Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The morning sun is bright as I gather my small pack of dogs and my walking stick and head out to hike along our favorite trail. The slight breeze is warm and hints of a spring not far off. As we stroll along the graveled red clay road I watch for the first early plants along the banks.
We pass the place where the Fairy Wand grows and I pause, but they still sleep. Climbing now I watch my older Akita, closely. At twelve Shine is old, her limbs weak and sometimes she stumbles in the steep places. Today she drags her hind feet slightly, but as she turns, feeling my gaze upon her, she smiles, eyes bright with joy and I know she is fine. Bella, one of my dachshunds, yips excitedly and I know she has found a rabbit trail. Off she goes followed by my blind dachshund Rusty. He follows the sound of the tinkling bell on her collar and her footsteps rustling through the dry leaves of last fall. He inspires me daily with his positive attitude and his delight in being out in the awakening world.
I continue the climb to the upper trail, this path an old logging road, paved only by leaves and mosses and the occasional downed limb. The round leaves of Golden Ragwort dot the trail, but her yellow blossoms are yet to come. The dogs catch up and for a few minutes we walk together, still climbing, and Shine begins to fall behind. I am looking still for new signs of life while they do the same with their noses. At the crest I stop to sit on a pine log while I wait for Shine to catch up. I spot the first tiny dark green leaves of Partridge Berry, peeking out from under the carpet of leaves my feet have disturbed. A single leaf from Mistletoe lies there too and I glance up to find the tree it came from. A woodpecker beats a fast rhythm on another dead pine above us, seeking the bugs that hide there. I can’t spot him but I know he is a Downy, as they are plentiful here, and his drumming lacks the depth and volume of the great Pileated that shares this territory.
Shine reaches us and I give her a few minutes to sniff the hiding places of mice and to check the scent left along the deer trail that crosses here. The sun warms our little spot and I take off my denim overshirt before rising to continue.
We eventually reach the intersection of two trails, this one continues and the other heads down steeply to my small house. I stop here to make my morning prayers, greeting the sun, the earth, and the spirits of this place I am fortunate to live in. I pray for friends, family, my fur children and for my own education that I might continue to grow and serve this small community I have come to love so much and to call Home. Leaving a small amount of tobacco in gratitude I open my eyes again to my immediate surroundings.
Looking down I spot what might be the first leaves of Plantain, but am not sure. They are so small and I left my glasses at home. My eyes rise and across the way, to the east, I see Linville Mountain rising up to the clouds, the steep rocky outcrops visible even here. My own mountain, called Grassy, looms behind me, rising to the tiny resort town of Little Switzerland and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The trees surrounding me are poplars, oaks, hickories, and maples, all gray still, waiting a few more weeks to send out their tender leaves. Punctuated between them I see the green of small hollies, the White and Yellow pines, and my beloved but dying Hemlocks. Along the leaf littered ground are unfurling ferns, with patches of moss between them. I hear the sounds of a few hardy birds. Chickadees and titmice cheep their tiny conversations, a crow caws to his friends about us, and the drumming of the woodpecker we met earlier fades into the soft background. I watch the joyful dachshunds, still on their endless and mostly fruitless hunt for mice and other small creatures.
When I am ready to continue I assess Shine’s condition, knowing it is she who will decide which trail we take. She is tired, and she looks down toward the house, so that is the way we go.
I pause by the path the water follows after the storms and look longingly for the first blooms of Bloodroot, knowing even as I look it will be weeks before I see them. The red clay is crumbling here in fresh piles where my neighbor, who owns this trail we walk has been widening the road with his backhoe. While I love him I am glad he is not here today, his noisy machine would destroy the magic and mood of our walk.
As we reach the last turn I hear the breezes rustling through the dead leaves still clinging to the Beech trees, whispering like tiny people, their secrets unknown to me. I freeze suddenly, spotting a bright patch of purple and I lean down to see the first blooms of a Violet. There are several here, poking their heads out from under more leaves, the blossoms striped with white, the heart shaped leaves glossy. I smile and think of my mother. Violets were her favorite flower, and I always think of her when I see them and remember the many varieties she’d dig up on trips and bring home to color her yard with.
We turn and at last reach the graveled road that leads home. Along the side are familiar faces. Chickweed greets us, a special friend of Rusty’s. I see Mullein that has overwintered and will soon be shooting up her tall spike and decorating it with yellow flowers. I thank her for the tea I made this past winter from her fuzzy leaves. Honeysuckle peeks out, ready to begin her spring climb up the trees lining the road. My cherry bushes are ready to bloom, and I hope the warm weather holds so I can harvest my first crop this year.
We reach the yard and the dogs head as one to the water bucket to quench their thirst. I pause in the front yard, studying the ground and sure enough I see tiny leaves, veins running lengthwise and I know that it was Plantain I saw up top. This part of my yard is a patch of the wonderful weed I’ve allowed to take over, ignoring the comments of friends that grass would look pretty here. I peek under the boxwoods for violets but they are still sleeping in the deep shade. In front the Periwinkles that cover the north side where the yard is steep are already blooming, sweet star-shaped blue highlights against a dark green background.
As I step onto the porch I once again offer a short prayer of gratitude for the gifts this morning has brought, and my smile is bright and my step light as I hear the creek answer before I close the door and return to my chores inside the house.