Almost Heaven: Life On the Forest Floor

Magnificent vistas and majestic trees abound in West Virginia. Down every country road lie mountains, farms and forests that fill the eye and viewfinder with grand lush life. Raptors soar overhead, while bears, bobcats and foxes lurk around every bend.

But no more than a bear can pass up a blueberry bush could I ignore the small treasures encountered on the trails. It’s just who I am, a champion of the small and overlooked.

There’s a lot of life on the forest floor. Continue reading

Almost Heaven: After the Rain

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2865acsOf all the substances on Earth, water is the most awe-inspiring.

160705_WV Pendleton Lake_3033acsConsider a lake on a misty morning, its surface smooth and still. You dive in, and the water parts, sliding supplely around your skin, its touch as light as silk.  It’s evanescent, nearly intangible. Try to hold it in your hand; it slips away.

Consider a single water drop falling on a stone. Perhaps it rolls off onto the ground; perhaps it remains until the sun melts it away. Yet if water drips relentlessly in the same place for centuries, one single soft drop at a time, the stone will wear away. It doesn’t stand a chance.

Now consider trillions of water drops joined together in a raging river. As it cascades down a steeply inclined bed, the force of the water will eat its way through solid rock. Nothing soft and silky here.

Blackwater Canyon in West Virginia has been sculpted by the Blackwater River for centuries. The sandstone towers and ledges of Blackwater Falls demonstrate the force moving water can have. Nothing quite prepared me for witnessing that power in person, though.

160704_WV Blackwater Falls_2751acsHere is the photo I took of the Falls with its three distinct cascades Monday morning.

And then, it rained. Overnight the area got quite a soaking. Tuesday morning, Blackwater Falls looked like this:

160705_WV Blackwater Falls_3185acsWow. Just, WOW. So much water was pouring over the falls that the sandstone ledges weren’t even visible.

160705_WV Blackwater Falls_3114acsUpon hitting the bottom of the falls, water exploded back upwards to blanket the valley in mist. Everything nearby was soaked not from rain, but the river.

160705_WV Blackwater Falls_3186acsWe walked down the steps and the boardwalk, very carefully, to get up close to the falls.

160705_WV Blackwater Falls_3247acsRobb and Don, steeped in Nature’s Majesty. The roar of all that water made it impossible to hear anything quieter than a full-throated shout.

160705_WV Pendleton Point Panorama acsAt Pendleton Point, a panoramic view of Blackwater Canyon. The Blackwater River flows from left to right. In the center, Elakala Falls.

160705_WV Blackwater Pendleton Point_3017acsElakala Falls consists four separate waterfalls along Shays Run, until it finally spills into the Blackwater River.

160705_WV Blackwater Pendleton Point_2968acsThe Blackwater River. Kayaking, anyone?

160705_WV Blackwater River_3132acsThe view from the bridge leading to the lodge. See that flat-topped rock on the right? On a previous visit to Blackwater Falls, Don was particularly impressed with that rock. Ah, fond memories!

160705_WV Blackwater Falls_3102acsBack at the falls, this time from the far side of the canyon.

From there, I made a short, shaky video of Blackwater Falls. (Click the link to see the video. That’s Robb’s voice in the background.) This was taken a lot further away from the falls than my previous video, which makes the roar of the falls all the more impressive.

All that power, all that force, in a material that feels so silken, so insubstantial. It slices through stone like a scythe – yet rests lightly in dewy drops on the gossamer petal of a flower.

Water. It’s amazing!

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Almost Heaven: Raindrops, Moptops and the Lindy Hop

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2867acsIf it’s the Appalachians, it must be raining.

Like July Fourth last year, and the Appalachian Spring Expedition before it, Independence Day in the mountains of West Virginia was a wet one. The rain started at breakfast, and though light, continued for much of the day.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2955acsWith precipitation in our future, the three of us had decided a day spent in and around our home base of Blackwater Falls State Park was in order. So we broke out our dancin’ shoes and Lindy hopped out to Lindy Point.

The short trail wound through woods dense with rhododendron. Sometimes there is beauty to be found in the rain.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2891acsThe trail ended at a rocky outcropping, a once-proud craggy castle clinging to a precipice overlooking the Blackwater River Gorge. A two-tiered observation deck awaited us there. Mostly we ignored it in favor of ducking through curtains of greenery to stony alcoves open to the leaden sky. The rock formations and the view drew my complete attention…

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2930acsWhen I wasn’t distracted by the rhododendron blooms.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2842acsA lone turret stood guard over the castle walls.

Made of sandstone and shale, like most of the rock in Blackwater Falls, the tower shows the effects of differential weathering.

Less resistant rock has eroded away, leaving the more resistant rock perched precariously in fantastical shapes.

Please pardon the raindrop blurs. It was raining faster than I could dry the lens.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2877acs2Raindrops on rhodies… these are a few of my favorite things.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2887acsDon’t lean too far over the edge!

Don and Robb posed for the obligatory portrait on the observation deck. That didn’t satisfy the photographer. Too dull, too… common. Taskmistress that she is, she insisted that they walk around the railing and out onto the rocks, dance from side to side until they were placed just so, and then kneel before Her Majesty.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2902acsThe Mage and his staff, and the Wise Fool, on the Castle Lindy parapet.

160704_WV Blackwater Lindy Point_2924acsLuckily for her attendants, they did not displease Her Majesty. In her boundless generosity, she allowed them to return to the safety of the dance floor, er, observation deck.

The tomfoolery continued in the afternoon. Every day, we traveled from our cabin to the Lodge several times. Every time, we passed a certain sign. Every time, I cried out, “Look! There’s a petting zoo!”

This seemed as good a day as any to drop in on the furry residents of the zoo. Chickens, piglets, rabbits, a donkey, a goat and more were tucked into a cozy barn.

160704_WV Blackwater Falls State Park_105436acsRobb and his new friend, Miss Moptop Alpaca. (cellphone image)

160704_WV Thomas_154054acsFrom farm to town, the  whirlwind went on, to the little hamlets of Davis and Thomas. Davis offered a neat artisans’ shop full of local crafts.

Thomas had an opera house, antique shops, and the Purple Fiddle, a local watering hole renowned for its eclectic roster of musical performers. (cellphone image)

Thus another fine day in West Virginia drew to a close, with our merry band snug in our cabin while the rain beat a tattoo on the roof.

Others may have their parades, barbecues and fireworks on Independence Day. Not us. For my companions and I, a day of raindrops, moptops and the Lindy Hop was the perfect recipe for a West Virginia Fourth of July.

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Sites Homestead, Seneca Rocks