Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Margins of a Greater Wildness

Some of you may know from the announcement on the GDS E-News that I have written a new book: The Margins of a Greater Wildness: Nature Essays on Stanley Creek and Beyond, which is a collection mainly about Gaston County. I am reprinting Dr. Alan May's foreword to my book below, which I believe is a really helpful introduction. The book is available on Amazon and, locally, at Medical Center Pharmacy here in Gastonia.


Richard Rankin, historian and educator, has written and complied a collection of essays that are both pleasurable and instructive. From the banks of Stanley Creek (Gaston County) to the slope of Bull Mountain (Buncombe County); these are both an enjoyable walk in the woods, fields, and along streams and serious essays of preservation and conservation. Richard outlines his own connection to Stanley Creek with both the historian's eye and an appreciation of family recollection--the Rankin Oak story comes to mind. He also acknowledges the influence of Forney and Jean Rankin and their children in preserving Redlair and the efforts of the Catawba Lands Conservancy to assist with bringing their dream of conservation and preservation to fruition.

Gaston County's connection with French Botanist Andre Michaux and his identification of the big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) is a journey of rediscovery and study. Charlie Williams' curiosity in this chapter of early Piedmont exploration started first with an interest in Michaux and second a trip to the woods with Jack Moore to see an example of big leaf magnolia although the type site location is eastern Tennessee. Richard writes of Charlie's discovery of Michaux's original notes and combines them with places on the landscape associated with Michaux's visit to the home of Peter Smith to document the first sighting.

Benjamin Franklin was said to have suggested the turkey as the national bird rather than the bald eagle. Having seen wild turkeys in my archaeological surveys here in the Piedmont, I can and do appreciate the sentiment. Richard has factually demonstrated the multiple efforts in several parts of the county: east, west, north and south to reintroduce the wild turkey into Gaston County. Many of the land owners that participated in these projects are well known to me as I have requested their permissions to look for and record the presence of Native Americans in the county. There have been five successful programs to reintroduce the wild turkey, and Richard acknowledges all and adds that cooperation between land owners was essential for success.

Mr. R. M. Schiele was both a Boy Scout leader and naturalist: therefore an important component of the museum is natural history education. Education Specialist James Green working with herpetological specialists in and beyond North Carolina came together to help protect and conserve habitat for the endangered/threatened bog turtle (Glyptemys mulenbergii) found in Gaston County. Upland bog sites are rare in the Piedmont and to find sites and turtles is inspirational to those that are concerned about losing the original Piedmont landscape. Our land clearing and construction activities have adversely impacted both plant and animal ecologies here in the Piedmont. Awareness and conservation are necessary to educate students to the "value" of species to our own well being.

My archaeological interests coincide with Richard's essay on the "Catawba" or Carolina dog. Richard faithfully outlines in a very readable way the several hypotheses about dogs as companions to Native American groups moving through and living in the Piedmont. I have worked around the Harding community for a number of years and suspect that there is more archaeological discoveries to be made in that area, and my hope is to find and identify a native dog in an archaeological context. 

The rise of the textile industry in Gaston County and its leaders are identified in the membership of the Mattamuskeet Goose Club. An area located near the Outer Banks but instrumental in promoting--ultimately--the conservation of waterfowl along the Atlantic Flyway. Members of the club have been instrumental in habitat preservation through conservation and as advocate of natural heritage areas throughout eastern North Carolina. 

The final essay covers some of the few remaining "old growth" forest areas of western North Carolina. There are as many as 79,000 acres of old growth trees in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. We are reminded that simply because we are unaware of this "treasure" does not excuse us from conserving and protecting these resources. Advocates like Rob Messick are now concerned that the lack of advocacy for existing old growth trees in Southern Appalachia is "incomprehensible." Indeed our understanding for the need of old growth trees should be made in the understanding (education) of a larger context: local, national, and international. 

Richard has written a series of essays that are both enjoyable and instructive. He is an untiring advocate of wildlife and landscape conservation, and he has written clearly and enthusiastically how we can go about accomplishing the necessary goals of conservation and preservation. It has been a pleasure to be reminded of my neighbors who I know or know of that have shared this preservation and conservation vision. 

Dr. Alan May
Research Coordinator/Curator of Archaeology
The Schiele Museum of Natural History

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Trip to China

This is the fourth and last in a series of blogs about my recent trip to China.

Sunday, November 9, 2014, Shanghai

The interviews yesterday at the student fair in Nanjing were good. Lots of bright and able students. We arrived in Shanghai about 9:30pm on the bullet train from Nanjing. Arrived at the Marriott Hotel about 11:30pm, and the group gathered to tell stories about the day. Lots of laughter. Our group has become very close. 

More interviews today here in Shanghai. I also make a presentation on Gaston Day School at the student fair. Can't believe that we leave for home day after tomorrow. It has been a fabulous trip and I will miss all my new friends.

Monday, November 10, 2014, Shanghai

Yesterday we got a late start at 11am, followed by an early lunch. The food in southern China is more to my liking or maybe I am adjusting. We had a big, fine meal at another fancy restaurant. They serve maybe fifteen dishes at a standard meal. You sit at a large, round table with a lazy susan in the middle on which food circulates. At this point, everyone in the group is getting pretty good with chopsticks. 

We drove to the Bund around 1pm and went into the Bank of China Building where our student fair was held. The interviews lasted 2 hours. I spoke to about 15 students. The key attribute is their English language skills. If they can't speak, listen, read and write well in English, then they won't be successful in our schools. All take the TOEFL English Language Proficiency Test. A grade of 80 or above for a 9th grader is a minimum for success at Gaston Day. I enjoyed talking to the students. 

After the fair we crossed the street to the river side and walked on the Bund. I bought a small Chinese decorative screen for my daughter, Louisa. Then our group walked about 10 blocks to dinner. Shanghai is twice as big as New York City (20 million). During our travels tonight, we passed through three different locations in the city that each exceed Times Square in terms of glitz, electronic billboards, stores and people. I know the statement I am about to make may seem hard to believe, but here goes. Shanghai may be the greatest city in the world. The skyscrapers are everywhere with bold, cutting-edge architecture--many are designed by leading American architects. The Bund is different. It has western-style architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and reflects Shanghai's European influences during that time. The city is very cosmopolitan. Chinese women are as fashionable as any group I have seen anywhere in the world, including New York City, Paris, and Milan. The whole urban scene in Shanghai is just amazing.

After dinner, we drove through the tunnel under the Yangtze River and went up in the World Financial Center Skyscraper, the tallest in Shanghai. It has the highest observation deck in the world and the floor in the observation deck is glass. I am afraid of heights and this was simply too much! I was relieved to return to terra firma.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Shanghai

Yesterday we began with a walking tour that included the site of the meeting of the First Communist Party Congress. Next we visited Yuyuan Garden, a famous classic garden which is characteristic of the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in an old part of the city. This is the same place that I got lost eight years ago on my first trip to China. Since then, they have torn down and rebuilt most of the buildings and straightened the streets. It would be harder to get lost there now. I bought my last gifts for everyone.

Our last meal together was western-style. Lots of toast. Back to the hotel to pack for home. We leave for the airport in three hours. What a trip!! I have learned so much about contemporary China, its ancient history, its culture, its people. Most importantly, I better understand our Chinese students at Gaston Day. I have made such strong, wonderful friendships. This has been one of the best trips of my life, and I can't wait to get home!