Tuesday, September 20, 2016


                             The northern gray cheeked or Jefferson salamander (Virginia)
                                 This looks like nodding trillium, in the Mount Rogers woods.

     There was rain, rain, and even more rain, wind whipping through the campground. It actually created "wind rain," and a discovery that a slippery, grayish salamander was hiding out UNDER the tent!
    Grindstone Campground in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area (VA) has three camping loops: the opossum, the cottontail, and the groundhog. I reserved a spot in the cottontail, the middle group of sites that seemed the least crowded, reservation-wise. Though I wish that now we'd known someone with a great big RV to take us in at the different loop.
    The bath house with its tiny light made me a bit nervous as I strode toward it in almost pitch blackness. Of course, I'd just finished reading a passage of Bill Byrson's A Walk in the Woods about nasty encounters with bears in the woods. Not a great time to have just read that. There were too many "bear scares"  in his book for comfort. My son Zeb once spent in the car during a campout because he heard a big rustling of leaves in the woods and thought a bear was close. Supposedly, black bears aren't that aggressive, but they are still bears. And I forgot one night I had a muffin and other food in my camp shirt pockets. (Perhaps the downpour kept any away. That is what I like to think.)
    It rained both nights of our August stay -- grrr, grumble, grumble -- but what do you expect out in the woods? Weather made to order? At least it wasn't too hot. The second night we tried to dry out towels over an open fire. Then it began to rain, first slowly and then, never ending. I had to read in the car (9 p.m. is too early for me to sleep) with my flashlight. Being so sleep deprived from the night before (sometimes a first night in a tent is like visiting a new place your body can't get used to) I think I "conked out" at 10:30, a record for me. The rain didn't quit and lulled me to sleep.
    Next morning, it was raining again, only not as hard. We had to pack our tent while it was soaked, to be aired out later, and ate brunch in town at a KFC place. On the way out a camp rep did a survey with us. I mentioned the rain and two stupid women who took their two threatening dogs into the bathroom. I couldn't even relax in there and read in a good light.
    The trips to discover butterflies and old rocks with others were interesting. But the constant rain at night was aggravating. And this was well before any hurricane came!

Marshmellow, anyone?



    At a recent campout we dined with a group of people at a picnic shelter in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area (VA). I had brought along a bag of marshmellows and thought the kids there would "jump" at the chance to bite into one, and be raring to go into the woods to get sticks to put them on for roasting. I actually had all the ingredients for a s'more (which stands for "some more" -- you know, marshmellow that is melted and put between a piece of Hershey's chocolate and graham crackers), but no one bit, so to speak.
     Maybe their parents were total, extreme vegans. It's an interesting thing about marshmellows. You probably think, since they are white, that they are totally made from white sugar. Well, not quite. There is also some corn syrup thrown in and gelatin with water, whipped up and made into the cylindrical shapes you see in bags sold in the supermarket. And the gelatin can come from pigs! Yes, gelatin is processed protein from animals to help make things fibrous and strong. And you thought it was totally vegan -- surprise!
    Some people may think that if it is from an animal it must be from horse hooves -- no, those are used in glue, not gelatin, not marshmellows. 
     Many decades and centuries ago, Europeans used a specific plant, Althaea offincinalis, the marsh mallow plant. It is said parts of the plant could be used for a cough or sore throat, but then some people discovered that mixing ingredients, the plant's sweet sap, with  egg whites and sugar, could make a white sugary treat. In 1948 Frenchman Alex Doumak came up with a process using gelatin and creating long tubes of the stuff, then cut into the shapes we see today. According to "Candy USA," we spend $125 million a year on marshmellows. And fifty percent of them are roasted over an open fire in the summer.
    Does this fact make me less likely to eat marshmellows? Actually, the sugar content melting on my teeth does, not the gelatin background. So I took my bag of marshmellows home and turned on my electric burner, with a fork through my white dessert, for a really fast, sugar high!