Earth Day in the Southern Appalachians

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day celebrations and teach-ins were held in Philadelphia, PA. Over the forty years since then, Earth Day has spread throughout the United States and around the globe, becoming an observed event in almost every nation worldwide. To recognize this important day, UNC Press would like to welcome author Jennifer Frick-Ruppert to the blog. Jennifer’s book Mountain Nature: A Season Natural History of the Southern Appalachians is an expertly detailed account of the flora and fauna of the area that stretches from northern Georgia through the Carolinas and Virginia. Today, she tells us about her Earth Days in Brevard, North Carolina.–Matt

On Earth Day, I make the effort to pause and celebrate the beautiful world in which we live. Some mornings of Earth Day, I look out into a glorious blue sky. On other mornings, instead of cloudless blue sky, there is a solid wall of low grey clouds ready to burst with life-giving water. Maybe not as pretty, but just as necessary, for water is the substance of life. When water is abundant, life flourishes and biodiversity soars.

It rains a lot in the southern Appalachians, but not all the time! Some days are sunny and dry, perfect conditions for plant pollen to be dispersed far and wide to reach the female flowers and pollinate the plant. Other days are cold and snowy instead. Many people have noticed that the warm, dry spring following a cold, wet winter produced a profusion of pollen from a diversity of plants.

This mountain region has an almost equal measure of all four seasons. It is easy to appreciate spring, summer, autumn, and winter because none of them overstay their welcome. Each season has a different set of creatures to appreciate, too.

Hummingbirds have just returned to the southern Appalachians from their winter homes in Central America. The first male to visit my feeder this year arrived on April 16. Those of you further south may have seen them a few days earlier. The males arrive first and establish a territory, which they defend against other males. The females arrive shortly after the males, and with their arrival, the males kick into high gear as they court the females. Hummingbirds stay with us until autumn, when they return to their wintering grounds in Central America. With the appearance of colorful tree leaves in October, hummingbirds head south along with migrating Monarch butterflies and wood warblers.

Because the events of the yearly seasonal cycle are strikingly broad and visible, I use seasonality as the organizing theme of Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians. It focuses on the different plants, animals, and mushrooms that visitors or residents to the southern Appalachians are likely to see during the season they visit. When I am outdoors on Earth Day, I can expect to see certain flowers blooming, trees leafing out, pollen dispersing, and, if I am lucky, colorful warblers and hummingbirds flitting rapidly from tree to tree.

In my book Mountain Nature, I also hope to convey my love of the natural surroundings of the southern Appalachians. I feel lucky to live in this area of the world, in part because the biodiversity of the southern mountains is so impressive. Living here, I can’t help but wonder at the myriad shapes, forms, and colors of the tapestry of life. On Earth Day, as we focus on the effects of humans on the Earth, I hope we don’t forget to enjoy our Earth and its other inhabitants too.

Jennifer Frick-Ruppert
Brevard College
author of Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians