Thursday, June 21, 2012

Commune with nature: Visit Glen Alton

    I've been to Glen Alton a few times now. No, it's not someone's name, though perhaps it is the family name of those who used to live there. It has two wood shingles homes, two stories high each, and several ponds, a sand pile and mini playground. And paths in the woods -- that's where I come in.
    As a Master naturalist member, I took several people with a fellow naturalist member through the trails in the woods. When I first arrived at this destination, I couldn't see anyone. Had they decided not to come?
    This was a big deal as I had to travel a distance to get there. Glen Alton  is in the middle of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, a ways from "civilization". And I was trying to get volunteer hours by being there. And it is a nice place to walk, to think, though I can't say it's silent. There are a variety of birds calling this way and that and as I tried to identify a few different species of plants on the trail before the visitors arrived, the mosquitoes buzzed the back of my neck! Good thing I wore a shirt with a collar on it and they failed in their attempts to feast on me (which is unusual -- they seem to always get me somewhere, but I  had on long sleeves and jeans and sneakers, not sandals, so was covered up).
    Several visitors did show up and I took them, along with a fellow naturalist who was over by the "mud" pile with its dirt, hose and kitchen utensils when I arrived, down a few trails in the woods. The woods had a number of delicate looking pine -- probably white pine -- trees, as well as maple, oak, hemlock and even tulip poplar trees. Before the visitors came (an older couple and a mom with her 4 kids) I heard a commotion among those trees and saw a flash of brown through the trees some 15 yards away. It had to be a deer. At least it wasn't a grizzly (just kidding, they don't live back East).
    On our walk with the kids we pointed out different plant names, like Galax (fellow naturalist Barb says it is named for the town of Galax, VA, the first syllable a long a sound), New York fern and Christmas fern, the latter so-called because if you pull off one of its segmented leaves it looks like a Christmas stocking. I pointed out dinosaurs used to eat big, big ferns long ago and I think the kids were impressed. (Or was it the adults). Barb encouraged them to look for frogs in one the ponds that was covered with lily pads with tight little yellow flowers. We certainly heard several. Man, they were so fast! 
    I also pointed out skunk cabbage and one boy wanted to eat a sample. Its flower and they say crushing the leaves are stinky. And on the way back from the pond we showed them, in tall grass between  two tractor tracks, a little nest of 4 tiny hermit thrush babies. The baby birds were so cute and delicate looking, a dark gray so they seemed to have some covering, or maybe their skin was dark. Their eyes were closed and they had those immature beaks with the big yellow outline on them. We took the kids to see them one at a time. One girl asked if she could hold them and we said no! 
    There are a number of things to do at Glen Alton. At one big pond and child and his dad were trying to fish, there is shade and a few picnic tables near another little pond. And the beginnings of a beaver dam and a little falls. A peaceful place to be. I believe Glen Alton is open year round during the day.

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