Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Day Sunshine

Sunday morning, a dozen people joined me for CPOP's regularly scheduled 10am nature hike. We enjoyed blue skies over trails that were still muddy from last week's deluge.

Luckily, Jimmy reads the Memphis Flyer more carefully than I do, and he warned me that last week's issue said our hike would start at 11:30. Shortly after the 10 o'clock hikers dispersed at the Lick Creek bridge, about fifteen Flyer readers showed up for their 11:30 hike.

I can walk in the woods all day without getting bored, so I was happy to do back-to-back hikes. Let's do it again sometime!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Here comes the sun

Everyone is welcome to join us at 10:00am tomorrow, Sunday the 28th, for a nature hike in the Old Forest! We meet at the east end of Old Forest Lane, next to the Rainbow Lake parking area.

Friday, December 26, 2008

There's Fungus Among Us

We took a Christmas afternoon hike and enjoyed the mild weather. I got a new camera from Santa, so I snapped a few pics of some really cool mushrooms.

These first two are almost flower like...

And these remind me of a snowflake and snow...

Oh, and this one looks a little like...BRAINS!

Cool huh? Anybody know what these are called?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For these paths

A Blessing for the Woods
By Michael S. Glaser

Before I leave, almost without noticing,
before I cross the road and head toward
what I have intentionally postponed—

Let me stop to say a blessing for these woods:
for crows barking and squirrels scampering,
for trees and fungus and multi-colored leaves,

for the way sunlight laces with shadows
through each branch and leaf of tree,
for these paths that take me in,
for these paths that lead me out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hortus siccus

Outside is cold and dreary today, but the sunshine is on its way back. Join us this Saturday, December 13, at 10:00am for our usual Second Saturday hike. As always, we meet at the Lick Creek bridge by the Rainbow Lake parking area, at the east end of Old Forest Lane.

You might think there isn't much to see in the Old Forest this time of year, but you'd be wrong. Our winter woods are chock full of huggable trees and gawkable natural wonders of all shapes and sizes.

In winter, nature is a cabinet of curiosities, full of dried specimens, in their natural order and position. The meadows and forests are a hortus siccus. The leaves and grasses stand perfectly pressed by the air without screw or gum, and the birds' nests are not hung on an artificial twig, but where they builded them.

- From "A Winter Walk" by ol' Hank Thoreau

See you in the woods!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The faded earth, the heavy sky

Our winter woods are empty and quiet and dull compared to earlier seasons, but they are not silent. Nuthatches chatter, gray squirrels forage for acorns, a flock of migrating blackbirds rises in a noisy swirl.

We hear these things. We don't hear the lively chaos bustling beneath our feet. Tree roots unfurling, beetles eating fungi, earthworms converting leaf litter into thick rich soil.

Our human ears fail us, here.

Likewise, our eyes favor big things over little things. Our brains are hardwired to value rare things more than common things.

Our human senses and our human instincts tell us that majestic oaks are better than lichens. Elephants are better than lowly worms.

It's so easy to forget that without worms, there would be no elephants. Without lichens, there would be no oaks.

Oak, elephant, hickory, tiger, forest. We love the sound of these words.

Fungus, slime, mold, grub, soil? Not so much.

But without soil, there would be no forest. Without grub, there would be no tiger. Without microbe, there would be no human.

Take a walk in our winter woods and ponder on that.

Pawpaw Mystery

Who's chopping down our pawpaw trees?

Taking a few pawpaws to eat: Cool.
Taking enough to eat for a week: Eh, not so cool.
Cutting down baby pawpaw trees: Extremely uncool.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Just a couple of examples of plants you don't wanna mess with!

Devil's Walking Stick

Honey Locust

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Ok, let's play a game. Can you guess what made these scars? (Pictures by me, answers by Naomi)





A. These holes were made by woodpeckers hunting the beetles, ants, termites, and other insects that are munching away inside this dead elm.

B. The striped scars around this pawpaw were made by a twining vine that has died and fallen off the tree.

C. This old water oak is what we call a "snag" or "wildlife tree." It has been dead for a long time. Fungi and wood-boring insects have removed and softened the remaining bark. The two large holes were likely made by Pileated woodpeckers, and may be used as nesting cavities. The loose bark and cavities in the upper reaches of this tree will provide shelter and nesting sites for animals such as tree frogs, raccoons, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, several types of bats, opossums, house wrens, great horned owls, barred owls, screech owls, and a variety of woodpecker species.

D. The holes in this pawpaw sapling were made by a woodpecker called a yellow-bellied sapsucker (for real!) which, as its name suggests, feeds exclusively on tree sap. The sapsucker drills a line of holes, slurps up the sap that emerges, and repeats the process until its little yellow belly is full.

How'd you score?

4 right = You are a bonafide treehugger!

3 right = You are one step away from being a bonafide treehugger!

2 right = You should come on more CPOP hikes!

1 right = You should come on more CPOP hikes too!

0 right = Contact Naomi immediately for your punishment!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spruce Up Your Immune System

Or in our case, OAK up your immune system...

From this month's Men's Health magazine:

You may finally have a legitimate reason to hug a tree: A hike in the woods can boost your immunity, say Japanese researchers. They found that men who walked through a forest for a total of six hours over 2 days experienced a 46 percent spike in their blood levels of natural killer cells, which are part of your body's SWAT team against invading viruses. Apparently, all trees release airborne chemicals called phytoncides that not only protect their foliage from microbes, but also help stimulate our own immune systems.

Presumably this works for the womenfolk too.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The blessed and the blessing trees

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rockets on the rise

Time for another guest post from our friend Elaine Blanchard at www.porchswingstories.com!

Old Forest Hike

Christine Todd teaches a class of nine fourth-graders at Snowden Elementary who are called the Reading Rockets. The class is small in size and Ms Todd is focused on helping each Reading Rocket to improve his or her skills in reading, arithmetic and the sciences. Mutual admiration exists between Ms Todd and the members of her class. It would appear this teacher intends to love her students into learning more.

I volunteer on Tuesdays and assist Ms Todd with the class. I enjoy the work and the pleasure of getting to know these special people.

After hearing Richard Louv (author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder") speak at GPAC last month, I made up my mind to arrange a hike through Overton Park’s Old Forest so the Reading Rockets could have a valuable experience with nature and learn about one of our priceless resources here in Midtown.

CPOP's Jimmy Ogle met us at the bridge by the playground and began our outdoor adventure by sharing some of the park’s history. We learned that Overton Park was developed in 1901 and named for John Overton, one of the original founders of Memphis. The children were distracted by a man with his dog and they ran to pet the miniature pinscher. The dog-owner graciously allowed them to pet his dog and then we turned toward the forest.

Our guide described the ways a dead and fallen tree feeds life in the forest while the children ran in nine different directions. With amazing patience, Mr. Ogle encouraged the group to walk only on the beaten path. Their assignment was to collect leaves: oak, magnolia, persimmon, pecan, tulip poplar, sweet gum. One child discovered a spider and every child swarmed to have a look. Huge oak trees looked down on a wild and happy group of children as they discovered fungus, a gnome home, and grape vines large enough for Tarzan to use for swinging across a jungle.

We heard about the forest canopy and how smaller trees grow toward patches of sunlight. Arms were stretched around one huge tree trunk. It took one adult and three children to stretch around that tree! We saw a few birds take flight. At one point we all stood still and listened to the forest. Mr. Ogle taught us how to recognize poison ivy. By the end of the hike our guide could call each of the children by name. And he generously offered to meet us again in the spring when the forest will have new sights and sounds to experience.

It was a perfect day, sunny with mild temperatures. The Reading Rockets walked into the Old Forest and found so many wonders. They found in Mr. Ogle a new friend and teacher. They walked back to the school talking about the forest as if it is now a part of their classroom, a very old place with new things to teach the Reading Rockets.

Thanks to Elaine Blanchard, Christine Todd, and our own Jimmy Ogle for giving their time to share the Old Forest with the Reading Rockets. But most of all, thanks to the Rockets for being excellent nature-hikers!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Walk off the gravy with CPOP

Don't forget that this Sunday we will be leading a hike through the Old Forest at 10am. It's a great opportunity to walk off some of that gravy and possibly indulge your inner Tarzan!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some bunny loves us

One of our young supporters drew this adorable (and socially-conscious) woodland critter:

Thank you, Brighid! You're awesome!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vox populi

One of our supporters emailed to ask about the final results of the online poll that accompanied this September 9 article in the Commercial Appeal.

The polls are closed, the votes have been tallied, and the Old Forest won a landslide victory!

True, people have varying notions of what it means to leave something "intact," but we think it's safe to equate the middle option with "no bulldozing allowed." And that would be a major improvement on the Memphis Zoo's current Old Forest management style.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Itsy-bitsy it's not

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - Commercial Appeal

A creature that plunges oversize fangs into its prey before dragging it into a tube-like silk enclosure lies waiting for breakfast in Overton Park. The fangs are huge -- half the length of the creature's legs. How cool is that?

And it's not small for an arachnid -- 2 inches. The colorful, deadly and fascinating purseweb spider reminds us of what an urban treasure Memphis has in Overton Park's Old Forest. There are snakes there, too, and pawpaw trees that drop their seedy fruit in late summer. There are owls, hawks and an occasional coyote sighting. The list goes on and on.

The purseweb spider, whose primary threat is deforestation, made the news this week after researchers at the Mempis Zoo reported finding a bunch of them and began compiling research for submission to The Journal of Arachnology.

Whether 17 acres of Old Forest now under the control of the zoo becomes part of an exhibit or is opened to the public, it's important to preserve it for posterity in its present state.

Workers are now erecting a Teton Trek exhibit that doomed 139 of the forest's trees. Any further encroachment would be a shame. There's no telling what else may be lurking under its majestic canopy, with fangs and without.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's no snail darter, but...

Today's Commercial Appeal has a fascinating article: Unusual spider may put Memphis on scientific map.

Two years ago, while Baker and two other researchers were in the zoo's 17 acres of old growth forest, an unusual spider with a body as shiny as black patent leather and bright red legs scurried across their path.

They captured the insect, and the research began. They're now compiling their work for submission to The Journal of Arachnology, a publication from the American Arachnological Society.

It's great to see the Memphis Zoo exploring the scientific value of the old growth forest of Overton Park. If our forest is a global hotspot for the purseweb spider, as the article implies, just imagine what other rare creatures could be thriving in those ancient shadows.

In February we lost four acres of this unique and irreplaceable habitat because the Memphis Zoo chose to clearcut new ground rather than redevelop outdated exhibits.

Over the summer, the Memphis Zoo has done extensive chainsaw clearing and other unnecessary "cleanup" work inside the 17 acres of fenced-off forest. The botanist who is currently doing a comprehensive plant survey of the Old Forest has not been permitted to enter the 17 acres.

Maybe the purseweb spider can teach the leaders of the Memphis Zoo to read the writing on their own walls.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Do the walk of life

November is a great month to visit the Old Forest -- no bugs, beautiful fall colors, fresh chilly air! On Friday evening, Stacey, Roy, Jimmy and I led night hikes for nearly 100 people at the Park Friends annual hayride/bonfire at Overton Park.

Since this was our first attempt at night-hiking and the groups were so large, we stuck to the park's paved roads so's not to misplace any small fry or break any ankles. Even on pavement, it still felt like an adventure to be walking through the Old Forest at night.

I ducked out early because I was on duty for the next morning's Second Saturday hike. More than 20 people showed up to admire the blazing hickories and glowing oaks. Here's the littlest hiker:

Every time I lead a CPOP hike, my camera rides along in my backpack, but I'm usually too busy walking-and-talking to snap photos. This time I solved that problem by handing my camera over to a talented teenager.

Thanks for these excellent photos, Tessa!

Our next free public hike is scheduled for the last Sunday of the month, so mark your calendars for 10:00am, November 30 if you'd like to join us!