Volunteer Unknowns


We could see this patch of white from the front porch, at some distance towards the back narrows of the pasture.

On our next walk-about, we made a point to veer that way through the knee-high wet grass to see if it was just a patch of white fleabane or chrysanthemums we are used to seeing in the pasture and along its edges.

But no. It is an aster, to be sure-with yellow-maturing to gold disk flowers and un-notched ray flowers, a hairy stem, dark tipped bracts. There should be enough features to set it apart from its next of kin.

I just have to overcome inertia and go upstairs and find my Newcombes Guide or, if I get really eager, my Vascular Flora of the Carolinas authored by Radford, Ahles, and Bell.

We’ve just returned from a drive across the width of North Carolina and I see the work of Dr. Bell on many of the otherwise featureless roadsides.

His work though the NC Botanical Gardens is responsible for these roadside bloomeries that persist after he is gone.

I spent two summers at Mt Lake Biological station during summers of 1977 and 1978 when C Ritchey Bell was on faculty there. My favorite memory is the time a long-bearded fellow student offered that, during some free time on afternoon, we should go fetch Dr. Bell to go mushroom hunting in the mountains around the Station–which we did.

We found a nice mess of HoneyCaps, as I recall. We went back to Dr. Bell’s cabin, cooked them up, and against warnings I am sure must be somewhere, mixed ‘srhooms on Saltines and Jack Daniels and had a memorable evening.

Funny how a single image can call up so much story, isn’t it? Sorry ’bout that, dear reader.

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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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  1. We had these asters in front of a 1930’s rental house in L A. So nice to finally learn what they were!