FEB. 12, 2018
Although it is seemingly quiet these days in the woods around campus and we often think of winter as a dead time, the natural world in our southern mountains never really goes quiet. Few mammals actually hibernate here, really just some bats, since their extremely high metabolism forces them to shut down when their insect prey is unavailable. Bears, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, mice, and even groundhogs may sleep through a cold snap, but they are up and about again during any warm spell. True hibernation in the endotherms (warm-blooded mammals) requires a drastic lowering of the heart rate, respiration, and metabolism and our winters are just too mild and short to call for such measures.
Life is definitely different for the ectotherms whose internal temperature reflect the ambient conditions. These reptile and amphibian species must have some adaptations to cope with those sub-zero days. Snakes are barely functional below 50° F and seek out deep dens (or the barn) to find stable temperatures. The Eagle’s Nest frogs and snapping turtles have burrowed into the mud at the bottom of the pond. One of our few terrestrial frogs, the wood frog, can be frozen solid for months due to antifreeze compounds like propylene glycol and glycerol in their systems. In this torpid state, its breathing and heartbeat actually stop, defying the definition of the word “alive”. Normally, the formation of ice crystals means death for cells, but these frogs have sidestepped that particular fate, with as much as 65% of the water in their bodies crystallized into ice. When warmed, they immediately go about the business of finding mates, none the worse for wear. Not surprisingly, scientists are interested in borrowing this adaptation for the cryopreservation of living human organs for transplant.
Certainly, not all of our summer Appalachian birds leave during the winter. Our feeders are full of chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and finches. Some of these birds are northern migrants, but many have only migrated down the mountain into our protected Little River valley. They have a short trip back to their breeding territories in the spring. And some birds, like the kestrel, a tiny falcon, come from colder northern habitats to spend their winters hunting here. Even most of the insects aren’t really gone or dead. Many species overwinter as larvae or even as adults and can occasionally be found out and about. Every rock you turn over in the Davidson River in February will be crawling with mayfly, damselfly, stonefly and alderfly larvae. Our yellow jackets colonies, so numerous and feared in the summer, are represented by young queens, the only survivors of the swarms we run from in panic in August. They have been fertilized by males in the late fall and will spend the winter in barn attics or under the bark of a dying tree, ready to start new underground colonies in the spring.
Well, I guess what I’m getting at is that there is always something stirring around here, even in the depths of winter. I’ve heard spring peepers call during every month of the year; Great Horned owls calling for mates in December, fox tracks in the snow, spotted salamanders eggs in March, copperheads sunning in February; groundhogs eating greens in a frosty pasture; and springtails—tiny, hopping insects—leaping on snowy rocks in a frozen river. The natural world doesn’t ever really stop, so don’t let the cold slow you down either – get out there with your binoculars and magnifying glass.
NOV. 14, 2017
In Environmental Seminar, we have been examining our relationship with food. We started by looking at the facts of where our food comes from, from the industrial food chain of conventional meat, produce and processed food to the organic and /or local farming operations. We’ve asked ourselves some difficult questions, such as “If I am going to eat meat, should I be able to kill an animal?” and “What are the hidden costs such as food miles required to eat organic produce in the winter?” We’ve debated the merits and challenges of chosen diets, from omnivore to vegetarian, vegan to freegan, and found that there are many “right” ways to eat, not just one. We’ve explored different concepts around eating traditions, such as our family’s food culture, eating seasonally, and homesteading, and we’ve expanded our view to explore the global impact of food, such as food shortages, riots, and food economics. We’ve explored the impact of corn and soy in our diet, especially around our physical health.
For as many questions as we answer, there are more that are raised. The privilege of our food choices in this country create many opportunities for experimentation and exploration, and in this class we have tried to look at each new concept from all points of view, even those not as popular or exciting. It’s easy to demonize one type of food culture and glorify another, until you explore all sides of the issue. My hope is that these students emerge from this class with the understanding that in order to really make smart choices about the food that we eat, we all have to be a bit of a detective. Look at the food labels. Ask the farmer at the farmer’s market about her spraying practices. Do the research to determine if migrant workers rights were abused in the growing of this food. It’s not easy, and sometimes you don’t want to know, but it’s important.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned together, it’s the power of the individual to make a difference. As Michael Pollan said, we get to vote three times a day with what we choose to eat. Students are encouraged to find farmers in their area at home, to go to a farmer’s market, and to investigate what CSA’s are available in their community. In a few weeks, we will learn how to start a small garden at home. Our relationship with food can be global, and it can be in our own backyard. Learning how to balance the two is the challenging opportunity of our time, and these students are well on their way toward embracing that challenge.
Susan Daily, Outdoor Academy Student Dean
MAY. 11, 2017
When I took a walk down to the Eagle’s Nest Garden this week to see how progress was coming for this summer’s growing season, I half expected Bella to thrust a pair of work gloves or a tool into my hands. For all that she has been doing this semester to prepare for the sunny days of the western North Carolina summer, Bella was just as eager to pause and talk about the work that has already been done and the many projects that lay ahead.
For those of you who have not heard, Bella Smiga joined the Eagle’s Nest community over the winter as our Foundation’s Garden Manager. After wrapping up an undergraduate degree in Environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Bella worked in the solar energy industry. During that time she started exploring gardening on her own, found that she enjoyed the simplicity of growing food and the sense of self-reliance it brought her, and began dreaming about a career of feeding people without further damaging the earth. Last year she completed a Master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College where her education focused on both the practical application of low-impact farming and using sustainability-minded agriculture systems to build community.
Since her first afternoon at Eagle’s Nest, Bella has been working with the weekly Outdoor Academy garden work crew on projects to prepare the land for spring plantings. These projects have included trimming back and rebuilding trellises for the raspberries and blackberries and pruning locust trees to let more light onto the growing beds. As we stepped through the willow fence and out onto the fields, Bella explained her next steps. The garden is at the transition point between the winter and the summer. Cover crops, meant to replenish the soil with nutrients and stave off the erosion of rich topsoil, still cover most of the fields. Seedling plants, including peppers, beets, broccoli, yellow squash, onions, several varieties of tomato, eggplant, zucchini, watermelon, and many herbs are being carefully nurtured in their infant stages as they await planting.
As winter fades and the threat of the last killing frost disappears, Bella is starting to experiment with new growing methods. “One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living microorganisms than there are people on the planet,” she reminds me. Most farmers till the soil every spring to integrate new nutrients and prepare the land for new crops. Yet, Bella fears the damage tilling can do to the soil life—healthy dirt makes healthy vegetables, after all. While she explores no-till growing methods, Bella also has plans to refurbish the raised planting beds used to grow crops. These are great teaching spaces for students and summer campers to relate back to a growing scale they might have seen in a home garden.
Bella will continue to plan planting and harvesting schedules, track growth of the plants, and weed rows of crops. Throughout the year, different young people experience different parts of the farming process. During these last two weeks of spring at the Outdoor Academy, Semester 44 will continue to enjoy some of the early plantings that are ready to be harvested, such as lettuce, kale, garlic, and radishes.
Eric McIntyre, Resident Wilderness Educator
APR. 13, 2017
Clara Ruth Logan, one of our semester 44 studetns, wants to share her experiences during the last paddling trip.
“There are many moments at The Outdoor Academy when I feel my body and my mind getting stronger, and our 3-day paddling trip last weekend was one of them. With the sun on my arms and the postcard view of the Appalachian Mountains over the French Broad River, it seemed impossible to feel unhappy.
On the first day, nervousness and excitement bubbled up inside of me as our instructors, Lucas, Eric and Ryan, told us the plan. As soon as we got on the river, we would have to ferry across against the current to avoid a strainer on the left of the river. I hopped in the bow and my partner Margo got in the stern of the boat. I was so scared but we did it and I felt so strong! Margo and I continued down the river and enjoyed the sunshine, the beautiful view, and the occasional splash of water on our skin.
On the second day of our trip we had some crazy rapids! I loved the wave trains because our boat would gallop down the river while tons of water splashed over us. We learned that if we paddled hard and really focused on our boat control, we could let go of the fear, and our excitement and happiness would take over. I felt strong and capable on the river, and most importantly, I felt truly happy.”
Thank you Clara Ruth for sharing.
Rodrigo Vargas, Spanish Teacher
APR. 6, 2017
“We live in a world where we thrive off of materials. We need to decrease our consumption, repair and recycle the goods we do consume, and over all CONSERVE!” – Tess, Carmel, IN
Art Piece: glass bottles, cans, acrylic paint, paper cut-outs
Last Friday the 24th, Semester 44 took part in our third OA Cornerstone Day. Named Legacy Day, this particular Cornerstone Day is a brain child of Katie Harris, Dean of Academics and English teacher, and Brian Quarrier, our Crafts and Environmental Seminar teacher. Cornerstone days are best described as an interdisciplinary exploration of a broader topic; for example the ‘Legacy’ we leave behind for future generations.
ceramic pot, glass, flowers.
“In every piece of trash there is a life. this piece represents the beauty and life that can come out of something someone else thinks is trash.”
The students spent the day studying an integral part of our culture’s lasting physical residue: trash. As part of the week building up to the Cornerstone, Brian and Katie required the students to carry their waste in their own personal trash bags. When Friday rolled around, the students began the day with a morning tour of the Transylvania County Landfill, which was the first time many of the students had ever been to a major dump. The culmination of the trash-carrying activity came when the students were able to deliver their bulging bags of trash for the week directly to the landfill and experience first-hand the monumental amount of garbage we amass on Earth every day.
cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash
“This is a picture of a beach but made of trash. This represents how the oceans and beaches are being filled with trash. I want the viewer to feel sadness about the pollution from us ruining nature. I’m specifically raising awareness about our trash getting carried out into the oceans, beaches, and islands.”
In the afternoon, the students moved on to create some positive change in reaction to their morning at the dump by picking up a densely-littered public area. The students of Semester 44 ended the day creating art with materials from their afternoon cleanup. The photos here document some of the pieces created by our talented students. We have also shared and some of the thoughtful statements from the artist in which they reflect upon confronting the mountains of garbage we leave for future generations.
Robbie deBurlo, Math Teacher, Medical Coordinator, Wilderness Leader
MAR. 24, 2017
Environment is one of the four Cornerstones here at The Outdoor Academy. It is a main focus of our students’ education during each semester. We discuss the status of the environment in our Environmental Seminar, we explore our local environment on outdoor trips, and we become intimate with different aspects of the environment during discussions and readings in science and English. As a whole, the environment is pretty important to us at The Outdoor Academy.
This love and importance goes beyond the school and into the entire Eagles Nest Foundation. With our centennial firmly on our heels (2027) the foundation has taken huge strides to honor our environment. Just recently 76% of our land went into a conservation easement in order to ensure the longevity of the magic of these woods. Other measures that are in place are our strategic initiatives. This is where our OA students are working.
ENF has identified three main strategic initiatives. Our math and Environmental Seminar students have been asked, as an honors project, to research and propose ideas to fulfill the second strategic initiative, Define and implement our commitment toward 21st century environmental ethics and practices. Students are working in pairs to create presentations about LED lighting, solar power, rain gardens, more efficient machinery on campus, and other sustainable ideas such as adjusting our food sources to lessen our carbon footprint. They have been discussing various methods and case studies in Environmental Seminar and calculating the actual cost of a new, sustainable system in comparison to our current model in math. At the end of the semester the students will present their ideas to each other, undergo a question and answer period from faculty and students, and ultimately vote on the best ideas to move forward to our Executive Director and Head of School.
This is an incredible opportunity for students to connect the theories and ideas to their lives. Past presentations have impacted the faculty and staff enough that students have been looked at as local experts long after their assignment has been given a grade; often being asked questions at lunch or between classes. Students at The Outdoor Academy look to make the world a better place in an intelligent and sustainable manner. Ask your nearest student about their ideas, they are pretty good!
Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher and Wilderness Leader