Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Bit of a Walk at Mill Mountain, Roanoke

Overlook at Mill Mountain, Roanoke, Virginia

     Depending on whatever the weatherman wants to throw your way, a walk in winter can be either unpleasantly harsh, or surprisingly nice. Or, it could be a little of both. It was certainly that our first time up the mountain, Mill Mountain, that is, which overlooks Roanoke, a city like many that is named after a Native American tribe (Algonquin for "shell money"). Mill Mountain, with its huge neon star overlooking the city at night, is also a place where you can view wildlife and get close to nature. But on this January day they were all holed up in their burrows and dens.
     Our guide, Tim, took a small group of us on a walk along the "ridge line" trail at the top of the mountain. But part of the way we were surrounded by the barest of tall trees, and strewn about logs, which didn't need to protect us from the elements -- there was little wind and the sun was up in a blue sky. He pointed out small animals may use the logs on the ground as their highway or runway to get from place to place. And when we came to a tree with a big hole in it about three feet up, he asked the kids in our group of a dozen why animals might like the big hole above the ground. He received answers like "to protect from the rain," "to stay warm," "to stash food," and a few others. We didn't see any critters, even if the day was warming up to almost 50 degrees. Snakes might come out of their den with prolonged warm temps and sun themselves on a log, Tim explained, but this surprisingly mild day saw no creatures stirring on this afternoon,  except for humans. Ah well. We might need to wait another month or two before the little critters come out.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Eat the Christmas Berries

    This may be a little after Christmas, but those of us trying to learn more about nature and foraging (especially if you are ever lost in the woods!) need be weary of the many red berries we see around Christmas time. Like holly berries, which come from the female tree-- yes, some trees are like that, carrying the female parts and fruit, with male parts on other trees of the same species. There a number of different holly trees on the Radford University campus, and the red berries produced are poisonous. Maybe one berry wouldn't hurt much, but poisonous parts of plants in nature make people very ill, or the case of certain plants, like jimson weed or  poison hemlock, downright deadly.
      So don't let the kids or cats eat the holly berries that may be part of Christmas wreaths. The white berries of mistletoe, that little sprig you put overhead in order to garner a kiss, also are not healthy, the leaves even moreso than the berries and cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, not fun things to happen to you during the holiday.
     Wintertime and the woods seem rather brown and bare, and the bright berries on display then are for the birds, though they aren't the birds' first choice.