Monday, April 13, 2015

Wakefield (4/11/2015)

Spent a wonderful time Saturday running around in Surry, Sussex and Southampton Counties.  This is a more rural/agricultural area of the coastal plains of Virginia.  Our road trip started with a ferry ride across the James River from Jamestown to Scotland.  We first visited Chippokes State Park.  They were holding a fiber festival and were sheering sheep and alpacas and selling wool and its paraphernalia and peanuts.  This was my first visit to Chippokes; I think I've always considered it less attractive and less charismatic, since it is so close to home, in an area that I know well, ecologically, environmentally and from being on the water so much.  But I was proven wrong; in our minds, while we were driving through the place, we were already renting a cabin for a weekend sometime this fall.  The fiber festival was small and intimate.

This visit was followed by lunch at the Virginia Diner.  The diner is a great place the have some interesting Virginia style food, and our current all time favorite: Peanut pie!  It seems that Guy Fieri from Food Channel's Diners Drive-Ins and Dives visited the diner for the first season of the show.  The Virginia Diner also sells lots of peanuts and it is a great meeting place.  That brings you to the economy of the area.  Driving around, you see agriculture and forestry; that's basically it.  Agriculture includes a lot of peanuts and pork, although I understand peanuts are somewhat on their way out and being replaced by cotton, corn and soybeans.

After lunch we visited a natural area that is managed in a different way than many of the woods here in Virginia.  The photograph below shows you what I mean:

Very rarely do you see a savanna type forest as you see in this photograph.  This type of forest (vegetation) is somewhat more prevalent further south, but even there it is on it's way out.  This vegetation is a typical example of a stand that is frequently burned.  Yes you can see some of the scarring on the trees, but pines can and will survive it, at least when the fire does not get too hot.  All the needles on the ground will burn up, giving grasses a better chance to get established.  Moreover, most of the broad-leaf species do not like fire and they are suppressed.  The photo below somehow show this as well.  The area to the left appeared to have been burned last year while the area on the right-hand side of the trail was burned a few years earlier.  You can see to invasion of the broad-leaf species such as oaks and gums.

As regular readers know, I am such a proponent of maintaining the natural balance in the woods.  I have lamented about the lack of predators in the woods (just look for the labels for "deer", "natural balance", or even "wolves", to read some of my postings on that subject).  The lack of fire in these forest ecosystems is another one of those things that is sorely missing in our area and in many areas.  Yes, fire consumes a lot of biomass in a forest (or at least it looks like that); it kills a lot of the hardwoods; it produces a lot of smoke; and it might threaten human life and property (as we see in some of the California fires), but the complete fire control allowed for the development of forests that the first colonizers would not recognize.  Driving back through Isle of Wight County after a day in these woods we were astonished that you could hardly look more than 10 feet into the woods and everything was blocked by crappy plants that live in the edge of wood lots.  A walk though the woods behind our home was an eye opener after a day like Saturday.  There in so much dead biomass built up in those woods from fallen trees, which in addition, to all the leaves and needles have made these woods a complete fire trap.  On top of that, these woods without fire are not very diverse.  The layer of leaves are basically prevents the seeds from germinating and this really impoverishes the forests.  Naturally those damn deer don't help.  An additional positive impact of fire is that it may keep some of the non-native plants that are trying to invade our woods under control.

It is amazing what the reintroduction of fire did to the area.  Our guide told us that he has never seen a fox in the area, while at the same time we stopped to admire some rare birds and carnivorous (flesh eating) plants.  In all, this again shows the result of humans modifying the environment we live in.  Whether it is killing wolves or suppressing wild fires, the environment changes as a result of these modifications, often with unintended and unanticipated results, all the while doing it thinking we are doing it for the benefit of humanity.  It was an exhilarating day and we learned a lot.

No comments:

Post a Comment