Frozen Pines

Where I stand now, the Earth was once in turmoil. Approximately 500 million years ago, the tectonic plates containing Africa and North America converged. This act triggered the disappearance of the Iapetus sea and pushed the eastern edge of North America thousands of feet above sea level. Incredible pressure underneath this collision metamorphosed sandstones into the erosion-resistant quartzite where I now plant my feet.

High atop the exposed surface of Cook’s Wall, I stare down into the void of shadowed trees and fog below. My eye lingers on one pine in particular. It rests on a jagged upwelling of quartzite, clinging somewhat desperately to a small patch of dirt on the rock’s exterior. The central trunk emerges triumphantly from the uncertain ground, held upright from the vast array of roots unseen to my eyes. I trace the amber bark upward until the tree splits into two adjacent branches, forcing my attention to widen as to capture its entirety. Their heaviness consumes me. An icy haze glistens on the tree’s exterior as if to distinguish it from all else. The small rounded pinecones interspersed on the assortment of evergreen needles droop and sag under the blanket of ice. Despite the ground being barren of snow, freezing rain has hardened the leaves, pressured the forest, and unequivocally dominated the winter landscape.

For the next hour, I lost myself in that wintry forest. My boots crunched along the semi-frozen trail while my arms braced against rigid unbending trunks to either side. Every now and then, my shoulders would collide with the rime of mountain laurel or rhododendron. Recently high winds have blown the dripping rain backwards against its downward flow. Coupled with near-freezing temperatures, the droplets have frozen in elegant curves nearly parallel to the leaves. I quickly got into the habit of grabbing the ice by its edge and carefully pulling the covering away. I would painstakingly focus on peeling it away as I would an orange, generally ending with its consumption as a ‘brief refreshment’.

Rhododendron in winter – 2/18/19

After repeating the action on a nearby mountain laurel, I looked down to see a perfect iced replica of the leaf resting in my hands. Slight indentations of the midrib and each lateral vein glistened off the surface and shone brightly against the hazy sun. I twirled it slightly from side to side, attempting to comprehend the fastidious brilliance of the natural forces that shaped this object slowly melting in my grip. Wind and rain have fundamentally structured the entire composition of the region, wearing down the soft-stoned exterior over millions of years to expose the legendary quartzite cliffs of Hanging Rock today. From the grandeur of the vistas to the frozen outlines of natural flora, elemental powers stimulate the coordinated breath of this space. Listen closely, and you can hear nearly every living thing breathing together. I draw oxygen inward towards my lungs in an attempt to join them, to feel my presence in communion with theirs. I think of the rocks, the trees, and my lonesome dreams, a beautiful haze captured in my soul.

A perfect capture – 2/18/19

Shading my eyes from the glare of the setting sun, I descended along slippery trails into the rhododendron forests. Here the ice clung to the trees less readily, often fragmenting and crackling under short gusts of wind. I bounded over roots, scrambled up slippery gneiss outcroppings, and supported myself on slender hickory’s as the path twisted onward. I emerged out of a thicket into a new-growth forest where much of the understory had been cleared away. Damp leaves composed the base while bright green moss served as beacons through the misty trees. I took a moment to stop, planting my feet firmly into the mud, and simply listen. Absolute silence. Not even the distant hum of a plane disturbed this utter tranquility.

A patch of green – 2/18/19

All of a sudden, the stillness was broken. To my right, I could make out a distant thwat, as if someone was striking the surface of a tree. From out of the fog, a pileated woodpecker soared into view in spectacular fashion. The noise, I learned, was the steady flap of wings against its agile body. Each thwat directed the woodpecker higher into the air, where it would then descend briefly before repeating the process. Against the misty background, the red plumage on its head glowed like a campfire, too abruptly snuffed out by its departure back into the fog.

Just like that, my union with the woodpecker vanished; its world remaining just out of my grasp. I realized that something is only ever given in nature; nothing is taken for granted. Though I felt satisfied, grateful, and content just being in its presence, I knew I had to return to my own world in due time. Evening’s approach did not falter but my haste certainly had, so with a short shuffle, I pressed onward against night’s formidable grip on the darkening valley.

” I wonder how they know, cause they don’t die if they don’t grow”

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