Almost Heaven: In the Land of Canaan

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

It’s a Colorful World

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.

And oh, the colors! Deeper, richer, more lifelike. Just in time for arrival of Lady Spring, dancing across a carpet of wildflowers in a shimmering gown that grows greener every day.

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?

A violet. The name says it all.

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.

This past weekend, we went to a nature preserve where the trail proved more challenging than we expected.

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!

Dutchman’s breeches, one of our spring ephemerals, wildflowers that bloom in the brief time between when the snow melts and the trees leaf out.

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.

It seems Her Ladyship’s small footmen have hung their trousers out on the laundry line.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…

The last few months I’ve been in a sort of creative funk.

Winter is partially to blame for that, especially a winter of bare brown earth and trees.

Not now. I find my enthusiasm for photography is awakening as the earth awakens.

Lady Spring has arrived, and I can see her beauty!

And here it is! The aptly named spring beauty, one of our earliest wildflowers, pretty in pink.

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.

Bloodroot gets its name, not from the creamy white petals and bright golden stamens, but from the orange-red juice in its underground rhizomes.

A trout lily nods in the shade of the forest floor.

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 Nowby Jimmy Nash

The Hunt for Doan’s Cave

160509_PA Doans Cave_7226acsBUCKS 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7170acsThe 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7210acsThe 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7218acsThe next rocky formation had been cleft nearly in two on one end. Two trails split around it. Which to follow?

Left, and down, to the base of the rocks.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7272acsBehold! Doan’s Cave!

160509_PA Doans Cave_7253acs copyObviously our heroes were far from the first to seek their fortune here. Someone had even been kind enough to put down cushy floor boards for their fellow treasure hunters.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7249acsMajor Robb and Major Don at the mouth of Doan’s Cave…

160509_PA Doans Cave_7188acs… And standing stalwart and resolute amongst the boulders. Why does Major Don look so sad?  Clearly the disappointment of finding no Doan Treasure in Doan’s Cave weighs heavily upon his mind.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7332acsBeing lighter of heart, the other members of the expedition make a foray to the shores of Tohickon Creek.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7158acsOur 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7176acsSpring beauty.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7349acsPhloxWild Blue Phlox.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7358acsDamesVioletDame’s Violet.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7345acsVioletA violet, unnamed, but no less admired.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7415acsWhilst 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7373acsCorporal 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.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7385acsNorthern Water Snake.

160509_PA Doans Cave_7325acsTired, 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.

Appalachian Spring: A Sampler

150407_Map_7051 acs3At Christmas, the opportunity arose to meet family in Tennessee to see a cousin perform with his college a cappella group. Naturally, I thought…

Road Trip 3

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?”

Day 1: Fog in Shenandoah National Park

Day 1: Our first view of the journey, fog in Shenandoah National Park.

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.

Day 2: On top of the world, young and naive. Shenandoah National Park.

Day 2: On top of the world, young and naive. Shenandoah National Park.

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.

Day 4: Nashville, TN. The three graduating seniors of the Vanderbilt Melodores perform. (From left) My cousin Ted, Dan and Augie.

Day 4: Nashville, TN. The three graduating seniors of the Vanderbilt Melodores perform. My cousin Ted, Dan and Augie.

I visited with 10 relatives, and finally saw my cousin Ted perform.

150412_TN GSMNP Laurel Falls_3965 acs

Day 5: Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Don proudly ushered me through the ancient Greek Parthenon – in Nashville.

150413_TN GSMNP Rich Mountain Road_4462_HDR acs copy

Day 6: Overlooking Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We visited three National Parks in as many states.

Day 7: Wildflowers along Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 7: Wildflowers along Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We saw six waterfalls and countless wildflowers.

Day 8: Bryson City, NC. The view from our cabin on the edge ofGreat Smoky Mountains National Park.

Day 8: Bryson City, NC. The view from our cabin on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We toured a Cherokee museum and a casino, and walked across a dam.

Day 9: Juney Whank Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 9: Juney Whank Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We hiked through old growth forests, grassy balds and boreal forests.

Day 10: Atop Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 10: Atop Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We walked to the summits of the two highest peaks east of the Mississippi.

Day 11: On the Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 11: On the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We observed 3 salamanders, 11 elk and (Yes! FINALLY!) 5 black bears.

Day 12: En route to Mt. Mitchell, the Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 12: En route to Mt. Mitchell, at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We got rained on for nine of the fifteen days. And don’t even get me started about the fog.

Day 13: Mabry Mill, the Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 13: Mabry Mill, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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.

Day14: Back in Shenandoah National Park, older and wiser.

Day 14: Back in Shenandoah National Park, older and wiser. Still on top of the world.

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.

Day 15: Last vista of the trip. The Shenandoah River, from Shenandoah National Park.

Day 15: Last vista of the trip. The Shenandoah River, from Shenandoah National Park.

Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5526 aCan 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.

Shenks Ferry WF Trillium_5796acsShenk’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.

Shenks Ferry WF Spring Beauty_5779 aDon’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.

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5973aI 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.

Shenks Ferry WF_5754acsIn most cases I’ve only gotten as far as a family or genus name, not the individual species. For instance, this is a Violet. Which one, I have no idea.

Shenks Ferry WF_5587 aI think this might be another Violet.

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.Shenks Ferry WF Squirrel Corn_5597a

 

 

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.

Shenks Ferry Morel_5607 acsThis isn’t a wildflower, but a mushroom known as a morel. It will be as short-lived as the spring ephemerals.

Shenks Ferry WF_5605 aI have no idea. Do you?

Shenks Ferry WF Wild Geranium_5883acs copyWild Geranium.

Shenks Ferry WF_5731 aDoes anyone know this lovely lady’s name?

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.

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5998 acs