Friday, November 30, 2007

Red-Tailed Hawk at Breakfast

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

Yesterday morning, about 8 o'clock, our Varmint-Cam 1000 caught this juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk doing a little scavenging. Although we have crows, ravens, and turkey vultures, we're wondering why we haven't seen any of these around since the start of deer season.

Red-Tailed Hawk on deer carcass

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dr. Bootsie Learns About Social Networking

NABLOPOMO 2007 Badge

I've nearly finished NaBloPoMo 2007, a group enterprise where members pledge to post at least one blog entry per day for the month of November. The organizers made a website with a list of participants, and used social network software to do the job, because the 2006 list of participants was large and hard to manage. Once you signed up for the project this year, you could join groups, post pictures, video, and text on their website as well as your own, and participate in forums.

It sounded great--unfortunately, every time I visited the site this month, it crashed my browser, an up-to-date version of Firefox. I even had to reboot my computer several times, and I run *nix, so that never happens. Thus, Nablopomo2007 didn't show me interesting new blogs to read. In fact, when I was able to view other participating blogs this year, I mostly saw splogs (spam blogs), blogs with but a single post, and blogs not updated even once in November. Very disappointing, but that is often the price of Internet popularity.

In the "Gains" column, I've had no trouble finding something to post every day, and last year's Nablopomo participation prompted me to near-daily posts as a regular practice. Also, this unsuccessful (for me) social network led me to join Ravelry, a social network for people who knit, crochet, and/or spin. I've been trying to figure out if social networking has any use for people past adolescence (literally and/or figuratively). So far, Ravelry functions as it's meant to, and does not make me reboot Debian Etch to get rid of phantom processes that gobble up all the CPU and RAM. Ravelry creators want to reassure us that their project is suitable for adult-like behavior:

Ravelry is not MySpace:

Don't tell Jess that she's Tom. Jess doesn't want to be Tom.

Yes - it's a community site, but Ravelry isn't just a place to hang out with friends. Even people who aren't interested in being social can get a lot out of Ravelry.

Oh, and music doesn't start up every time you turn the page.

I'm not sure if Ravelry is something I'll use much, as I'm not the most sociable knitter, but it's well-designed, efficient, and intriguing. It'll be interesting to see how it develops.

A disclaimer at Ravelry's request-- Membership is by invitation, but to be invited, all you have to do is sign up with your e-mail address, and in a few days, they'll get you enrolled. This is because they are still in "beta" (aka "under construction") and can't handle lots of new members instantly, not because new members are "evaluated" somehow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pocahontas County Geology

While I know my way around a species inventory, my geological knowledge would fit in a teaspoon, so I'm always looking for rock and soil resources to help me understand Pocahontas County better. Here's a collection of links I've found relating to Pocahontas County geology, geography, paleontology, and soils. After all, if you look below my blog title bar, you'll see my "blog mission statement" includes "Get to know Pocahontas County: collect empirical data...."

  • A Description of the Geology of Virginia. This is a well-done resource, and, because we share a county line with Virginia, it has information of interest to Pocahontas County geology.
  • Allegheny Mountains, from a wiki called "WVexp.com" this short Wikipedia-style entry lists and links to other short articles about all the named mountains in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia.
  • Soil Survey of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, a 300 page pdf file from the Soil Data Mart, a service of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is a great resource--so outstanding I wanted to see the write-ups for other counties, but so far, all I've found are soil maps and the like. Still, I plan to do some more data shopping at the USDA-NRCS Soil Data Mart.
  • Bookcover: Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic StatesFossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States: With Localities, Collecting Tips, and Illustrations of More than 450 Fossil Specimens by Jasper Burns. Google Books has some excerpts, including this:

    Locality 35: In Locust Creek near Hillsboro, Pocahontas County, WV: Greenbrier group, late Mississippian period. Locality fossils occur in chunks of chert in the stream gravel of Locust Creek, above and below the stone bridge on Locust Creek Road, 1.5 miles southeast of Rout 219. From Hillsboro, take Route 219 southwest for 2 miles, then turn left on Locust Creek Road. There is a wide parking area north of the bridge. Private farmland borders the stream, so limit collecting to the streambed itself, or ask for permission to explore elsewhere.

    Nearly all of the fossils at this locality are examples of the colonial horn coral Acrocyanthus, preserved in pieces of green, tan, and especially blue chert. Many specimens are translucent, so the internal structure may be seen in small samples or in thin slices cut with a rock saw and polished. Many of the greenish chunks turn out to be sky blue inside when cut in this way.

  • Petrology and diagenesis of the Glenray limestone member of the Bluefield formation, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, a program abstract by Donald W. Neal, of particular interest to me because the sample comes from Droop Mountain:
    The Glenray Limestone is the basal unit of the drillers¡Ç Little Lime (Reynolds-Glenray limestone couplet) in West Virginia. An outcrop of the Glenray was examined on Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County, WV. The 4.5m unit consists of a fining-upwards/ shallowing-upwards unit of mixed carbonate-siliciclastic sediment. The lower part of the unit is an ooid grainstone with a typical shallow marine assemblage of crinoids, bivalves, brachiopods, gastropods, and bryozoans. The ooid grainstone grades upward to an ooid-bearing, fossiliferous packstone to wackestone. The previously recorded components are admixed with quartz silt and terrigenous mud. The upper 3m is a pelletal wackestone with both carbonate and terrigenous mud. Bioclasts are predominantly ostracodes with a sparse, low diversity fauna of similar composition to the lower section. The percentage of terrigenous material is greater higher in the section and generally finer grained. Deposition of the Glenray Limestone was in a nearshore environment where, after an initial transgression, terrigenous sediment influx increased episodically at the expense of carbonate. Diagenesis of the Glenray Limestone includes cementation of the sediment by both sparry calcite and micrite, micritization, dissolution and subsequent infilling of porosity by granular to blocky spar, recrystallization of bioclasts, minor dolomitization and silicification, formation of stylolites and solution seams, and fracturing and subsequent infilling by carbonate.
  • West Virginia Geology from WVGS The West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey has some encyclopedia-style entries on geology in the state, and leans toward the economically significant aspects of geology--think coal and limestone.
  • West Virginia GIS Technical Center--GIS stands for "Geographic Information Systems." Here you'll find news and resources on GIS, digital mapping and remote sensing within the State of West Virginia.
  • Geography of West Virginia from Wikipedia. This is a stub, pointing to Geology, Fauna, and Flora entries, and a couple of nice West Virginia maps.
  • Paleontology Portal, West Virginia. This is a page in a slick Web site funded by the National Science Foundation, and supported by several museums and the US Geological Service. Their West Virginia resources are sparse, but you could probably find nifty links to general paleontology resources.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rooting For Weeds

Burdock blossoms

Yesterday's post on candleberry tree and post-Katrina reforestation reminded me of The Bad Seed, a 2003 essay on "weeds" by Frieda Knobloch. I'd come across it looking for references to nineteenth century American botanists, like Ada Georgia. I know from my plant ecology/agriculture background that "weeds" are disturbance plants, early colonizers, pioneers in unclaimed habitats. Candleberry trees and Ailanthus can slow down the regrowth of native species, but they'll die out eventually, to be succeeded by more stable plant communities.

That's not what Ms. Knobloch knows about weeds, not by a long shot. I'm not sure I really understand her essay, but I am intrigued. Here's an excerpt to whet your interest:

It's not the plants themselves that are weedy. The ways we cultivate and think about landscapes and cultivation--as divine punishment and reward, for example--guarantee that some of our plant cohabitors will always be seen as weeds. There are no biological qualities that define a weed, only cultural ones. Any plant that reproduces in great quantity, and that can withstand a wide range of climates and forms of cultivation and herbicide application, could possibly be a valuable crop. Value in a tradition is the key to weediness and non-weediness: Can something we know eat it? Are we likely to harvest it in some quantity for some familiar purpose? Is there a market for it?

....It's easy to see how people could sometimes end up rooting for the weeds. What they value lies in some opposition to the status quo, an ordering of nature and society or even the sacred landscape that leaves too much out. Sculptor Tony Matelli in part celebrated this side of weeds recently in his installations of weedy plant groups in gallery floors in a show titled "Abandon," which also acknowledged weeds as a sign of some failure. The two go together. Abandonment will always carry with it both the promise of new forms of attention and care, and the recognition of a failure of some kind, something "let go," a judgment....

To merely find weeds visually interesting, even "beautiful," or to rub them on our minor wounds or learn how to eat them again (like fancy chefs do from time to time) is to miss a point, like saying a fire-breathing dragon can make a good welding torch. Whatever use a plant may have, a weed has an epic quality, taking on something of the significance of Biblical tares polluting the wheat, the thistles Adam and Eve hacked through on their way out of Eden. Any plant might be domesticated, but not a weed--not weediness itself....That's permanent, a kind of backhanded gift of Old World agriculture. As long as we have weeds, there will be characters to assault our best efforts and provide the seeds for new efforts always.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Katrina's Forest Legacy

Newspapers have picked up this report from Science Magazine (AAAS): Hurricane Katrina's Carbon Footprint on U.S. Gulf Coast Forests. Here's the abstract. (Full text requires paid subscription):

Jeffrey Q. Chambers, Jeremy I. Fisher, Hongcheng Zeng, Elise L. Chapman, David B. Baker, George C. Hurtt

Hurricane Katrina's impact on U.S. Gulf Coast forests was quantified by linking ecological field studies, Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image analyses, and empirically based models. Within areas affected by relatively constant wind speed, tree mortality and damage exhibited strong species-controlled gradients. Spatially explicit forest disturbance maps coupled with extrapolation models predicted mortality and severe structural damage to ~320 million large trees totaling 105 teragrams of carbon, representing 50 to 140% of the net annual U.S. forest tree carbon sink. Changes in disturbance regimes from increased storm activity expected under a warming climate will reduce forest biomass stocks, increase ecosystem respiration, and may represent an important positive feedback mechanism to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Obviously, extensive decomposition will release much carbon dioxide; from the abstract alone, it looks like the authors have hit on a way to get press attention (and continuing grant money)--talk about global warming. I was more impressed by the Washington Post November 16 article: Katrina, Rita Caused Forestry Disaster Die-Off Will Add To Buildup of Greenhouse Gases by Marc Kaufman. It gives a more meaningful context to the issue by tying together the scale of the environmental destruction, unsuccessful government attempts to address the problems, and ongoing reforestation problems.

New satellite imaging has revealed that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced the largest single forestry disaster on record in the nation -- an essentially unreported ecological catastrophe that killed or severely damaged about 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana.

The die-off, caused initially by wind and later by weeks-long pooling of stagnant water, was so massive that researchers say it will add significantly to the global greenhouse gas buildup -- ultimately putting as much carbon from dying vegetation into the air as the rest of the nation's forest takes out in a year of photosynthesis.

In addition, the downing of so many trees has opened vast and sometimes fragile tracts to several aggressive and fast-growing exotic species that are already squeezing out far more environmentally productive native species.

Efforts to limit the damage have been handicapped by the ineffectiveness of a $504 million federal program to help Gulf Coast landowners replant and fight the invasive species. Congress appropriated the money in 2005 and added to it in 2007, but officials acknowledge that the program got off to a slow start and that only about $70 million has been promised or dispensed so far. Local advocates said onerous bureaucratic hurdles and low compensation rates are major reasons.

"This is the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident . . . and the greatest forest destruction in modern times," said James Cummins, executive director of the conservation group Wildlife Mississippi and a board member of the Mississippi Forestry Commission. "It needs a really broad and aggressive response, and so far that just hasn't happened."

A large portion of the forest devastated by Katrina and Rita belongs to relatively small landowners, who use their property as an investment to be logged when they need some cash. The federal program designed in 2005 to address the destruction was an emergency add-on to the popular federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners "rent" for returning marginal or environmentally sensitive land to more natural conditions.

Larry Payne, director of cooperative forestry for the U.S. Forest Service, said that "Congress wanted to get money back into the hands of these people, and that was the top priority." But generally it has not worked out.

Native tree species are not recolonizing devastated areas on their own due to competition from exotic species, so human intervention is critical for forest restoration. The "Chinese tallow tree" mentioned below is the plant I know as "candleberry tree"--Triadica sebifera (L.), a tropical member of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. I'm a little confused about the exotic grass they mention. Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica) is a troublesome weed, as is Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), a plant that escaped after being used for packing material.

Hurricane Katrina came ashore along the Pearl River, which divides Mississippi and Louisiana and is ecologically very rich and diverse. The Chambers study, as well as the work of local conservationists including Cummins, found that such native species as longleaf pine, live oak and cypress survived the hurricane much better than species planted primarily for logging, such as loblolly and slash pine.

But some of the native deciduous forests were severely damaged, and the young, slow-growing oaks and maples are being squeezed out by Chinese tallow trees -- an ornamental plant imported more than a century ago. It thrives on disturbed land and is running wild in the damaged area, foresters said. The tree produces a milky, toxic sap that keeps insects away and makes an inhospitable habitat for birds and small mammals.

In pine forests, the suddenly open spaces are being taken over by other invasive species, especially cogon. The aggressive Japanese grass was initially imported as packing material for oranges, but it has gotten into the environment and pushes out more productive native species.

"People are very concerned about the invasives -- you hear that everywhere Katrina went," said Richard Martin, director of conservation services at the Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. "As the Chinese tallow and other invasives take over, they form a dense canopy that makes it hard for the oak and maple to grow well. Those trees will win out in the end, but it will take hundreds of years rather than a much quicker response if the invasives weren't there."

The slow pace of the reforestation has disappointed many conservationists, as has the government's failure to encourage the planting of longleaf pine -- which once dominated 40 million acres in the Southeast but is now down to 1 million acres.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bewitched By Beowulf

I've seen a trailer for Beowulf, the movie. It looked like another boring foray into video game animation, but the whole idea of a movie version of Beowulf struck me as bizarre. Then I found out Angelina Jolie was Grendel's mother, and I got curious. Hollywood hearthrob hell-dam?

Blake Gopnik wrote a loving tribute to his college experience with the poem, 'Beowulf' Movie Magic Can't Conjure The Poem's Bare-Bones Enchantment (Washington Post, November 22, 2007).

The great hero Beowulf, wrestling with the monster Grendel, split the sinews of his foe and snapped his arm off at the shoulder. Going up against the monster's mother, he slammed her to the earth, then sliced her neck through with a sword.

That's nothing to what Beowulf did to me, about 20 years ago. He forced me to memorize the full beon and wesan forms of the Anglo-Saxon verb "to be," even in the preterite subjunctive. He made me write out cue cards for most of the 3,200 different words of his tale, so that I'd remember such useful terms as haeft-mece ("hilted sword"), sex-ben ("dagger wound") and galg-treow ("gallows tree"). He got me to recite the declensions of five noun classes in three genders across four cases. (After I'd crammed on what a case was, how to decline across it and what the Anglo-Saxons did to end up with three genders.)

Unlike Grendel or his mom, I gained from the assault. By learning Anglo-Saxon, I got to sink deep into the strangeness of "Beowulf," the poem composed in England sometime before 1000, and enter the imagined universe of Beowulf, its 6th-century hero. I learned to enjoy the allusive elusiveness of its circumlocutions, the drumbeat of its rhythms, the spell of its endless alliteration....

Gopnik is no academic snob--he likes the same sort of trashy movie I enjoy--with superheroes, monsters, unlikely plots, groovey special effects--but he feels that this movie misses everything great about Beowulf.

"Beowulf," the poem, is more about darkling silhouettes than three-dimensional anything. Where the movie aims for a powerful digital glow, the poem is entirely twilit. Where Zemeckis gives a crystal-clear vision of a world of striking lights and shadows, in the poem it's the vision itself that is dark and troubled. Everything about the poem is clouded in mystery, from its diction to its imagery to its mix of pagan and Christian ideals. The movie, on the other hand, believes in keeping every little hair and drop of blood and plot detail in perfect focus, leaving nothing to a viewer's imperfect imagination....

That's because reading "Beowulf" takes us to a new place, where people think about the world and its stories in terms that don't make sense to us. That's why it takes a year and more to come to terms with it (at least in Anglo-Saxon) and why the effort's worth it.

I don't buy the tired old cliche that "Beowulf" is great because it touches universal themes. What's great is that it isn't universal; that it's its own thing; that its bards managed to build a world for us that's so complete a package, in its verse and tale and coloring, that we can still get lost in it all these centuries later.

In all their many interviews, it's clear that the creators of the film could barely stomach the strange "Beowulf" they started out with. They didn't dare imagine that, even with a little cinematic help, their audience might ever come to terms with its foreignness. Instead, they had to bring the poem fully "up to date" and make it easily digestible.

I enjoyed my medieval literature classes, and took every one I could get into. (Iowa State University English Department). I'd imprinted on Tolkien in junior high, and here was "the real stuff!" Still, I can't help but envy Gopnik his experience at McGill:

...At McGill, Prof. Martin Puhvel was Beowulf's accomplice in torturing me. Puhvel had the voice and build of a bear, along with the general demeanor of an unusually misanthropic berserker. (One rumor among his students -- at least the three of us dumb enough to stick around after the first week of class -- was that, on winter nights, Puhvel could be spotted hunting in the suburban woods of Montreal. With a crossbow. Another was that he had gotten out of his native Estonia, just across the Baltic from Beowulf's homeland, on a wrestling scholarship.)

Puhvel didn't recite"Beowulf" the way an actor might, drawing out the drama so as to camouflage the demands of its verse. He intoned it, in his Viking-accented Anglo-Saxon, line after line, page after page, class after class, as though "Beowulf" the poem, like Beowulf the hero, were a force of nature that could only be borne, not fought or ever overcome. Or as though its verse were a path through a dark wood where the only outlet would be found by plunging forward, but would be sure to land us somewhere absolutely new and strange.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Andrew Price On Eminent Domain

Land use, development, and eminent domain are hot topics in Pocahontas County these days. Pick up any issue of The Pocahontas Times for the last several years, and you will read something about the controversial Slaty Fork sewage treatment plant. The latest issue (November 22, 2007) contains this report on the County Commission meeting:

...[T]he Pocahontas County Public Service District is now asking for money to evaluate alternative sites for the controversial regional sewage project in Slaty Fork....Much of the motivation for moving the site comes from the specter of eminent domain, Smith said, which has made the project unpopular with many county residents. The current site proposed by engineers sits on property belonging to members of Slaty Fork's Sharp family....Tom Shipley and his family have said they don't want the plant on their land and have challenged the project on environmental grounds and the threat that it could pose to their family business.

Although you can't search or read back issues of The Pocahontas Times unless you pay, you can learn more about the proposed sewage treatment plant at Save the Sharp Farm and 8 Rivers Safe Development. While they address family, environmental and historic preservation reasons for preserving the Sharp farm, they don't come down hard on the issue of using taxpayers' money to build and/or clean up a utility that primarily benefits out-of-state interests: the vacation home developers and Snowshoe Resort. (Oops, my point of view is showing.)

Because so many people are so offended by the prospect of eminent domain in this case, I was surprised to learn that Andrew Price used the Pocahontas Times to advocate eminent domain to assist the outside railroad/logging interests, and facilitated condemnation proceedings in his law practice. These quotes come from Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910By John Hennen.

As legal representative for several timber and railway companies doing business in the county, Price often participated in the transfer of land titles and condemnation proceedings to the benefit of his clients....[He] felt obliged to convince Pocahontas Times readers that land was more valuable to the community when it rested with timber companies than in the hands of private citizens. Tax payments on the land, even if unproductive, he explained, benefited the community and relieved the previous owners of hidden burdens:

The Greenbrier River Lumber Company's tax ticket in Pocahontas for the year 1898 amounts to $1539.36. This is tax on timberland which is unremunerative. It is a great help to the county treasury. Formerly this tax was divided among smaller landowners who did not realize how much their wild land was costing them. This is still true of the greater part of the county.

Regardless of the efforts of Price and other local elites, some citizens resisted the encroachment of industrial capitalism. Resistance to development could take the form of a landowner refusing to acknowledge the right-of-way prerogative of railroads, for compensation, through private land. County courts often convened special hearings for right-of-way disputes, where the mechanism was in place to protect the interests of big capital. County judges and court officers were by 1900 usually professionals or businessmen whose economic well-being was linked to development. If persuasion "proved ineffective, resistance could be overcome by the alliance between capitalists and local promoters. Courts simply condemned land and required that it be sold to the railroad."

Price advised his readers on the wisdom of settling condemnation proceedings out-of-court, warning them against being greedy and of hidden costs in a lost condemnation judgement. "Some of the prices asked by landowners are too high," he wrote in 1899. "The rule is when a private contract can not be agreed upon for the condemnation proceedings to be initiated. If the landowner recovers less than the amount proffered by the company, he pays the costs, and vice versa."

It seems that Andrew Price came to regret the price of progress, whether or not he admitted his own complicity. I hope we have learned from what happened with the logging boom. The prosperity was transient--where are those high-paying jobs today? Meanwhile, some environmental damage has scarred over, but the forest has fewer species, and no giant trees. I'm afraid the "tourism industry" will turn out the same--some short-term profit at the expense of long-term environmental degradation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Bear at deer carcass

The thing I like best about Thanksgiving dinner is the leftovers. (Well, that and pan dripping gravy.) Turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey casserole--I like all of these better than the commercial turkey "main event." (Of course, with wild turkey, there are never leftovers.)

I've mentioned before that this holiday in Pocahontas County is most often called "Deer Season." We've been celebrating Deer Season on Droop Mountain in the customary way, and it turns out that Deer Season leftovers are also much appreciated.

The people who sell "game cameras" make them for scouting game before shooting it, but we seldom use things as intended. Instead, we've set up VarmintCam 1000 on the leftovers to see who stops by for a meal.

Raccoon pow-wow

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks For the Turkeys

Turkey hen

Happy Thanksgiving! It's quite a trick to photograph wild turkeys here--they have sharp ears and sharper eyes, and they move really fast when spooked. Evidently, though, wild turkeys have gone suburban in Yankeeland, and suburbanite people are finding them a nuisance. National Geographic published an article earlier this week: Wild Turkeys Invading Suburban U.S. Wild turkeys have actually been spotted in Manhattan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Price Of Progress

Andrew Price, editor of the Pocahontas Times from 1892 to 1900, is remembered locally as a conservationist and poet. Of course, his family wrote much of our local history--William T. Price, author of Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia (1901) was his father, and Cal Price, Pocahontas Times editor from 1900 to 1957 was his younger brother. It's no surprise Andrew Price is remembered as a poetic soul, mourning the loss of Pocahontas County's "forest primeval." However, he was also lawyer to the timber and railroad interests, and he used his editorial forum to sway public opinion toward their cause.

Here's an excerpt from Transforming the Appalachian countryside railroads, deforestation, and social change in West Virginia, 1880-1920 by Ronald L Lewis (1998) Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press) typical of how the Price descendants remember Andrew:

The financial benefits derived from the development of the forest industry accrued to a select few over the short term, whereas the costs of the widespread destruction were borne by the taxpayers. This is clearly demonstrated by the environmental disaster the railroad-lumber boom visited upon West Virginia. According to Andrew Price, Pocahontas County lawyer, conservationist, and editor, one of the most common questions recent arrivals asked of natives in the Greenbrier Valley was "how we managed to exist before the railroad came to the county." Price's response was terse: if there was another place like Pocahontas was before the arrival of industry he would move there. Old-timers could not stand to look for long on the desolate slashing and stumps left in the place of the original forest, Price lamented, or to look passively upon the old freight cars, shanties, wires, poles, iron trucks, and other abandoned industrial debris that cluttered the countryside. Indeed, the land was now "as squalid as it could be." Streams once abundant with fish were dead, the game had disappeared, and the grass that once carpeted the floor of the virgin forest had been displaced by brush. There were more money and people in the county, Price acknowledged: "The doctors and lawyers make more money, and there is work for every man at high wages." But for this heightened economic vigor, he concluded, "we are paying dearly."page 264

Now, here's Andrew Price, Industrial Advocate, quoted by John Hennin, in Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910.

Price had been defending the prerogative of West Virginia Pulp and Paper for years....editor Price was quick to defend West Virginia Pulp and reassure the citizens of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties that their lands and waters would remain pristine. He claimed the proposed mill and rail connection "will place every citizen within ten miles of a railroad, [and] put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county." The Times also cited "expert testimony" from the Maryland pollution trial confirming the environmental sensitivity of the company. "The wood used is spruce," according to the Times, "[and] there is no unhealth in water impregnated with the tannic acid of sprucewood. We do not apprehend any serious trouble for the people living below Caldwell."

Price elaborated on the environmental defense in a subsequent editorial, "We have very little law on the subject of pollution of streams in this State, our laws being sufficiently strict to prevent any unnecessary pollution of streams, but not interfering with an industry such as the pulp mill." Quoting a "prominent West Virginian, who loves the shaded woods and a clear stream," Price remarked,

He said it is a sacrifice we must make to progress. We cannot afford to keep back the development of our country for the sake of a stream of water, and the day is coming when we will have to go back in the woods to find pure streams. You cannot change a forest to farmland without polluting to a considerable extent the streams which drain it. It is the price we have to pay for the benefits of civilization.

Price equated the discharge from pulp mills with the natural process of drainage from spruce forests into the streams of Pocahontas County. The tannic acid produced the "inky blackness" common to local streams which natives could attest were well-stocked with healthy fish. Chastising the obstructionists to progress in Hinton, Price lamented, "it is extremely unfortunate that West Virginians could not have understood the [limited] extent of the pollution by such a mill before they drove the industry out of the state."

Price's defense of the environmental responsibility of industry extended to other companies which retained him as well. Ironically, his strongly-worded communique to a West Virginia legislator lauded [Pocahontas Tanning,] which he implied was a greater steward of the land in Pocahontas than West Virginia Pulp. "Of all the industries known to this state, tanneries are least hurtful to fish, and as compared to coal and iron mines and pulp mills, the tannery sewage is inocuous. I can see no reason therefore why tanneries should be singled out as the horrible example. . . . "The two large tanneries on Greenbrier River do not hurt the fish any...."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First Bright Rays Of Marlinton's Prosperity

Here's a second installment from Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910 by John Hennen. It seems the contemporary Pocahontas Times editors were active in promoting the sale of Pocahontas County land to the speculative land development companies which clear-cut and abandoned the valuable forest lands in the early twentieth century.

....Plans for the anticipated boom in Marlinton were enthusiastically endorsed by a progression of editors of the town's newspaper, the Pocahontas Times....Editor John E. Campbell reported early in 1891 that "Pocahontas County will undergo the greatest development and prosperity of any County in the State in the next five years. She will have a railroad, and the industries that will spring up from it will furnish employment to thousands of families. She has iron and coal and untold millions of feet of lumber, which speaks for itself." Campbell described the Pocahontas Land Development Company as
. . . composed of men of wealth and influence prone . . . to make Marlinton a city, and we have every reason to believe they will, knowing as we do the vast surroundings of timber, coal, iron ore, limestone, building stone, fire clay, and in fact everything that is calculated to furnish for ages to come, industrial manufacturing plants of almost every description. . . . Ex-Senator Camden says that Marlinton will become at no distant day the largest manufacturing city in the interior of the State.

This overwrought prose is something more sinister than Babbitt-like boosterism. Editors John Campbell and Andrew Price profited personally from the economic boom of railroads and big timber companies, and I don't think they were offering advice with the sole intention of benefiting their fellow citizens.

The gentlemen of the Marlinton company, said Campbell, "are among the leading citizens of West Virginia and have the energy and means to develop the great resources of our county and thus bring prosperity and happiness to our people." Any who discouraged the plans of the capitalists, Campbell implied, were disloyal to their community and inhibitors of progress. The Times predicted that when Pocahontas established railroad connections with the commercial centers of the industrial northeast, "it will become one of the greatest iron and lumber producing regions on earth, which ages of the most active industry cannot exhaust." A lengthy editorial comment by Campbell in January 1892, written in typically florid prose, encompassed not only the developmental ideal of industrial capitalism, but foreshadowed the cultural conflict between the disciplined regimentation of the commercial world and traditional mountain society:
Confining ourselves to our own mountain county, we can see that the first bright rays of our prosperity are falling upon us. In the North, East, South, and West, capital has turned its lynx eyes this way . . . let us prophecy that when the new shall become old, the iron horse shall be waking from their long sleep their echoes with his piercing neigh. A new city has been laid off in the heart of our county. Men of money are visiting us from all quarters and are going to the great financial centers and telling their friends of our iron, our coal, and our timber. Let us lay aside our petty prejudices and the lethargy of our long isolation, look at the dawning sun of permanent development, now, for the first time in all our history shedding his fructifying rays upon us and "get a hustle on with us." With the right kind of work performed in the proper spirit, we can make our loved county of Pocahontas equal to any in our state. . . . Let us waste none of the golden days of '92. Let us begin to hasten our prosperity now.

The current economic trend in Pocahontas County, and in many other rural areas, is development of farm and timber land into vacation property. The timber boom should at least be a cautionary tale, reminding us to consider what will happen when the last ski chalet sewer line is completed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wool Scraps and Memories In a Patchwork

Red and grey wool patchwork coverlet

The Scrap Fabric Compaction Project kept expanding, but it is complete at last. I've sorted, trimmed and ironed my wool, corduroy, denim, and shirt-weight cotton collections, and I've reduced the knit scraps by half through the artful construction of undergarments. Four large plastic tubs are now vacant, awaiting other storage uses.

While I have a definite denim-scrap project in mind, I'm mulling over the prospect of making another wool scrap patchwork project soon. I made this pieced coverlet about five years ago, cutting up my old clothes, and an elegant but moth-eaten red 1940's era wool bathrobe my mother had. The red and grey plaid was a particularly beloved but utterly worn-out skirt my mother made for me when I was 12, and which I wore for about 15 years. The coverlet was meant to be a lap-robe for the couch, but it is so warm and light that we've been using it as a bed cover, even though it is a little skimpy for that purpose.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Coyotes, Wolves, and Species Limits

Coyotes are quite common in Pocahontas County. We hear them often, see them occasionally, and our sheep-farming neighbors trap and shoot them. I know these creatures are coyotes because people here tell me so, for they are much larger, darker colored, and bolder than the coyotes I knew growing up in western Iowa. I would never have recognized the animals here as coyotes--the first pair I saw trotting down the driveway I took for large dogs.

This makes me wonder whether the difference between the fox-sized animals of western Iowa and the German Shepherd-sized coyotes of West Virginia is due to phenotypic plasticity or to genetic difference, especially hybridization with dogs and/or wolves. I haven't found a definitive answer (and it could a combination of the two causes), but some recent news reports about wolves have got me thinking about the issue again.

Earlier this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a success story with the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) in the Upper Midwest.

By the time wolves were protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, only a few hundred remained in extreme northeastern Minnesota and a small number on Isle Royale, Michigan. Gray wolves were listed as endangered in the contiguous 48 States and in Mexico, except that in Minnesota they were listed as threatened. Alaska wolf populations number 6,000 to 7,000 and are not considered endangered or threatened.

The wolf's comeback nationwide is due to its listing under the Endangered Species Act, resulting in increased scientific research and protection from unregulated killing, along with reintroduction and management programs and education efforts that increased public understanding of wolf biology and behavior. Wolf recovery has been so successful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes area from the threatened and endangered species list. Today about 3,020 wolves live in the wild in Minnesota, 30 on Lake Superior's Isle Royale, about 434 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and at least 465 in Wisconsin.

Subsequently, results of a genetic study were released: Native Great Lakes wolves were not restored. Here's the (very brief) abstract. (The actual article is for paid subscribers only.)

Jennifer A. Leonard, Robert K. Wayne Biol. Lett.

Wolves from the Great Lakes area were historically decimated due to habitat loss and predator control programmes. Under the protection of the US Endangered Species Act, the population has rebounded to approximately 3000 individuals. We show that the pre-recovery population was dominated by mitochondrial DNA haplotypes from an endemic American wolf referred to here as the Great Lakes wolf. In contrast, the recent population is admixed, and probably derives also from the grey wolf (Canis lupus) of Old World origin and the coyote (Canis latrans). Consequently, the pre-recovery population has not been restored, casting doubt on delisting actions.

Surprisingly, more information is available in the November 13 New York Times article, Off Endangered List, but What Animal Is It Now? by Mark Derr.

Amid much fanfare this year, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared the western Great Lakes gray wolf successfully recovered from an encounter with extinction and officially removed it from the endangered species list....

But the victory celebration was premature, according to two evolutionary biologists, Jennifer A. Leonard of Uppsala University in Sweden and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. The historic Great Lakes wolf...hybridized with gray wolves moving in from Canada, coyotes from the south and west and the hybrids born of that mixing.

Dr. Leonard said...these animals should remain protected...while researchers determine the full extent of hybridization with coyotes, whether it is continuing and whether it threatens to swamp the genetic heritage of the native wolf.

Rolf O. Peterson, a wolf ecologist at Michigan Technological University and the leader of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Eastern Gray Wolf Recovery Team, said it had been known for some time that hybridization between gray wolves and coyotes was happening in the region.

"What's new in this paper," he said, "is that they found no evidence of hybridization with coyotes in the historic samples and no pure historic wolves in the current samples."

....That population today is made up largely of hybrids between the gray wolf and coyote, but some 31 percent of the animals carry genetic material from the native wolf, which appears to no longer exist in pure form. The researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the mother and often used to distinguish lineages in humans and animals, from 17 early-20th century wolves and 68 contemporary wolves.

I had no idea that there was so much introgression between wolves and coyotes, but it seems that it is the bane of Red Wolf preservation. The Red Wolf Coalition says:

Red wolves and coyotes, especially young red wolves, can look very similar. Coyotes weigh about one-half to two-thirds as much as red wolves and stand approximately 4 inches shorter. In general, coyotes have a much slighter build through the head, chest, legs, and feet.

Red wolves, gray wolves, domestic dogs, and coyotes are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring....By the 1960s the number of red wolves was dwindling, and coyotes had migrated into the Southeast. When the few remaining red wolves were unable to find mates of their own species, hybridization with more abundant coyotes did occur. This hybridization is generally accepted as the final factor that resulted in the near extinction of the red wolf.

Red wolves and coyotes have been hybridizing in northeastern North Carolina and the Service is addressing the hybridization threat with urgency. Initial estimates indicate that the current red wolf population would be unrecognizable as such within 3-6 generations (12-24 years) if the rates of hybridization currently being controlled actually occurred. The Service is partnering with several agencies and universities to conduct research that will allow for better understanding and hopefully successful management of hybridization based on the best available scientific information.

Here are my wolf references, for further reading.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Benign Betrayal: Pocahontas County 1890-1910

Although I often search the Web for references to Pocahontas County, I found this interesting article by chance. Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910 by John Hennen was published in West Virginia History, Volume 50 (1991), pp. 46-62, and is freely available on the West Virginia Division of Culture and History Web site.

Current Pocahontas County politics also center on land use, development, and outside interests profiting at the expense of the local people and environment. I think anyone interested in these issues would find some insights in this analysis.

...Timbering, the basis for an economic boom in Pocahontas between 1890 and 1910, changed dramatically as large-scale investment penetrated the county. Before the 1890s, the market for sawed lumber in the mountains was primarily local. The technology of lumbering was simple, costs were minimal, and the amount of timber cut had little environmental impact. Small-scale family operations were profitable because there was little competition from large companies and outside capital. While the timber industry was on the verge of great growth and prosperity, the boom eluded the small operators who lacked developmental capital.

By the early 1900s, small timbering operations in Pocahontas County were supplanted by systematic, well-integrated operations in areas of the county opened up by new rail systems. Previously unexploited areas were reached by developers eager to supply the industrial northeast. Thousands of mountaineers gravitated to the timber camps to work for cash wages, signifying the first major form of non-agricultural work in the mountains. Lumbermen who had spent a generation in the Pennsylvania forests migrated to Pocahontas, and its population almost doubled in ten years. As the timber industry grew, the mountaineers became less oriented to the traditional, personalized economy and more dependent on the demands and fluctuations of the national marketplace. By the 1920s, the boom in the county was over, and the virgin timber gone, leaving a clearcut wasteland, devastated by poor logging practices, flooding, and fires....

...Those who questioned the prudence of rapid capitalist intervention did so at the risk of being cast as obstacles to progress. "The people," wrote James Murray Mason in the 1884 report of the West Virginia Tax Commission, "have been educated to believe that our immediate development must be obtained at any cost and regardless of sacrifices; the public mind has been saturated with an idea that progress means one railroad where there is no railroad, and two railroads where there is only one." The report continued, "the question is whether this vast wealth shall belong to persons who live here and are permanently identified with the future of West Virginia, . . . or pass into the hands of people who care nothing for our state except to pocket the treasures which lie buried in our hills."

Friday, November 16, 2007

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

This White-Breasted Nuthatch has just hurled himself out of the maple tree. I enjoy watching nuthatches--they are so animated and busy, and who could resist the way they climb down trees head-first? This winter, we also have a pair of Red-Breasted Nuthatches visiting our bird feeder daily. Smaller than the White-Breasted, these little guys seem to move even faster, and I'm unlikely to snap even a blurred photo of these. We don't have many pine trees on this little ridge, so it's unusual to see the Red-Breasted Nuthatches at our bird feeders. They are at best occasional visitors.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Charles Lyell--Belated Happy Birthday

Charles Lyell portrait

Michael J. Ryan's wonderful Paleoblog points out that yesterday, November 14, was the birthday of Charles Lyell, prominent geologist and popularizer of the concept called "Uniformitarianism"--that the forces at work in the natural world today are the same forces at work in the past. While it strikes me as a reasonable working hypothesis, and one that has been widely used for a long time, many people, ranging from school boards to Ann Coulter, find it impossible to swallow. Dr. Ryan provides links to a brief Lyell biography and some of his books still in print, including the 1830-1833 page-turner, Principles of Geology in three volumes.

To this, I'd add Charles Lyell's online books courtesy of U Penn's Online Books Page. You can read his most seminal works for free.

I admire Lyell's writing. He always acknowledged that his ideas were developed and shared by other researchers, and he seemed to me to be clear and plain-spoken, in contrast to many writers of his time. Here's an excerpt from his essay "The Progress of Geology:"

If we reflect on the history of the progress of geology we perceive that there have been great fluctuations of opinion respecting the nature of the causes to which all former changes of the earth's surface are referable. The first observers conceived the monuments which the geologist endeavours to decipher to relate to an original state of the earth, or to a period when there were causes in activity, distinct, in a kind and degree, from those now constituting the economy of nature....Many appearances, which had for a long time been regarded as indicating mysterious and extraordinary agency, were finally recognised as the necessary result of the laws now governing the material world; and the discovery of this unlooked-for conformity has at length induced some philosophers to infer, that, during the ages contemplated in geology, there has never been any interruption to the agency of the same uniform laws of change. The same assemblage of general causes, they conceive, may have been sufficient to produce, by their various combinations, the endless diversity of effects, of which the shell of the earth has preserved the memorials; and, consistently with these principles, the recurrence of analogous changes is expected by them in time to come.

....By degrees, many of the enigmas of the moral and physical world are explained, and, instead of being due to extrinsic and irregular causes, they are found to depend on fixed and invariable laws. The philosopher at last becomes convinced of the undeviating uniformity of secondary causes; and, guided by his faith in this principle, he determines the probability of accounts transmitted to him of former occurrences, and often rejects the fabulous tales of former times, on the ground of their being irreconcilable with the experience of more enlightened ages.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Compacting the Denim Scrap Collection

Denim strips for patchwork projects

This overflowing box of rolled up denim strips represents about 20 pairs of worn-out jeans and overalls. I am so delighted with how much space this treatment saves that I am sorting my wool and corduroy scrap collections, considering treating them the same way.

Bib Overall Pocket on patchwork tote bag

I've cut the denim into three-inch wide strips, because strips such as these work so well for denim patchwork. Sewn with a half-inch seams, the weight and hand are very good for all sorts of projects. I sewed long denim strips together, interspersed with strips of other heavy fabrics, to made this Patchwork Denim Tote Bag.

I'm also pleased with this Rail Fence denim patchwork coverlet I finished this past spring. The six-by-six inch squares have a nice hand, not too stiff and not too floppy. I could make Rail Fence patterned coverlets for years and never repeat the effects, thanks to The Many Looks of Rail Fence Quilts from eQuilters.com by Susan Druding.

Denim pieced coverlet, with backing and
binding

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Warning: Unreadable Blog Post

Reading Level: Genius

Terry of I See Invisible People and Sherry Chandler both ran their blogs through this Blog Readability Test, so of course I had to try it too. While Terry and Sherry both score as plainspoken women, (grammar school and high school, respectively) I got this "Genius" classification, which means I'm the kind of gal who calls a spade a geotome.

The simplest assessments of reading level just calculate your average number of letters per word--the higher the number of letters per word, the higher the reading level. I think this is what's going on here. My recent infatuation with the "Bond Antepenultimate Knitting Machine" is responsible for a lot of letters. I know I should knock it off, it wasn't that funny the first time, but ever since I learned the word "antepenultimate" in my ninth grade Latin class, I've been waiting to use it, and I don't expect I'll have another chance.

I also ran my Web site's index page, My Spice Ridge Home, through the program, and it gave a rating of "College: Post-Grad." My index page is free of "antepenultimates" and has very little text--it's mostly lists of links, but nearly every line contains "Pocahontas County," a letter-intensive phrase.

After working with kids and with adult basic education learners, I've become really interested in reading levels and accessibility on Web pages. I happened to have these "Readability" links tucked away, just waiting for an excuse to be posted.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Machine-Knit Sock: Proof Of Concept

Machine-knit, hand-finished proof-of-concept sock

Here's my sample sock, made on my Bond Antepenultimate Knitting Machine and finished by hand. I make no claims for its beauty, and it is intentionally too small for any feet in this household (to save time and yarn), but it has shown me that I could produce viable socks this way. I'm going to try a Bootsie-sized pair in wool to see if machine-knit socks are truly satisfactory.

I knit a rectangle in stockingette stitch, beginning and ending with waste yarn. Then I seamed the rectangle into a tube. Socks knit flat and seamed have a well-deserved bad reputation. In the 1940's and 1940's, hoards of young knitters made two-needle argyle socks, and sewed them up with miserably lumpy seams. They presented the hand-made treasures to their sweethearts, and demanded to see them worn. Stuffed inside shoes, the lumpy seams were instruments of torture.

Greek-motif wool sock in shades of teal, side view

To avoid this pitfall, I tried Caddy May's Tips for Flat Seams for Socks, especially her "Enlarged edge stitch latch-up" technique from her knitting and spinning Web site,Knitting Any Way. Cady May also has a blog, Meanwhile, Back In The Holler. (Her holler is in Tennessee.) The "enlarged edge stitch latch-up" is indeed flat, although not so inconspicuous as a mattress stitch seam.

Once the sock tube was seamed up, I pulled out the waste yarn at each end of the tube, picked up stitches on double-pointed needles, and knit ribbing at one end, and a sock toe at the other. Then I snipped a thread where I wanted the heel to go, unraveled half a row of knitting, and made what Elizabeth Zimmermann named the "Afterthought Heel." There are many versions of this available on the Web, but I learned mine from Ms. Zimmermann's Knitting without tears: Basic techniques and easy-to-follow directions for garments to fit all sizes. The Internet sock knitting community seems somewhat critical of this technique, but I think they can be quite decorative and comfortable, and I offer this pair of socks I made in 2004 as an example.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Donald McCaig--Busy Literary Neighbor

Book cover: Rhett Butler's People

A literary neighbor, Donald McCaig of Highland County, Virginia, is having a busy year. Early in the year, Canaan: A Novel of the Reunited States after the War was published, and this month Rhett Butler's People has come out. It's an "authorized sequel" to Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and it rated both a review and an author profile in The Washington Post.

The November 7 review, 'Gone' but Not Forgotten by Bethanne Patrick, is mostly positive, and the author profile, The Rhett Stuff: Virginia Writer Took on Tara by Linton Weeks, is quite charming.

....You know when you approach McCaig that you're in the company of a real character. He's got an earthy sense of humor and a laugh that sounds like a vintage tractor on a cold morning. He's a barrel-chested man with wispy white hair, a bushy white mustache and cumulus-cloud eyebrows....

...[T]he McCaigs settled in this majestic, mountainous county in western Virginia, hard against the West Virginia state line. With 2,500 residents, Highland is one of the least-populated counties east of the Mississippi. "There are 150 people in our Zip code," he says. The county seat is Monterey, population 156.

Book Cover: An American Homeplace

In the 40 or so years they have lived here, the McCaigs have put down deep roots. McCaig is an elder at the nearby Williamsville Presbyterian Church, with a congregation of 12. "Half of them believe in the rapture, and I believe in gay marriage, and everyone agrees to just not talk about those things," he says.

He is also a member of the volunteer fire department. While writing books over the years, he has also become a serious sheep farmer -- the McCaigs have 180 acres on the Cowpasture River -- and a top-notch dog trainer.

These days, the herd is small. Once the fences are strengthened, McCaig plans to add another hundred or so sheep to the 20 he is raising now. A trio of collies -- June, Luke and Peg -- do the herding. "Peg," he says, "is a dope." A couple of guard dogs sleep with the sheep.

Throughout the year, McCaig enters his collies in field trials, competitions in which dogs herd sheep in various farmlike tasks. June, he says, was a semifinalist in a national contest in Gettysburg, Pa. He is hoping to take her to the world championships in Wales next year. But for now, he is on the road.....

McCaig's 1992 book of essays, An American Homeplace, is an excellent, deeply researched portrayal of our part of the world. It has sections I reread often.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Scrumbling and Machine Knitting

Machine knit strips of worsted-weight cotton yarn

I've blocked and steamed a few of the machine-knit worsted weight cotton strips I've been experimenting with. They are surprisingly soft and drapey once they have been finished and allowed to "rest" a few days. When I take them off the machine, the texture is rather scratchy and unappealing, and the stitches look too loose, but with time, they shrink a bit.

Green color-mix cotton strip

These pictures remind me why I kept buying these odd lots of cotton, even though I don't like to knit with cotton. The colors and textures entranced me every time.

In considering how to assemble strips, I got out my crochet hook and started brushing up on my limited skills. I was inspired by some of these Web pages on "scrumbling," a freeform crochet technique that sometimes incorporates knitting. I don't know whether I will incorporate crochet in this project, but it's fun to consider, and these fiber artists give helpful advice as well as beautiful finished projects.

Green cotton rayon machine-knitted strip

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poor Fanny Wollstonecraft

Book cover: Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle

This review, Withering in the Shadow of Genius by Rachel Hartigan Shea in the Washington Post's Book World (November 6, 2007), really caught my attention. The biography reviewed is Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle by Janet Todd. I'm intrigued that Todd could write a biography of someone dead so young and so undocumented, but I wonder if it will be too depressing to bear. Here's how the reviewer, Shea, starts off:

How many deaths can be laid at Percy Bysshe Shelley's door? Possibly his own, along with those of the two men who drowned with him when their yacht sank off the Italian coast. But before that, there was his young wife, Harriet, who committed suicide after he abandoned her. And if one is feeling censorious (and one is), most of his children with his second wife, "Frankenstein" creator Mary Shelley: Three of them died by the age of 3 after needless travel made at his poetical whim.

Now, with "Death and the Maidens," English scholar Janet Todd is here to remind us of one more casualty of Shelley's unconventional ways: Fanny Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's half sister. "A small, tragic figure," Fanny killed herself at the age of 22. She left little behind: a suicide note with her name ripped off, some letters. Todd constructed her biography from the lives of those around her. Fanny's story, she writes, "must be a group story, a narrative of one of the first families of Romanticism."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nosey Neighbor

Deer creeping up on blue sweater

I'm writing a tutorial on converting pullover sweaters to a cardigans, so yesterday, I took this sweater out to the clothesline to take a "before" photograph. Apparently, this piqued the interest of a little spike buck. He's a surprisingly snoopy neighbor.

Deer watching sweater

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wonder What the Richistanis Are Doing?

Crawford Killian has an interesting book review, Rich as Hell: Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank in TheTyee.ca I'm a long-time fan of Killian's cluster of blogs, including Ask the English Teacher where he offers insights on many types of writing, Bridging the Income Gap, where he cross-posted this review, and Homage to Arrhenius, about climate change.

Frank approaches the Richistanis as a distinct nation. They aren't really living with ordinary Americans, physically or culturally. But most are emigres from America's middle class, the wealthiest parvenus in history. They are both a recent phenomenon and a familiar one: Frank sees them as the "Third Wave" of dramatic wealth-building, after the Gilded Age (1865-1890) and the Roaring Twenties (1918-1929). In those eras, the top one percent of Americans held almost half the nation's wealth.

But after the Depression and Second World War, wealth began to reach ordinary Americans. By 1975, the top one per cent could claim only 20 per cent of all American wealth. Those were the days when a one-income working family could support a stay-at-home spouse, buy a home and send the kids to college....

Ronald Reagan changed all that. By 1989, Frank says, the top one per cent held 30 per cent of U.S. wealth, and their share is now 33 per cent....

...[T]his is a readable, informative and insightful look at the biggest group of very rich people the world has ever seen. At some point a new war or depression may cause their government to redistribute Richistani wealth, as Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt did. The middle class may again see a golden age like that from V-J Day to Watergate, while the Richistanis worry about meeting their mortgage payments.

But I don't expect to live to see it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Patchwork Knitting

Swatch--grey and olive multi cotton

I'm still fiddling with the Bond Antepenultimate Knitting Machine and my basket of worsted-weight cotton yarns. I've learned that inelastic yarns like these don't work well for intarsia or cables on the knitting machine. My hand knitting led me to expect trouble with intarsia--springy fibers like wool work much better for picture knitting, but I've always liked the way hand-knitted cables look in cotton yarn--highly defined, sort of sculptural. On the knitting machine, the cable crosses pull so hard on the machine's needles I'm afraid they will bend.

knitted swatch--spring green cotton

Right now, I'm knitting long skinny strips in different shades of green, with the intention of sewing them together to make flat fabric. Then, I can cut out pattern pieces and sew them together. I've had good luck with this in other projects. I cut new necklines in a couple of wool ready-to-wear sweaters, and knitted on new neckbands successfully. I didn't need to finish the cut edges--the wool was already lightly felted, and didn't ravel at all. When I cut apart and reshaped an oversized cotton sweater, I drew on seam lines, zig-zagged the lines on my sewing machine, cut away the excess material, and machine-stitched the pieces like any stretchy knit fabric. That's what I'm considering for this project, but I'll have many opportunities to change course.

swatch--multicolored plied cotton

Here are some links on ways to make knitted fabrics a little bit at a time.

Strip Knitting

Modular or Patchwork Knitting

Monday, November 05, 2007

1985 Flood, Pocahontas County

Friel house hitting the Marlinton bridge, 1985

Checking the November entries in On This Day in West Virginia History, I noticed that this is the anniversary of the 1985 flood. The West Virginia Archives and History note that on November 7, Ronald Reagan declared seven West Virginia counties federal disaster areas, and they quote the Pendleton Times report of November 14 on the destructive flooding in that county. A more detailed, county-by-county account of the flood is available in the 1985 book Killing Waters: The Great West Virginia Flood of 1985, compiled and edited by Bob Teets and Shelby Young.

These days, the Greenbrier River is lower than I've ever seen it at the bridge in Marlinton. It's hard to comprehend this photograph, captioned:

MARLINTON--A house swept along the rain-swollen Greenbrier River slams into the West Virginia Route 39 bridge at Marlinton as streams in much of the state reached flood stage after several days of rain. The Pocahontas County community was among dozens in West Virginia hit by the worst flooding in a century.

Rivers rose quickly on November 4, and many Pocahontas County homes, roads, and businesses were flooded by November 5. The Pocahontas Times office preserves it's 1985 high water mark (above eye level), but they managed to publish a November 7 edition detailing damages, including this:

For years reports on flooding possibilities in Marlinton have been described in federal agency language by what is known as the "100 Year Flood." On Monday citizens in Pocahontas County found out what the effect of such a flood would have on the County and the results are truly tragic--four dead, the Town of Marlinton almost totally devastated, a portion of Cass heavily damaged, three Greenbrier River bridges washed away, and other sections of the County damaged.

The heavy rains that caused the flooding in Pocahontas County also caused widespread flooding over much of West Virginia, as well as other states. Record flood levels were reported on the Greenbrier, West Fork, Cheat, Tygart, and Little Kanawha Rivers.

Four people are known dead in the County due to the flooding and authorities are not sure of the location of several others....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Persistence of Pocahontas County Panthers

Princess yawning

The November issue of the Pocahontas Times' monthly tourism section, "Mountain Times" has an interesting article on the possibility of panthers in Pocahontas County, by Drew Tanner. Authoritative agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and West Virginia DNR have no confirmed mountain lion reports in since 1900. However, this county is big and sparsely populated, and several people I know are sure they've seen them. Sightings are infrequent, but my "informants" are quite credible. (Yes, I know, that's my kitty, not a cougar. I'm not presenting myself as a credible witness.)

I recommend Mr. Tanner's article, which, unlike the rest of the Pocahontas Times, will remain freely available in a public archive. Here's a small sample:

...Belief in the persistence of panthers has deep roots in these parts. Long-time readers of The Pocahontas Times are well aware that the venerated editor and conservationist Cal Price firmly believed the eastern cougar still roamed the "endless mountains" of Appalachia -particularly the Allegheny highlands. Price often published reports of sightings, mauled livestock and that eerie, unmistakable cry.....

With the exception of Florida, the cougar has been extirpated from east of the Mississippi River since 1900, according to wildlife officials....

In 1936, tracks in the vicinity of Kennison Mountain, Pocahontas County, were reported by workers from the U.S. National Museum. Although there are still sightings of mountain lions in the Mountain State, the DNR maintains that the source of these animals is difficult to determine. Two cougars captured in Pocahontas County in 1976 were western cougars that had been transported here and released. Subsequent sightings reported to the agency have also been escaped or released animals.

Despite their troubled history, sightings of cougars in remote areas of the East never completely ceased. By the 1960s, sightings had increased to the point that the eastern cougar was believed to be possibly still existing and was included in the first Endangered Species Act in 1973. An official U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service search for cougar signs in the late 1970s and early 1980s turned up several promising scats, but technology available at that time could not confirm them as cougar, and no other confirming evidence was found. But in the 1990s, DNA analysis as well as other methods began to confirm field evidence of cougars.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Left-Over Yarn Experimentation

Blue t-shirt knit yarn swatch

For some reason, late fall is the time of year I pull out my overflowing bags of fabric scraps and hunt for project ideas that will reduce the stash volume and produce something useful, attractive, and/or fun. Scrap quilts are always great projects, and I've even made window quilts out of rayon scraps (totally inappropriate for quilts, yet too pretty to discard) by sewing them to foundation pieces cut from old tablecloths. Last year, I hauled out my boxes of knit scraps and used up an entire laundry basket full testing lingerie patterns.

Pink cotton/wool blend swatch

Although I have plans to work with fabric scraps soon, the knitting machine preoccupation has moved me to drag out my large collection of worsted weight cotton and cotton/rayon yarns. Some of these are leftovers from completed projects, others are odds and ends I bought over the years from end of summer sale baskets. I've found that I don't usually like wearing sweaters knitted of cotton this heavy. Fingering-weight or sport weight cotton seems much more wearable. I knitted a cotton throw once, and it was heavy, and stretched badly, and wore out quickly. I even sold a few lots of pretty cotton yarn on eBay, but they don't have the brand names that knitters recognize these days. If only eBay had been around in the 1980's--these were real uptown brands in their day.

Kingfisher blue cotton yarn swatch

Now I'm swatching on the Bond Antepenultimate Sweater Machine, hoping for inspiration to strike. There's not enough of any one color or texture to make a complete project, so I'm looking for ways to combine colors and textures. I'm thinking about knitting strips or squares (or more random shapes) and piecing them together. Maybe I could make a jacket....

Friday, November 02, 2007

Return of the Greenbrier Backcountry Cannibals

For a while, my blog was one of Google's top hits for "inbred hillbillies West Virginia." I'd posted on James Dickey, Shelby Lee Adams, W. J. Cash, and Wrong Turn, a 2003 horror movie set in the "Greenbrier Backcountry of West Virginia." Time passes, and other Web sites have outstripped me, but lately I've been getting several hits a day looking for Greenbrier Backcountry.

That's how I discovered the release, last month, of Wrong Turn 2 - Dead End. Those unstoppable inbred hillbilly cannibals are back in a direct-to-DVD release. The Greenbrier has its headwaters in Pocahontas County, and runs right near Droop Mountain, so we're squarely in Greenbrier backcountry. That's one reason Wrong Turn is such a teen favorite around here. While it was actually filmed in Canada, the kids really enjoy trying to identify local landmarks. "I think I know that gas station!"

I'm sure the schoolkids will be interested in the sequel's synopsis:

Taking place shortly after the events of the original Wrong Turn, a group of six contestants are thrown together for six days in a simulated post-apocalyptic wasteland due to their participation in a reality television show called The Ultimate Survivalist: The Apocalypse, hosted and produced by a retired military commander Dale Murphy (Henry Rollins), in which the winner will walk away with $100,000. Located in a remote part of West Virginia, the contestants soon discover that what they really are fighting for is their survival--against a family of hideously deformed inbred cannibals who plan to ruthlessly butcher them all.

One of the things I liked best in the original was the parking lot the hillbilly cannibals kept by their house, filled with the SUV's and cars of the tourists they'd devoured. Mountain bikes and ski equipment filled the luggage carriers and back seats. Pocahontas County is being promoted as a tourist destination, and much of the real estate changing hands becomes vacation property. While the Tourism Board probably wouldn't agree, I think many natives might like to see a DVD three-pack in every ski condo rental unit: Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and this new movie, Wrong Turn 2 - Dead End. Y'all come back now, hear?

Some of the "do-it-yourself" movie review Web sites identify a genre of horror movie featuring "inbred hillbillies," but I've been disappointed to find they are usually about rednecks, hayseeds, or hicks, not hillbillies sensu strictu. Here are some examples of confusion about "hillbillies:"