Meditation Room

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Here's one we've gotten a lot of feedback on from our Asheville Tribune outdoor column.

I was sitting in the doctor’s office one day thumbing through an out of date magazine about homes and home improvement. Besides the obvious thought to find a doctor that subscribed to outdoor magazines, my eyes caught an article about a trend in homes, meditation rooms. It is described as a place of “spiritual sanctuary” to get away from the stresses in life. The room is arranged using feng shui (Chinese for expensive furniture) to provide flow and energy in the room. The room described even had an altar with spiritual symbols as a focal point.

This got me thinking: What would my meditation room be like? The altar would be an open fireplace with a long mantel to place spiritual symbols on. Not one of those gas log jobs. I’m talking about build your own fire with kindling, matches and oak logs. It must be part of my prehistoric DNA. There’s something about a crackling fire that relaxes to spirit.

I know what spiritual symbols would sit on the mantel. There’s the first quail my son shot when he was 12.  I had it mounted with the empty 20-gauge shell he used to kill it. It symbolizes a new generation of hunter and memories over the years. Next to that would be a picture we took that same day of my dad, my son, and me giving thumbs up before we left the house. Also on the mantel would be an old Zebco 33 reel Dad used. That’s the only kind he used over all the many years we fished together. It symbolizes my introduction to the outdoors and memories of small farm ponds and slab crappie at Weiss Lake. Of course there’s got to be a couple of old leather dog collars lying on the mantle with reminders of days in the field with all the bird dogs. I love what dogs add to the sport and can’t imagine hunting without them.

There’s always a framed picture hanging over the mantle. There is one called “Watchful Monarch” of a ruffed grouse standing on an aspen log that might work. But I think the one that best fits the meditation room is hanging over my office desk right now, “Setters at Sunset”. The name pretty much says it all.

That takes care of my altar. Now how should I feng shui the room to give it flow and energy?  In one corner would lean the Winchester Model 42 .410 that Uncle Jim gave me. There’s no telling how much game that little gun killed in its lifetime. Uncle Jim hunted everything with that gun with the exception of dove when he stepped up to a 20-gauge. It was in pretty bad shape when he gave it too me and I had it reconditioned.I shoot it occassionally just for the memories. It would be nice to kill a grouse or woodcock with it.

Of course there will be some fishing gear around.  A couple of Dad’s old rods with Zebco 33’s are still in my possession. Alas his old metal tackle box is long gone but would be a nice addition. Uncle Bob’s old fly rod will stand in one corner. It’s an old Wright & McGill graphite 4-weight rod and I have no idea what he used it for. Uncle Bob would buy stuff he thought he needed and never use it. He liked to fish but mostly on lakes for white bass and crappie.

There is a hall tree by the door to hang hats on: blaze orange, camouflage, and others which rarely worn. One hook would hold my hunting vest. It’s got to be there to heft it every now and then during the off-season and sort through the pockets. Mingled in with the 20 gauge shells and dog whistle are pieces of leaves and tree branch from last season. There’s probably a grouse or quail feather still in the game pouch.  Just to remember times past and anticipate days ahead.

That will pretty much get me started in my Meditation Room. On second thought, maybe a meditation room isn't needed. I’ve already got one.  As I shrug into the hunting vest, slip the gun out of the case, and as the dog whines and tail beats against the side of the box this winter I will realize I’ve got the greatest “Spiritual Sanctuary” of all. It’s nature’s feng shui called the outdoors.

Wildlife and Wildfire

As I write this, we’ve had nearly 50 thousand acres burn in the ongoing wildfires across Western North Carolina. The recent rains and more in the forecast will do much to either put them out or get them 100% contained. Thanks to the valiant efforts of fire crews there has been no loss of life or buildings consumed in the fires in North Carolina. The question comes up: What happens to the wildlife? Here’s my impression, not based on any reports but more on personal experience and research. Most wildlife are able to flee a fire well in advance, especially if it is slow moving like we have in the mountains. Their sense of danger is much more acute than for human, and don’t wait around for the flames to touch them. Birds fly out of danger, deer and other ground dwelling mammals run out of the affected area. Some species, primarily creepy crawlers like snakes, will not survive. That is nature. Animals are generally fire adaptive.

Of greater interest should be what about wildlife after the fire. Here the news is nothing but good. Typically fires in our region, whether wild or planned, only burn with low intensity. These simply burn the leaf litter and dead trees on the ground. All photos I’ve seen of these wildfires indicate these fires are burning with higher intensity and getting above ground into tree canopies. So how are these two types of fires different for wildlife?

A low intensity burn does provide short term growth of forest understory providing both food and cover for wildlife. However, the existing tree canopy continues to shade out the area and within a couple of years that ground cover is gone. Conversely, these wildfires are burning large patches of rhododendron and burning trees. Also, fire fighters are removing trees and cutting fire lines to slow the spread. This will remove some of the tree canopy which lets more light onto the ground and provide more widespread regeneration of young trees and vegetation. This is a similar effect to a timber harvest through forest thinning or clear cut.

So the long term affect on wildlife is positive. The best example of this is the Yellowstone fire of 1988. A massive wildfire swept through the National Park and devastated most of the natural habitat. Despite the prognostications from environmentalist the regenerating forests became a magnet for wildlife including the majestic elk. It will probably take 5 – 10 years for the forest to regenerate but I predict those burn areas will be teeming with wildlife in a few years. Deer, turkey, grouse and other wildlife like the thick ground cover of a regenerating forest. It is proven science.

I will add one caveat. Those conditions for wildlife will improve greatly if the USFS and NC WRC act rapidly after the fires to go in and do additional habitat work. The USFS needs to get permission to bypass regulatory requirements and remove trees that still have timber value but will not survive. The NC WRC needs to be planning NOW to plant native warm season grasses along fire breaks and other areas conducive for wildlife openings. These actions will increase the potential for improving wildlife habitat. It these actions are taken, I hope to one day report on 20 – 25 grouse flushes per day in about 10 years.