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To Beechy Crash!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The phone rang this morning, this brilliant, warm morning, and Shila's voice said, "So when are you and Chet going on the Loop?"
"When you get here!"
She rolled up at 12:15, having to get back to work on a client at 2:30 (Shila does craniosacral and polarity therapy). Liam and I were booted, jacketed and ready to roll. We decided, despite the time crunch, to explore the streambed to the east of our house, which entails some scrambling over boulders and climbing on hands and knees. While I got down in this valley fairly often when we first moved here in 1992, it had been several years since I'd hiked the whole thing, and I was eager to see what changes had taken place.
This is some of the nicest forest on our land--big beeches and lots of oaks. If you want to find a black-and-white warbler in the spring, this is the place to go. The landforms are spectacular, and best of all there's a lot of big rock and a permanent stream--one that dives underground for several hundred yards in dry spells, and magically reappears in a huge boulder garden!

When we first discovered the boulder garden, a giant beech had crashed down across it. We named the spot Beechy Crash. That was 14 years ago. Here's what the beech looks like now:It's going back to the forest mould; part of it has simply melted away. It's no longer a major feature of the landscape. When it's gone, will this spot still be Beechy Crash?
This is a humid microclimate, and it has fabulous mosses. Backlit, the shades of vivid emerald are stunning. Chet briefly considered walking across the streambed on these logs, then discarded the idea. He did canter up and down the steep slopes like a fawn, having the time of his life. I really believe that in order to reach its full potential, every dog deserves a daily hike. I think that's true of people, too, but there's so much we deny ourselves in the name of duty and work. I watch Chet flying up and down the forested hills, and I think that Chet's gait in the forest is to mine as flying is to crawling. Not to mention all the things he smells and senses, of which I have no inkling. Shila and I were so proud of Liam. It's not every six-year-old who could take a two-hour, strenuous hike that ends with an all-fours climb up a small mountainette. I climbed behind him so as to catch him should he roll down the slope. Shila and I definitely could have used someone behind us. We wound up on our backsides and stomachs more than once.
Down in the hollow is an old car that was once used to pump oil out of a now-defunct shallow well. The well owners came down once a day with a big can of gasoline, and they kept the car running for days on end. Now, it's a silent monument to the 70's oil boom, startling to come upon in the middle of the woods.
A tree has grown up between the bumper and body, and copperheads like to shelter in it in the summer. Chet was game to pose on its rusty hood. Chet's game for anything.
A big cave along the stream had signs that it was inhabited: an ancient and many-times renovated eastern phoebe nest, and a nice white-footed mouse nest, made of chewed up oak leaves. I poked it gently with my finger, and an adult female mouse and three small gray babies squirted out and hid in a crevice, their bulging eyes seemingly seeing everything and nothing at all.
We ended with a scramble up the mountainette, Chet on a leash in case the cows might be near,which was punctuated by the discovery of a nice ravine salamander (an Appalachian specialty that's not found elsewhere). This is our commonest salamander, found under damp doormats. Then Shila lit out for her office, while Liam and Chet and I meandered home slowly, in springlike shirtsleeves, enjoying the wheatwheatwheat of tufted titmice and the spring song of white-breasted nuthatches.
As I write, it's almost 6 p.m., and it's still just barely light outside. Spring is coming, there's no stopping it now. Sure, it'll snow again, and it'll be rotten cold and wet again, but the days are getting longer, the moon is full, and I can feel life returning to the good earth tonight.


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