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.)

Mountain Lake(less)

Click for larger image

Mountain Lake (on Salt Pond Mountain) in Giles County, Virginia, was familiar territory once upon a time. I took five-week-long studies at the UVa Biological Station there in the summers of 1977 and 1978.

I have been back a few times since, doing author tables maybe twice. The last time I was there, I think there was still a lake. Last week’s visit was sad: there is now no lake at all.

Memories abolished by cataclysm, “progress” or decay are bitter sweet.

I remember diving off the large boulder nearest to what used to be the center of the lake. This part of the lake was called the Garden of the Gods. The water was unbelievably cold–even in July.

This, by the way, is (or was) one of only TWO naturally occurring lakes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The other is Lake Drummond, in Dismal Swamp. At least that is what I have stated as being accurate and think it to be true (vs alternative) fact.

A trail follows the perimeter of the lake. I’ve walked it many times, finding amazing bird life, which, like human visitors, came for the water.

If you know of the Lodge (off image far right) it might be because it was the site of filming for some of Dirty Dancing.

I’ve told the geological story of the lake before, I know, but I can’t locate it just now. You can read some of the history of the lake and the lodge here.



Parts South

Two weeks ago this morning I was in high clover–among vegetation and birdlife unlike anything around here, that’s for sure.

Sarasota is another world, and on a beautiful balmy morning surrounded by herons and ibises and spoonbills and ducks and…

It was really the first time I’ve been able to use the long-lens function of the camera I got only last August. So here’s a gallery of images in a slide show. Or click them individually at the gallery link here. 

Flights of Fancy

We will, overriding our former determination to never again leave the ground, fly off in the not too distant future, to a somewhat far-off landscape that is not the mountains.

I will have  window -seat neck pain, of course, and this time, Walter Mitty, famous world explorer, will have something like the tool of his dreams in his sweaty little hands: the iphone app called Flyover Country.

This Mapping App Makes Flying Way More Fun | Outside Online

I’m lead to believe that it is not all it might someday become. I had thought, and I was wrong, that you could plug in your flight number and departure and arrival destinations and it would have that route ready to explore with some precision.

While the path between traveled points is less precise than that, I still look forward to using this app in trips locally by car, since it gathers points of geographical or geological or paleontological interest. And that scratches where I itch.

For giggles, I tapped our home location and then Roanoke. And it gave me points of interest that, while they were not located with any precision along that straight line, nevertheless offered to show me a number of worthwhile places I’d like to know about. Here are two:

Maggoty Gap: about five mile south of Roanoke. Wikipedia has this to say:

“Maggoty Gap” describes a natural gateway of the Great Wagon Road (locally known as The Carolina Road) that made it possible for wagons and livestock traffic to pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Roanoke, Virginia near Maggoty Creek (now called Maggodee Creek).[2] It carried enormous amounts of traffic in the late 18th century and much of the 19th century until a railroad was extended over the ridge in 1892. During the years from 1760 to 1776 it was said to be the heaviest traveled road in all of America.

The other point I’ve found in my first five minutes exploring via Flyover Country this morning is Chestnut Creek Wetlands Natural Area Preserve.

This is a 244-acre (99 ha) Natural Area Preserve located in Floyd CountyVirginia over near Willis. It is accessible to visitors only with prior arrangements with a state-employed land steward. I just might want to do this someday.

And from the Chestnut Ridge site, I clicked the coordinates in the map sidebar image and was taken to GeoHack. OMG. The day is spoken for. Maps heaven.

GeoHack – Chestnut Creek Wetlands Natural Area Preserve

The Buck Stops Here


You’ll note that I have protected the anonymity of the hunter as well as taking the precautionary measure of doing the same to the deer, so as to avoid any legal actions by relatives of the deceased.

I can count on the fingers of one hand then number of times we’ve been surprised by another human voice on our trails. Then, generally, it’s a predictable neighbor who has a long tradition of using the “New Road” down from his end of Goose Creek Gorge to access Goose Creek Run for the next leg of his hike with his apprentices and friends from his goat farm up top.

So on Saturday afternoon when I hushed Ann suddenly to listen to what I would swear was someone talking, the inner alarms when up–the intruder response, I guess–and so I was not terribly welcoming when a stranger came towards us, dressed in camouflage. The dogs didn’t even bark at him, worthless watchdogs that don’t watch.

He began telling us why he was on our land. He owns the adjacent parcel and was in his deer stand with his black powder muzzle loader when he shot a large buck. Even though the shot most likely pierced the heart, the animal had not gone down. This fella had eventually found and followed the blood trail, and the eight-pointer had suffered what was a longer death than a hunter would want for their prey.

Then he faced a real quandry: the animal had covered so much distance he didn’t know how he would get the 150 pound animal back up the mountain to his vehicle. He apologized repeatedly for his trespass, torn between honoring boundaries and following through with the responsible duties to retrieve, clean and dress a lot of venison on a warm November afternoon.

“Say, I think you’re the one who almost shot me from a tree stand a few years back” I told the man, who identified himself, and I knew I was right.

“I was thinking about that earlier today” he said, “remembering how bad that scared me. It’s the only time I ever had a man’s head in my sights. I heard something coming over the ridge and was ready for a deer–but not a man!”

We’d had some words, and he wanted me to know that, if he seemed hostile it was only that he’d been scared considerably by what might have happened if he’d been, like some hunters, prone to shoot at anything that moves there just before dark.

Long story short, while he drug the carcass down to the edge of the pasture, I went for my truck. The two of us could barely lift the creature into the bed. His deer stand was 150 higher and at least a quarter mile from us. He’d need to get to his mom’s house where his truck was parked to hike back to pick up his gear, then truck the deer to the butcher in Pilot.

So we had a conversation on the way, and I got to drive into a very secluded spot I’d often seen on Google Earth some 6 miles by car from where we loaded the deer. I got to meet some of the hunter’s family and extend the range of my rambles across these mountains.

And it was good to clear the air from that incident ten years ago where adrenalin did way too much of the talking. He gave the meat to a friend in need. And we both got a new neighbor in the bargain.