Love and the Feathered Rex

Who are you looking at? Recent discoveries suggest there was nothing sluggish about Velociraptor. (Photo courtesy of Jurassic Park III)
Who are you looking at? Recent discoveries suggest there was nothing sluggish about Velociraptor. (Photo courtesy of Jurassic Park III)

By Luke

When I was a kid, I was gob-smacked by the movie “The Beast of Hollow Mountain.”

The womanly charms of Patricia Medina couldn't compete with the sense-shattering awesomeness of The Beast of Hollow Mountain.
The womanly charms of Patricia Medina couldn’t compete with the sense-shattering awesomeness of The Beast of Hollow Mountain.

beast_of_hollow_mountain_1This glorious American-Mexican co-production featured rugged cowboys, the low-cut charms of Patricia Medina (who fostered strange stirrings that I wouldn’t understand for a few more years), stampeding cattle and treacherous patches of quicksand – the essential ingredients for a kid’s classic. But haunting the dark center of this 1956 horse opera was an astonishing Tyrannosaurus Rex that chowed down on cows and vaqueros alike. A stop motion idea by animator Willis O’Brien (whose career peaked two decades before with “King Kong”), this dinosaur lodged itself in my cerebral cortex and planted a lifelong passion for these magnificent creatures.

Fortunately, there was plenty of cultural dross and gold to nurture this budding romance. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land That Time Forgot” set the template for the strata that would pile up over the years – an isolated land where dinosaurs are still able to fulfill their destiny (eating one another in spectacularly bloody battles), betrayals, cliffs or swamps or some form of treacherous natural barrier, and, somewhere, somehow, a tiger-skin-bikinied cave chick to rescue and fall in love with.

There were variations of this theme in pulp novels, comic books, TV shows and movies, and for a dedicated kid like me it was an endless banquet. It found its full flowering in 1933’s “King Kong,” still a dazzling achievement after all these years – if you ask me, “Kong” is the quintessential American movie, technically astonishing, operatic in its oversized emotional core and leavened with surprising moments of playfulness and sensuality (witness Kong toying with the shattered jaw of the T-Rex, and how on earth did O’Brien get permission to animate Kong slowly stripping Fay Wray down to her dainties?).

Even after 80 years, the battle between King Kong and a Tyrannosaurus has lost none of its visceral power. (Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)
Even after 80 years, the battle between King Kong and a Tyrannosaurus has lost none of its visceral power. (Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)

The only trouble was, back in those days, scientists were convinced that dinos were sluggish, slow-witted reptiles whose own gigantism ensured that they’d be out-played by the frisky mammals playing in their shadows. It was hard to imagine that your plastic brontosaur was stomping a native village when it really didn’t have enough strength to haul itself out of the lake.

But thanks to revolutionary discoveries in the 1960s and 70s, it became apparent that there was a lot more to dinosaurs than anyone had guessed. They became hot-blooded, agile and as dynamic as they always were in kids’ imaginations. Paleontologists began to explore the Mesozoic Age as a discrete ecological system of which dinosaurs were only a part. For a remarkably complete view of this new interpretation and the evident excitement that now informs this science, read “Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life” by Scott D. Sampson.

Don't call me "Fluffy." Even with the inclusion of feathers, T. rex was the apex predator.
Don’t call me “Fluffy.” Even with the inclusion of feathers, T. rex was the apex predator.

Well, eventually this new vision of the Terrible Lizards was translated into the popular descendants of Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” reaching its apex in Michael Crichton’s  “Jurassic Park” and Steven Spielberg’s irresistible widescreen adaptation. All those new notions that we dino-lovers had held close to our hearts were finally planted into the general public’s consciousness – they were energetic creatures capable of sudden bursts of speed, intelligent problem solvers, and the forerunners of the birds that have blossomed in nearly every environment.

But here’s the thing – in the 20 years since “Jurassic Park” premiered, the understanding of dinosaurs has rendered big chunks of the novel and movie as moribund as those beasts that used to float around in their swamps. It turns that our views are still evolving in ways as surprising as Tyrannosaurus done up in feathers and sniffing around late Cretaceous plains looking for carrion.

If you’d like to explore this new world, pick up “My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs” by Brian Switek. It’s a paleontologist’s valentine to these remarkable creatures that will not be corralled and a meditation on the ways science will not be contained. Even if you still think of these creatures as sluggish lizards, you can’t help but be caught up in Switek’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for his subjects. “My Beloved Brontosaurus” is a new book that’s been waiting 65 million years to be told.mybeloved_poster

GSNP Today

By Stephen

My last two blogs covered the resources in the Fontana Regional Library system about the Smoky Mountains, before the park existed, and the grassroots movement of the early twentieth century to get the park established along the Tennessee/North Carolina border.  This time I will list guides that can be used when visiting the present day park.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the national park system.  Within its boundaries are a myriad of opportunities for all sorts outdoor activities from just riding in an automobile to following trails oMy  last two blogs listed resources in the Fontana Regional Library dealing with n horseback or by foot power.   Fishing, birdwatching, wading in cool streams are just some of the other activities visitors can enjoy.  Listed below are some resources in the library’s catalog to help a reader get more out a visit to the park.

An overall guide to the park can be found in Rose Houk’s Exploring the Smokies.  The book’s subtitle:  “Things to see and do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park” suggests it might be useful to a first time visitor to the park.

Flora and Fauna: Wild animals in their natural habitat and wildflowers, as well as views of the mountains, attract visitors to the Smokies. Bill Lea has established himself as the premier photographer working the park.  The library has three of his books which depict all three of these  –  Great Smoky Mountains Wildlife PortfolioCades Cove:  Window to a Secret World, Great Smoky Mountains : Wonder and Light.  Richard Smith’s Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains, Leonard Atkins’ Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains, and Peter White’s Wildflowers of the Smokies will help the reader identify the flowers they find in the park. Other books in this vein are Trees & Familiar Shrubs of the Smokies and Ferns of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

GeologyA Roadside Guide to the Geology of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a useful way to learn about the formation of the mountains while traveling through the park  in the comfort of an automobile.

Hiking:  There a variety of hiking trails in the park that range from easy, that a child can handle, to strenuous.  The guide can depend on how seasoned hikers are in your group and whether or not there are children along.  If you having children who are hiking, here are two books:  Day and Overnight Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park  and Time Well Spent:  Family Hiking in the Smokies.  The latter book is age specific  with regards to individual trails.   The classic guide is Bill Beard’s Hiking Trails of the Smokies.   If you concentrate on hiking  the AT in the park, use Exploring the Appalachian Trail:  Hikes in the Southern Mountains, especially Hikes #18-#24.   The park officials have produced a video about encountering wildlife when hiking that anyone planning a hike in the park should see.   Day hikers and overnight backpackers should also read NPS advice for hikers.

Waterfalls:  Waterfalls are a favorite hiker’s destination. Waterfalls and Cascades of the Great Smoky Mountains is a useful guide to finding them.

Fishing:  The streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are attractive to anglers of all ages, especially  those who enjoy fly-fishing.   Three guides exist to fishing in the park:  Don Kirk, Fly-Fishing Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains; H. Lea  Lawrence, The Fly Fisherman’s Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park;  Jim Casada, Fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Casada grew up in Bryson City and has fished in the park all his life.

DVDs:  If you want to visit the park from your home, there are two videos available.  Exploring the Smokies takes the viewer on a four season tour of the park.  National Parks of the Appalachians includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah National Park.

Are you a “Twitcher”?

Are you a “twitcher”?

Wikipedia gives the definition as someone who travels a long distance to see a rare bird.

By Faye

Here in America people often find it relaxing to watch birds. It’s estimated that approximately 60 million people in the United States feed birds. According to Susan Hayes, executive director of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry in Sioux Falls, SD, the US has $1.45 billion in yearly sales of bird feed.

Bird watching and gardening seem to go hand in hand. I know I really enjoy numerous birds in my flower gardens. An Eastern Bluebird couple found my new birdhouse and has just hatched the second family this year. And the Yellow Finches love my flowers. Not a seed left on the Black-eyed Susans, Red Hot Pokers, or the Echinacea! Sunflowers are also a big favorite.

Red Sunflower

 Be sure and place water close by in partial shade. Birds need it not only for drinking but for  bathing too. They are so funny frolicking around in a shallow pool of water.

 Are you a birdwatcher or just need a little help on identification? If so, be sure to check out some of the great books at the library. Who knows you may become a “twitcher”.

Birds of Eastern North America :  photographic guide by Paul Sterry & Brian E. Small.

The armchair birder : discovering the secret lives of familiar birds by John Yow.

Wildlife gardening  by Martyn Cox