Introduction to Sugar Hill's Ecology
Two enthusiastic ten
year olds, a sullen teenager, and half a dozen adults carefully tip
back logs and flat rocks. We spread out across the moist woodland, each
hooked by this ecological treasure hunt. Then ---
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“I found one!”
hollers a ten year old. She holds aloft a black salamander liberally
sprinkled with silver speckles.
“I want to hold
it!” demands her brother, the formerly sullen teenager.
shouldn't...” I begin, but before the words make it out of my mouth,
the brother has the Slimy Salamander carefully cupped in his hands.
“...hold it,” I
end my thought, too late to prevent super-glued fingers on two kids.
The Slimy Salamander is named for its ability to secrete a sticky
substance that it uses to deter predators, I explain to the crowd.
Birds and other critters often opt to spit the salamander out rather
than gulp down the goo. Unfortunately for us, the sticky secretion
dries like glue on your hands after you handle the salamander. The
teenager no longer seems keen on holding his sister's prize, so we put
the salamander back under its log and head up the trail in search of
other ecological adventures.
An hour later,
I turn my hikers loose. One mother lags behind and heads my way.
Uh oh, I think, she discovered the super glue effect. But all she wants
to talk about is how much she and her kids enjoyed the hike. “I learned
so much!” she gushes. “But I know I won't remember a tenth of it.”
I have been
leading nature hikes in the central Appalachian mountains for nearly a
decade, and I constantly hear this refrain. This website and book is
the solution to that dilemma. I have compiled tales that highlight the
region's ecology so that you can peruse them at your leisure. Here, you
will find all of the stories I tell on hikes, wrapped up into a trail
guide to one of the most diverse tracts of land in southwest Virginia.
So put on your hiking boots and head to Sugar Hill to see central
Appalachia's diversity with your own eyes!