Sunday, January 15, 2012

Life On the Wild Edge - Part II

(Continued from the preceding post)

During the fall of 2005 we built a concrete structure at the outflow of the pond in order to stabilize the outflow at a constant rate.  This relatively unobtrusive structure, now moss-lined, has also allowed us to estimate the approximate production of the spring at the outflow at greater than 22 gallons per hour.  Given that water produced by the spring evaporates and also percolates into the surrounding soil, we know that production from the spring itself has to be greater than the water that exits the pond through the outflow.

In any event, the pool provides habitat for a healthy, noisy population of frogs and other amphibians.  The frogs attach their egg clusters to the loose branches that float about the pool.  They spawn throughout the late winter and are joined by other species as the seasons advance. The Southern Appalachians are incredibly rich in amphibian species. In addition to the frogs, we have noted three species of salamanders and I'm sure there are others. 

There are times in the spring and summer when I think that the local bear population outnumbers the local human population. The black bear is quite an impressive creature capable of doing a bit of damage.  We are fortunate that the black bear is also a relatively peaceful species.  The bears will surrender their normal shyness in pursuit of the seed that many of our neighbors offer to the rich bird population that visit and, in some cases, live on these ridges.  At Hidden Springs we don't we don't intentionally feed birds or other wild species.  We are, however, replacing exotic vegetation with native vegetation that produce food for the birds and other animals.  By the way, the bears like the spring pool and frequently use it as a ‘wallow’ in which to bathe.  Nothing smells quite like a bear dripping wet from its bath. Here at Hidden Springs we are using many of the restoration techniques we applied and experimented with at White Oak Cottage in Georgia, and subsequently published in Countryside Magazine, Permaculture Magazine, and other outlets. 

Human populations will continue to push out against the wild land edge.  Where we cannot contain ourselves, we must learn how to make that push as gentle as possible.  Here at Hidden Springs, just as at our previous homes we are trying to learn how to do that.

Additional material on sensitive Earthcare may be found as follows:

Baugh, Tom. 1995. Restoring Spring Meadow. American Horticulture 74(12) :12-13.
Baugh, Tom. 1996. Beating sidewalks into gardens. Organic Gardening 43(2) :72.
Baugh, T. and P. Baugh. 2001. A hole in the forest. Countryside 85(1):93-96.
Baugh, T.  2003. An American Meadow.  Permaculture Magazine. (35):23-25
Baugh, T.  2003. Members of the community. BackHome Magazine. May/June 2003.
Baugh, T. 2003. Defensive gardening.  Countryside 87(3):37-40.
Baugh, T. 2003. Build and log ‘n limb fence.  Countryside. 87-(4):62-63.
Baugh, T. 2003. Native shrubs that won’t impress the neighbors.  Countryside 87(5): 67-68.
Baugh, T. 2003. Waterhole at White Oak.  Countryside 87(1): 52-53
Baugh, T.  2003. The Rain Catcher.  Countryside. 87(6):36-37.
Baugh, T. 2003. Half Time Creek.  Permaculture Magazine. (37)19-22.
Baugh, Tom. 2004. Ripples in the stream. Countryside. 88(6):52-53.                                   
Baugh, Tom. 2004. When a tree falls in our forest. Permaculture Magazine. 42:52-54.
Baugh, Tom. 2006. Life on the wild edge. Countryside 90(3):79-81.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Life On the Wild Edge - Part I

For decades now, my artist wife Penny and I have practiced a form of restoration ecology whether we were buying previously existing homes or, on one occasion, building one of our own.  With respect for their beauty and uniqueness, we have generally removed nonnative vegetation and reestablished native vegetation.  We have made as many energy and water saving modifications to the house itself as possible and as we could afford, including establishing rainwater holding tanks and installing tubes that bring sunlight into previously dark rooms. We recycle, we repurpose, and we compost. Mostly, we try to live quietly in our neighborhoods and in unity with our non-human neighbors.  For example, our mouser, for the areas above and below the living quarters is Bill, a five foot black snake. Black bears visit the spring at the lower end of our small patch and the cubs play in the spring pool.  The bears often pass under my study window and their wet, gamey smell lingers for some time along with their paw prints in the wet earth.

In fall of 2004, we moved from White Oak Cottage, our place deep in the woods of northwestern Georgia, and relocated to the mountains of Western North Carolina.
We were attracted to Hidden Springs by a number of things.  The house was about the right size.  The rock of the ridge along the west side of the property was exposed along half of the property line.  The native rhododendrons and laurels were beautiful and provided a sight and sound barrier between us and our closest neighbors.  We were also attracted to the hollow that dropped steeply down behind the north side of the house. 
Unlike White Oak Cottage, our home in Georgia, Hidden Springs is located in a development aptly named Rambling Ridge about ten minutes from the crossroads of Etowah, NC and half way between the much larger centers of Hendersonville and Brevard, both about 30 minutes away.  Our home is located on a ridge at an elevation of 2500 feet, about midway up a convoluted series of ridges that rise a thousand feet above us and drop below us to the valley floor through which winds the French Broad River. 
We live on what ecologists often refer to as the wild land edge.  As human populations push harder and harder against the as yet undeveloped places of Earth, an increasing number of people in the United States and throughout the world live on the wild land edge.  All in all, this is a loss to Earth and all its ‘tribes’ of living things.  But the inexorable push will continue.  There are ways to soften the impacts of human expansion.  There are even ways to correct those impacts and restore wildland and we must look for these ways in order to live in greater harmony with the larger community of life on Earth.
We are the third owners of Hidden Springs.  Twenty years ago, a developer brought in a bulldozer and knocked the top off of this part of the ridge to create a place just flat enough for our home.  In the process, all of the native rhododendrons and mountain laurels were bulldozed into oblivion.  Fortunately for us, the destruction stopped no more than six feet behind the rear of the house.  From that point the land drops steeply into a hollow and the rhododendrons and laurels take over.  The first owners of the home planted the front of the place with an extensive lawn and mostly nonnative plants. They must have been comfortable with this because when we purchased the place and moved in it was hard work for me to undo 20 years of ornamental growth.  The roots of those shrubs went deep. 
But most of these imports are gone now and in their place native species such as sweetshrub, sweet spire, and strawberry shrub are growing.  We brought cuttings of these species from White Oak Cottage in Georgia and planted them here at Hidden Springs.  Many of them made the journey successfully and have taken root.  They are now, years later, several feet tall.  Their red berries and white racemes feed the birds and nurture the butterflies and the deep auburn of their leaves will complement the muted russet brick of our home providing color through the snows and over the winter months. 
Those places left barren by the removal of nonnative annuals and perennials have been replanted with native species such as trillium, trout lily, galax and other native perennials. The corms and tubers we have planted over the years have survived and increased in great numbers thus establishing new 'native' plant beginnings on this ridge.
It wasn’t until the surveyor’s plat arrived, while we were still at White Oak Cottage in Georgia, that we realized that there was yet another feature to Hidden Springs.  The plat showed a ‘pond’ at the lower end of the L-shaped property.  On the day we finalized the purchase I hiked down into the hollow and there, set among the rhododendrons and just within the property lines was a pond that I estimated to be about 5,000 gallons.  What an added bonus and all of this on less than an acre! 

(Continued in the next post.)


 I sit here
on the edge of the world.

Beyond me
the forest stretches further than the western horizon.

There are roads out there
dirt and gravel, and asphalt.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, perched on the side of this hill
is the edge of the world

Beyond me
the roiling clouds of a late winter storm color the sky black and grey.

There are people out there
living lives uniquely their own.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, placed among the ancient oaks
is the edge of the world.

Beyond me
The forest anticipates change, the coming of spring with budding shrub and tree.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, slumbering above the greening meadow
is the edge of the world.

(Previously published in the summer 2003 issue of Talking Leaves)