Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight

American-chestnut

The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

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It’s a far cry from Tolstoy, but then again I’m not Russian …

trevilian station

Among the things I enjoy most about blogging is being able to tell a good story. It was one of my favorite aspects of journalism and it’s part of what I relish in writing for the magazine I put together for my employer.

Nearly four years ago, I got an opportunity to tell a bigger story, one that was approximately 150 years old but had never been fully laid out in print before.

It came to fruition last month when Broadfoot Publishing Co. of Wilmington, NC, sent me a copy of To Virginia and Back With Rutledge’s Cavalry: A History of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, a 520-page work that took me more than three years to write.

First, I should note that writing anything about myself is about as enjoyable as having teeth pulled with a rusty pair of pliers. But it would be remiss of me not to at least thank those who have supported me over the past few years.

First, about the book, or rather the topic of my book:

The 4th S.C. Cavalry Regiment suffered the most battle casualties of any of South Carolina’s seven cavalry units. Nearly all its combat deaths came during a two-week period in the summer of 1864, when the 1,000-man unit was thrown into its first real action literally hours after arriving in Virginia.

Prior to reaching Virginia shortly after the start of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, the 4th South Carolina hadn’t suffered a single combat death since the start of the war. Within a couple of weeks, it had lost scores of men, with hundreds more wounded and captured.

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Social media: It’s not just for the tech savvy anymore

facebook

The below may or may not have appeared in a British newspaper as a letter to the editor. I came across it on a local webpage, Wrisley.com, that included a screenshot of the newspaper clipping from one Peter White of Derbyshire titled “My own social media,” which does give it a bit more credence.

Whatever the case, it’s good for a laugh:

SIR: I haven’t got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and am trying to make friends outside of Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles.

Every day, I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter and of me gardening and on holiday, spending time by the pool. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I ‘like’ them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me… whether it interests them or not.

And it works. I have already four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

Peter Brook, Holbrook, Derbyshire

(HT: Wrisley.com)

Ancient Pictish fort found off the coast of Eastern Scotland

Pictish-Fort

An essential aspect of older forts was their inaccessibility to enemies. The harder it was for foes to get at those inside, the easier it was for defenders to hold out.

It appears that this need was recognized quite early on. A recently discovered fort off the coast of Scotland sits atop a sea stack and can only be accessed using ropes at low tide, according to the BBC.

The Pictish fort was uncovered during an archaeological dig on the Aberdeenshire coast and is believed to be Scotland’s oldest, dating back to as early as the third century AD.

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen needed help from experienced mountaineers to scale the rugged cliffs in order reach the site, which is perched precariously on the top of a sea stack called Dunnicaer, with sheer drops on all sides, according to the Edinburgh Evening News.

“The team found evidence of ramparts, floors and a hearth on the small outcrop,” the publication added. “It is believed the fort would have comprised a timber house or hall, surrounded by an outer defensive rampart built from stone.”

The fort was especially impressive given the materials used in its construction.

“The stone is not from the local area so it must have been quite a feat to get it, and the heavy oak timbers, up to such an inaccessible site,” said lead researcher Gordon Noble, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

Results of carbon dating suggest that use of the fort was relatively short-lived, and it is assumed the Pictish communities who inhabited it moved on to the larger site of Dunnottar Castle to the south.

The Picts were descendants of indigenous Iron Age people of northern Scotland.

“Pict” was a blanket term applied to an agglomeration of different people in the northern Scotland, probably with different cultures and languages, according to the website Orkneyjar, which details the heritage of the Orkney Islands.

The word “Pict” means “painted people,” likely referring to the Pictish custom of either tattooing their bodies or embellishing themselves with war paint.

Prior the arrival of the Romans in Britain the Picts were probably fragmented tribes who spent much of their time fighting among themselves.

The Roman threat appears to have forced them together. This allowed the tribes to resist the continental invaders, forcing cooperation in the face of invaders. By the time the Romans departed from Britain in the fifth century AD, the northern tribes had begun to form into what would later become the Pictish Kingdom.

By the 11th century the Pictish identity had been incorporated into the amalgamation of peoples known as “Scots.”

(Top: Researchers seen working atop Dunnicaer sea stacks off coast of Scotland, where an ancient Pictish fort was recently discovered.)

Iran, Middle East, ‘basking’ in center-of-the-sun heat

heat map

Pity the average Iranian: Not only are they citizens of a nation where significant conservative and religious elements play a leading role in governance; double-digit inflation has eroded savings; and women have seen their place in society significantly diminished over the past 40 years, Iranians are living in what, at present, is about as close to hell-like conditions as exist on Earth.

Temperatures in the Middle Eastern nation have soared to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to a recent heat wave.

In Iran’s city of Bandar Mahshahr the heat index last week was among the highest ever recorded, at 163 degrees.

A group of astonished weather experts believe the country could be enduring some of the hottest urban temperatures ever endured by mankind, according to The Telegraph.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.

The heat index in Bandar Mahshahr were just a few degrees lower than the highest-ever recorded heat index, which was 178 Fahrenheit, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in July 2003.

The heat forced officials in nearby Iraq to call a four-day public holiday because it was too hot to work, the result of a “heat dome” that is leaving the Middle East sweltering.

“A strong ridge of high pressure has persisted over the Middle East through much of July, resulting in the extreme heat wave in what many would consider one of the hottest places in the world,” Sagliani said.

The dome is a type of high pressure ridge and has exacerbated electricity and water supply issues, adding to the miserable conditions, according to The Telegraph.

By comparison, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the United States is a relatively balmy 134 degrees Fahrenheit, in Death Valley, Calif., on July 10, 1913. No word on what the heat index was on that day more than a century ago.

(Top: Graphic showing temperatures in the Middle East late last week.)