The High Places Made Low

Talus field along Nameless Creek–moss and fern-covered boulders tumbled down from Nameless Mountain –a high place that was gone long before there could be human views from the top.

One of the places I stand and ponder in our daily silvan peregrinations is up back, beyond the last extent of floodplain of which our five-acre pastureland is the remainder. Beyond that point, the path skirts high above the rock shelves and tumbling waters of Nameless Creek.

What now stands as the high country above us rises at least 150 feet above the creek, and so steep we have never been to it. This is all that remains of Nameless Mountain, as I think of it. It calved all these boulders that hikers dread to pass over and call scree, and which geologists refer to as talus slopes. Erosion, gravity and time lay green and jumbled, in place now for a thousand human generations.

Nameless Mountain–a crest pushed up during the Ancient and Early Blue Ridge mountain-building epoch or orogeny–would have been as high as today’s Himalayas or Rockies. Coming to full acceptance of this truth (remember truth? It was popular once) is easy to achieve after much practice, standing quietly above the creek and below the wasted remnant of mountain crest.

We are surrounded by traces of time to which our now-ness  makes us blind. Unfortunately, we have also become blind to time to come, and do little or less to make ready for the gravity of those challenges. They are as real as the mountain that once rose above Goose Creek and Floyd County and dominated what we think of as Southwest Virginia.

This is the place we call the Valley of the Bones. Our dogs often find remnants of mammals who have sought out the dark spaces under boulders to die.

Here is how one writer describes talus:

The very random placement of fallen boulders, slabs of rock and massive pieces of stone creates an abundance of small caverns, nooks, cubbies, and grottos connected by a labyrinth of narrow passageways, chimneys and tunnels. In shady places, such as in ravines, on north-facing slopes, and along the edges of streams and rivers, a carpet of moss frequently covers the surface of these piles of rock. In heavily forested settings, a layer of organic debris may develop in cracks and crevices that promotes the growth of some species of ferns, herbaceous plants and small shrubs.


About fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

One comment:

  1. Wow. Talus slopes in the West are so visible and uncovered with moss, etc. They also provide homes for small desert creatures. I never realized I was seeing talus when I saw jumbled rocks in the East, mainly because the mountain that produced it had disappeared.i

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