As we get ready to leave on our next set of adventures, I thought I’d post a few pix from home, to remind us of what we’re leaving behind in July. Among the things I think we’ll miss greatly (besides our dogs) is the elevation’s temperatures that have not matched the heat wave crushing the rest of the country. Our highs over the past few days have been in the high 80s. Like much of the country, we’ve had high humidity due to afternoon thunderstorms, but we’re certainly not suffering like we might be suffering in a couple of days.
The crocus are pushing through the chill soil. The sun is out (for a change) and it’s relatively warm for March 13 in Meadows of Dan. The snowdrops are up in several places on the property, including on the puppies’ graves, where our beloved canine family has, over the years, been laid to rest: Sophie, Pippin, Jazz, Radar, Seth – all are fertilizer for the snowdrops, and the snowdrops remind us of the inevitable succession of life. We now have Chase and Mischief; after them, we will have a different but continuing canine family, to comfort, amuse, frustrate, delight, and love us.
Falconry season is nearly over – in fact, I’ve already stopped hunting with my juvenile redtailed hawk, Skye, in favor of allowing her broken feathers to go ahead and drop off, so she can grow new ones through the summer. I’ll keep CJ disturbing the crow populations around here for a while longer, because he and I are participating in a research program studying lead accumulations in scavenger species (from feeding on field dressed and/or “uncollected” rifle-shot game animals). The scientist wanted to include crows in his research, but was finding it difficult to find any to study. A falconer friend introduced me to the researcher and CJ and I have managed to help out.
But Jack and I are beginning to think bicycles, camping, and traveling. He’s the travel agent for our Roomba schedule, and we have a short trip to one of our favorite VA State Parks, Okeneechee, lined up for next week. By then, I will have completed my “beer magazine” duties (editing, layout, proofing, upload to the printer, etc.), and we will take our delayed “anniversary trip” that we manage every four years when our Sadie Hawkins Day anniversary comes around.
Last week’s wondrous, early spring weather inspired us to 3 bike rides. Not long ones, but it was truly good to get back in the saddle again – well, except for that “where the saddle meets the seat” part. That’s the most difficult aspect of getting back on the bicycles again: breaking in the body parts that spend a lot of time resting on the saddle. But this will pass soon, as the affected area toughens up and you just don’t notice it any longer.
It feels so great to exercise in a different way after a long winter of falconry, hiking through the woods and fields for hours. And being on the Blue Ridge Parkway again, in time to see the wildflowers emerge on their schedule, has me full of anticipation, watching for the rebirth of our native surroundings. I love being out there, spinning my wheels along the pavement, seeing what is to be seen; hearing what is to be heard. I’m so looking forward to the summer of traveling and cycling and Roomba-ing and exploring the new and the old. C’mon April!
While it seems sad to reach the end of an adventure like our recent trip, it is also very good to be home. During our travels, we missed nine-tenths of our asparagus, but upon our return home, were greeted by other beauties that I’m sincerely grateful we did not miss.
I used to look up at the mountains from my horse pasture in Virginia’s piedmont. I remember telling myself, “One day, I’m going to live up there.”
That was in the early seventies, when I attended middle school and was into horses. We rode and exercised and trained the horses at home, certainly. But we also trailered them up the slope of the mountain a-ways to a workshop/camp, escaping the thick, wet heat of August. We boarded them at a nearby farm and rode over to the workshop site, where we underwent professional scrutiny and training as we worked the horses in an arena and over challenging fences in the field. We rode English and did a lot of show jumping and fox hunting in those days.
Although we worked the horses hard and got dusty and hot ourselves, we were glad to be at the higher elevation – not anywhere near so hot and sticky as back at home. At the end of the day, with the sun settling down behind the ridge and the air quickening with night breezes and the sounds of peepers; with the aromas of horse sweat and hardhats mingling with the dusky mountain air, we rode the horses back toward the stalls. The chores of picking manure from the straw, feeding and watering the horses, and grooming the crystalline sweat off their coats still awaited us, to be accomplished under lights. The sweaty saddle pads would be separated from the saddles and hung to dry overnight. And we’d do it all again the next day.
On one of those evenings, after fifteen minutes of clopping along a paved country road, en route to the close of the day, we took a detour through an apple orchard. Our hostess assured us it would be okay to ride through and pick an apple apiece — one for the horses we rode, and one for ourselves.
I could reach some of the high apples that would have been impossible, had I been afoot. That was the first wonder. The horse I rode knew well what these hanging red spheres were, and chomped merrily and shook her head to free it for consumption. The tree seemed reluctant to release that one, so the branches shook and rocked as the horse freed her prize. I laughed as the branches whacked my hardhat and shoulders.
I reached over my head and picked a beauty for myself: red flecked with yellow; perfectly rounded; greenish on the shoulder.
I took the first bite of that apple as we reined out of the orchard while Willie, my mount, worked her apple around the bit in her mouth, tossing her head, jingling her hardware. I swear that was the best apple I’d ever eaten.
Today the horses are gone, but the apples in my mountain orchard still evoke wonder and amazement in me. Instead of horses, I ride my bike. No workshops up here, but I work hard and get sweaty training for cycling events like Bike Virginia, coming up later this month. I pedal along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in the cool, pristine mountain air. I take in the wide vistas, smell the blackberry blossoms, go slowly up and quickly down the slopes, marveling that I made it to the top of the mountains, living here for 20+ years now.
I stop occasionally to look at the piedmont below my ridge line. I am struck by awe again and again when I think that I am exactly where I had willed myself to be 40 years ago. I have found my home and my heart in these mountains and would not have it otherwise. I am lucky and fortunate and I try never to take it for granted. Who lives better than we?
While Tour de Floyd participants were pumping their way up Franklin Pike to the first rest stop at the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then were traversing the 30+ miles of the BRP that links the borders of Floyd, Franklin, Patrick, and Carroll counties, I drove my bike to Round Meadow and took my solo ride.
From Round Meadow, Groundhog Mountain is almost 10 miles. It is a very nice ride, with the mile up the north face of GM as the only significant climb. Although it was cold and windy today, it was a beautiful morning for a bicycle ride in the mountains.
I am (possibly) inordinately proud of myself for climbing Groundhog in my 23 gear. For those of you not familiar with mountain bike gearing, “23” means I was in the middle chain ring (of 3) at the front, and the third gear (of 9) on the rear cassette. Where “11” is what I call Super Granny (easiest to pedal and thus used for climbing); “39” is the top gear, used heading downhill.
Anyway, I think the most recent time before today that I climbed Groundhog I used the 13 or 14 gear. So using 23 today (and not dying) is an indicator of some training progress. Yay!
More good news: the Groundhog “Hill” picnic area is open. I pedaled in and up to the lookout tower (but didn’t go up the stairs) and took some pix, then stopped by the facilities to leave behind some of the water I was drinking, and then headed back to my car.
Where the stalwart Tour de Floyd riders did a Metric Century (100K, which is about 63 miles), I did a fast-run 20 and felt I had a great workout. And it didn’t take me 4-6 hours to finish.
Now I feel I can go to a special friend’s dinner party tonight and not fall asleep in my first beer.
Enjoyed Mothers Day brunch at Primland today, then drove back to Roanoke along the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking pix of the just-emerging flame azaleas and pinksters. Also got a few cows, may apples and fern fronds unfurling, but they are on the other camera and need downloading and cropping. Fun day with Petie, and some photos here you are likely to see again as artworks, sometime soon. Maybe.
To me, now is the most spectacular time of year. I don’t mean simply “early May.”
What I mean is the time when the tulip poplar trees swell at the ends of their branches and shove aside the remnants of the dried brown seed pods of the former year with pale green cones: leaves-to-be. When the maple trees’ leaves are shining, translucent stars of red and pale orange tipping each twig. When the beech tree in the back yard erupts with tiny hands raised, palm-out, to show me how the sun illuminates their dark red veins inside pink flesh.
Sure, the daffodils and anemones are great – as are the apple and dogwood blossoms, and the buds swelling on the blueberries. But the leaves of the trees re-emerging after a long absence – that’s what I love to see. And it can happen in my part of Virginia at any point along a rather wide span of time, within latitudinal limits, of course.
I was riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway this past sunny Friday (yesterday). In training for an upcoming bicycle tour, I didn’t take the time to stop for photos – and in any case, the photos could not possibly show the wonder of this: the fragile green of leaves on mighty deciduous trees far below the road I traveled, all in various stages of emergence, marching higher and higher up the slopes of the mountains opposite. We are still a week or more away from the flanks of our mountains having completely covered themselves in variations on the wondrous color green. Toward the lowlands, leaves are darkening to strong leather; growth still delicate and newborn higher toward the tops. Right now, the harsh and twiggy, brown and gray of the wintertime forest still inhabits the upper slopes, through which I can see the lichen-covered rock outcroppings, brown leaf-fall, and naked dirt beneath. It is a spectacle of earthly delight; of contrasts; of life and death; of past and future – of which I never tire, and that I always consider new and amazing.