West Virginia is full of surprises. Take the Canaan Valley for instance. In a land of densely forested mountains, who would expect a bowl-shaped valley that, at 3200’ in elevation, is the highest large valley east of the Rockies? And who would expect that valley to hold such rich and extensive wetlands, with a climate and flora more typical of Maine and Canada? Continue reading
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
The world looks different since I had cataract surgery. Brighter. Sharper. Cleaner. It’s as if I’d been looking through a very dirty windshield for a very long time, and someone came along and washed it clean.
Without further ado, here is a sampling of my more colorful world.
Looking down on the bud and three bracts (not leaves) of a trillium not yet in bloom. Her Ladyship’s accent colors may be subtle or showy, but she sure doesn’t skimp on the green. What color will this be when it blooms? Red? Pink? White? Yellow? Purple?
I can see all obstacles in my way…
It’s not just seeing the obstacles. It’s the depth perception, a critical sense that had gone missing for some time. It’s been hard to accurately judge where to put my feet, and I have a small phobia about falling.
It was a narrow path that clung to the side of a steep ravine high above a creek. A thick layer of dry leaves hid the rocks and roots along the path, and made for a lot of slipping and sliding.
Not long ago, I would have been very uncomfortable, and possibly would have even turned back.
Not now. With more confidence in my vision, I really enjoyed this hike. I clambered up and down rock outcroppings like a mountain goat, and even made the numerous stream crossings easily.
Plus, there were wildflowers!
Spring ephemerals carpet the forest floor with small splashes of color. They have a short time in which to grow, feed, bloom and set seed for the next year.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…
The last few months I’ve been in a sort of creative funk.
Not now. I find my enthusiasm for photography is awakening as the earth awakens.
Lady Spring has arrived, and I can see her beauty!
White is a color, too.
My cataracts had turned black and white to dark gray and yellowish tan. For an amateur photographer, seeing true black and true white again is a joy. Especially when the white adorns one of Her Ladyship’s loveliest flowers.
The scent of Lady Spring’s perfume drifts on the warm air, leading my eyes to crabapple blossoms of rose and white. Oh, that sky! I don’t remember the sky being this blue…
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.
What do you see?
Lyrics to “I Can See Clearly Now” by Jimmy Nash
BUCKS COUNTY, 1781… A band of ruthless outlaws known as the Doan Gang rob the Bucks County Treasury in Newtown of 1,300 pounds sterling. It was one of many crimes committed by five Quaker brothers and their cousin. Loyal to the British crown, the Doans made a career out of robbing Colonial tax collectors, stealing horses to sell to the British and even spying for the Redcoats. According to numerous legends, the gang amassed a small fortune, and stashed the loot in one or more caves in the hills of Bucks County.
BUCKS COUNTY, 2016… A band of intrepid explorers go in search of the Doan Gang spoils. The most well-known of the caves is rumored to be along the banks of Tohickon creek. The only clue to its whereabouts is a small dot on a Bucks County map labeled “Doan’s Cave.”
Well, that and a few Internet photos and postings that serve as a signpost to the impossible-to-miss cave.
Conveniently, there’s a State Park, and a trail.
The latter was a scenic walk along the creek, with a couple of tricky crossings over steep banked runs that fazed our daring adventurers not one whit. Soon enough, rock outcroppings began to appear on the hillside above them. Just the place for a cave.
The first such outcropping held no cave, but sported an impressive covering of lichens and moss. It was also an irresistible place for some camera-mugging by the irrepressible Major Robb, not seen here.
Left, and down, to the base of the rocks.
Our fearless fortune-hunters, finding no gold or silver, went off in search of other types of treasure. This they found in spades on the far side of the creek. The footpath led over a covered bridge, which was in fact not covered at all. A faux bridge.
The creek-side path yielded a bumper crop of wildflowers. This was a source of boundless amusement for Major Robb, who busied himself attempting to identify each one. Conveniently for the rest of the expeditionary party, it got him out of their hair.
Whilst Major Robb was so occupied, the others found their way across a dry gully onto an island of cobble and pebbles. Here a tree was actively swallowing a large rock. In another hundred years, it might well succeed in digesting this stony meal.
Corporal Kim was suddenly startled by the sight of a large snake at her feet, slithering away from her with all due haste. Seems the plucky lass had unwittingly trod upon its tail. Upon reaching the water’s edge, it forgot its annoyance and fear, and posed quietly for a series of photographs.
Tired, hungry, and quite bereft of treasure of any monetary value, our bold band of explorers bid farewell to Tohickon Creek. Quite content were they with the joys of a day well-spent amidst the natural splendors of Bucks County. Whatever secrets Tohickon Creek yet harbors, she guards them well.
Over the next few months, a short weekend trip to Nashville mutated into a two week odyssey through the southern Appalachian Mountains.
“How did this happen?” you ask. Simple. I looked at a map. “The route is lined with National Parks!” I said. “How could I be so close and not visit them – all of them?”
“What could go wrong?”
Famous last words from a road-trip neophyte. Not knowing any better, I hatched a plan that Don charitably termed “ambitious.” He threw caution to the wind, however, and joined me on the road. Luckily for me, he single-handedly rescued the trip from the brink of disaster. The expedition turned out to be challenging and rewarding, full to the brim of new vistas and new adventures.
In the coming weeks, the Wild Edge will explore our unlikely little junket in depth. For now, some highlights:
Don and I drove 2,396.9 miles through five states in 15 days.
I visited with 10 relatives, and finally saw my cousin Ted perform.
Don proudly ushered me through the ancient Greek Parthenon – in Nashville.
We visited three National Parks in as many states.
We saw six waterfalls and countless wildflowers.
We toured a Cherokee museum and a casino, and walked across a dam.
We hiked through old growth forests, grassy balds and boreal forests.
We walked to the summits of the two highest peaks east of the Mississippi.
We observed 3 salamanders, 11 elk and (Yes! FINALLY!) 5 black bears.
We got rained on for nine of the fifteen days. And don’t even get me started about the fog.
We came home tired of cars, tired of fast food, tired of hotels, and just plain tired. The weather was a disappointment, the trees weren’t green yet, and the bears weren’t close enough. I’d set my expectations way too high, and things didn’t always go according to plan.
But in the process, Don and I learned a lot about the Appalachian Mountains, I learned a lot about myself, and we came home with lots of good memories.
And you can’t ask for anything more than that.
Can you imagine life as a spring ephemeral wildflower? You’ve lain dormant for months, through the summer heat and the cold days of winter. As the weather begins to warm, you awaken. You have a few short weeks to do all your work for the year. Leaf out, feed, bloom, reproduce and set seed; all need to be accomplished before the tree canopy above you leafs out and blocks precious sunlight, and the air turns hot. Better get busy! Virginia Bluebell, above.
Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve, along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, is well-known for its variety of wildflowers. Over 70 different species bloom in the spring, with another 60 peaking during the summer. Trillium.
Don’t expect a cultivated garden if you visit, though. Oh no! This is a wild woodland glen whose main trail traces the path of creek valley. Wildflowers, many tiny, are scattered along the forest floor under the trees, tucked away in the lush understory. Finding these little beauties is worth the effort though. Spring Beauty.
I thought learning to identify different bird species was tough, but it’s nothing compared to plants. I’ve only been studying identification for two years or so, and I’m trying to learn birds, plants, trees, dragonflies, butterflies and lots of other critters – all at the same time.
I’ve tried to put common names to as many of these flowers as I can. If I’ve identified something incorrectly, or not at all, and you know its proper name, PLEASE leave a comment!
Virginia Bluebells and Wild Columbine.
Or something else entirely.
In identifying plants, the flower is the first classification to make (which can be a problem if the plant isn’t in bloom). The next step is to classify the plant itself (wildflower, shrub, vine) and then look at the leaves.
Don’t let the leaves in this photo fool you; they’re from two different plants.
Here’s Squirrel Corn.
At first I had it labeled as Dutchman’s Breeches, then I looked at Wild Bleeding Heart.
All three plants are in the Dicentra genus, so they’re cousins, and near look-alikes.
Once the heat sets in, and the trees cast permanent shade, your time to get productive work done has passed. Is this the end for you? Not at all. Though your flowers and perhaps your leaves will wither, you have firm roots in the soil. Like all ephemeral wildflowers, you will go dormant, sleeping away the passing seasons until spring arrives and you blossom anew.