The following piece first appeared in 2015, following author Kathryn Aalto’s appearance at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books to promote her then-new book, “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh.” Aalto reflected on the joy’s of walking-at-will in her new home of England, about how little is off-limits in a country that grants a legal right to roam. Her observations and wanderings seem especially pertinent in fall, a time when all we want to do is roam and take in this season of color.
A few years back I was nearing the top of the Mount Mitchell Trail when I came across a group of youngsters intently examining the balsam firs that begin appearing above 5,500 feet. As they probed about, an older fellow explained what they were seeing. The gentleman had a professorial look; not surprising, I soon discovered, considering these were forestry students from N.C. State. I lurked in the shadows and got a free education on the challenges of life above 6,000 feet in a Southern Appalachian forest.
Sure be great if you didn’t have to go to school to get this kind of education, I thought.
Last night, I discovered, you don’t.
Before a packed house Tuesday evening at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, Steph Jeffries and Thomas Wentworth discussed their just-released guide, “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia” (UNC Press). It’s a scientific look at the forest written for a lay audience.
Jeffries and Wentworth are uniquely qualified to write “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests.” As N.C. State professors — she in the Department of Forestry, he in Plant and Microbial Biology — they’ve been exploring these woods for years. On one outing with students several years ago, Jeffries yelled to Wentworth: “We need to write a book about this.”
“Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests” is peppered with insights that can’t help but make a hike all the more enjoyable. A sampling: