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Reflections on Appalachia


Drawn from the city by your beauty, unprepared for what would be found, your quiet though sometimes violent charm has both delighted and surprised me. Your essence has been here since Eden and you have waited to share your gifts with man. You may be permanent, solid and strong, yet one comes away with impressions more than lucid memories. 


Clouds resting on green hills like smoke. Lightning playing in the distance, a wild dance too soon gone. Dark clouds on light, scudding across the sky and then an opening, clear with a moon standing in the middle. More stars than ever seen in the city where man’s foolishness obscures them. David saw them well. Flat bottom clouds hanging in the sky, seemingly not moving, like fat white pillows. Would we lay on them if we dreamed we could? The sky is amazing.


Strong winds reminding us of how fragile we are, easily bending the trees. Rain that comes quickly, sudden downpour ending in an instant. A clap of thunder, count the seconds between and tell how quickly the storm is approaching. Stand on the porch and feel clouds of energy wrap around you. Is the air alive or is it your anticipation. The smell of morning and quick flashes of fireflies in the dusk. A quietness that is content to be at peace. Time that does not hurry. 


Spring rises and shakes her head to clear away the sleep. As snows recede there comes the first small growth, green returning. Small violets, wild strawberry, mixed shades of green, low and tenacious of life. Iris, daffodil, tulip – they grow too, foreigners but welcome. Redbud and dogwood bloom and leaf and then the locust with her orchid like blooms. Small pieces of color start to appear, a token of what is coming in early summer. 


The first birds return along with Canada Geese. The pond across the way is alive with their sound as the business of life begins. The Jays and Cardinals flash color against the small bits of remaining snow. You see a drab bird with red bill, wonder why she disappears in the shadow of her mate. The winter bird feeders and suet now come to life. The woodpecker returns and you laugh at the sight of him hanging upside down from the swinging cage. Gravity doesn’t exist for birds. 


Summer comes and opens her eyes wide. The first trees leaf and the hills quickly turn from brown to green. Kudzu and Chinese Yam climb together. Called an invasive species, they laugh boldly and remind you that they were here before you. Mourning doves and blackbirds dominate the feeders and you miss the smaller ones. Fledglings appear, chasing parents for food, crouching with gaping beaks, nearly slipping from the branch. Large bees and hornets nest around the house and don’t bite unless you deserve it. Something has a low path on the hill behind. I never see it but it knows me.


Now the wildflowers begin, The grape hyacinth who lasts perhaps a week. Small daisies in many shades of white, yellow centers. Look carefully, you may find the yellow trefoil but she is small, shy and hides. Bright orange butterfly-weed and in the creek the white rosemallow with her crimson eye. The vetch, purple with lacy green, and the yellow butterweed. Horse nettle, frogfruit and wood-sorrel cover the open dry ground. Why does yellow come in early summer then slowly give way to white, purple, red? Perhaps it’s color welcomes the sun. In mid summer come the blue chicory and white Queen Anne’s Lace. Scarlet trumpet vine, wild white roses and spotted jewel-weed. What they miss, those in the city with their manicured flower beds.


Autumn becomes drowsy and nods her head, wakening sometimes with a start. Hazy days of mixed color, but the moist air of summer becomes dry again. Red leaves slowly replacing green. Hardier wildflowers appear, Joe Pye weed, ironweed, field thistle, swamp milkweed and tall prarie clover. Why do they call them weeds? A rose by any other name is a weed.  Purple and pink dominate. Canada Geese are gone. Life slows down and the feeders stand empty, the suet gone. Late autumn, frost nips the nose and time slows down again. I become drowsy too and slide through autumn. 


Winter begins her sleep, red leaves falling and bare fingers of wood pointing at the sky. Life lays huddled in dark, dry places. Tracks of deer carefully hidden. Flowers disappear and so does color. Gray-brown dominates until it is covered by white. A miracle falls from the sky, a different design in each flake. Easily overlooked or taken for granted, each one a delicate work from the hands of our Creator.  In summer thick green invites us in to her cool, dark shade. Winter is all about snow. No invitation now, she warns of hidden things, dangers lurking under her sparkling blanket. Trip and fall, winter sleeps and ignores you. 


Strange to feel excited when snowed in, wrapped in a thick cocoon of silence. Aware of her thoughtless power it becomes apparent she is the strongest of all the seasons. Unmovable, she falls into a deep sleep and barely stirs at all. But those living in the midst of her find warm shelter beneath. Instinctively they care for their needs despite her. Foolish man if he takes pride in his ability, they are the true survivors. With compassion we know their need, the feeders and suet go back up for the few who are left. 


And winter sleeps, heedless of spring.


Author: Beverly Meredith