Sepals and Spores: GSMIT’s Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate Program, Plants Course

I can’t quite explain my want to become a certified naturalist. I do not intend to make a career of it. Rigorously studying flora and fauna might make me a better volunteer. It might even make me a more rounded and informed citizen of my community, nation and planet. All that sounds great but, really, I enjoy going all-in with like-minded, equally interested and engaged students. I simply love the academic experience and that feels like justification enough.

So, in May, I ponied-up the tuition for my first course in the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate Program (SANCP) hosted by the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (GSMIT).

The Program

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Red-Sided Flat Millipede on the trail. Sadly, the SANCP curriculum includes no insects course.

The SANCP curriculum includes 7 core courses:

Core courses run from Friday evenings through Sunday afternoons and are scattered throughout the year from February to November. Students can take classes at their leisure and in any order that they see fit. One of my classmates for the 2017 Plants course had begun his naturalist journey in 2012 and was in no hurry to wrap things up. The Birds of the Smokies and Plants courses occur over the same weekend in May each year, meaning that students cannot complete the course in a single calendar year.

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Just Passing Through: One Outstanding Stop In Philadelphia, PA

While in Philadelphia, skip the cheese steak. The “authentic” Philly is a lie that locals tell unsuspecting tourists. Unless, of course, you appreciate dry-mouth induced by a stale-cardboard hoagie stuffed with slivers of sweat meat scavenged from some poor butcher’s garbage pale and soaked in gas-station-quality nacho cheese. Then, by all means, chug a bottle of Pepto and order that “authentic” cheese steak. If not, no worries. Philly has so much more to offer.

27481702523_2308b5c60a_kPhiladelphia is one of those iconic American cities that every star-spangled road tripper should experience. The Nation’s first capital, home of both Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia was founded by William Penn (founder of the whole-damn Province of Pennsylvania) in 1682. In a city that boasts and preserves its colonial roots and revolutionary significance, there’s just so much to do and see — the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

But if you were just passing through — if you could only choose one thing to do in Philadelphia — you really should go to jail.

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“Trail Angel” by REI

Trail Angel from REI on Vimeo.

“Many people look to the outdoors to find peace of mind. For Paul Stiffler, better known as Ponytail Paul, the Appalachian Trail and its thru-hikers have been the therapeutic force needed to turn his life around. Paul has taken on a role as “Trail Angel” to help thru-hikers on their 2,186-mile journey and help himself find a new sense of purpose in the process.”

– From Vimeo Description

A (Yankee) Bird-Nerd’s Dream: London’s Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

– From “London” by William Blake

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A Garden in Hyde Park

Two centuries ago, William Blake lamented the systemic ails of a leviathan called London. This April, I visited that beast. Though I had a blast, I sympathize with Blake’s song of experience. So much of London is chartered and paved; so little is wild and green. As much should be expected of the cultural, political mecca that reached its height of influence by sending subjects abroad to colonize and “improve” foreign lands (i.e., plow it over and eradicate the natives).

Four days into the venture, I struck out in search of wilder-things in this concrete jungle.

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Back in the Backwoods: A Weekend in Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest

“It was good to be back in the wilderness again, where everything seems at peace.” – Richard Proenneke

I guess I had a busy winter, which seems like a weak excuse for taking it easy. With birthdays and holidays, I always find it hard to escape during the off-season. I’ve been outside plenty but I haven’t found myself at peace on an empty trail in some months. Barky, Slob and I set out to remedy that injustice as March became April and winter became spring.

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source: mshajobtour.com

Our destination was a chunk of backcountry called Panthertown Valley in the eastern corridor of Nantahala National Forest. If you’ve never heard of Nantahala, you wouldn’t be faulted. It’s tucked in the far southwestern corner of North Carolina and has some flashy neighbors. To the southeast is Gorges State Park. Immediately south is Georgia’s Black Rock Mountains State Park and Chattahoochee National Forest. To the northeast rises NC’s Pisgah National Forest and Mount Mitchell State Park, the tallest temple of earth in the eastern United States. Immediately to the north stretches the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is God’s country.

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“Facing Climate Change: Oyster Farmers” by Benjamin Drummond and Sara Steele

Facing Climate Change: Oyster Farmers from Benjamin Drummond + Sara Steele on Vimeo.

“Over the past 250 years, the world’s oceans have absorbed about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide that humans have put into the air by burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide lowers the pH of oceans, turning waters more acidic. The Northwest is home to some of the most corrosive waters on earth… Under rising emissions scenarios, ocean acidity may increase 100 to 150 percent by the end of the century. In response, farmers are using new technologies to monitor the acidity levels of hatchery waters. Young scientists are devoting their careers to understanding risk and resilience.”

– From Desciption on Vimeo

OCMS: “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde” and Coming to Terms with “Carry Me Back”

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source: amazon.com

After Old Crow Medicine Show’s triumphant Carry Me Back and the hey-that’s-damn-catchy Remedy (both with ATO Records), I have paced in anticipation, I have salivated, I have hoped and dreamed of the next Old Crow release. And, lo! It cometh!

On April 28, 2017, Old Crow released their first record with Columbia Nashville, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. I had hoped to write a full review of the new album but what’s the point? 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is a live, bluegrass-ish, track-for-track cover of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde. The zeitgeist of Dylan-cred has haunted Old Crow tracks from “Wagon Wheel” to “Sweet Amarillo.” Old Crow’s frontman, Ketch Secor, even shares co-authoring credits with Dylan for “Wagon Wheel,” making it less of a cover and more like a collaboration with a 25-year gap between writings and recordings. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is not “Wagon Wheel” but a forgettable tribute album at best. Do you know what’s more fun than listening to Old Crow’s 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde? Listening to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Old Crow really dialed-it-in on this one. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is as interesting as Faith Hill covering “Piece of My Heart” or (dare I say?) Darius Rucker covering “Wagon Wheel.”

Instead, carry me back to 2012 and Old Crow’s Carry Me Back

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To Shit in the Woods: Theory and Practical Application

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source: amazon.com

At long last, Barky has shat in the woods! Archivists take heed for History trembles, prostrate to the deeds of great adventurers. 

To put this momentous occasion into perspective, Barky has spent numerous multi-day excursions in the backcountry – trips that include lots of coffee and carb-heavy food. Yet, until April 2017, at the tender age of 30, Barky had never taken a shit of any kind in the woods.

It became a joke. I laughed for want to weep, watching Barky bolt to the nearest toilet as soon as we returned from the woods to our civil comforts. One Christmas, I gifted Barky a roll of toilet paper, an orange-plastic trowel, and a copy of Kathleen Meyer’s seminal masterpiece, How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Coincidentally, that was the very day that I met the woman whom Barky would wed. I am uncertain whether she found the gift humorous or thought that Barky should invest in new friends. Either way, we’re still friends and I feel that my encouragement has added experience to Barky’s life.

Shitting in the woods is a practical and perfectly human skill. Humans have popped backcountry squats for tens of thousands of years before indoor plumbing and the first flush toilet ushered our bumbling species into the modern-era. Pooping is a natural function of the natural world. I shit. Therefore, I am.

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