Forest Seen: Cumberland from Suwanee / Fiery Gizzard

Fiery Gizzard #SEJ2013So now that your eyes are glazed over after my geographical search for bearings, I’ll say a bit about the “field trip” last Thursday that took a bus-load of us north of Chattanooga and up onto the top of the Cumberland Plateau.

Our first stop was at “Fiery Gizzard” whose trail is cited by Backpacker magazine as “one of the top 25 hiking trails in the United States.” The 12.5-mile (20.1 km) trail offers scenic views, waterfalls, rock formations, and hemlock trees over 200 years old.” Here’s a nice video of the place, so special to so many, including the Suwanee herbarium curator, Mary Priestly, who accompanied us on our trek. Mary will soon use her newly-honed writing talents to celebrate this unique place on Earth.

Dear lord how long has it been since I’ve seen a healthy hemlock. Most of our group was unfamiliar with the cursed adelgids that have decimated our southwest Virginia forests. The insect has not quite reached as far west as Fiery Gizzard, but could be there by next year. Then, wait ten years for needles to go gray, lower branches to die, and tops begin to fall. It is a sad and slow demise.

I was struck by the similarity of this sandstone canyon to Alabama’s Bankhead forest “Sipsey Wilderness” where I spent many contented days backpacking back in the 70s. 

The state botanist, Todd,  said no, that part of Alabama was in a different geology than this Cumberland landform. I’ve found out that’s not true, so small wonder I felt “at home” in that Tennessee canyon. The same yellowroot, Bigleaf Magnolia and so many more familiar Alabama flowering plants, ferns and trees thrive in both these similar habitats, prospering in the deep shade of these humid, sheltered rocky ravines.

The “Herbarium Hosts Journalists” link below describes our visit, and I show up in a couple of the photos.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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