence from the summer of 2009?

click here

I saw this then when photographing the virgins bower clematis vines in blossom and commented they would be beautiful in winter too.
Soon new blossoms will push out these old seeds.

Walking in this snow is a challenge. Because of the icing sometimes you do not even crunch though the surface. That is good because there are 10 inches of snow beneath this iced crust covering. However, you may go three steps on top and suddenly punch through 10 inches deep on the next step. Keeps a spring in your knees!
That doesn't mean it is easier when you don't crunch through though. Beneath the recent snow fall the layer of ice forms a solid sheet, sometimes inches deep that is as hard to walk on as oil on glass. I keep YAKTRAX on my boots at all times when winter hiking (and yes, clip in gators or other boot gaurds are absolutely necessary).
The sweet spots are where the sun has warmed a soft spot. You can tell from this photo that the critters figured that out long before me. :-)
Nature or beauty~
Calligraphic prints in snow
~know a place to go.
swhaiku 01-07-10
Where there is one, there will soon be others, like foot prints in the snow.
By creating our trails we create passage ways into nature
and the nature of things we have forgotten.

Like, what is the next photo and what does it have to do with trails, tracks, and "soon there will be others"?
When there is one turkey, there is another, and when there are hens, there will come gobblers. Strutting their presence into the territory. Claiming these trails for their own personal glory.

The photo above shows the thump and beat pattern of a turkey gobbler beating his outstretched wings on the icy and snow to challenge is territory and herd his hens. Marking his trail.
And, I guess these photos do the same for me, mark my trail.
In foot prints and in thumping, I was proud to finally get out again too!
The sun was getting low and I still had to make it back to the car. It was too difficult to try to walk back along the MST trail, so I followed the parkway out.
Ducking under half fallen trees suspended out over the entire parkway width.
And nothing was easy about walking on the parkway. Because even on the snowy surfaces....
this solid sheet of ice rules your step and path right down the middle of the road.
The ice tree damage was different than most folks from off the mountain would expect. Mostly the hardwoods got busted. Almost all maples, birches, oaks got topped or splintered. This is typical of the maples, limbs cleaved from the core and piling up beneath the tree or suspended on other limbs.
Sometimes it looks like a helicopter with a strong saw blade had flipped upside down and flown through and topped out every tree that had grown too much. And part of that is true, for two years our forests have had good growth seasons and they were due a good pruning.
This kind of fall is hard to clear since it remains attached to the tree and is suspended in other trees. There is so much of this to deal with here in Watauga. Working my way back to the car along the parkway and sharing a view of the current state of the Blue Ridge Parkway with you now..... No straights, you must weave your way walking around falls and debris.

Can you imagine the miles of this in Watauga and Ashe that are becoming iced in daily. And we are expecting more accumulation to come?
Winter is young, winter hits hard.

Neither of our two bridges received damage. That is good. I was worried.
What is this photo? Is it some turkey bird marking its territory?

Nope, but Yes! This is evidence of a big turkey slipping on the ice on the other side of the bridge. ME!!! Time to get to the car and head home.

Kinda says it all.
Of course, this helps us remember why it all matters too.
Always in peace, shelton