Music, Mountains and Big Trees

Back in December, I was offered the opportunity to contribute a “500-700 word article on Southwest Virginia’s outdoors or nature” by the Crooked Road folks. It now appears (on page 23) in the program guide for next week’s Mountains of Music regional celebration.

The topic I chose (because Jane Cundiff and I had been talking about Big Trees in Floyd County) was SWVA’s known and as-yet-unrecorded Big Trees–and the Stadium Woods issue on the Va Tech campus.

You can read my article; see a larger version of the wonderful image of Stadium Woods that Tech allowed us to use for the essay; and view a 6 minute video by Chris Risch (who filmed the To The Last Drop video on Floyd’s water back in 2014.)

And then take a look at the MOMH program guide and decide where you’ll go next week to hear some of the best live-performance music our part of the country has to offer. (See you on June 13 at the Floyd Country Store for the Stanleys and company.)

Global Syn-WHAT?

The phrase “global syndemic” immediately drew my sustained attention when it first appeared as a result of an initiative and study produced by the science journal Lancet in January of this year.

tldr: Scroll down to the 3 minute video explanation.

Most folks know PANdemic as an outbreak of illness that brings about large-scale loss of health, impacting whole continents or multiple continents.

A SYNdemic is a cluster of related pandemics–a synergistic epidemic. The bad news is that together, their impact is greater than one pandemic alone. The good news is that, if we do the right thing for long enough and effectively enough, we reduce the risk of all the clustered pandemics–not at once, but over generations.

The Global Syndemic described by Lancet focuses on the inter-related and serious health threats of malnutrition(s)–undernutrition and obesity, along with the impending physical and mental and environmental health impacts of climate change.

I have been encouraged by this broad-brush, wholistic understanding of the ecology of human failure with regard to the future of our species. It seeks to lay the axe to the root of the problems rather than merely addressing the symptoms in the near term.

On the other hand, it would be easy to just go limp and do nothing. Or rage against the machine (insert your despised government, political party or politician) and keep pressing the accelerator of Business as Usual until we run out of runway.

This video does a pretty good job of introducing the concept of global syndemic, so that when you hear about it again, you’ll have some background.

The so-what for Floyd County going forward is that we can think ahead about addressing the Food System locally and its impact on human, soil and forest health, and in so doing, mitigate the combined effect of the looming syndemic.

The wetter wets, drier drys, colder colds and hotter hots of the uncertain climate future, of course, will be a wild card in this effort.

Diaspora: The Next Place

Morning detail, late April, late life on Goose Creek. You never know, when you give it a puff, where the winged seeds will find fertile soil.

 In the spring of 2019, we acknowledged that the time had come to relocate us from the wild to the tame. Or at least tamer—closer to town, less mowing and weed whacking and firewood toting and…

That we would reach such a Draconian view of What Comes Next is testimony to the common conclusion between the two of us that we are not, after all, going to live forever. 

But to not see the barn-roof frost going up in steam on a cold October morning; to leave in the rear view mirror this refugium of human neighbors, birds, bears and other familiars; then to hear road noise and be in a fishbowl settled and busy place: this is not an easy thing to consider.

And yet, even before we have any solid notion of where or when, we have already subliminally started saying goodbye to the most rooted existence of our lives and the blessing and comforts of belonging in place that many seek but few find. I wonder what the past twenty years will look and feel like in hindsight when we can not look out any window and see the known trees waving to the thrush and thrum of the sparkling creeks. Will all of this vanish into a fog of forgotten decades as we learn to wear a less comfortable new reality in town?

We need to move forward with caution, because we don’t know how either one of us (or the two of us together) will adapt anyplace that will inevitably be so different, so lacking of creek noises and valley echoes in our new self-inflicted captivity in a tamer place, wherever (in Floyd County) that turns out to be. This is risky business.

An animal extracted from its native habitat is subject to failure-to-thrive. A zookeeper doesn’t always know what elements from the native wilds might be missing to account for the downward slide towards disease or disorder for caged Orangs or Lemurs. There are subjective nutrients and essences in native habitat, likely not apparent to an objective Spockian observer, without which the resident pair may suffer emotional, physical and spiritual damage. Relocating highly-specialized species to more controlled enclosures needs to be studied wide and deep before bringing in the nets.

We are hoping that won’t be necessary. 

As movers we will be a realtor’s nightmare. We are looking for those subjective must-have conditions and know it when they are lacking, even while our friends will scratch their heads and wonder what could possibly be missing with this or that seemingly “perfect” place for us. And in this, we envy many of our less-persnickety friends who happily seek out, find and adapt to life in a suburb or brick rancher on two acres in or near Floyd, and contented to be in spitting distance from a busy road. We have certain needs for our downsized captivity, and must keep in mind our odd personal ecologies as they have grown since we were married in 1970. 

At the same time, the challenge of What Comes Next must not approach anywhere near the Matterhorn we faced in 1999, when we saw HeresHome for the first time. There was no indoor plumbing or wiring; no paint in or out for decades; and who knows what behind the hundred and twenty year old walls and under the floors that would need fixing.

The land that is now pasture had been planted in white pines, less than six feet apart and by then almost 20 feet tall, edge to edge and front to back between the ridges that form Nameless Creek valley. There were no trails. Logging leavings from the early nineties blocked the way in all directions, and blackberry ruled the landscape. This was a wild and untamed place.

Our friends and family were terror-stricken for what we had taken on. We knew then that it would take, and that we would gladly give five or more years to turn the house and land into our own. The neighbors at the time expected us to last exactly one winter, as I’ve mentioned before. And here we are, perhaps in place until our twenty-year anniversary in late November of this year. 

Or maybe not.

And so I wonder about the natural history of this place against whatever Next Place we might find around us and under our feet for however-many years ahead we are aware, are truly alive and in any meaningful sense, living, and capable to navigate within our new habitat–with or without assistance. 

The odd nature of this unknown block of years, of opportunities, of experiences, hopes, successes and disappointments came into a kind of bitter-sweet clarity last month when both our “children” visited–for the first time without their own families in tow. Our son, especially, is in the midst of a major life transition–to a new state, new house, new job, new biosphere on the coast of Maine. It will be a time of almost daily AHAs, of discovery and growth, challenge and opportunities grasped and nourished and nuanced into who he will yet become. 

We are happy for him, as we are for our daughter’s potential, to extend their abilities into new realms–personal and professional. That is where our children are in their middle-aged place in life. This is the life we have lived ourselves, until not so many years back. This has been, for the bulk of our adult years, the leading edge of every new year–to expand the reach of our voices, the scope of our understanding, the stride of our hillside climbs, and add to the things we could become a part of; to do more and more, in a wider and wider world. We were the Invincible.

But that was then. This is now. Is there such a word as vincible?

And yet, all is not lost. And as I consider the event horizon, the pressure is gone, the monkey of ladder-climbing off our backs–though in all honesty, that upwardly-mobile mind-worm never drove us forward. 

It has always been our roots that nourished us, not the tendrils reaching towards constantly-larger houses or salaries or cars. And we can be grounded some new place, and settle in. I’ll let you know how all that works out–but only as long as I am granted keystrokes, synapsing synapses and moment. Until then, we live in a white, two-story house with double porches, on Goose Creek. And it is springtime of the year out there, even if it is late autumn for the two lives inside.

NOTE: If you’ve managed to read this far, then maybe it will be of interest that this post in some more polished and substantial form will likely come towards the end of One Place Understood: Field Notes from HeresHome (or some such title) — a book I will likely be working on before and after our zookeepers find us suitable habitat elsewhere.

Spring at Full Tilt

An obliging Trout Lily, showing flower interior and speckled fish-shaped leaves

Don’t know about you, but for us, spring happened on Saturday (20 April.) By Sunday, the foliage of almost all trees was at least barely emerged, if not half-way, the sun setting spring colors ablaze.

It is a different orange, pink and red than fall leaf-change. The plant tissues are so early formed that light passes through the leaf tissue more than it is reflected off. I think I actually prefer springs delicate to fall’s bold palette.

And there are SO MANY different greens! A mixed hillside that includes some dark green white pines for contrast sets spring foliage off to best effect.

FOUNDATIONS

The footprint of an old tobacco barn, with the New Road beyond

We got to poking around (again) around the edges of this semi-permanent feature down the valley and around the bend from the house. We were told by an long-time resident of Goose Creek that this was once a tobacco barn; and by others that a man and his son lived here, the latter killing the former.

Whatever the story, there was once an old cast-iron stove there, that is now in pieces.

Maybe it was used to keep the cabin’s residents from freezing in the winters of the late 1800s. Maybe it was used to create more heat than our cold valley could muster, to dry tobacco.

Whatever its use, its end was by fire, paradoxically, indicated by the overheated distortions visible in pieces like the one on the right, that identifies the stove as a Woodland, No. 32.

We plan to do more extensive hunting in the fall, when an old blog friend brings a metal detector to the task.