Since coming to Boyd County, Kentucky almost half-a-century ago, I’ve been amazed, even startled, at the variety of trees and other flora we have at our doorstep. A trip along any country fence row or down any of our roadsides is a tree-lovers dream. Even a walk on the wooded side of the downtown campus of Ashland Community and Technical College (ACTC) is a treat.
One wintry day over twenty years ago, I decided to take a survey of the trees in the ACTC woods. With paper and clipboard in hand on a blustery day with snowflakes beginning to fall, I began that quest. Incidentally, one of the nice things about being a college professor is that, to the average citizen, we do some strange things…and we get away with it. “If you’re insane you don’t have to explain,” went an old song. So, I’m sure anyone who saw me in the woods on that miserable day with the clipboard would have simply winked and said, “He teaches at the college, you know.”
I’m nutty enough about trees that I can identify all but a few by bark and configuration, even in the leafless wintertime. Believe it or not, on the few acres devoted to woods on the main campus, there are some forty varieties of trees. This not only says something about Ashland (KY) flora, but should introduce us all to the incredible variety of trees in our region. This is not the piney woods that one finds in much of the American South, where we see straight trunks of millions of the same kind of southern pines for a hundred miles or more as we approach the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Some people think this is beautiful. I do not.
When I see those Southern pine forests I’m always reminded of millions of telephone poles, and that’s not beautiful to me. Compare those coastal woods to what we have in Eastern Kentucky in what scientists call our mixed mesophytic forest, one of the most biologically diverse temperate forest regions on earth.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the people who so indiscriminately spray herbicides along our roadsides knew a little about what they are destroying? Even young school children know that the larva of the monarch butterfly feed solely on the foliage of the common milkweed which are destroyed by the thousands with chemical spraying. The jury is still out on the effects of these sprayings on human life and the lives of other creatures great and small.
[Ernie Tucker is a retired professor at Ashland Community and Technical College. He lives in Ashland, Kentucky, where he writes, lectures, and enjoys vintage automobiles.]