Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Old, Worn-down Mountains"

In one of my grade school geography classes, I remember the Appalachian Mountains being described as "old, worn down mountains" in contrast to the much younger Rockies.

In the brochures on the Smokies was the following statement: "The Smokies originally looked more like the Himalayas than the rounded mountains we see today. How they came to be this way (rounder and lower in elevation than the younger Rocky Mountains) is a story that began almost one billion years ago."

The corrosive effect of water during the intervenng centuries has done the work of reducing the mountains.

On the positive side of the Park's life are the reintroductions of peregrine falcons, river otters, brook trout, and elk.

And the bears. We have been advised by Park Rangers that there has been increased bear sightings; we have seen signs stating that trails have been closed because of increased bear activity. We have been out to Cades Cove early; we have been there late. At no time during these optimal prime bear-viewing periods have we seen a bear.

However, the Smokies are under attack. The balsam woolly adelgid, a tiny insect, drinks the Fraser fir's sap, killing it within six to eight years. More than 70 percent of the mature Fraser firs are dead.

Similarly, the hemlock woolly adelgid has been attacking and killing hemlock trees within three to five years of feeding on the sap from the base of the trees' needles.

Tiny predator beetles that feed on this insect have been introduced in an attempt to save the hemlocks.

Finally, air pollution, which has reduced visibility by 60 percent over the past 50 years, has presented another challenge to the health of the mountains.

But, in spite of these negative forces, the Smokies have drawn us back again and again.

There is beauty in the hills and valleys. There is peace and solitude in those old worn-down mountains.

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