Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Smokey Moutains - God's Country (Updated with a few pictures)

Hi All,

Made it down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my old stomping grounds.  It's good to be home, and where there are big mountains.  This is a pretty typical view, the kind of thing you'd see any old day driving to get groceries and what not.  I guess you can see why I call it God's country.  This is where I feel at home.

Surprisingly, things have changed in the 30 years since I lived here. "They" got here.  Now, there's four lane highways all the way down to Atlanta, and it's an easy drive to come up here and have a second vacation home on the side of the mountains.  I was lucky to live up here when there was still some of the old mountain culture and heritage, and there were no four lane roads at all. If you've ever read any of the Foxfire series (highly recommended) or watched Deliverance (just watch it for the scenery), those were the people you would see and meet up here.  The Last of the Mohegans, oddly enough, was filmed down here (where the landscape is wild) and not up in NY, where it was written and set.  With the web, cable and Satellite TV, etc., the world here is a lot more ubiquitous, and a lot of the mountain culture is largely gone.  Now its the same old box stores here as you see any other place.  The Skyliner Diner is gone, and there's a Taco Bell.  Granted, its a lot more trouble to perch the box stores on the side of a mountain, but they manage :-)

One aspect that's hard to get used to is that unlike MA, there doesn't seem to be any regulations regarding building beside rivers or on mountain tops.  So, the "wilderness" river I used to train on for canoe racing now has a line of expensive homes down both banks, and there's elaborate put in parks and the like.  This is the Tuckaseegie River, where I used to train.  This goes right by Western Carolina University, where I went to college.  Rivers here tend to be pool-ledge-drop rivers, not full of cobbles, boulders, and glacial leavings, like what we have in New England.  Each has its unique feel.  Lot of folks paddle and tube this in the summer, and there's a lot of fly fishing for trout.

If you're a fly fisherman, you can imagine what it would be like to wade out there and cast your fly, gracefully presenting your fly to that hungry trout waiting right over there...

Almost every mountain has a clear cut area where some joker cleared to put in their expensive mountain view house.  I'd like one myself, but they're not beautiful to my eye ;-) 

This new house is right on my home kayak training river.  Notice that it's up on stilts to keep it out of the water when the river floods.  I'm not sure what will happen when the flooding river washes a tree through those slender supports....  The river is unbelievably powerful.

I guess it's nice, but different.  

Poison Ivy, Southern Style.  This hairy looking poison ivy vine is about as big around as my lower leg, and is climbing way up in the tree.  Here in the South, you see poison ivy as a small plant, a bush, a small tree, and as a vine.  A big vine.  It's common to wade through it to get to the river, but if you wash it off right away, you usually don't get it.  Jewel Weed, another common plant you find near rivers, is an antidote to poison ivy.  If you take the Jewel Weed leaves, crush them, and rub them on the poison ivy, it will quit itching and go away.  It might take several days, however, which curiously is the same amount of time it would have taken to go away if you didn't use the jewel weed :-)

Picture of the rig taken from I-26 at a pass through the mountains about 3,500 feet in elevation, or as high as Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in MA (3,489 feet).  Nearby Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, and is nearly twice as high as Greylock at 6,684 feet.  The truck is pulling like a champ in the moutains.  

View from I-26

We'll stay in the area today, and I hope to spend some time looking at Fontana Dam and the Smokies.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Making some miles....

Yesterday we drove a lot just to make some miles heading south. 

 It was a beautiful day of driving, knocking out MD, WV, and a lot of VA.  I-81 in VA is one of my favorite pieces of interstate, driving along the Appalachian mountains.  

We saw a lot of signs of spring, including my all-time favorite smelling flower, one called the Breath of Spring, which is the first blooming flower down here in the mountains.  

Its a relative of the honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima), and smells incredible - just the ticket after a long winter.  
This large shrub is actually an invasive, introduced from eastern Asia in the late 1800 as an ornamental and, ironically, wildlife cover. Its seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals, it readily invades open woodlands and disturbed sites where it forms dense thickets that out compete native plant growth. 

Here, the forsythias are blooming, daffodils are blooming, and a very few trees and bushes already have some new leaves.

During one rest stop, I lay in the grass in the sun - hard to get back up and start driving again.  For those of you viewing this blog from up North, here's what green growing things look like...  Maybe this fix will hold you until Spring hits up there.

This is a funny onion relative that's up (wild garlic - Allium vineale), another herbicide resistant invasive.  When Karin and I got married, our yard was full of these, and when you'd mow the lawn, your shoes, pants, legs, and feet would smell like onions for a long time.  It looks small in the picture, but it is big in odor. According to Wikipedia, when cows graze on it, their milk and meat will actually taste and smell like garlic.

Today we'll head south towards the mountains of TN, NC, and into SC, all my old stomping grounds. We'll stay there for a day or so and see how things have changed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Jonestown PA Heading South Today

There are a few snowflakes flying outside, quite a change after being in short sleeves yesterday morning.  We live in a big county - a really big country.  Even though we've been able to plan 10-12 weeks for this trip, we'll need to average about 150-200 miles a day to make it around.  Yesterday, we didn't pull the Airstream, and every day we don't means we'll have a 300+ mile day.  That seems especially crazy, coming from MA where you can go through four or five states with that much driving!  Anyhow, we'll try to make it somewhere down into western VA today.

The rig is working great.  Yesterday, since it was so warm we risked filling the camper's water tank.  If it gets too cold now, the pipes freeze and break.  Before, we had it winterized and the pipes were empty.  The water and holding tanks are mounted underneath the camper in an insulated box.  This camper actually has heating elements to keep the tanks from freezing.  I'll let you think about heating a tank of sewage, but its better than a frozen tank of sewage... I guess :-)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pennsylvania Coal Country

Hi All,

We’re having a spectacular day!  We started the day with breakfast out on the patio, looking at Swatara Creek.  We left the camper and wandered back north to Ashland, PA.  We meant to go to the Anthracite Museum there, but it was closed.  If you don’t know, Anthracite is a type of coal, one that’s darker, more pure, and that burns hotter.  Hence it costs more than bitumous coal, which is often brown, less pure, and not as hot burning.  The town sort of made me feel at home, since it was a lot like the town’s near my wife’s home in the Harz Mountains of Germany. 

You could feel the history of the area.  This is the coal that powered the industrial revolution and made the steel that built America.   According to kiosks at the Pioneer Tunnel and mine in Ashland, in its peak year,1914, 181,000 people worked at the mines.  In 1959 a mine operator mined under the Susquehanna River, which broke through and flooded the underground mines in the Wilkes Barre / Scranton Area (Knox Mine Flood).  This essentially ended the large scale underground mining of coal in the area.  Just 2,179 miners worked in 1995.  Between 1870 and 1895 31,113 miners died working the mines, a high price to pay for the technology we have today.

 Here I am standing behind a 8,000 pound lump of coal:

You never think of a locomotive as having a receipt, but here's the receipt for ordering this locomotive for the mine.

Built on the ridgetop overlooking the spoils from the mine is a small windfarm with seven turbines.  Offroaders have made trails and jumps and the like all around.  It would be a cool place to rip around on a quad.

We wandered on to Centralia, PA, a town I first heard about in a book by Bill Bryce, who was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  This coal mining town is famous, because in 1962 they set a coal seam on fire while burning trash at the town dump.  This fire has crept underneath the town and made the houses unsafe.  The state took the town through eminent domain, buying all the houses and businesses from the locals, and forcing them to move.  The state tore the houses down, filled in the cellar holes, and now the town is abandoned.

Now, the town is a bunch of abandoned streets, with one or two houses of people that simply refused to move.  Here's a picture of Main Street.  I'd say that it's eerie and a bit depressing - maybe it is, but the color and spirit of the graffiti balances it out.

There was a divided highway from the town, and as the coal burned underneath and land subsided, the road buckled.  This highway was closed, and became a magnet for graffiti artists.  There’s about a mile of highway simply filled with graffiti.  Its oddly beautiful, and a bit uplifting.

While we were there, one artist was hard at work.  You can see him, and the size of the buckle in the road in this picture:

He told us that he comes there often, and he gave us directions to a place where steam is venting from the coal fire.  We hiked up there to a small sink hole.  You could feel the heat billowing up, and stream rising from the vent.

Experts estimate the Centralia Fire will burn for at least another 200 years.  Still, in the grand scheme of things, that's not very long.  There are coal fires that have been burning for hundreds and even thousands of years.  The Mt. Wingen Coal Fire in Australia is reportedly the oldest fire, and it has been burning for an estimated 6,000 years.

Then it started raining, a full-on thunderstorm with lightning and hail.  Now we’re back in the camper writing and waiting on pictures to upload on very slow WiFi.  It’s still raining and storming outside, but warm and dry in here :-)

Jonestown, PA and SPRING!

We’ve wandered our way to Jonestown, PA, 323 miles from home, and we found SPRING!  We’re camped at the Jonestown KOA beside the Swatara Creek (which is flowing, not frozen), and we can hear SPRING PEEPERS.  

That’s crazy!  Frogs in February. There’s also mosquitoes, and Sophie got quite a few ticks.  I got one tick, myself.  Naturally, they are little deer ticks, likely brimming with Lyme Disease.  

The campground is adjacent to Swatara state park, which has a cool rail trail.  This one is a “roundabout.”  There’s a raised trail, about ten feet above the swamp and floodplain of the creek, and it makes a giant circle about a half mile long that used to be used for turning trains around.  Really nice walking.

I tried to upload a few photos, but the WIFI at this campground is really slow.  Sitting out on the deck with a short sleeve shirt and Birkenstocks at 9:12 pm is pretty sweet, though!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Loading Day and "Last Looks"

We leave TOMORROW!!

I'm stoked to get out on the road.  

As you can imagine, a trip like this takes a phenomenal amount of planning and preparation (and lists, lots of lists).  We started about a year and a half ago, with the general idea, which I presented to the administration when I applied for my sabbatical from teaching in the Fall of 2015.  Karin and I have been getting ready ever since.

This past weekend, we dropped off our cat to a friend for cat sitting.  Yesterday, we dropped off our parrot to a parrot sitter.  I was a bit worried about that, but the bird seemed to really like being around a lot of other parrots.  Our two dogs, Patch and Sophie will be coming with us (after they get a bath :-)  As all the other animals disappear and things get loaded, these two look more and more nervous...

We spent yesterday loading clothes, tools, and general stuff.  I updated the Rig Page with more detail (for those of you interested in camping in trailers).  I also created a Bad Environmental Joke Page and a Sage Advice Page.  I'm particularly looking for folks to post environmental jokes if you have some.  I want to make a collection.

Yesterday, the Wandering Environmentalist Blog hit a milestone, passing by 1,000 page views!  Thanks for sharing this experience with us!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Hi All,

Pulled the camper up out of the hole this morning, before it warmed up and the yard and driveway turned to mud.  We'll spend today and tomorrow loading up and packing.  It's good to see it no longer frozen in that snow bank!

Our current plan is to start by wandering down to Pennsylvania and West Virginia to check out environmental and economic issues around coal mining.  After that, we're still deciding on what we want to see, and what route we'll take, but the nose of the truck will definitely be pointing south as we seek Spring.  We'll update the itinerary as we go along...

Sea Wall Across Boston Harbor?

Read an interesting piece by David Abel in the Boston Globe on building a seawall around Boston to combat rising ocean levels.  Not something people up here in the mountains have to think about, but rising ocean levels are of critical concern in coastal regions around of the world.  You can read the article here.

Abel has another interesting article on the impacts of Massachusetts' efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the state.  You can read that here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Scott Pruitt, Foe of the Environmental Protection Agency, Confirmed as Director

Well, some not so good news out of Washington.  Scott Pruitt, foe of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been confirmed by the senate as it's director.  You can learn more about it by checking out this link here.  It's hard to imagine this as anything other than a very bad move for the environment and for human health.  The article points out that "nearly 450 former EPA officials wrote to Congress last week urging Senators to vote against Pruitt today."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Senate Votes: Roll back Endangered Species Act / Allow Coal Mines to Dump Waste in Streams

Hi Everyone,

Check out Fortune Magazine's piece on Coal Mine regulations here.

Check out the Washington Post's piece on the Endangered Species Act here.

You can contact your senators here.

And contact your representative here.

Only takes a moment to email and express YOUR opinion.  Remember, your senators and representative represent YOU.  It's YOUR government, but you decide whether or not this is important enough for you to speak up and voice your opinion.  The web makes it easy to do.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hemlocks, Woolly Adelgid, and Fish - Oh My

Hi Everyone,

I'm still trying to figure out how to best set up the blog.  I wrote a page on Hemlocks.  It seemed too big to post here in the chronological part of the blog, so I posted it as a page.  You can read it by clicking on the link to the right, or just clicking here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Environmental Optimism

Hi Everyone,

Snowing again here in Western Massachusetts - cutting into my plans for getting the camper ready to go on our trip.  I'm going to bundle up, go out into the shop, and build a set of shelves for the closet in the camper.  

If you're like me, some days you suffer from Environmental Depression.

Environmental Depression:  Noun (emotion).  Feeling that the environment is going to hell in a hand basket, and there's nothing you can do to save it.

Luckily, I have a career working with and mentoring students who go out and get jobs helping the environment in a thousand small ways, which together make a big impact.  I'm always excited to hear what my alumni from the Environmental Science Department at Westfield State University are up to, and I'm proud of the positive impact that they have on the environment and the communities they live in.

Also, I support environmental organizations that do good things for the environment.  Some of my favorites are The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund.  I was reading Solutions this morning, the quarterly newsletter of the  Environmental Defense Fund.  You can read it yourself by clicking here.

This newsletter always gives me a positive feeling.  I see states like California stepping up and being responsible for their impact on climate change, at a time when it looks like the federal government is not.  I see citizens being concerned for the environment, at a time when the director of the EPA is not.   Even huge corporations are showing strong progress.  According to this issue of SolutionsWalmart has sustainability goals for 2025 that include: using 50% renewable energy, zero waste to landfills, and zero new deforestation for key commodities including beef.  Solutions also reports that "Smithfield Foods, the world's number one pork producer, announced it will cut green-house gas emissions by 25% by 2025."  These are some really positive things, and there's a lot more in the newsletter.

So, if you're suffering from Environmental Depression on a snowy Sunday, check out the Solutions Newsletter.  It's Prozac for the Environmentally Depressed :-)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Oroville Dam Spillway Eroding

Hi Everyone,

Happy Friday!  We got 12-14" of snow yesterday.  Still digging out.  Meanwhile, I saw on the news that there's been so much rain in California that much of the state had its drought status downgraded - that's good news - except now, there's a lot of flooding.  Yahoo had a piece by Don Johnson of the AP on the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States where the spillway is uncontrollably eroding away.  You can see that piece here.  There's some cool video on the link as well.


Thursday, February 9, 2017


I'm still figuring out how to use Blogger, the software I'm creating this blog with.  So if you'll bear with me, I'll share a few pictures with you that show what winter looks like here in the beautiful mountains of Western Massachusetts (and I'll get some practice uploading them and linking things :-)

As you can see, this morning it's snowing here in Massachusetts.  It's hard to get your camper ready for a trip when there's this much of the white stuff on the ground and in the air.  Can't wait to tow that camper south to warmer climes...  

Here's a picture from 12:45 - still snowing....

...and one from earlier in the morning, when I THOUGHT it had snowed a lot....

These two are from a XC Ski trip this weekend at Knightville Basin, a US Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Westfield River in Huntington.  For more information on Knightville dam, click here.  The water held back by the dam froze over, then when they drained it the ice broke into these cool chunks.

And one from one of my favorite dog walking spots, Littleville Lake, another US Army Corps of Engineers reservoir in Huntington.  You can see a couple folks out there ice fishing.  For more information on Littleville, click here.

Jeeping (snow bogging) on an old mountain logging trail in Huntington.  This is my son's 1948 Willys Jeep that's been heavily modified for off-roading and rock crawling.  It never ceases to amaze me how capable his jeep is.

Sophie, our Berkshire Mountain Poodle on a trail at Tyrringham Cobble, a Trustees of Reservation property.  My family is a long-standing member of the Trustees of Reservation and regularly visits their properties across the state.  For more information about the Trustees of Reservation click here.  

Donald Trump 'taking steps to abolish EPA'

Hi All,

Kristin Palpini of the Valley Advocate suggested this article from the Guardian with information I think you should know:

Donald Trump 'taking steps to abolish Environmental Protection Agency'

Monday, February 6, 2017

Here's an interesting article I read by David Abel in the Boston Globe about outgoing EPA Director Gina McCarthy:

Former EPA head is worried about Trump, climate change