Sometimes my mind boggles when I think on the number of plants, fungi, animals and insects inhabiting my slice of the world.
Then I fall down a rabbit hole of pondering about what a tiny portion of worldwide flora and fauna this is — and my mind again boggles.
Earlier this summer visiting family in Maine, I enjoyed how familiar the plants and animals were. Yes, there was a salt air and marine twist, but in general I still recognized everything.
Roses grew along seashore roads, a bobcat crossed the road as we were driving of an evening. I picked up a note card made by a local artist, with a drawing of spring ephemeral flowers; they were the same as our spring ephemerals — lady slippers, trilliums, bloodroot, and other familiar names.
The major differences I noticed were kelp and other seaweed dotting the beaches, along with some crabs and snails and seagulls calling overhead. Even the snail shells recalled those I find in my garden.
More recently I vacationed with my immediate family on a North Carolina beach. Although a shorter drive from home than our Maine destination, I glimpsed a strikingly different slice of flora and fauna adjacent to our own.
Driving southeast I noticed the fields of corn and potatoes changed to fields of tobacco and cotton.
Then trees changed, and nearing our destination I noticed different landscaping plants. Banana plants weren’t uncommon, along with other tropical looking plants and trees.
At our airbnb rental, plants I could not identify grew in the yard, along with unfamiliar flowers in neighbors’ yards.
Down at the sound beach fronting our rental house we saw crabs — blue, hermit and horseshoe — sting rays, barnacles, jumping fish and a little farther out, dolphins. Pelicans, a small blue heron, egrets and an osprey flew overhead.
We did a bit of learning about the creatures living on that stretch of sand. Barnacles are hermaphroditic, and can pass and receive sperm from their neighbors. They hatch fertilized eggs inside their shells. The larvae swim off and float around with zooplankton, then develop into another larval stage before finding a place to settle down. We saw barnacles spending the rest of their lives glued to various surfaces.
Hermit crabs use shells of other sea creatures. We found one while beach-combing, having picked up what we thought was an empty shell.
I learned that sharks and stingrays share some commonalities: neither has an air bladder, so they have to keep moving to stay afloat. They also both have cartilage skeletons, rather than bones.
I didn’t see any sharks, but they easily could have been lurking nearby, according to data about their habits.
Taking a ferry to an island, we saw sea turtle nests (one recently hatched) and wild horses, likely descendants of shipwrecked horses of Spanish explorers.
While there were still many commonalities of flora and fauna between West Virginia and North Carolina, I saw more differences than I expected.
Traveling in the past I’m sure I saw such differences, but over the last few years I’ve become more invested in my personal surroundings, and as such become more familiar with what lives around me.
This vacation, the differences in a different environment seemed especially striking.
These beautiful Appalachian mountains feel vast and all encompassing — to me sometimes they feel like the whole world. So many creatures and plants and fungi call them home. But beyond — even just a day’s drive away — exists such a wider world and so many plants and animals that seem totally exotic to our hills.
ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email email@example.com.