The Vanishing Wilderness

Weathering   the   Storm

Cultural Survival in an Appalachian Valley by Mary Hufford

The Central Appalachian Plateau, a vast and ancient tableland etched over eons into thousands of winding hollows, spreads away from its center in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky south through Tennessee to Alabama and north into Ohio and Pennsylvania. Trickling down from the ridges and welling up from deep springs, wa-ters gather and flow into the tributaries of the great rivers bordering the plateau. Deep indentations known variously as "coves ," "drains," and "swags" wrinkle the ridges and slopes rising away from the hollows.

Sheltered in these coves against extreme climate change, and nurtured by rich layers of erosional humus, the world's oldest and biologically richest temperate zone hardwood forest has taken shape. The pioneer-ing botanist and forest ecologist F. Lucy Braun, who first perceived it as a coherent system named it the "mixed mesophytic." Because the mixed mesophytic provided the seed for reforesting the eastern United States as the glaciers ebbed, some ecologists have nicknamed it "the Mother Forest." The diversity of the mixed mesophytic forest is remarkable. Whereas most forest types are dominated by two or three species, the mixed mesophytic harbors eighty woody species in its canopy and un-derstory. Among them are white basswood, yellow buckeye, tulip poplar, sugar maple, red maple, sweet birch, beech, red, white, and black oaks, all the hickories, four kinds of magnolia, black locust, white and black walnut, chcstnut, chinquapin, dogwood, redbud, hazelnut, witch hazel, elm, red mulberry, persimmon, and pawpaw, all of which have for generations been woven into the fabric of community life on the central Appalachian plateau.

This magnificent forest puts on a year-round show. Bristling in winter like the hair on a wild boars back studded with the blossoms of dogwoods and redbuds in spring, muted in summer's green mantle, ablaze with autumn's full spectrum, this forest grabs your attention and doesn't let go.

(An Appalachian Tragedy. Page 147.)

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