Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Windmills and Bats

As one travels from Thomas to Parsons on Rt. 219 South, you will come upon the energy producing windmills that are part of the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker County, WV. The 44 wind turbines are huge structures, 345 feet in height, scattered throughout the ridge tops of Backbone Mountain.

Windmills appear to be a renewable or “green” energy source, but in reality many folks believe that these machines are very inefficient, not really benign environmentally, and, in truth, much more of a tax-avoidance scheme than an energy-generating facility.
Rep. Alan Mollohan, US Congressman, WV, stated, “Heaven knows that West Virginia has always stepped up to the plate to contribute to our nation’s energy security. But we now have a situation where speculators are staking claim to some of our most scenic areas and erecting these monstrosities that produce little energy and are made possible only by a tax credit.”

The wind energy industry is highly dependent on its clean, green image because wind-generated electricity cost more than other sources. People are willing to pay for extra for wind power if they believe that it is a renewable and non-polluting form of energy.

Environmentalists are very concerned about the building and placement of these turbines in sensitive environmental areas. Wildlife and industry people have learned recently that the turbines have posed a major threat to wildlife and especially bat populations. Bats and ridge top wind turbines are a deadly combination.

A 2003 study showed that the Mountaineer wind turbines on Backbone Mountain killed an estimated 2,092 bats. Each year the bat kill could be greater. Merlin Tuttle is director of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas. Tuttle called the 2003 bat kill “by far the largest bat mortality event I know of worldwide”.

Personally, I hate to see these mammoth structures placed in an area that is home to a wide variety of mountain animals and plants. The forest ridges that were once supporting red spruce, lichens, and vast carpets of moss are now bare areas that support concrete towers with great generators. Tis sad!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More Insect Cuisine!

After yesterday’s post, I am certain that there will be folks just itching to get more information on the preparation of insects for their families. Two additional cookbooks from my library are presented here. I have also included some photos of sample dishes that are certain to make your mouth water!

There are so many excellent recipes that I will spend most of the afternoon turning over logs and using the collecting net to collect the six-legged ingredients for our supper. YUMMY!

Monday, August 29, 2005


I was straightening the books in a bookcase and came across this neat book on entomophagy. Yes, that is the term for the eating of insects. I have conducted several workshops for teachers dealing with the topic of insects as food. When I taught entomology, I usually got the students involved by having them to prepare insect appetizers.

In our culture it is an unbelievable thought to fry up a grub or eat crickets. However, that is not so in many parts of the world. Numerous insects are cleaner than many of the animals that man
regularly eats and there are no special religious prohibition against the eating of insects. Certain insects are relished and regarded as delicacies by civilized as well as primitive societies. Insects are clearly a nutritious source of human food.
My students learned that the most popular edible insects are; beetles, butterflies and moths; bees, wasps, and ants; grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts; flies and mosquitoes; stink bugs, water boatmen and backswimmers. Many of these are eaten in the larval form.

You folks may have seen the red agave (butterfly larva) worm that is placed in some brands of tequila. Gourmet restaurants in Mexico City serve high priced entrees of agave worms. The white agave worm is one of the most sought after of all edible insects and very expensive. These caterpillars can reach lengths of four inches and around 2/3 of an inch in width.

Each insect has a distinct flavor. Ants are sweet and almost nutty. Wasps remind one of pine nuts and leaf footed bugs taste like very sweet pumpkin. Crickets and grasshoppers are much like tofu. They are mild and absorb the flavors of the surrounding flavors. They list continues with; termites tasting nutty, stinkbugs very apple-like, and corn earworms actually taste like corn on the cob!

At a public event, Julia Child, the famous French chef (who died last year at the age of 91), was once asked what was her favorite meal. Instantly, she reeled off the menu of a seven-course feast. Asked how anyone could eat all that, Child said, "You don't. But, you taste everything."

In the adventurous spirit of Julia, I am including a simple and tasty recipe that you can use to impress your friends when they come over for supper.

Hot Mealworm Appetizers
· 5 ml (1 tsp.) cayenne
· 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp.) black pepper
· 85 ml (1/3 cup) mealworm larvae, slightly thawed
· 30 ml (2 Tbsp.) butter or margarine

Place all ingredients together into a saucepan. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the mealworms are golden brown. Drain and serve.

Or, these may be added to a hot bridge mix available in many grocery stores. Or, one may add them to 'Party Mix' made from cold cereal squares, pretzels and nuts. The combination made at home to which one could add the mealworms for extra nutrition, fiber, and interesting texture is as follows:

Melt 1/4-cup margarine in roasting pan in preheated 250(F oven. Stir in 5-tsp. Worcestershire sauce, l_l/4 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/4 tsp. Garlic powder. Gradually add: cereals (2_2/3 cup corn squares, 2_2/3 cup rice squares, 2_2/3 cup wheat squares); 1 cup nuts and 1 cup pretzels. Stir to coat evenly. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on absorbent paper to cool. Store in airtight container. Makes 10 cups.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Louisiana Waterthrush
(Seiurus motacilla)

One early morning several years ago, I was on the back porch pondering great thoughts. That is hard to do for a retired biology professor! A small bird was foraging along the watercourse leading into our pond. It was so neat the way the bird would flip it’s tail as it made its way down into the waterfall. I hurriedly got the good wife so we could share the experience. Throughout our marriage it has been great to be able to share and appreciate the small wonders that nature provide. After contacting the bird field guides, we decided that it was a Louisiana Waterthrush.

The Louisiana Waterthrush is not a thrush at all, but belongs to the wood-warbler family. The genus and species name of this bird mean "tail-wagger." This is a reference to its habit of flipping its tail up and down while on the ground or singing on a tree branch. This warbler is known for its
vocal abilities and its rapid foraging style.

This is a small bird with a bold white-eye stripe and longish, pink legs. It has dark olive-brown upper parts and white under parts. The breast, belly and flanks have dark streaking.

The Louisiana Waterthrush diet is made up of mostly aquatic insects and invertebrates. It also takes small flying insects, crustaceans, mollusks, earthworms and even small fish and amphibians. It forages among the cracks and crevices of the streamside rocks and roots. It will forage on debris floating or submerged in the water as well.

I took this photo several weeks ago as the bird decided to have a meeting with the atrium door. During its recovery, I had the opportunity to take several great shots of this beast. It recovered and flew away probably wondering what had hit him!

Friday, August 26, 2005


I came across this old copy of The Mercury from October, 21, 1987. That is a silly photo of me holding an alligator. As many of you know, we in the Biology Department at GSC had as a mascot an American alligator, named “Needles”.

In early August of 1987, my Divisional Chairman, Dr. John Chisler, went to Florida to attend a conference. I asked him, “Would you all eat some seafood for me and will you bring back an alligator?” He smiled and assured me that he would. Soon after he returned, I found Needles in a temporary “pond” in my office ( a plastic 55 gallon drum) with a note from Dr. Chisler. It said, “I have done as you have asked!” I could not believe that this cell biologist actually wrestled an alligator and brought it back from the Sunshine State. For weeks Dr. Chisler’s story kept getting more dramatic - how he found the gator in a swamp, how he lured it in with shrimp and scallops, and how he finally captured it. It was not until later that he confided that Bill Fink of Kanawha County had donated the critter to our biology department.

Needles along with other reptiles went on many school trips through the years. We would explain each reptilian species that we transported to the schools. The public school students loved to see our collections of snakes, turtles, and especially our resident alligator. It was always fun to watch the kid’s faces as we put Needles “to sleep”. This was no problem, since alligators along with other reptiles are cold blooded. When the alligator is placed on its back, the blood pressure drops, and the critter appears to be sleeping. It is harmless and the alligator recovers quickly.

Here is the text of the The Mercury article that presents the true story.

“Needles” Finds Home
By S. Morrison

GSC is the proud owner of a baby alligator. His name is “Needles,” and he resides in the Science Hall, here on campus. Needles was donated to GSC by the Bill Fink family of Charleston.

Needles was found walking on Patrick Street in Charleston on October of 1986. It had apparently been someone’s pet and rumor has it that it was released into the Kanawha River during the Regatta Festival held on Labor Day weekend in 1986. The alligator was taken care of by the Bill Fink family from the time it was found until it was donated to the college in August of this year.

Baby alligators have many enemies, not the least of which is cold weather. Had Needles stayed in the Kanawha River, he would have died from the cold. Here in captivity, it is expected that he will enjoy a long life. His diet consists of live minnows and frozen whiting.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Buck Harper

Throughout my life, I have conducted many biology field trips with students into the Potomic Highlands of West Virginia. It is a glorious part of the state. Another special Appalachian person from the Potomac Highlands is Buck Harper. Buck was an individual that made each field trip memorable for all. We would stop by the Mouth of Seneca (now renamed Seneca Rocks) not only to climb Seneca Rocks but also to visit with Mr. Buck Harper. His love of the story and of people was obvious in the first few minutes one met him. He was outgoing and some of my students might have described him as loud and brash.

Buck Harper owned the land upon which Seneca Rocks are found. In 1969, the federal government “purchased” from Buck one of the best-known land marks in West Virginia. Buck, of course, would present a long dissertation on how the federal government “stole” the rocks from him.

The rocks are a magnificent formation rising nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River. These sandstone rocks with exposed crags of Tuscarora quartzite have long been a favorite with rock climbers. Facing the rocks and located at the junction of Routes 55 and 28 is Harper’s Old Country Store. Operated by the Harpers since 1902, the old country store is now operated by the son of Buck Harper. It is much different from the store that we knew when Buck was living. The store was a collection of items from the past arranged chaotically. He sold groceries, gasoline, and souvenirs to the tourists. The gas pumps were on the side of the store and he refused to cut a door into the building so he could access the pumps readily. I noticed it was not long after his passing that an opening appeared in the old country store directly beside the pumps. I thought, “Buck would not have approved.”

One of his favorite items in the store was the jar of pickled bear paws that he kept around as a conversation piece. It was the fodder for starting a litany of stories. He told of a fellow who stopped by the store with a bear in the back of his truck. He wanted to check his bruin at Buck’s store so that it would be registered as a legal kill. Seems Buck and the locals went out to place the tag on the critter when the “dead” bear got up, growled, and headed out of the truck. Seems the locals were also moving at a fast rate!

He loved conversation and to tell stories. Buck was a large, burly man who always had a pocket organizer in his blue shirt. His head was always adorned with a ball cap that a passing tourist has given him. He loved to chew tobacco and one would commonly see tobacco dribbling down his unshaven face. His claim to fame was not only his winning personality but also his famous West Virginia Hand Shake. He delighted in shaking visitors hands with the greatest amount of pressure possible - that could bring the strongest man to his knees. I have arthritis and learned early on to by-pass the handshake and greet Buck with a “most manly” hug even if I did get a little tobacco stained in the process.

I miss the stories. I miss seeing the unsuspecting tourist’s faces when they first experienced the famous West Virginia handshake. Yes, I even miss seeing those bear paws!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fern Rollyson

There are a very few folks that I have encountered on my life’s path that I would call the spirit of Appalachia. Two come to mind immediately. The first was Fern Rollyson who lived in Glenville and the second was Buck Harper of Seneca Rocks.

Will explain Buck’s story in the next blog. Where do I start with Fern?

Fern was the President of the WV State Folk Festival for many years until her death in 1988. She was the originator of the Country Store Museum that is associated closely with the Folk Festival. The store was originally the Ruddell General Store. The store sits on a 40X66 foot lot at 6 Court Street, Glenville, and is a showcase of late 19th century commercial designs with its decorative tin ceiling still in tact. Fern was also responsible for the preservation of the Little Kanawha Valley Bank. This structure was constructed circa 1900, and served as the LKVB from 1901 to 1906 and as the Kanawha Union Bank until 1916. The bank was then used for office and storage space until donated to the WV State Folk Festival by the Kanawha Union Bank. The bank building was moved from the original location on Main Street in Glenville to 5 Howard Street, thanks to the 99-year lease for the 50 by 50 foot lot provided by Fern. The rectangular shaped building has a well-preserved, classically detailed, pressed-metal facade, and is still only one block from its original location.

We met Fern in the late sixties and were good friends until her death at age 84. Fern was a tall lady whose long, silver hair was always piled high on her head. Fern was passionate when it came to the Folk Festival. Her energy was contagious and she ran the festival with charm and dignity. She was a very strong, gracious lady whose presence always made one feel comfortable. Fern was a people person who shared the festival’s responsibilities by making each and every volunteer feel important. In the seventies, Judy and I volunteered in the Country Store and I emceed the nightly Folk Festival concerts at Glenville State College.

Fern and her husband, Rolly, lived behind Picken’s Hall of GSC. Their two story, white, frame house was a museum of wonderful things! Fern was a collector and had not just antiques, but wonderful rare and strange treasures. Unique examples of pottery, flat iron collections, musical instruments, and framed preserved funeral flowers are some of the memories of items that graced her dwelling. During a visit, Fern would always make tea and serve candied orange peels or cookies. The good wife and I surprised Fern and Rolly on a cool winter evening by playing the courting dulcimer on their porch. We were, of course, rewarded with hot-spiced apple cider.

The stories of Fern are so many. Memories of her directing the Folk Festival activities in her antique dresses and umbrellas are vivid. It was one of those times when Fern was bustling around and she came up to me and said, “Is the concert tonight in fine shape?” I assured her that all was well. In those days the concerts consisted of musicians and singers signing up the evening of the concert. It was always very spontaneous and one never knew who would show up at concert time. Fern was dressed on that day in a long, white, lace dress that one of her relatives made in the late 1800’s. As we were talking, I did not realize that I was stepping on the edge of her dress! Off she went at her usual fast pace and I heard a RIP. Yes, my foot had successfully taken off a good six inches of the lace. It is an understatement to say that Fern was upset! We stapled the bottom of the dress together and off she was off toward her next mission. I believe it was that same dress that she was wearing when she ran the man with the organ grinder and his monkey out of town. You know, cannot have monkeys at an Appalachian festival!

Fern was a hard worker and she loved the Country Store. The Country Store provided at that time the majority of the funds necessary to run the festival. In the store, we sold WV hand blown glass items, books, and crafts. After the festival was concluded, Fern and her ladies would pack up the books and other items and haul them after the Folk Festival to Ripley. They would then set up a Country Store at the WV Arts and Crafts Fair and sell wares throughout each day of the fair. This was no small task even for folks many years younger. The WV Arts and Crafts Fair is held the first of July at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center. Cedar Lakes is an area that includes ponds, conference facilities, and instructional craft areas. It was always hot and humid and you could always count on a couple of violent thunderstorms during the fair. We should know since we were selling our Appalachian lap dulcimers during this period and our craft tent would sometimes lose the battle against the strong winds.

One evening at the Arts and Crafts Fair, Fern was closing up the WV State Folk Festival’s Country Store booth when old time friends showed up. “Fern, we are staying in a motel. Why don’t you come and stay with us this evening and we can visit?” Fern responded, “Well, guess that will be fine.” Off Fern went with her friends for an evening of socializing. PROBLEM! Fern did not think of telling her lady friends who were helping her and staying with her at the Cedar Lakes facility that she would not be staying at the fair facilities.

That night a violent storm hit the area toppling the tents. Fern came flowing into the exhibit area in the morning. She noticed that fire trucks abounded and there was quite a stir around the lakes. She asked someone, “What happened?” They said “Some old lady did not return from her exhibit area after last evening’s storm. They are dragging the ponds for her body! It was not until she say the faces of her Country Store ladies did she realize that SHE was the old lady!

Fern was one of the last of the dying breed of Appalachian women- strong, feisty, independent - yet compassionate and passionate in her beliefs. We are blessed to have known her.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Don’t Mess With Mother Nature

It was a wonderful spring-like afternoon. The sun was brilliant, skies were as blue as “could be” (old Meads family expression), and a warm breeze was gently moving the stems of the shrubs outside the office window. Wow- spring must be around the corner!

I was working on planning field trips for the caving class. It was February 23, 1977 - before the accident in April at the Sinks of Gandy Creek as told in yesterday’s post.
How was I to know that next twelve hours would teach me a lesson about nature that I have kept with me to this day? Nature is amazing and “she” deserves our complete respect. Sometime we in our technological society forget that we may rely too much on the niceties of our everyday lives.

I was at my desk after lunch trying to get a phone call through to Max Teter who owns the Sinks of Gandy Creek. The cave is located on his farm in the high mountain country of West Virginia. The Teter farm is a wonderful expanse of land with the typical sinkholes that one associates with karst topography. No luck with telephoning.

Into the office came three of my students- Roger Pence, Geof Ward, and Bob McClure. I came up with a great (STUPID) idea. On this beautiful spring-like day, would these lads like to travel to the Teter farm in order to get his permission to enter his land for our caving group, look at the Sinks, and then be back by supper? They all eagerly agreed. I had borrowed my Dad’s new truck that week and one of the other fellows also took his truck.

We arrived in Elkins without incident. Following route 33 through Elkins, we arrived at Alpena. Turning right at Alpena, a small winding road led us to the small hamlet of Glady. I knew that at Glady we could turn off on the left side of the road and a small forest service road should take us up to Middle Mountain. Once at the top of Middle Mountain, another smaller road (car path) would transport us down the mountain through the Laurel Fork Recreational and Wilderness Area and then directly to Max Teter’s farm and the Sinks of Gandy Creek.

Just to make certain that I turned off the correct road in Glady, I pulled up in my Dad’s trusty new truck with the other truck following closely behind to an old fellow sitting on his porch. “Is this the way to the Sinks?” I asked politely. In a short grunt he responded “Yep.” I thanked him and then he said, “You are going up in those trucks?” I told him that we were off to Max Teter’s and was there a problem? He shook his head and went into his house. I though that question was strange at the time. If only I knew how strange!

The weather in Glady was warm with little patches of snow melting on the fields. As we headed up the mountain, the road conditions changed dramatically. What was a gravel road soon turned into a snow packed road. As we crested the mountain, it was obvious a snowplow had been keeping the road cleared since we now had snow banks that were above the doors of the trucks. There was no place to turn around and it was impossible with the snow piled as high as the trucks. We made it to the Middle Mountain road with minimal difficulty.

Middle Mountain road was amazing with a high bank of tightly packed snow on each side. I remember thinking this is how Appalachian bobsled runs must look. I decided that we had to get off the mountain and out of this snow. As planned, we turned onto the Laurel Fork road going down the mountain. Figuring that once off the mountain we would leave the snow behind and we could continue. WRONG! The snowplow had not been on this road for a while and the road had about six inches of wet, slushy snow. Slowly we made our way down the mountain and finally arrived at the Laurel Fork Ranger’s cabin. This is a small cabin used by wildlife researchers. No electricity, water, phone, or other conveniences that we have become used to these days.

Thank heavens we made it off the mountain. At once we saw an unbelievable sight! Just as the road passes the cabin, there was a huge mountain of snow. During the winter, the snowplow had plowed the mountain and dumped the snow on the road. It was impassible!

We got out to access our options. There was no phone in the cabin so I said, “Let’s climb to the top of the ‘hill’ behind the cabin to see if we see a farmhouse.” One of the students found a valentine in my truck and wrote on it the message. The valentine is seen at the beginning of this tale and the message written on the back appears after this post.

Well, walking to the top of the “hill” was no easy chore. At the top the only thing to be seen was more mountains, forests, and plenty of wilderness. As we descended the “hill”, there was talk of such things as folks dying in the wilderness, cannibalism, and other equally gloomy topics.

Our only option was to somehow turn the trucks around and try going back up the mountain. By this time it is dusk and the prospects of a speedy return seemed distant. We got the trucks turned and, using the truck’s headlights, took each truck up the mountain by rocking them back and forth until they moved a foot or so. We inched the trucks somehow up through the slushy snow and finally arrived at the top of the mountain by 9:30 in the evening. By 10 P.M. we were back on the paved road at Glady. A feeling of relief swept over me as I saw asphalt! We got home around midnight.

This adventure made me realize that one must have more respect for the environment and try to be more prepared in the future. The valentine has graced my desk for these past twenty-eight years as a constant reminder.

I always wondered if the ole man on the porch knew what we were heading into that beautiful day.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Accident at the Sinks!

Safety is paramount in spelunking (caving). In all the field trips that I conducted, there was only one major accident. This happened at the Sinks of Gandy, which is a comparatively easy cave to transverse.

On this trip in the spring of 1977, I had extra help from Ed Donatell, a work-study student who was employed by the Foundations Division at Glenville State College. Ed is one of those special students who capture your heart. His major was Physical Education and he was a joy to have assist in the office. On this trip Ed decided that he would join the crew.

The students entered the cave and I followed at the rear of the group to assure that everyone had their equipment in fine working order. As I entered the dark region of the entrance, I heard what gives any caving instructor a sick feeling in one’s gut. “Wow, you cut yourself”, said Ed. Paul, one of the caving students, shouted enthusiastically, “I am fine, let’s continue!” Upon arriving at the scene, I discovered that Paul had stepped on what he thought was a rock, but was actually two rocks. His leg went through the rocks and they had cut his ankle very close to the Achilles’ tendon. I shined the light and saw muscles, blood, and tendons!

OK- we are off to the emergency room. It was no short trip (an hour) since the closest was at Elkins. Paul could not walk so Ed carried the lad on his back to the van.

After treatment at the Elkins hospital, Paul emerged with a full leg cast under which hid many stitches. Of course, we all had to sign the plaster registry. Paul recovered and I do wonder what he is doing these days. Ed Donatell went on to professional football. He is presently Defensive Coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. This spring, Ed was inducted into the Curtis Elam Athletic Hall of Fame at Glenville State College.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Sinks of Gandy Creek

In the years that I taught cave biology (speleology), I had weekly lectures on biology of cave systems and required field trips to the karst regions of WV. The trips were not just a cave adventure but we were involved in scientific data collection of the cave environment.

The required field trips were:
Commercial Cave Trip and First Wild Cave (In Grant County we toured Smokehole Caverns and then in Pendleton County we toured Seneca Caverns and Stratosphere Balloon Cave.)
Bowden Cave System in Randolph County.
Sinks of Gandy Creek in Randolph County.
Trout, New Trout, and Hamilton Caves in Pendleton County.
Of all the caves, I believe that the Sinks of Gandy has, for me, the aura of being the most magical and mysterious.

The Sinks is one of the oldest known caves in West Virginia. Located near Spruce Knob (highest elevation in the state at 4861 feet), Gandy Creek flows along a subterranean channel for approximately 3000 feet under Yokum Knob. The mouth of the passage measures thirty feet wide by fifteen feet high. The water is an average of 10-12 inches deep and the roof of the tunnel is from 6-30 feet above the streambed. The land of the sinks is was owned at that time by Max Teter. This is another story for a later posting.

The Sinks of Gandy has a history of being occupied by moonshiners, criminals, and vigilantes. During the Civil War (Or the War of Northern Aggression as my friends in Charleston, SC say!), both sides used the cave at the Sinks of Gandy as a hospital. A small room in the cave is reportly one that was used as a morgue for the hospital.

The Sinks of Gandy in winter is a beauty to behold. Only the hardy has seen this view. This photo is provided by the Harmon High School in Harmon, WV.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Blowing Viper!

Yes, my research work is in herpetology. Amphibian and reptiles have had a special place in my life. Folks often ask me how my wife stands all those snakes in the house. I respond, “She is a great lady. I love her scaly hands and you should see how she catches flies with her tongue!”

During the first few years of our marriage, I was busily conducting research for my Master’s Degree (a taxonomic study of amphibians in Jackson County). I remember vividly when once my mother-in-law came to visit. She opened a cabinet in the house and saw many mason jars full of preserved frogs, toads, and salamanders. All specimens were labeled as to species, date collected, and location. She looked at my wife and said, “You had best hope that he goes first!”

One of my favorite snakes that a person would have the fortune to observe is the hognose snake. In the photo above, our two daughters are holding this wonderful snake captive. This photo was taken in 1977.

The hognose is a stout bodied snake with an upturned, shovel-like nose. The hognose has a super behavior display. When one first encounters this snake, it flattens its head and neck and is very much cobra-like. It hisses very loudly and strikes with its mouth closed. This display is why many Appalachian folks consider it poisonous and the common names locally are blowing viper, spread head, or puff adder. I had a lady out in the country explain that this snake actually blows poison and I had best drop my captured hognose and, for heavens sake, do not breathe in the vapors! Oh my, all this fright from a harmless snake that has a limited diet of mainly toads.

If the “Blowing Viper” behavior does not work, then the snake goes into its second neat defensive mode. If provokes, it will writhe and twist, rubbing it’s mouth against the ground, and finally roll over on it’s back as though dead. It will eliminate musk during this second behavior that is ill smelling. In addition, it keeps its mouth open, tongue hanging out, and it is as limp as a dead snake. It is a great dying show.

My students loved to see this display. If you turn the “dead” snake over, it will promptly roll over on it’s back again. If you leave the beast alone for a time, it will lift it’s head, turn over, and slither away. What a neat reptile!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why Not Collect Them?

As my students know, I am a great believer in hands-on activities. Even my upper level undergraduate courses had laboratory practicals (exams) that required students to manipulate and observe carefully test items and most all exams had a section on sketching! Yes, sketching! I am a great believer that sketching helps in the understanding of organism structure, life cycles, and processes. It is a great way to get the material into that super aerobic (involving oxygen) organ, the human brain! Yes, aerobic - the brain is composed of 85% water and on average comprises 2 percent of the total body weight, yet it requires 25 percent of all oxygen used, as opposed to 7 percent by the heart.

My wife always gets amused that,when I explain something, I always need a pad of paper and pencil to make my explanations clearer. This brings me to the story of a new father explaining reproduction to his three year old daughter! The question arose from the lips of my little one, “Where do babies come from?” Everyone knows this question is handled differently by a plethora of parents.

I quickly went into super explanation mode. Off to get paper and pens! On the paper I explained how the male’s sperm fertilized the female’s egg. My sketching of the sperm and egg cell would have made Gary Larson proud. (Oh, you know- the Far Side cartoonist!) My gal did not ask how the sperm got to the egg (Thanks heavens! I was busy enough drawing Sammy Sperm and Ethel Egg.)

I explained that each month when a girl is mature enough an egg is produced. If the egg is fertilized by the sperm cell then a new baby is made. Wow- I did a marvelous job! Tucking my little one in with the knowledge that all her questions were answered sufficiently and the concept understood, she looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, can we keep the eggs?” She thought she would produce a dozen in a year and we needed to display them on a shelf.
I kissed her on the cheeks. We said our prayers and I left her room with the knowledge that my wonderful explanation may need some honing in the future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

OK- It Was A Strange Request!

Early in our lives, my wife and I discovered that education was a marvelous path on which we have been privileged to travel. Some of our greatest teachers on this journey have been our students and the living world around us. On this path we have had some wonderful experiences that comprise the fodder for great stories.

Sometimes it is the little things that one recalls during the teaching experience. I remember teaching science at Ripley High School (1968-1972). As a novice teacher, I could never understand why someone would not be interested in the wonders of science. Sometimes a teacher may have a student that for some reason is not enthralled with a particular topic. One afternoon during a biology lecture, my 10th grade students were seemly very interested in the review of the anatomy of the male and female reproductive systems. However, looking back on the last row was Timothy (name changed to protect the innocent) who was in a deep slumber. After we finished our review, we had about 10 minutes left before classes changed. Timothy finally raised his head and was slowly coming out of his comatose state.

I thought.”We’ll see if ole Tim was listening!” “Timothy”, I said, “Would you mind to go to Mr. Parson’s chemistry room and pick up a dozen fallopian tubes.” Timothy went out the door and headed to the chemistry lab. Knocking on the door, Timothy proceeded to explain to Mr. Parsons that Mr. Meads was out of fallopian tubes for the lab and could he borrow some!

I am not certain what Mr. Parson’s response was. I did hear Timothy telling a friend that he needed to look up “those tubes” in the dictionary. Seems Mr. Parsons did not have any but went into an uncontrollable chuckle when he heard Timothy’s request.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Help! My Rope Is On Fire - So Is your Hair!

I have had the joy of being able to laugh easily and see the humor in the smallest of things. May you have the ability to laugh throughout your lives!

Laughter has been shown to release opioid compounds from the brain that induce a feeling of euphoria. It also lowers pulse and blood pressure and helps in healing and recovery from illness.

Philosopher John Morreall believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a gesture of shared relief at the passing of danger.

To illustrate this theory of Danger, then Relief when the danger has passed, and finally terminating in laughter let me relate an experience that occurred while teaching a speleology ( caving) course at Glenville State College.

Our class explorations took us to Poor Farm Cave in Pocahontas County.
A friend of mine and his son went with me to the cave early in order to check out routes and activities that we had planned for our students.

Lighting is essential in wild caves - I have always used battery headlights, but my friends used the carbide lights. Remember you chemists - that the carbide light is powered by carbide and when water is added - a flame of acetylene lights the area around you.

I was convinced by my friends to use the carbide light in order to see the differences between the carbide flame and battery generated light.

Here's where the DANGER comes into the story.
There was a room in the cave where one had to descend with a rope. My two friends were already down below and I was descending when I heard, “Oh no!!” coming from the lower level.

What I had not realized was the flame from the carbide headlamp had ignited my climbing rope. My anxious friends below reached up to catch my legs and brace me from falling from the burning rope. One held my back to stabilize me and proceeded to burn a hole in the back of my coveralls.

I turned around quickly to thank him for his help.. Something else surprisingly happened. My young friend possessed this impressive mass of hair which stuck out all around his caving helmet. In the swooch of my turning, the carbide flame once again showed its brilliance in the cave when it ignited his hair.

All fires were extinguished quickly without harm except to our pride.

Twas RELIEF and now LAUGHTER as we share the story.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Robbie Roach’s Obituary!

Here is the original article as it appeared in Glenville State College’s newspaper, The Mercury.

R. Roach Succumbs

He was a renowned Gilmer Coun­ty traveler, educator and mascot for the Dolly Sods Outdoor Educational Workshops,. He was well loved and widely respected in the Foundations Department of Glenville State Col­lege. He was Robbie Roach, owned by Mr. James Meads of the Founda­tions Divisions.

Robbie passed away after a brief illness Oct. 1, at 4:13 p.m. The exo­skeleton lay in state in room 300 of the Administration Building and Rob­bie was buried in the Flower Bed of the Robert F. Kidd Library.

Mr. Roach is survived by his wife, Ladybug, and seven-thousand-two - hundred - forty - three child­ren. Mrs. Roach resides in Glen­ville and the children reside in the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Pickle Street.

A long time friend and colleague of Robbie’s, Mr. Joseph Hickman said of his passing, “Glenville State College has lost a true friend. Mil­lions of students’ lives have been dramatically changed and uplifted because he touched the moral fiber of each individual and gave guidance in time of need.”

Included with this obituary was the wonderful poem written by our secretary and best friend, Bea Brown, of Burnsville, WV.

Ode To A Roach

Love thy neighbor as thyself,
Was how he lived each day.
Compassionate and considerate,
As he went along life’s way.

He loved the flowers and the fields,
Ore’ which he liked to roam,
But the administration building,
Was the place that he called home.

We are born and we will die.
Robbie Roach—like all the rest,
Has joined the many wanderers,
On his last and final quest.

But, when his master called him,
He didn’t stop—and say,
Walt awhile — it’s early yet,
Can I not live another day?

Instead he smiled his same sweet smile,
Knowing he wasn’t alone.
And if there’s a cock-roach heaven,
Mr. Roach has found a permanent
home. bb

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Photo of Robbie in his Casket!

Yes, with the advent of cameras, Appalachian folks felt it necessary to take photos of their departed love ones in their caskets. We have old photos showing Uncle Bub, Aunt Annie, and others lying horizontal in their final repose.

After the story of Robbie Roach from yesterday. I thought it appropriate to include Robbie in this fine ole Appalachian tradition!

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Famous Robbie Roach Story!

In the 1970’s, I was involved in a science field trip experience for high school students.

We camped for two weeks in the Monogahelia National Forest with base camps established at Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob.

The President of Glenville State College at the time was Dr. D. Banks Wilburn.

Before we left campus, the Chairman of the Science Division and I were discussing field trip plans and felt we needed a mascot for the science camp. We were pondering what type of critter would make a fine camping mascot, when out from the wall board in the Administration Building came crawling a cockroach. Hark- the new mascot!

We named him D.Banks since he crawled out of a crack above the President's office - certainly no disrespect was intended.

The kids cared for that little roach throughout the field experience... making little tents in the evening in which to place D. Bank’s jar and even collecting blueberries for that fellow.

He went on hikes and participated in most all field activities. That fall after the summer field experience D. Banks, our beloved mascot, died. A special lady in my life, Bea Brown, was our secretary. Bea has taught me many things, one being the importance of ceremonies in our lives; and, of course, funerals were one of those special and required ceremonies. Bea suggested we give D. Banks a proper sendoff. Sounded like a good idea at the time.

D. Banks was placed in a velvet lined ring box, a cross was made of tooth picks, Bea wrote a poem for the occasion, and finally we prepared a proper wake. The wake was conducted in the afternoon in my office on the second floor of the Administration Building.- we had candles burning in the darkened office and a requiem mass playing softly. Students during class changes would venture in, become very respectful of the departed six legged creature, sign the guest register, and peer into the little ring case. "He looks so natural" was a comment often heard.

My friend and colleague, who taught our Death and Dying class, was fascinated by the students respectful demeanor. All was well- until danger raised it's ugly head.

We had on campus a newspaper called The Mercury. Because of the stir the wake was having on campus, the Mercury photographer arrived to do a front page spread on D. Banks funeral ceremonies. The photographer asked me.. “What is the roach's name?”

It was at that moment that I realized that I had a problem! A feeling of great uneasiness materialized in my cerebrum! DANGER!

Yes, it would be hard to explain that our roach was given the name of D. Banks in loving honor of our current President. This was also a name that certainly was not common among the hills of Gilmer County.

Quickly I blurted..ROBBY..... Robby Roach! RELIEF- Danger has Passed!

Yes, Robby Roach, this small arthropod, made his way into the front page of the Mercury and into the hearts of all who knew him.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Family- Feline Variety

Throughout the years my family has endured a wide variety of animals that have become members of our family. Snakes, lizards, tortoises, alligators, skunks, possums, exotic fowl, goats, rabbits, sheep are just a few of the animals we have hosted in our home. Folks in our hamlet would often ask, "What do you have living in your basement now?" I really think that they said that with a little fear in their voice (especially the ones who live on our street). We have had the usual dog and cat pets as our girls were growing.

At present we only have two great cats. They are a breed called Ragdolls. The Ragdoll is a large, blue-eyed, pointed cat with medium to long soft silky fur and a very laid-back and affectionate nature. They have a quiet voice in which they will often have conversations with you and, even as kittens, are playful without being destructive. On being picked up they will, when it suits them, lie in your arms like a baby, completely relaxed and floppy - hence the name - Ragdoll. They love human companionship and because of their easy going nature will not readily defend themselves when threatened so are essentially an indoor cat who should only be allowed outdoors under supervision.

The Ragdolls have an interesting history. The Ragdolls were originated by Ann Baker, a breeder in Riverside, California. It was in early 1960 that the breed was created. It is believed that a white Persian-Angora like cat named Josephine - with outcrossings to Birman-like and Burmese-like cats started it all!

Back then, Ann Baker advertised widely and mailed out literature promoting the breed to cat-lovers nationwide. Early publicity spread like wild fire and the breed quickly became an object of controversy. Baker’s breeding program consisted of a handful of breeders contracted under her. She was paid a royalty fee for every kitten sold.As time went on, Ann Baker’s statements and claims about the breed became strange, supernatural - and - very hard to believe. She publicized statements outlining how Ragdoll cats have human genes in them, that they are immune to pain & that they represent a link between us and space aliens.

In 1967, the Ragdoll breed was first recognized in the United States.

Photos of our two Ragdolls are presented at the beginning of this posting. The first is Belle who is a Bluepoint female. The second photo is of Max, our Sealpoint male.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Snake in My Pants!

Yep, what you see is a pair of snake pants. The description for this product is as follows:

"Patented Snake Gear Puncture ProtectionTurtleSkin SnakeArmor's patented technology produces the tightest weave ever achieved with high-strength fibers. Its weave is locked so tightly, snake fangs can't slip past while TurtleSkin's ballistic fibers are so strong they resist breaking. U.S. Patents 5,565,264 & 5,837,623 as well as other patents pending."

This product reminds me of a tale - not snake pants but snake in my pants!

During presentations I frequently introduced my snake talk by secretly placing a snake in my shirt, then dramatically extracting the snake from my shirt when the right time arose. This allowed me the opportunity of displaying the snake as if by magic without having to worry about unpacking the critter. It was in one of those many workshops that I appeared before the group with a four foot Brazilian Rainbow Boa neatly tucked in my shirt. During my workshop introduction, something unexpected happened! The snake was indeed originally safely tucked in my shirt but on that day my belt was not tightened.

Yes.. I realized that that boa had decided to head south, and I now had a snake in my pants!

Feeling the critter starting to coil around my thigh, I did the only thing that a guy could do in this situation. Explaining what was transpiring to the group, I immediately went to the men’s room to extract the beast. The workshop went well, and I was the subject of many comments and laughter throughout that day.

Humor and laughter are certainly important attributes in one's life.
May you be able to easily see the humor in life and laugh easily and often.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Our Vulture Experience!

Jim Stafford’s song "Spiders and Snakes" brings to mind two of those most misunderstood creatures. Many folks may have a difficult time demonstrating quality caring when they come face to face with a snake in the garden.
I recall this caring aspect of our lives became evident on an evening trip- many years ago- to Cedar Creek State Park.

As we were returning to Glenville the girls spotted a lump of feathers in the middle of the road. We stopped and upon examination discovered a turkey vulture - a vulture who had been feeding on a decaying groundhog before it’s demise. I said "Dead bird"

At once the bird raised it’s head and it looked up directly at the girls.
"Dad we have to save the buzzard! It needs to have care and treatment."
Knowing the vulture was on it’s last leg and death was imminent, I moved the beast from the middle to the edge of road. that moment the bird stood up and the girls excitedly yelled ...."we really need to CARE for him and can not leave him here to die!"
Wife’s face showed concern. She knew of the defensive behavior of these fine birds. Anyone who has seen baby vultures soon realizes their fine defense mechanism - vomiting - regurgitation is very effect in defense if you are the recipient of such action.

I assured wife- all will be well. Critter is in shock and it’s defensive mechanisms will most likely not be utilized by this animal. I placed the crumpled vulture in back of our station wagon.

At the bridge coming into Glenville, the worst happened. Regurgitation! The smell of decaying ground hog permeated throughout our car. Driving with head out window and all occupants covering their noses with heads hanging as far out of the windows as possible.

Recuperation occurred in basement. This vultures, I learned, was a good critic of popular music. At the time the Pop star called Prince had a song entitles Purple Rain. Everytime that the song would be played by our girls..the bird reguritated! The vulture was returned to the wild. It sat in tree in our back yard for the next two days then flew off.

The girls demonstrated that even those creatures that seem disgusting need care.