BRCES HFOF 2015
Festival of Nature Studies
This year I attended the ‘Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival’ (HFOF) at the ‘Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship’ (BRCES), as I did last year; but with some important differences. This time I camped in the woods, and observed, took notes, and recorded nature while the event was happening. Rather than actively volunteering and vending a booth in the field, this year I began passively volunteering on site in the Spring to conduct nature studies over a larger area on the hundreds of acres of the property. I began camping in the woods before and during the festival in order to be more relaxed in the shade, with less possessions to worry about; yet still able to observe natural wildlife, take notes by hand in my ‘Gremlins’ note-book from the 1980s, and enjoy the country-fair type social event.
It was a dark and rainy Thor’s-day night at Demory Field. Luckily the volunteers had finished work for the day, and safety checks performed, so all was well. Time to relax with cold beer and smokey mist, rolling along the hillside. There was no lightning, but lightning-bugs lit up the fields, as summers before. It was a full-moon, but the rain clouds covered it. As I walked the dark trail through the woods, down to my camp site by Piney Run creek, I was comforted that although all was wet, from humidity and rain; at least my assistant Nacho and I had set up the tarps earlier before dark, to the best of our ability.
Darkness reminds me what it might be like to be blind. When I walk alone in the dark, I get a visual mental picture of what is ahead, then I turn my flash-light off for a short period of time that I feel confident enough to endure without sight. Even when my eyes cannot adjust to the dark, I am able to walk a ways until I begin to doubt my steps again, and I turn the light back on to see the path. It is cheating, compared to being blind, but it simulates a bit of not being able to rely on sight.
It rained all night, and the tent and tarp combination I used barely kept me dry. The temperature dropped down from 80s to 50s, so I was glad I had 2 sleeping bags and 2 sheets. Half of my gear got wet inside the tent. The ground was good for camping when it is not raining, as the clay has a continuous bed of soft clumps of abundant grasses and common wetland plants; so it was over-all level, but with bumps that allowed small puddles of water under the tent, held between the tarp, which normally works well to keep condensation from rising up from the ground when humidity drops at night. The lightning-bugs were freaky because when you are feeling alone, they can start to look like flash-lights.
Friday morning the rain stopped. I hung up my wet clothes on cord line. I started prepping a day pack to take up to the HFOF event at Demory Field. The start of festivals is always exciting, like Smurf village hustling and bustling. Down in the ‘Clearing’ light shines through the trees, like the promised land of golden-green paradise. Golden rays of sun-light shone through the trees, hinting of blissful utopian ideals; while the sounds of nature pervade the glen. Birds chirp, tweet, and sing songs. The deer were quiet, but I could hear their steps, as they crunch sticks on the ground. Insects scurried around plants, and some of the flying bugs made noises.
BRCES Site Flora
There were many common yard birds: cardinals, blue-jays, chickadees, tit-mice, sparrows, gold-finches, grackles, starlings, crows, and tiny marsh gnat catchers. Like tiny marsh sparrows in Georgia, the gnat catchers chirped like crickets or chipping sparrows. There were at least 3 types of woodpeckers; downy, red-headed, and the red-crested piliated. Owls were hooting, wild turkeys were gobbling, and thrushes were tutting like squirrel kisses. The BRCES wetlands are thriving. There were tons of long leaf 3′ tall plants; milkweed, golden rod, curled-dock (Rumex crispus), wild spinach, wild evening primrose, wheat and barley grass, jewel weed, similar looking forest floor cover that flowers like tiny pink bubblegum, razor bean vines, garlic mustard, poison ivy, virginia creeper, creeping through the clearings and the forest floor.
Willow trees have bent to survive flooding. Some willows created arches, that had good bodies and branches to tie tarps to, for shell shaped shelters. I did get a deer tick on me, which bit my arm, but did NOT give me lymes disease. The water was muddy from all the rain. The area that must have made the dam years ago, is very intriguing. I was told it was a man-made dam (earthen?) to make a pond, during the period the land was going to be developed into tract-housing. The ruins of houses and out-buildings were fun to explore around, and some of the boards had come loose on the windows. Daffodils and day-lilies grew nearby, remnants of old gardens.
The trees (20-70 years old) form woods that follow the rolling hills. Often the woods are sparse, but thorns and shrub bushes make dense thicket patches. Spiral trunks occur on one young tree per acre (apx.). Spiral trees seem to result from the influence of parasitic vines, like honey-suckle, but some trees out-live their vines. There are more young trees than old trees on the site. Although it is difficult to tell the age of a tree from the outside size, inside trunk rings are more accurate because growth rates vary. The most common trees seemed to be box-elder, oak, maple, ash, locust, poplar, sycamore, and willow. There were a few examples of great Beech trees as well.
Ideally trees provide shelter, food (fruits and nuts), and fuel for cooking and heating our fires. In turn humans should plant, care for, cultivate, and protect trees. Failure to look after each-other results in us cutting too many trees down, using poisons that hurt every-thing, and trees falling on houses and branches and sap falling on cars. Increased awareness of our trees is phenomenological respect for life. Respecting trees has a beneficial effect on our ecology. Sages know the wisdom of tree stewardship. Some trees have been alive for thousands of years. Fire-wood should be gathered mostly from dead-fall logs, branches, and twigs. Reducing dead-fall on forest floors can reduce wild fires.
Here is a list of local plant and tree types. All the families listed here are at least currently regional, if not native. Obviously not all types of vegetation are listed here, but it is a reasonable list: maples (common, red, silver), box-elder, sycamore, oaks (English, pin, black), ailanthus, mulberry, elm, willow, catalpa, princess, walnut (black), beech, sumac; fungi & plants: mosses, mushrooms, shelf-fungi, lichen, herbs, vegetables (wild leafy-greens and planted crops), blue-berries, vines, grasses, shrubs, ferns, thorns, nettles.
Maple: Acer; Common (Norway), Silver, Sugar, Red; leaves deciduous broad palmate 3-5 lobes toothed; bark smooth-furrows; flowers tiny hermaphro, hetero, or bisexual; fruit paired wings (samaras); used for hard wood, sap (Sugar has most 32 gallons = 1 gallon of syrup = 4.5 pounds grain sugar).
Sycamore: Platanus; Occidentalis; leaves deciduous broad 3-9 lobes toothed; bark unique smooth but peeling brown-white patches; flowers tiny hermaphro, male stamin, female pistils; fruit 4 hairy nut-balls; used for hard wood, leaves similar to Common Maple (Plantanoides) but thicker and pointier.
Oak (Acorn): Fagus Quercus; English (Robur), Red (Rubra), Black (Veluntina), White (Prinus Rock Chestnut), Live (evergreen), Pin (Palustris); leaves deciduous alternate simple most toothed or lobed; bark rough furrows or scaly; fruit acorn nuts, white acorns and wood best; hard wood, nuts crushed and strained for Indian bread, yellow dye from bark powder, druid medicine.
Beech: Fagus Grandifolia; leaves deciduous simple single point, saw-toothed edges; bark smooth light grey; flowers – male hairball, female hairy red scales; fruit beech-nuts prickly burs; beechnuts edible, Beech is Saxon German for ‘book’; Oaks are in the same family, but far more common.
Elm: Ulmus; White (American), Hackberry (Celtis); leaves deciduous elliptical pointed saw-toothed rough (Hackberry has warts); fruit flat seed key (samara), Hackberry berries are edible and can taste sweet like dates. hard wood
Willow: Salix; Weeping (Chinese), Pussy (Discolor); leaves deciduous narrow pointed, edible; Weeping Willow have long catkins; Pussy Willows have fuzzy frons; bark rough furrows, makes an aspirin; soft wood soaks up water.
Poplar: Aspen Poplar (Salix Populus), Cottonwood (Salix Populus Aigeiros), Tulip Poplar (Lirio); Aspen and Cottonwood leaves deciduous simple broad triangular to circular or (rarely) lobed, breezes cause Aspen and Cottonwood leaves to flutter, giving the whole tree a ‘shimmering’ or ‘twinkling’ look; Tulip Poplar leaves are larger wide 6”, 4 lobes, ovate (heart-shaped); Aspen Poplar flowers are catkins; Tulip Poplar flowers are big yellow-orange with cones; Aspen Poplar fruit seeds are long hair tufts that float on wind; Tulip Poplar fruits are samara carpels; Tulip Poplar hard wood is the best Poplar wood; Aspen Poplar is soft wood; Cottonwood is so soft it does not even make good fire-wood. Tulip Poplar is not in the same DNA family as the other Poplars, and it also should not be confused with Tulip Magnolias (Magnolia Lili), whose deciduous leaves and flowers resemble evergreen Magnolias.
Walnut: Juglans; Black (American), English (Persian), White (Butternut), Hickory: (Carya), Pecan (Carya); leaves deciduous pinnate compound pointed; bark 4 types – Black has dark rough furrows, English has gray smooth with some rough furrows, Hickory has many deep furrows, Pecan flaky; flowers tiny hermaphro; fruit Nut large round green husk over brown shell; used for oil, decorative soft wood, nuts are food, ink and dye from nut husks, herbicide. Carya nuts (drupes) are food, nut husk conveniently splits, pecan nut fruit is similar to Walnut but skinnier.
Sumac: Anacardia; Rhus (Red), Toxico (White); shrub-tree; leaves deciduous pinnate compound pointed; staghorn fruit (drupe) conical clusters, Red is edible, White is poisonous with allergen urushiol; related to poison ivy and cashews. Soft short narrow wood, stems have soft pith hollow for pipes. Notes: often seen growing around rock out-croppings in fields or highway exit ramps.
Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven): Asian Altissima; leaves deciduous pinnate compound pointed; bark smooth to textured; flowers pungent odor, pollen; fruit long showy green-brown; soft wood, grows fast anywhere, toxic when burned or near water.
HFOF 2015: Music Festivals as Wilderness Guardians
I attended the 2015 ‘Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival’ (HFOF) at the ‘Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship’ (BRCES) because I believe in the concept of celebrating art and sport to preserve wild land and clean water. It is amazing to consider, during a recession based on commercial monopolies, that it is possible to support local talent and save our woods, forests, creeks, rivers, and the wild and free creatures whose lives depend on these environments. During an era where it is common for people to litter on their way to a job that pollutes natural ecology, events like HFOF are truly revolutionary and patriotic in Native American terms.
The BRCES land is beautiful; almost 1,000 acres of wilderness and a small organic farm run by a caring family. Years ago when I visited with my father, BRCES had just begun their mission on the land, and the old white house was over grown and in disrepair. Now the buildings and land are functional again, while being in harmony with the landscape. BRCES is truly a success story for environmentalists.
Volunteers run the show during HFOF. I was lucky enough last year to be a volunteer under the leadership of President Lisa Cullinane. Lisa is very friendly, kind, and smart; which by the way is my favorite kind of leader. We started preparing a few weeks before the event, and by the event I felt things were flowing well. Vendors are usually small businesses and non-profit organizations that rent spaces around the field, using tables and tents. I really enjoyed the variety of concessions, and the food and drink was good. There are always tensions and stress involved in any social production, but any problems that arose were resolved. Hundreds of people attended the festival both years I have been; although the first year my non-profit tent for ‘Sustainable Cooperative for Organic Development’ (SCOD), and my fine artist partners did not get visited by many people during the event, so we did not make any earnings. For me it was ok, because music is certainly a type of art; and I was happy to be there.
Camping among trees or in fields is one of the best things in Life. The first year I slept in my tent the first night, in Demory Field behind my vendor table. At night the humidity lifted, however this created a dew which saturated my books and artwork exposed to the sky; however items in the tent and oddly enough below the table-cloth were fine. The second day my art partners arrived and set up a tent to shade us a bit; which really helped survive a day of full sun in the field. I also wore sun-block, a large hat, and sunglasses so as to not be sun-burned. Some of us rented the white house for the second night, which was very nice indeed! Staying at the house was a relief from the electric generator that was kept running all night at the main field, to keep their fridge on to preserve the food. Also the best part of the field at the crest, had become over-crowded with vehicles; which in my opinion ruined the very purpose of being in Demory Field… in other words it turned the perfect camping spot into a parking lot. Despite traffic congestion, most reveled in the mirth, and many stayed up all night with enthusiasm and excitement!! So the second year, the parking situation on the hill was better. Also in 2015 I camped down at Piney Run creek for 2 nights, and put a hammock up in the woods the 3rd night. It was still good to have the house for bath-rooms, shelter from variations in weather, and back-up beds.
Bands begin playing the first evening (Friday), and folk music continues through the night, into the next day and night. The second night, Saturday, has the most people. Famous bands are fine, but when you have personal stock invested in local bands, hearing them play has more meaning. Although most of the show revolves around the main stage, my favorite part is playing with other musicians by the grand fire pit. The field has a natural amphi-theater shape around the fire pit; which was made by Boy Scouts with impressive stone work and movable wood benches, along with a cob oven. At night the fire pit area hosts musical jam sessions, which embrace the audience, allowing anyone to play with or with-out the bands; this is musical freedom and creative collaboration at its finest!!!
Lastly in this article I want to thank everyone that helped make HFOF happen. Some of my personal high-lights were being with friends, hiking the trails, and witnessing natural phenomena such as the lightning-bug show across the fields; those tiny lights were every-where even into and above the trees!! As I observed the natural light show, I meditated on how often our Nation’s founders enjoyed wonders that surpassed the magic of their technologies back then. Even today many scientists concede that our artificial efforts fail, in comparison to the energy efficiency of the natural world. Through places and gatherings like this, we can study how plant leaves photo-synthesize, and then we can learn make technology that does that for electricity. Thank you to those that stayed and picked up all the trash! I hate picking up litter, but I do it way too often and way too many people are littering. The sheer abundance of garbage is not encouraging regarding the future of humanity or civilization. At the event there are luckily enough volunteers to pick up all trash within sight, after many hours of pick-up. I like to return to the site days later, to double-check that the clean-up was effective. Any negative issues did not stop us from having fun, nor did any problems hinder the success of the event as a whole. The end of festivals is always sad, but there is a release and some contentment knowing that the quest is complete and memories are made. I also love mulberries, and the trees were in season! I definitely want to return next year to HFOF at BCRES, and be a part of music festivals (with arts and sports) that donate to wilderness stewardship, and take place within a nature preserve. Please come join us, if you are not already with us!!!!
– Rev. ‘Drogo’
* Drogo’s assistant Nacho, with camp site