Straddling the long stony spine of West Virginia’s North Fork Mountain is an expanse of natural meadows, edged by red pine groves and gnarled oaks, called Nelson Sods (‘sods’ in local geographic usage means ‘meadows’). While the views are spectacular, the photos below, taken on a recent hike up on the mountain, are of the smaller wonders found there.



Above: wind-sculpted grasses along the ridgeline. Below: grass woven into a circular shape by the action of wind upon a milkweed stalk.






Above: a lone tree in the midst of the Sods. Below: a view across the ridge, red pines in the foreground.






Above: an old pine stump in the Sods. Below: detail of the weathered wood of the stump.



Below: British-soldier lichens.















Taken along the Potomac River, below the Great Falls, Maryland, October 31. From top to bottom: Sycamore leaves on river-eroded stone; bits of downed wood; metamorphic stone up-close; driftwooded tree and Solidago sp.;  Chasmanthium latifolium, river oats; seed pods of Clematis sp.

One of the smallest American national cemeteries, this tiny cemetery is wedged between residential developments off of Georgia Avenue in the far northeast corner of the District of Columbia. The soldiers (mostly soldiers anyway) interred there were, for the most part, killed during the battle of Fort Stevens, a half mile or so distant, in 1864. Today the cemetery is an odd little oasis of green, the grass tall, the trees rambling, a rather poignant setting for the bits of nationalist piety, half bellicose, half sorrowful, that pepper the little block of green.





















The following are some plants growing and blooming right now in St. Louis’ excellent Botanical Gardens. After a rather rough summer, the weather has cooled and gotten a little wetter, though we are still in drought conditions. Nonetheless, the late summer and early fall blooming plants are looking pretty good, at the gardens at least. Above, Liatris, don’t recall the species. Blazing star in the vernacular.

A Missouri native, Silphium terebinthinaceum, one of my favorites. Everything about this plant is nifty- great big luxurious leaves, remarkably tall spindly flower stalks, beautiful flowers.

Lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina.

Aquilegia chrysantha, golden columbine.

Salvia of some sort, I think.

Lamb’s ears leaves, up close.

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, another Missouri native.

These sunflowers, and various other plants, seem to have volunteered themselves in a disturbed empty lot along Manchester Avenue in the far western corner of the city of St. Louis, a little before Maplewood. Manchester runs through the valley of the River des Peres, which, despite the grandiose name, is these days a large concrete ditch with trickling polluted water. The valley, besides being home to Manchester Avenue, is a patchwork of abandoned green spaces, industrial plant, railroad yards, and, in the area proximate these sunflowers, struggling strip malls. A nearly defunct K-Mart is down the parking lot, along with long lonely stretches of blank facades. I don’t know what used to be in the lot these plants are flourishing in (well, blooming prolifically, at least- they are rather short, perhaps a result of soil deficiencies). There are concrete bits and blocks; the ground has been moved about relatively recently. Perhaps those disturbances awoke or encouraged the plants that have sprung up here this year; perhaps someone seeded the sunflowers as an act of random beautification. My guess would be the former; the other plants are usually classified as ‘weeds’ and do quite well for themselves, with or without human intervention. At any rate, this little patch of green and yellow is, it goes without say I think, a marker of the resiliency of the natural world, and the continual possibilities and life that so often lies just under the surface, waiting.

Next Page »