Monday, November 29, 2010

Mountain Views

STUNNING views from the Cherohala Skyway, on our drive back from the mountains where we spent Thanksgiving. Popular among motorists especially in 'leaf season', this winding mountain byway crosses two national forests and offers incredible views for miles around. Now in late Autumn, however, we had it almost to ourselves.

A short chilly hike led upwards through the forest, via a few diversions to climb trees, before we popped out surprisingly in a blustery field at the top of the mountain. These grassy balds are one of the unique features of the area and in the past were often used to graze livestock. With no cows to hand, we used the bald instead to view the changing colors of the sky and distant mountains before running back down to our warm car.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tree Fruit Game

WE were out on a walk during Thanksgiving weekend in the mountains and came across many fallen tree fruits, the size of tennis balls. A few still hung on trees without their leaves - a curious sight -but most lay on the ground. We collected some and discovered that despite their size and weight, they float. They were useful too - when thrown from a small bridge into the stream below, they became perfect puppy-fetch-fodder, over and over again. Turns out they were Osage Orange, or Hedge Apple. Some interesting facts:
  • The fruits are often kept for 2-3 months indoors, where they act as an insect repellent
  • The hard bark was often used to make bows and arrows by Native Americans, and is considered exceptionally good wood for instrument making
  • The orange root can be used to make yellow dye.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snakes on the Plain

THE discovery of a small brown snake lying in the grass in a park, with a big chunk out of its neck, led to discussions about snakes - what they eat, where they are found and whether they are harmful. It turns out there are 36 different kinds of non-venomous snakes in Georgia, and 6 venomous.

What's the difference between venomous and poisonous? It's all in the delivery and the motive. Venomous creatures store toxins internally, delivering their toxic delight by fangs or a stinger to capture prey. Poisonous animals on the other hand usually release poison through their skin, when the animal is touched or consumed. Venomous animals use toxins to make dinner, poisonous animals to avoid becoming dinner.

Easy catch though it was, we left the ailing snake in the grass to become someone else's dinner.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Walk About With My Lantern

FOR the first time we experienced Martinmas with a really large group of people. All four kindergarten classes at Emma's school, along with their families, gathered after dark. Everyone carried a lantern - the children's made in school, others brought from home. The ceremony began quietly, and we walked a magical candlelit path through the woods in a long procession, quietly singing lantern songs. In the middle of the woods, a blazing bonfire invited us to gather and sing together, before we quietly peeled off back to our cars, a generous chunk of gingerbread pressed in everyone's hand.

While the story of Martinmas is of St. Martin, who cut his cloak in two to share with a freezing beggar, the theme of bringing light to the dark, hope to the foresaken, is especially poignant for young children.

"St. Martin, St. Martin, St. Martin rode through wind and snow
On his strong horse, his heart aglow.
He rode so boldly through the storm
His large cloak kept him well and warm.

By the roadside, by the roadside, by the roadside a poor man arose
Out of the snow in tattered clothes.
Kind sir, please aid me in my plight
Or else I'll die from cold tonight.

St. Martin, St. Martin, St. Martin stopped his horse and drew
His sword and cut his cloak in two.
One half to the beggarman he gave
And by this deed his life did save."