Monday, September 24, 2012


Did the Bear leave these marks
as she climbed?
ON A PARTICULAR MOUNTAIN IN VIRGINIA, THE TREES ARE MAYBE NOT SO MUCH TALLER THAN WE HAVE AT HOME, BUT STRETCHED OUT, THE LIMBS THINNER, MORE SPACE BETWEEN THEM. The canopy is higher and the understory is more airy and full of light, not full of brambles like at home. Hickory, Various Pines, Tulip Poplar, and Black Walnut grow on the hillside. Spinneys of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel fill out the landscape. Large ferns soften the mulch-covered ground. It's damp enough here that the streams still run and mushrooms still grow, popping up in bright colors from forest floor. Big chunks of quartz, sometimes bright white, sometimes tinged with a rusty color, peek out from the soil.
The canopy is higher...

We find plenty to explore on this mountain, one morning walking along the ridge until we get to the road, the winding, two lane highway that brought us here. We find bear scat and the prints of deer. Jack shows us how to tell the buck's prints from the doe's. My father-in-law is a hunter and knows these things, though we differ in opinion about whether my dog could catch a turkey if she wanted to. I sit on a boulder to enjoy the view for a moment and a slender lizard striped in bright colors slips like liquid into a crack in the rock.
...and the understory more airy
and full of light.

Later we put on water shoes and follow the stream that runs through the valley. Ursula runs ahead, joyously rooting in the bank and scaring up birds. My dog is a water dog at heart and she is in her element here. We find a pool in a crook of the stream and sit down for a cooling soak. We skip stones and pull limbs and other debris out of the water and throw it onto the bank to decay there and add to the musky humus of the forest floor. We take the stream all the way to the property line, then take a path up the hill that circles around before heading home to a ping pong tournament and dinner.

The next day we drive to a larger river and pile into three canoes, one for each generation. The river is wider than our stream, but no deeper and our boats scrape bottom pretty often. The drought is not so apparent here, but here nonetheless. The river is quiet and we enjoy the peaceful floating downstream, floating through the scenery as it unwinds with very little effort from us, just an occasional stroke to steer away from a place where ripples in the water reveal the shallows. Michael and I were in the first canoe, and at the bend of the river we came silently upon a Great Blue Heron standing like a statue until we were 15 yards away, then spread his magnificent wings and mutely lifted off to fly upstream. At another bend we came upon him again with his mate, and we followed them downriver for half an hour or so, creeping up to within a few yards before they flew. This repeated 7 or 8 times until eventually, they tired of our company and flew back upriver, the way we had all come, to be shed of our disruptions.

Later, up at the house, the kids found some scars on a tree—three sets of four parallel stripes cut into the bark and healed over. Did the bear leave these marks when she climbed the tree? We know the bear is in the neighborhood, because Jack saw her one day in the bottomland, chewing on a different tree. He showed us those marks, on a limb about 7 feet up. These, however, look more dramatic, and tell a different story. Is it fact or fancy? What dramas do these mountains hold?

Shadows on a Stone

That evening, in Floyd, we found a country store with an old fashioned candy counter. It was a blend of history with a modern, thriving arts community. On Fridays they host a Jamboree with traditional Appalachian music and clogging, the traditional dance. Sadly, we have to leave before Friday comes, but will plan the next trip to be sure we can make it for the festivities.

Dance in Beauty; Float in Peace:
Blessed Be.

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