Enjoy the Colorful Photographic Impressions by Vann Helms
With daytime temperatures in the mid 70’s and with the low 50’s at night, Indian Summer has arrived with the peak of color around the house. The walk with Buddy and Hunter at sunrise was so beautiful, I didn’t want to come back home. This should last for a week, with more reds, and brighter yellows with the Hickories. The Maples are always the most vibrant, with vermilion being the best.
With the peak of color still a week away, Mother Nature isn’t waiting around to the last minute to show the magic she has in store for this valley along the Eastern Blue Ridge escarpment.
Broomsedge Grass always turns a golden orange in early October. It gets to be four feet tall in a final growth spurt in September. It has no commercial value, but helps to hold the clay filled soil in place all year long.
With only one mild freeze so far this season in all the mountains, autumn is taking her sweet time to descend down the slopes. Last year, the peak color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell was October 13th. I was up there today, October 18th, and the peak is sill four or five days away. Driving from Marion to the Parkway on NC 80, a climb of 2,100 feet in elevation, the colors have yet to happen, and driving south on the Parkway toward Mt. Mitchell, the first intense trees didn’t appear until the 4,000 foot level.
Leaving the Parkway and heading west on NC 80, the Mt. Mitchell Golf Club sits directly under towering Mt. Mitchell. No sign of peak color here either, but the green of the course reminds you that Jack Frost has stayed away.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, over three billion American Chestnut trees covered the forests from Georgia to Maine. These trees were so large that they were called the Redwoods of the East. Some trunks were measured at over 18 feet in diameter.
This photo is from 1907 in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.
And then, the infamous Chestnut blight struck down almost every one of those three billion trees, and within fifty years, the American Chestnut was almost eliminated.
This 1920 photograph of the Shelton family in Western North Carolina shows a bohemoth that had already died. A tree that had helped to build America and was part of our folklore had disappeared from the forest in the blink of an eye.
This morning during my daily walk, I came upon hundreds of “sea urchin” looking pods covering a large portion of ground. All of them had sharp spines, but some were green, and had opened to reveal small nut like kernels. Others were still closed and had turned a dark brownish purple. In the five years I have lived in this remote area between Lake Lure and Asheville, I had never seen anything like them. I carried a number of them back home to photograph, and to search for on the internet.
I have contacted the American Chestnut Foundation in Asheville, and they have confirmed that the burrs and nuts are American Chestnut, but the nuts appear to be non-viable. That would mean that a male tree is not present that could pollinate the female tree that produced these burrs and nuts.
They plan to examine the tree, and possibly use pollen from the spring flowers to cross pollinate fungus resistant varieties from the Far East, eventually giving them a fungus resistant tree that is 94% American Chestnut. Stay tuned…..
About 2,500 chestnut trees are growing on 60 acres near West Salem, Wisconsin, which is the world’s largest remaining stand of American chestnut. These trees are the descendants of those planted by Martin Hicks, an early settler in the area. In the late 1800s, Hicks planted less than a dozen chestnuts. Planted outside the natural range of chestnut, these trees escaped the initial onslaught of chestnut blight, but in 1987, scientists found blight in the stand. Scientists are working to try to save the trees.
Two of the largest surviving American chestnut trees are in Jackson County, Tennessee. One, the state champion, has a diameter of 24 inches and a height of 75 feet, and the other tree is nearly as large. One of them has been pollinated with hybrid pollen by members of The American Chestnut Foundation; the progeny will have mostly American chestnut genes and some will be blight resistant.
On May 18, 2006, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources spotted a stand of several trees near Warm Springs, Georgia. One of the trees is approximately 20–30 years old and 43 feet tall and is the southernmost American chestnut tree known to be flowering and producing nuts.
As you can see, these relics of a time past are very rare, and it’s possible that the tree I discovered might contribute to a small gene pool of resistant trees.
While exploring backroads along the eastern slopes of 2,600 foot Young’s Mountain, northeast of Lake Lure, above, I happened upon a gravel road called, Vineyard Way, and my curiosity got the better of me. Just a short distance ahead, I came upon this site.
Setting out on foot, I discovered a small, well cared for vineyard along Bill’s Creek, in a valley adjacent to the Apple Valley Golf Course, just two miles from Lake Lure.
These old signs let me know that the vineyard was called Cole Brooke, and the associated development was called The Vineyards at Lake Lure. Further research told me that the vineyard was made up of eleven acres, and had been planted in 2008 by Cathy and Wes Cleary from Florida. They called it Cole Brooke after their son and daughter. The grapes were described as French varietals, but I found no information about whether any wines had been bottled under that label.
The development, along with many others in this area, suffered from the Great Recession of 2008, and although roads and utilities had been installed, nothing has been built as of today. An offering on the web site lists all one to two acre lots for sale at $6,500 each.
The vineyard is a very beautiful and tranquil place, and perhaps one day its fortunes will change.
A drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a treat, but to drive to Grandfather Mountain when the colors are near peak is something special indeed. Yesterday, October 9th, found a profusion of yellows and oranges, and most of the slopes above 4,000 feet are already nearing peak color.
Linn Cove Viaduct seems to float around the mountain. It was built this way so as not to disturb the natural rock formations that cover the steep slope. On the horizon is Table and Hawksbill Mountains along the eastern rim of Linville Gorge.
Below is a short video that will give you the three dimensional effect that makes driving the Parkway so exciting. The piano is Chad Lawson playing “”As Only Yesterday”.
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