Spring at the Top of the Mountain

Spring green has reached the top of Brush Mountain!

I live just off of Prices Fork Road, so whenever I leave home, I get to drive parallel to Brush Mountain and have a good view of it over the fields of corn (right now they’re just fields of yellow cress) and grazing cattle.

A view of Brush Mountain from Heritage Park in Blacksburg, VA on April 22, 2015.

A view of Brush Mountain from Heritage Park in Blacksburg, VA on April 22, 2015.

I watch the mountain, see the seasons change over its great, sloping face, that looks somehow like a great expanse of clay shaped by a massive hand whose fingers carved the hollows, squeezing ridges up between them.

My husband swears that my love of nature will have me drive the car off the road one day.  He’s probably right.  I can’t honestly swear that my attention is fully focused on the road when I’m looking out my driver’s side window exclaiming “Look!  At the crest of the mountain!  One of the trees has gone bright green!”

But today it has!  I must get out to hike the Gateway Trail up the side of the mountain this afternoon to see how spring is spreading – watch the weeks reverse as I climb higher and higher.  Brush Mountain peaks at 3,100 feet, while Blacksburg sits at 2,080 feet.  My internet research says that spring moves up the mountainside at 100 feet per day. A little bit of math tells me that with each step up the mountain, I’ll travel backward in time over the last week and a half, seeing:

  1. Trees at the bottom mostly leafed out, with half-size, peridot green leaves obscuring the view of birds’ nests already
    White trillium blooming in Falls Ridge Nature Preserve near Blacksburg, VA in late April 2015.

    White trillium blooming in Falls Ridge Nature Preserve near Blacksburg, VA in late April 2015.

    made, some full of eggs, some with fledglings already squawking at mom and dad for food.  Dogwoods here are in full bloom or just past it.  Yellow and white violets blooming all over the forest floor, and maybe white and pink trilliums, too.

  2. Higher up I’ll see trees just beginning to leaf out, their seeds (“helicopter” samaras on the maples, dangling catkins on the birches) more prominent than their leaves, making the trees appear more yellow or orange than green.  Dogwood bracts (what look like the petals of their flowers are actually specialized leaves) smaller and still growing.  Redbuds and trees in the fruit family (cherries, apples, and pears) in full bloom.
  3. Up at the crest there will be but one or two trees showing green, most still those
    The colors of early spring blossoming on the trees of Sinking Creek mountain in Giles County, VA in early April 2012.

    The colors of early spring blossoming on the trees of Sinking Creek mountain in Giles County, VA in early April 2012.

    precious gem colors of earliest spring’s blossoms – ruby and garnet reds for the red maples, citrine for the sugar maples.  Yes, maples blossom first around here; their sap starts running in late winter (which is why maple syrup harvesters – heaven bless them – freeze themselves going out to check their taps as early as February).

And the thought of hiking to the top of Brush Mountain only makes me long to check out the even higher mountaintops.   Today I’ll hike the Gateway Trail, this weekend I’ll aim for the trails around Mountain Lake, situated on Salt Pond Mountain, which peaks at 4,360 feet – so high it’s called a “sky island”.

I’d like to see what’s blooming in the “sky”, and feel the pure pleasure of walking into spring on the way back down.

May Day from Blacksburg

Just yesterday I had to tell my dear friend Andrea the news, “We only have one year left in Blacksburg.”

And as I said those words aloud, while still frozen in the muscle lock of a brave face, a shrill voice inside my head shouted

“No!  No, no, no!  Mayday, mayday!!  I’m not ready to leave – I’m just getting to where I finally feel  like I know this place!  This is where I belong.  This is home!”

And the head voice is right.  This place feels more like home than anywhere we’ve lived in the past 15 years.  We have lived in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana since leaving here after my husband’s graduation from Virginia Tech in 2000.  And all of those places were great, and had beautiful natural spaces, and gave me friends that will last a lifetime.  After he graduates from Tech with his masters next May, he’ll carry us off to live in coastal Maryland, with its own stunning open waters, secretive marshes, tidal magic.  This new place, no doubt, will be as full as all of our others.

But none of those places are these mountains.

Everyone has a happy place in nature, a place that calls to them, that seems to run in their veins.  A place where  they find joy, find peace.  Blacksburg is mine.

I love these Appalachians; these gentle, ancient mountains of southwest Virginia which paint each season on their own grand canvases – the truest greens of summer, the flaming fires of turning trees in the fall, the gray/brown trunks and branches that turn ridges into bristled boars’ backs all winter and, most especially, the party of new leaf green and redbud pink and dogwood white pointillist confetti in the spring.

I love the streams that splash and tumble down these mountainsides, rushing over the Eastern Continental Divide on their way to join the historic James River or the incredibly old New River.  (And from the New, our waters flow on to join the Kanawha, then to the Ohio and on to the Mississip’ – carrying tiny pieces of this wonderful home past friends still in my last home, New Orleans.)

I love the birds that sing in the forests and soar on winds rising up over ridges.  I love the fuzzy mammals that scamper over branches and poke their heads up out of tall grass meadows.  I even love the scaly and slimy things that hide under decaying logs and boulder outcrops.  I’m intrigued by insects and fascinated by spiders.  (My sister recently informed me that this causes her to question whether we are actually related.  Sorry, sis, but Mom and Dad swear I’m not adopted.)  I’ll stare at flowers from all different angles and fill up entire memory cards with digital photographs of petals and leaves, coronas and corollas.

I don’t want to miss a thing, not one minute in this whole last year of living in my mountain home.  So, this Friday, May first, is my May Day in two ways.  The first, it is the midpoint of the spring season, the celebration of nature’s new beginnings, and the start of serious outdoors season around here.  The second, it is my “mayday”, the beginning of the end of my time here in this enchanted place.

So, to make sure I soak in every second, I’m going to take you all with me.  I will hike the hikes and walk the walks that wind through my mountains, with my camera in hand and nature notebook in pocket.  I will tell you and show you and share with you the many magics of the natural world.

This is my mission: a year of mountain nature.

Lucky me!