Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blue Ridge Mountain Wonderings.

Recently, Shirley and I returned from a vacation in the western part of North Carolina. We stayed near Blowing Rock, a small town situated on a mountain not far from Boone, the home of Appalachian State University. We were blessed with wonderful weather the majority of our time there. Even with our windshield being broken by rocks thrown from a truck, even with someone slinging their door open into the driver side of our car and placing a dent in the door; and even with a very expensive traffic ticket for allegedly running a stop sign, we had a great time, no an absolutely relaxing and refreshing time. The car didn't fare so well, but we relaxed. Now some say that I am old. Age is a number if you ask me.

The Appalachian mountains are thought to be the oldest mountains in the world according to some of the information I read at one National Park site. They are at their wildest and highest in the area we visited. Shirley and I walked, or hiked depending on what your definition for each form of ambulation might be. I am obviously not the young man I was in the 1970's. In those days, I lived in Northern Virginia. I took on trails in the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge, some in the Shenandoah Valley, some further south on the Parkway. What I remember was that I had an abounding supply of energy and the trails in those days were young, and alive and challenged me to use my energy and spirit to conquer the trails. I saw the trail, and the life around the trail with the eye of a seeker, a seeker of what was on the next switchback, what was over the next crest, and how quickly I could find the trails end.

While staying at Blowing Rock, Shirley and I walked many trails. Price Lake trail circles a  beautiful lake with a romantic view of Grandather mountain, especially at sunset.  This time my mindset was older, more honed, and refined than my youthful zest to devour a mountain trail. Like the mountains themselves, my knowledge  is rounded,  smoothed out, with less surprises around the next turn. My knowledge and experience over the years allows me to have an appreciation for the trail and its panorama. Everywhere along each trail, life abounded, selective life that was attuned to the environment. Some trails were long enough and consisted of enough change in altitude to actually see changes in the environment. A two hundred foot change in height brought about different thermoclines, and with that different biomes. I was struck by how that compared to home in Florida where a change in altitude of a couple of feet could take one into a different world evidenced by the flora.

These mountains have weathered and adapted over the eons to be what they are today. Environments change, especially with the intrusion of human activity. Linville Gorge, still beautiful, still wild looking with spectacular views reached by those willing to hike the trails,  bears the scars of human tampering. A small invisible to the eye virus is killing the spruce trees. Looking back along the river from the falls, the dead trees are an ugly reminder of how easily an environment can be damaged. The virus didn't get there by itself.

I take from my visit to the mountains  introspection that comforts me . Though the mountains are much as they were when I was much younger, they have changed, in some ways for the better, in some ways not so much. I too have changed. Yes, I have a hip that nags at me, and yes I have fibromyalgia that tempers my appetite for moving over the hills and rills of North Carolina. Those are not the main reasons I slowed my pace. It is the panorama, the view, and the intangible sense of comfort and security found along those rocky paths that slowed me. I am older, perhaps a bit shorter than when I was 19 and  working my way through the boulders on the crest of Rag Mountain in Virginia. What was once speed to complete a path has been transformed in an insatiable quest to bank in my heart and mind the visual, and visceral sense   found on a trail like  Boone. One finds an understanding of what Moses Cone felt about the land near Rich Mountain. Here where men bearing muzzle loading rifles turned the mightiest army on earth on its ear with a different form of fighting, I too found the mountains different, just as I am different.  I have seen the forest for what it is along Green Knob Trail and along my own path in life.