Friendly faces in strange places

Photo installations at Raven Run by Brian Rust
Photo installations at Raven Run by Brian Rust

Ol' Lil'Squatch gets all kinds of attention. Whether it be people in their cars or on the side of the road staring, somewhat slacked jawed, maybe pointing to their buddy and then pointing to Squatch or folks, all men, wanting to chat with Tim about the solar set-up. So this chat with a local on the outskirts of Knoxville was not unusual. When it got towards the end of the conversation though the man explained that he had purchased some flat solar panels from Harbor Freight for when the “Shit hits the fan I'm not bugging out, I'm bugging in, nawmsayin?!” Complete with pointing to the ground while saying bugging iiinnnnnnn. I won't lie these are the types of people that I have no respect for. While the comment made us chuckle the sentiment does not. It's like the story where the man is on his roof and the flood waters are rising around him. Many people come by to try and save him from his roof but his response over and over again is that he's waiting for God to save him. When the waters reach him he says to God why have you forsaken me? God replies I sent you a horse, a boat, a helicopter etc and each time you refused. What more can I do? This is how I feel about people waiting to use something like solar. Does he not understand that the proverbial shit is already hitting the fan? Possibly because as a society we're unwilling to do anything that might make a difference until it's way too late.

On April the 11th we pulled the invasive Asian honeysuckle from Raven Run Sanctuary outside of Lexington. Tim mentioned this in his last post but it's worth a revisit. While we ran short on time to really explore the park we couldn't help but notice what a beloved park it is considering the creative parking folks did once the lot was full that morning. The event was scheduled by a local couple of Sierra Club members. Naturally us nerds all had some interest in both birds and the flowers that have begun to show themselves for spring. There are some downers to the efforts to remove invasive plants and animals and I can understand the sentiment but, I'm in it for two reasons. First, it's great exercise that I find way more fun than a gym. Second we need places of refuge. Places where we can do our best to keep invasives out and give local plants and animals a place to thrive.

Ten years ago when I moved to SF one of the first volunteer days I did was pulling french broom from Mt Tam. We worked with a ranger who mentioned that they were just now in the position to start planting some local shrubs and grasses in areas where they had made some real headway against french broom. I asked how long she'd been at it and she said 10 years. Very thoughtlessly I replied that I would have given up and the hurt on her face was palpable. It was a learning moment to say the least. I wonder where they are at now 20 years into the project? This came up again when the woman, Anna, who worked at the park casually threw out that perhaps in 10 years they'll start to see some real progress. There was no defeat in her voice. Maybe in 10 years I'll go back to Raven's Run to see the progress for myself and give the place the time it deserved that day. It may seem like a long time and a lot of work but in just a few hours with a crew of nine volunteers we managed to clear a respectable plot of land.

The media might have us all believing that it's either black or white, red or blue, coal or solar, logging or recreation. And it's just not. Granted most of our interactions have been with either outdoorsy folks or fellow volunteers. Since we started our trek through Appalachia we've heard time and time again that the big “job creator” is work in outdoor adventures. Whether it be hiking, biking, climbing or river running people are getting outdoors. In Tennessee we spent a long time talking to a ranger at a state park who explained how back in the 70's the TVA had to shutdown a hydro plant. That meant until it was fixed the river ran free. Business boomed. When TVA went to put it back online the backlash was fierce. Eventually they worked out a deal. That river is the Ocoee and was where the river sports for the 1996 Olympics out of Atlanta took place. Nearby is the Hiawasee river noted for it's constant flow of water (thanks to the TVA). It's the river of choice for novice boaters. We also chatted up our ranger in the Smokies when getting our backpacking permit, also a river man. The salesman at REI talked to us for the better part of an hour about his love of photography, Napa and his upcoming river trip in Utah. After our volunteer day at Raven Run the folks who got us all together very sweetly took us out to dinner. We could have chatted for several more hours talking of the places we've been and where we should all go next.

It seemed only fair that this should all be burned in a giant heap of coal during our days in West Virginia. Coal country in south WV was a strange place stuck in another time. These towns and homes are depressed, the river is clogged with trash. This is not a business that has much life left in it. While coal “keeps the lights on” it's not keeping people employed. Coals days are most definitely numbered, at least in Appalachia. However, driving further on to an eastern portion of the state for a bike ride along the Greenbrier River Trail we saw a whole other side to West Virginia. It's not only beautiful it's also rich in outdoor activities, giving credit to the state's slogan of "Wild and Wonderful". We stopped in a cafe for a beer and bite in Marlinton, WV where we got to chatting with a local couple. It was a lovely and informative conversation with folks who very much think like we do.

Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle

After West Virginia we moved onto Natural Bridge Virginia and yet another volunteer opportunity to pull the invasive honeysuckle. The honeysuckle not only crowds out and thus shades out native plants it's suspected to produce an allelopathy to keep other plants at bay. This effort was coordinated by the Nature Conservancy for an Earth Day event. There were almost 100 volunteers for the day for both pulling invasive plants and trail building followed by a nice lunch at the historic Natural Bridge Hotel. The event brought in a large group from a nearby college, a local group of AT trail maintainers, staff from both Virginia senator offices and several others just wanting to help make a difference for the day. I hope everyone there that day took a look around at the work that was accomplished and felt good about the day. Even though there is still much work to be done at Raven Run, Natural Bridge and all the other parks, sanctuaries and preserves it will make a difference even if only a handful of people keep chipping away at it each month.