Outward Bound: Nature of FloydFest

We’re going back today–and I have no obligations to FloydFest but to be a spectator. Frankly, the thrill of the drive over (about 50 minutes) is gone after making it for the third time on Saturday. But gone too is the uncertainty of not knowing where to park and how to get around and where to find shade and water and such. Friday afternoon hike was cancelled due to storms with driving rain and lightning. So we had only three hikes, and a total of 50-something participants. I think that constitutes a successful effort. Thanks to all who shared the time with me.

Walking while talking, attending to both foot placement and word-and-idea placement, is a brain and energy-taxing endeavor under ideal conditions. In the heat, it was even more so. So these July nature hikes have been physically challenging and tiring, but satisfying, looking back. I think most fellow hikers carried something back with them worth having seen (or smelled or tasted or touched) perhaps in many cases, for the first time.

We took the 30 thousand foot view off and on, looking at such things as…

â–¶ an overview of the Appalachian mountain chain, its element subparts (Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge), geological history, water and soil differences that lead to different plant, and thus to different animal habitats and populations.

â–¶ the old field ecology that explains why there were so many locust and apple trees in the second-growth forest in the ice-storm-damaged, cattle grazed woods where we picked up the Rock Castle Gorge trail.

â–¶ early succession of pioneer species on a particularly large granite boulder–a “pebble” calved off the once Rockies-caliber original mountains pushed up by tectonic forces 800 million years ago and washed and tumbled down those incredible gradients to land just there where we found it.

â–¶ the role–and the increasing prevalence–of both native and alien invasives, and the choices we have to work with or against natural cycles.

â–¶ stream ecology and particularly the plight of the Appalachian amphibian population (and the entire class Amphibia world-wide.)

And then there were specific critters like multiflora rose, smilax, Queen Anne’s Lace, wing stem, wild grape, mullein, Virginia Creeper, lichens and mosses, the occasional fungus (including some stout yellow-pored Boletes), hay scented fern and more.

So that’s that. I enjoyed the experience, and will soon recover from the bruises and aching calves. I’m glad to have the event behind me, with some sense of satisfaction in having given best I could, what knowledge I have, out of my deep bond with these mountains.

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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. I’m sure those on the hike appreciated your knowledge, too! I’m always surprised, when I visit an area, how few local people know anything about the plants that surround them. I hope no one got snagged by multiflora rose or smilax – they hurt! I’m guessing the apple trees were from an old grove and the locust is a colonizing tree, but where are the other second growth species? Why isn’t the area fenced with barbed wire to keep the cattle out?

  2. This was a part of the Parkway land that is leased to grazing, to keep the “balds” from coming back in brambles, etc. But the cattle can move into the second-growth old-field areas a bit before encountering the fence (with the walk-across gates) that keeps them out of the gorge proper.

  3. I would have been a fascinated hiker, bugging you with non-stop questions, that is if the heat didn’t prostrate me about a half hour in.

  4. I was really concerned about the heat, the days leading up to the hikes. But kept a soaking wet bandana around my neck and kept well hydrated and kept the pace slow. All the talking tended to really make me lose fluids quickly. I got a bit overheated but not while on the hikes—more when out in the open at the main site. I tended to find and stay in the shade and people-watch.