Thursday, June 5, 2008
Some things are a lot more beautiful in the rain, and West Virginia's New River Gorge is one of them, I think. There's an overlook where you can lean over a fence and gaze down on the river and the slow-moving coal trains grinding along the tracks at the bottom of the Gorge. Hearing them gives me a wild, nameless feeling, mystery and longing rolled into it, marveling that those hundreds of cars are rolling along to a nameless destination, pulled by a locomotive a mile ahead.
Watching the coal in the seemingly endless train, I wondered how much longer we'd be taking coal out of these mountains. I hoped what I was seeing had been mined the old-fashioned way, by excavating from below, rather than by taking the mountain apart and dumping it in a valley.We always pause here and study the river and the rocks, looking for birds to fatten the festival list. It's like a game of I Spy--we scan carefully with binoculars and scopes, hoping to be the one to find the special hidden bird. Spotted sandpipers, black vultures, a gorgeous pileated woodpecker (seen flying from above!) and common loons rounded out the list for us this year.
At higher elevations, Blackburnian warblers sing their thin song, a jingling, loose series of notes that ends in a fine, wiry spiral up past the limits of human hearing. Females are pretty--this one was in our yard this May--
but males are breathtaking. They are fiery coals; you'd think they'd set the wet spruces aflame with their color.
A typical Blackburnian move--craning its head around to look under needles and leaves as it gleans for insects.The little warbler was named for an ornithologist named Blackburn (hence the capital letter), but the name fits it so perfectly--black and burning at the same time. I love to show Blackburnians to people, to hear the gasp when they've finally got the little midge in their binoculars. I especially remember my friend Patti's first Blackburnian. I never tire of hearing that sharp intake of air, that wonder exhaled.