We hadn’t been out in the mountains for six weeks or more, since Robert’s cousin Priscilla was here. We hadn’t been anywhere much but Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few other forays for bits and pieces for our refurbishing projects, more of which soon. Nature was limited to our views of the yard (not too shabby), and watching the activity at our bird feeders (dozens of goldfinches, with some excitement like a towhee, which I had been hearing for weeks, but hadn’t seen.)
I put on long johns, jeans, my heaviest sweater, a flannel shirt, a fleece vest, my down jacket, a pashmina scarf, a wool hat, my down jacket and hiking boots, and we headed out for another attempt at skunk cabbage at Cranesville Swamp. We now know that the snow isn’t plowed on the last stretch to the parking area (tantalizing visible from the plowed road) and there is no other place to park and walk in. So four-wheel drive (or maybe chains) are required. But the views driving there are grand.
Driving on, we came to the sign for Swallow Falls State Park, just over the Maryland line, and decided to try it.
We walked the trail to the Swallow Falls
and then down the Youghiogheny to the mouth of Muddy Creek and up to its falls.
I always enjoy just driving the backroads in this part of the mountains. I noticed a lot of stores and mailboxes that said “Friend.” Those families are descendants of Anders Nilsson Frande, a Swedish trapper and trader who lived and traded on the Potomac in the very early 1700s or before. My pioneer Germans moved in a generation later with the first permanent settlers. The high plateau holds the headwaters of the Youghiogheny and Potomac, and also branches of the Cheat and Tygart Valley River. When it was first settled, the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia lines were in dispute, so naturally my ancestors moved about freely, leaving traces in all three states (not to mention multiple counties in each, as the counties split.) The plateau now, reached by winding up Laurel and Cheat Mountains, holds wide vistas of beautiful rolling farms, interspersed with pine and hemlock woods and alpine bogs.
As I was writing this, we received word that Priscilla died unexpectedly after what was expected to be minor surgery. We took her to Blackwater Falls in January, and she was thrilled with the mountains, and curious about the geography and history, a treat for me. She was looking forward to more travel, and we to visiting with her. We will miss her deeply.
A friend asked for a picture of the view from my writing corner in the dining room, which looks out onto the patio, which is a story above the ground and looks out over the West Fork valley (not that you can see the river for the trees). Photographs don’t really capture the feeling, or the way the mirror on the dining room wall opposite the French doors pulls the view into the room.
The birds are at eye-level.
And one of the even better view from the upstairs bathroom, which is actually three stories up.
Three posts across my desktop:
Remove the wild from our outer lives and in our hearts and souls we suffer, our compass goes awry. All who still revere the wild know this, as Henry did; he recognized it as the greater part of the soul. So now, some 150 years later, where has it gone? Is it out on the lawn? On the hiking trail? In the Winnebago window, the satellite image, nature video, national park, endangered species, inner child, urban shaman, modern warrior, rabid zealot? Is it caught on the Net? Can it be seen with commuter eyes?
– Robert Brady, “Where is the Wild?”, from a mountainside in Japan
Those who regularly play in outdoor settings with lots of green (grass and trees, for example) have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments, the researchers found.
And “Unchurched“, a poem from Dave Bonta, who lives in the woods on the eastern edge of western Pennsylvania.
The first time I came home from Chicago in the spring, after spending most of a year among gray limestone and very little green, I was overwhelmed by plants that seemed to be taking over. The Woods Hole Institute has analyzed satellite data and produced this image of where the woods are in the United States. Having grown up in the midst of the large swathe of dark green in the East, which is the Appalachian mountains and foothills, I think of the woods as normal. Looking at the map, it is clear how unusual it is.
The Appalachians are a billion years old. There are more kinds of plants and animals here than anywhere except the tropics. I am so privileged to be here for another Appalachian spring.
Sunday was a clear and sunny fall day, and we took a drive east, as far as the Eastern continental divide, which is about an hour away. Last summer, friends had spotted a cemetery on a hill near the Maryland line, just where I have been wondering about some Stalnakers, one in the 1790 Maryland census, and one who owned a farm on Stalnaker Ridge where one of the markers for the Maryland line was. We stopped at Cool Spring on the way and got some apples – Yorks – from the large wooden crates out front, of all kinds of apples from the orchards just over the next mountain. Robert cut one up with his pocket knife and we ate it in the parking lot while admiring the trees on the mountains around.
The cemetery, in Eglon, where the buckwheat flour we get is grown and milled, turned out to be new, but we spotted another older cemetery in the middle of town (two blocks, more or less). Alas, no Stalnakers, and no graves much older than the Civil War. We hadn’t brought lunch, so we went south to Thomas and ate at the Purple Fiddle, which turned out to have free music going on. Nothing like bluegrass with your lunch.
We hadn’t been across 219 to Parsons for a while, so we went back that way, north along the Cheat to St. George, and then across West Virginia 38 to Philippi. Most of the drive is through the Monongahela National Forest. All of West Virginia’s mountains have been clearcut sometime in the last 100 years, and many of them as late as the 60s and 70s, so most of the trees are young (for trees), and the grove on each hillside is a uniform size. I didn’t take any pictures. The experience is four-dimensional and 360 degrees. Photographs can never capture the experience of a curving mountain road through a tunnel of golden sugar maples, falling leaves swirling through the air like rain, the fluttering of silver maples, the shivering of aspens in the sun, or the view from the Allegheny front.
Last winter we set out for Cranesville Swamp, on the Maryland line in Preston County, in hopes of finding skunk cabbage in bloom. Thwarted by remaining snow and a hazy idea of where we and it were, we stopped short of the goal. West Virginia Day, we found it, and also found that we were within yards of it last winter, but probably could not have made it in on the one-lane dirt (as in not really even graveled) access road to the parking area.
The swamp is part of an area known as the Great Glade in the 18th century, mentioned often in old letters and documents, as it was on the way from Winchester and the South Branch to the new Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War. The area around it is fine high mountain meadows, reflected in the name of the Preston County town just south, Terra Alta.
There is a path through pine woods, a boardwalk through the swamp, and skunk cabbage aplenty. We will know just where to look next winter for skunk cabbage in bloom.
It seems I have taken the summer off again, but not as long as last year. I don’t have the excuse of yard work, since it was a hot dry summer and we stopped except for the bare necessities. We had lots of company and made a few trips, so I’ll be catching up on those over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, yesterday we drove over to Tygart Lake State Park to see if the leaves were turning farther east and higher. We are starting to get some yellow here, but there was not much more there, at the edge of the mountains. Most trees are still very green, but there is a huge fall of hickory nuts and acorns.
Last week, I had an appointment with the trainer at the Y after class, and Robert had a server crisis, so he went home to work and was coming back to pick me up. Finishing early, I decided to start walking home – the first three-quarters is down hill. The Y is set in the middle of Lowndes Hill Park, at the top of the highest hill in town, which was fortified during the Civil War. The trenches are still visible, but the hill is almost all woods.
Walking the wrong way on the one-way loop, so I wouldn’t miss Robert coming up, I had a close look at the trees and smaller plants, which we had watched leaf out and bloom all spring, but are hard to see from the car. There were good-size sassafras, and then, hanging down to picking level, a branch of ripe cherries. I picked a handful and walked along, in the bright sun and cool air, enjoying the view and spitting seeds.
Most of my ancestral families at one time lived on or near Hackers Creek, spread from the headwaters in Upshur Co. to its mouth west of what is now Jane Lew. Some of them were among the first settlers, and some came later, just after the Revolution. Being back in West Virginia means that on any afternoon, we can wander the back roads and find places that I only knew from documents. Going on the back roads makes it much easier to imagine the settlements and the relationships, since the big towns and the highways are much different now than then.
In 1761, the Pringle brothers, John and Samuel, from the South Branch of the Potomac, deserted from the British army at Fort Pitt. They explored the Monongahela country, and worked for John Simpson, a trapper and trader, who was later based at the mouth of Elk Creek, which eventually became Clarksburg. The Pringles fell out with Simpson, and went up the Tygart Valley and Buckhannon Rivers, to the mouth of Turkey Run, where they lived in a hollow sycamore tree until 1767. They returned to the South Branch, spurring a migration of some of their old neighbors there, who became the first settlers along the Tygart, Buckhannon, West Fork, and Hackers Creek, the first permanent settlements across the mountains in this area, along with the Morgans’ settlements in what are now Morgantown and Fairmont.
We had driven by the sign that said “Pringle Tree Road” many times, since we had moved, and on vacations over the years. I had always, and as late as last month, said, “Oh, no need to go up there, the Pringle Tree is gone and it was just a tree in a field, anyway, I’ve seen old pictures.” But last week a query from a fellow researcher started me looking at Revolutionary pensions, one thing led to another, and I finally realized that Bush’s Fort, where my 4th great-grandmother, Susannah Radcliff Stalnaker, spent her teenage years, was on the Buckhannon at the mouth of Turkey Run. So our Sunday afternoon drive was down to Buckhannon. As it turns out, there is a county park along the river, with a “third generation” Pringle tree at the end of a lush meadow full of wildflowers – forget-me-nots, gill-over-the-ground, tiny white daisies, and a creeper with small lavender and yellow orchid-like blooms that we think is one of the many penstemons.