Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winter Roads


The winter is generally a time for slowing down. People are slow to move, plants are slow to grow, and cars are slow to start. For us on the mountain, it's the time when we hunker down in the office to get ready for the busy school course season ahead. It's also a good time to get outside and explore.

After five or six years of wandering around the Spruce Knob Mountain Center and the nearby Monongahela National Forest, I was under the impression that I had discovered all of the interesting places within a mile or two. After all, there are only so many trails and old logging roads that curve through this nook of Appalachia. There's the Kingley Road that goes toward the summit, Back Ridge Trail follows the ridgeline to the south, Cardiac Trail leads down to Back Ridge Run, and the old road that leads to a rusting cider mill before climbing to the windbreak on the south end of Spruce Mountain. Over the years I've come to know all of these trails the way a commuter knows their routes to the office and the grocery store.

Last week I noticed a flat area on the side of the road that I had never seen before. It was about twenty feet from my house at the front gate and extended from the road into the woods. It's a spot that I had walked or driven past hundreds of times. A spot where I had waited while busloads of kids unloaded at the beginning of every course and loaded again at the end. In the green seasons it must have been disguised with nettles and ferns, but now, in the monochromatic winter landscape, the topography was laid bare. While the surrounding woods are thick with maple, cherry, beech, and poplar trees, this level corridor is thinly filled with beech suckers and blackberry bramble. I turned off the road and walked in.

The flat area turned out to be the start of an abandoned logging road that led into the woods before it split, then split again. Before I knew it, I was in the midst of a circuitous network of trails that led down into the Big Run Canyon - a huge, steep, dense area that until now I had never found an easy way into.

It's refreshing to be in a place that only slowly reveals its secrets. A place that has a top hat filled with rabbits that come out just when the magician appears to be asleep.