Monday, March 31, 2008

Annual Bad Ass Mama Jama Bike Across Botetourt

Christmas Break 2005 Carrie Hatter and I decided to go for a bike ride. We were both at our parents' houses for the holiday so we hopped on two wheels and met up. The ride started small, cruising around Blacksburg, Etzler, Haymaker Town Roads. It was one of those freak perfect 60 degree Virginia winter days, so we rode on. Thirty- forty miles and hours of twisting rambling road later we finished rolled though Greenfield Recreation Center at sunset and knew something very special had been born.

Annual Bad Ass Mama Jama Bike across Botetourt

Christmas Break 2006 rolled around and we both had full time jobs; Carrie on the peds floor of UVA hospital, me the Assistant Manager of Outdoor Trails Daleville. The bike ride was pushed back some, it ended up being some random day in January, but once again we hopped on our bikes and headed out. That year we rambled around Old Breckenridge Mill Road, Springwood Road (right about the time James River High School dismissed), Lithia "Lithuania" Road and back Blacksburg towards home. It was about 10 miles further than the year before and created a serious ache between our legs.

2007- A year into "being adults" we found it very hard to sync our schedules to go on our day long adventure. With my thru hike looming and spring pouncing upon us we finally pulled it together in March.
The route: Rie's parents-Fincaslte. 220-Eagle Rock. ER to Buchanan via Rte 43.

PAUSE THERE. Somewhere on 43 we found inspiration to veer on a dirt road through mountains, vineyards, and "Farm Use" vehicles to the Blue Ridge Vineyard. A wine tasting, feast, bottle of Pinot Noir, and life stories with former high school teachers later, we re-mounted.

James River H.S. to Springwood put in. River, donkey, Hasty house, my fav fields, we had HAD IT. The sun was sinking, just in time for Big Al to pull up in the red truck and bring us on home for Ginny's amazing tortellini, spinach, and Adam's fighta girlfriend's chocolate cake.

Deemed- best BAMJBAB YET =)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thru Hike Plans

So most of you know I'm leaving soon to walk the miles on the Appalachian Trail between Georgia and Maine. The plan is to leave Daleville May 15, head north. Hopefully I'll reach Katahdin in September, then drive to Springer in GA. So I'll be walking Georgia north to Daleville September-Nov with the plan of being back among friends and family by Thanksgiving.
Granted these are all dynamic plans with a lot of adventure and flexibility in between. I'll keep you guys posted though =)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alta Mons Love Letter

Summer of 2007 was the first summer in 15 years that I haven't spent at least two nights at Alta Mons. The last summer I worked there, 2006, I spent nights watching moonrises in the blue truck with Amy Cox, wandering starlit gravel roads with Clark Ramsey, and drinking tea on the staff house front porch with Rhiannon Violette and Corey Dalton. At night there are cicadas, bullfrogs, crickets, lightening bugs, owls, even bobcats. Campers squeek in their beds, counselors done a single flashlight for story time, and the valley exchanges a slumber of people for an alertness of the wild. Admist the twinklings of bugs and stars, a dew falls over the vegetation. It is damp, mysterious, comforting, frightening, and intoxicating.
Days are glorious on those acres; summer sun beating down, temperatures building all morning while campers and staff bebop between low ropes, meals, home in the woods sites, the pool, and crafts. Around 3 or 4 the heat may break, sky turn black, and thunderstorms send units from the pool towards the dining hall for some intense four-square.
I feel at home at Alta Mons because so much of my growth has happened here. When I was an elementary camper I packed far too much and always came with friends, usually Bethany Stevens or Keelah Andrews. Sometimes I idolized staff members, sometimes they were grumpy and sick and we made their weeks torture. I always bounced across the bridge from the cabins to the bathhouse, and usually developed crushes on that week's lifeguard or some other non-suspecting male staff member.
In those days the pool was fed by the creek, there were snakes in the pumps, and wild contests Friday afternoon before we went home. We worshipped in the back 400, nothing but trees, mountains, grass, and us. I first heard the legend of the phoenix in that amphitheatre, while a flaming arrow lit the fire pit. It was everything I understood magic to be.
Like the Harry Potter craze I was glued to Alta Mons. I came back every summer, for a coveted week. I looked for returning staff members, cool college kids that seemed legendary to me. On the drive from Troutville to Shawsville I would count down roads; Kirk Ave, Butt Hollow, Strawberry Ln., the yard with the rooster huts, the vine gazebo, Purgatory Creek, Sisson Dairy, Boogie's Wrestling Camp. Finally the valley would open, with the promise of lightening bug summer dusks, hand churned ice-cream, guitar around a fire. Back then I only got to stay a week at the longest. Six days I anticipated all year.
My first summer as a Junior High camper I stayed in Unit 9. We carried the entire thermal to the site from the old barn for breakfast. For lunch we ate summer sausage, saltine crackers, easy cheese, granola, and apples… every day. For dinner we cooked over the fire, every day. It was only after I was a staff member that I understood why my counselors were stressed out this week. I learned how to canoe. I fell in love for the first time with my canoe partner.
My life changed a lot between that year and my first year as a Senior High camper, by that time I went to camp alone. Katie Moser and Josh Dietz were my counselors, I met George Dickenson, and Jamie was the only other girl in our unit. We spent the week traveling, biking, canoeing, all the way to West Virginia. It was… perfect.
The next summer I was a C.I.T. That was a whirl wind of confusion, growth, and reality. I attempted to bond with staff while being told C.I.T.s were not allowed to develop any kind of meaningful friendship with staff members, never mind, as it turned out I was the only C.I.T. for that summer. I was lonely and searching most of those four weeks, but loved being at Alta Mons, learning to work as staff, and developing one close friendship I would carry throughout life.
Two summers after that I was a high school graduate and a real staff member. I felt respected more but sometimes things were a struggle. It was perhaps my best summer at Alta Mons- things were new and wild and fresh, and everyone seemed to be stumbling through the learning process together. My loves were there; Marie, Sheri, Steve Opetia-Williamson, Sarah Perry aka Big Veg, Mike Jamison, Elaine Smith, George Dickenson, Greg Moench, all people that throughout college would stay very near and dear to me.
After that I was in a groove, while school years were wild and wandering from Emory & Henry to the University of Montana, summers were spent on these 800 some acres. New staff came and went, I loved and lost, learned, kept, and stayed. Despite all my love for the place I tried many times to quit the addiction.
Every summer seemed to surface me further and further in experience and respect until I found myself one of the oldest returning staff members taking on battles I pieced through with God. It is wildness; wildness to grow up, wildness to search, wildness to battle, wildness towards wisdom and grace.
Memories cascade my mind- crying on the dock with Josh at a C.I.T., watching Will Williams and Paul Inge break bread wearing togas reinacting Jesus' last days, walking circles in the baby pool with the Muscatellos to create our own whirlpool, night swimming with Greg Moench, KK and I joking about dancing under the pink roof on the weekends, quoting Thoreau plunging in and Heather Taylor carrying that tattered letter through life with her, singing the Elephant Medley with Maggie, running around camp smothered in mud to lift morale from a week of rain, God. God pulling me, shoving me, isolating me. I think the best way to explain what I have gone through spiritually in this place is to think about the enormous amounts of pressure and process coal goes through before it is a diamond.
Different folks have different interpretations of a place. Dedicating my college years to class and life in Montana- ideas and theories floated through my head about natural resources, how vast our country is, how diverse this world is. I think it is undeniable that some mixture of memory and affinity for a parcel of land strikes every person. Whether it is as small as your bed or your grandmother's house, or as big as Virginia or the East Coast, I believe each person has a quadrant that awakens and stirs the depths of their beings.
Luckily for me, God has always been involved with my depths and my places- trusting his hands to guide my steps in his will. I tried to leave Alta Mons, and Virginia for that matter, many times (a regular prodigal son). Run as I may, there are always two firm definitive hands pushing east, luring me back to abandoned homesteads, bottling companies and Willie Jack's. Stories echo off Bear Mountain, Turtle Ridge, Purgatory Creek, and Christmas Tree Mountain.
In many ways this camp has been a testing ground physically, spiritually, and socially for me. It has turned me into a singer, naturalist, guitar strummer, trail runner, paddler, leader, lover, climber, gear junkie, writer, worshipper, and friend. My dreams revolve around memories and models here – thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, finding a career where I'm paid to be outside, marrying a man who can stand beside me on the East Ridge after scrambling up the ravine and loose dirt to abandoned logging roads overlooking the dairy and camp's tree-lined boulevard. I have been betrayed and befriended, broken and blessed on these acres.
Through the years, people, adventures and stories I've grown into the understanding that Camp Alta Mons is the love of my life. I can breathe here, cry here, soar here. God meets me HERE.
It is my ardent hope that others feel this way, and together, for generations past, and future, Camp Alta Mons will dynamically shine God's grace and wonder in its mountains, trees, waters, creatures, and people.
May you forever find graceful magic here,
~Rebekah aka Little Veggie

Summer 2006

Flash floods sweep Virginia as the rain pummels lush vegetation. I'm sitting, clean shaven, smooth, tattooed in a dark living room, silent aside from Boston and St.John's and the rain against the bay window. Normally I'd be waiting out the storm on the staff house watching drenched home sick summer campers slosh from the dining hall to their cabin. This week the smell of fresh painted middle school permeates my nostrils as I wander the halls with my photography and movie making students. For all intensive purposes I guess I'm back east for a long haul. I find myself however living more like Hollie Golightly than I may have anticipated... half unpacked boxes from Montana scattereding the house. Unnamed pets at the nature trailer. Current clothes haphazardly mixed with random Tshirts I wore in high school. I have a section in the basement of picture frames, paintings, and wine glasses wrapped in Missoulian headlines and lead photos, a pile of Mary Kay boxes in the living room, a backpack full of outdoor toys in the living room, and we won't discuss the tordado that my bedroom has become... Moving is hard and beautiful. Some mornings I wake up wanting to cry, longing for biking down the river trail, running at Blue Mountain, and breakfast at Food for Thought. Some weekends I desperately long to done that white lace slip, black and white saucy dress, heels, and go dancing. Always, I miss the J school buds, Jane, Dacia... I was right about some things though. Here in this saturated intoxicating Blue Ridge I feel gracefully alive. Around the 'tourt I see my friends, we go to lunch, we reveal our hearts to each other. Back in the bubble (camp) we're on fire for Christ, summer, and any unsuspected moment. It is wild, and healing. Every song I sing, I mean. Every prayer I pray is poignant. New friends hold me accountable with their suprisingly honest questions. Old friends keep me in awe of their strength, courage, and devotedness. You are all in my thoughts and prayers, I hope all yall's summer is shaping up to be just as eye-opening =D
..... yes I am starting to re-embrace southern lingo. And I think it's sooo niiiiiice ;)
Blessed be your name when the sun's shining down on mewhen the world's all as it should be, blessed be your nameblessed be your name on the road marked with sufferingthough there's pain in the offering... blessed be your name.every blessing you pour out I'll turn back to praise.

Sifting Through Becoming

2002, this May?
from troutville and proud
of guitar ladden sidewalks in late spring
goldfish bowls and rubber pieces under my thawing legs
tastes of fruit smoothies and snow conesall the beauty conjured there.

But maybe, Bob Dylan's right.there's room to probe

2006, beyond?
from troutville and proudof dying cholorophyll mountainsides in early fall
rooty trail and wet dogs scrambling around my legs
tastes of summer sweat and avacadoall the blessings conjured here
maybe, the Eagles are right
I'd stick around for time sweetened honey

Shifting Home

I could teach you to drive a standard, but we’d have to do it at home. It’s not too hard, it’s the feel you’ll get, easing off, pushing down, “like a piano” my dad told me.
If you learned at home, I could tell you which gear to shift into at each point.

Neutral at the stop light on 220. First as the light greens, second rounding the turn on Catawba Road, third at the Antique dealer, fourth at the Daleville Swim Club, fifth by the pond with the fountain.
Traveling down Catawba Road you’ll pass houses, subdivisions replacing apple orchards blossoms and some old farm estates. Don’t be too bothered by all of that it’s Tinker Mountain to your left you should check out. Watch the road though! The speed limit is 45mph; I’d go 60, but you’re just learning.
See that space on the ridge between the metal telephone pole and downward slope? That’s where my cross country team would stumble over briars, rocks, and dead leaves to get up the mountain. That climb is tough, but at the top is the Appalachian Trail, and once you hit that, it’s smooth ridge running. We always stop and climb Hay Rock. Look, you can see its silhouette from the road. Perched on top of that rock Carvin’s Cove, the city’s reservoir, sparkles to one side, and Botetourt County stretches out to the other.
But we’re not running right now, so watch your speed.
Shift to neutral as we pass the Jamestown subdivision sign, coast down this hill. After that tractor crossing sign shift into third for our turn on to Etzler Road.
This used to be marshier than it is on our right, with lots of cattails. With windows and radio down on warm nights the spring peepers were deafening. Shift to fourth. Since the county built Greenfield Elementary the peepers are quieter, but still there. There’s the school, shift to fifth.
Cresting the top of this hill, pop to neutral. This is part of the reason manuals are more fuel efficient than automatics, a definite plus in driving one. You know it’s illegal to drive in neutral, but my Dad does it all the time, so I figure I can too. Besides, these rolling hills aren’t big enough to wear down your brakes so lower gears can be bypassed. Don’t break down this hill, that’s for pansies and outsiders; drive like you belong here.
Shift back to fifth as we lose momentum from the hill. Check out the cows on our left, Greenfield soccer fields and running trails on our right.
My cross country team practiced there right after the county turned the former hunting ground to parks, fields, lake, and bird sanctuary. We would indian run down the gravel roads to the water tower, abandoned cabin, and unfinished soccer fields. There’s an actual mown runner and horse trail now; I can’t imagine doing indian runs on that. It’s slanted, bumpy, holey ground. My dad practiced on it to shape up for the Fincastle 5K and overstressed his knee from the constant slope; the doctor told him after physical therapy he still wouldn’t be healed for the race. That fall he walked the race.
Speed up to pop over this hill where the Dal Nita Hills subdivision entrance is. We’re one mile from the house now. Neutral down the other side. Fifth where the road curves right, but slow down, this curve surprises you, it’s the worst one on our road, stay in your lane.
Coming up on our left is the old Etzler place. Bethany and I call that tree the Elephant Tree. We would sit on the head, climb up the trunk and pour Pepsi on ants. “We can pour Pepsi,” Bethany would say, “but if we had Coke we wouldn’t waste a drop.” I never shared her enthusiasm for Coca-Cola Brand products, but she was a zealot.
See that picnic shelter down the creek from the tree? We used to have Etzler Road picnics there every summer. The whole road plus some Dal Nita Hills residents would bring their pot-luck dishes for the feast. Bethany and I would scout the creek with the other kids for crawdads, but we always like the snails better.
That’s the old Etzler house across the fence from the shelter. I think Mrs. Etzler is either dead or in the nursing home now; we haven’t had a picnic since 1997.
After those fields and the pond on our left is Wood Ridge, an older subdivision with a more country road feel. It marks the last stretch of road before the house. I like to go as fast as I can, pick a point and shift into neutral. With enough patience that can coast you all the way home.
Bethany and I used to play Barbies in the bamboo forest on the left. We’d slide through the dense stalks over to the creek in our private play world. That’s her house just past it, and there, on the right, is mine.
Not the gravel driveway, but the paved. The gravel one is Mr. Etzler’s third house. He has one exactly like it on Smith Mountain Lake. Seven acres of wetlands and woods that my collie and I used to run through turned into a driveway and a third house. But he owns the road and the land, so I guess we have to accept the development. I thought about monkey wrenching around the construction my first few times home from college when I saw the abomination, and never quite got around to it. I did however give the soil and erosion inspector from the county all the information I knew about my new neighbor’s building project when he came to the house asking. It seems when you own the road, you don’t consult about the wetland you’re covering with your driveway.

I walked through my childhood woods last Christmas. I had meandered back the hills to a cow pasture and was following the route of my past for the quickest way home. Remembering.
A cherry tree heralded the entrance to the woods after crossing the fringe of the pasture. Snaking through the leaves and branches led to a fallen tree; I called it my balance beam. In the spring there would be blankets of Mayapples, we called them umbrella plants, and I would test my cat-like skills here, checking through the seasons for the white blossoms, and apples of the shin-height umbrellas.
Then there’s the fork-trunked fallen tree; I called that my bunk bed. When I could sneak Bethany into my play world one of us would take the top trunk, the other the bottom, and lay there intent on napping. It’s just down the ravine from the tree stand my dad and cousin built.
The thing about tree stands when you’re little is that learning to climb up doesn’t necessarily mean knowing how to climb down. My first time up there I got stuck, had to go to the bathroom off the side of it, and eventually was coaxed down by my cousin. Thankfully, to a seven year old not much is embarrassing. It wasn’t long before I mastered climbing up and down the giant nails.
I used to rummage the woods for antiques. A barrel washing machine I found on its side near the tree stand initially inspired it. I found sheets of metal, parts of cars, maybe. I usually didn’t know what my treasures were, but collected them nonetheless, creating a little pile by the tree stand. I kept a keen look out for the elves in these woods, occasionally catching fleeting glimpses of one in a tree.

It was weird, you know, seeing all of that as someone’s front yard.

Second into the paved driveway, down over the creek. Curve right around the cedar, it marks the half way point in the driveway. Shift to first for this last big hill and pull under the basketball goal.
Press in the clutch, shift to second. Pull the parking break, keeping the clutch in. Turn the key and pull it out of the ignition.
You need some more practice, but good job for today.
Like a piano remember? And sort of like dancing; Dad wouldn’t have said that to me, because he doesn’t dance. But the whole shift and weight change, that’s what you’re really doing. Ballroom dance shifting from one foot slowly to the other; bend and send, clutch and gas.

I wonder if learning to drive a standard is an improvement. I wonder if we’re better off for growing up, living in, returning to dynamic places. I think in the end we’re just trying to find some comfort and belonging. Whether it’s achieved by living in a subdivision with a remnant apple tree from the orchard, living in a third cookie cutter house to your second, or nestled on the bottom bunk of a fallen tree, we search for it.
And maybe, learning to shift like you belong here is what it will take to coast you all the way home.

Plunging In!

I walk breathless and soaked to the bridge. My Lowe Alpine Triple Point jacket seeping in rain, Duofold shorts not doing as good a job to keep me dry. My Montrail Gore-Tex shoes keep my synthetic running socks comfortable, save the red ankle bit with the mercury winged foot, drenched. My eight-month-old Weimaraner puppy, Geronimo sniffs out the woods.
I stretch my mud-splattered tired legs and sit in the puddles that have formed on the concrete structure. Grabbing a magazine that’s laying open on the other side I laugh, “Missoula Recreation, The Clark Fork River and River trails offer a large array of outdoor activities for outdoor enthusiasts.” It seems uncanny someone would sit here, looking out at the river, and read this article, and fitting that now it’s saturated with spring rain as the run off roars from the canal, directed through the concrete and waves out into the river. I set it in front of me, looking out at the water and lie down to read it.
Geronimo comes to nose me, shivering some. He’s less impressed by our rain run than I am. For perhaps the first time in Missoula I breathe deep like summer. Smells of lilacs, grass, dirt, life fill me. And engulfed in water, I feel, finally, part of this place, pulsing with this place.
The dumbo eared gray ghost entices me to get up, so we make our way down the bank to the water. Still unconvinced that he has webbed feet, he stays out of the river. I stare across the gray waves to the dining room and guard-railed balconies of the Double Tree Hotel wondering if they can see this sopping wet duo. Waves lap the rocky shore, and I think about them, rocks. How people (me included) are tempted to take a particularly attractive one home. They never look as good out of their niche. Rocks always look better wet, I think, content that right now all the rocks in and out of the river are just that.
Snaking through the trees I lick and catch the drips off new leaves. I sample them from different plants, curious to taste each one’s influence on the water. I pull up some reeds from the loose soil. Growing up we called them pooh sticks, because they’re great to race under bridges like Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet do. I can usually make flutes out of them, breaking off different lengths, holding all of them like Peter from Heidi. Today they’re not making their usual whistle. When I finally get the sound Geronimo cocks his head sideways, I let him eat one and we trek on.

I convinced Carrie to go running with Toby, her ten-year-old mutt and Geronimo and me over Christmas break. After the dogs fought like siblings in the back seat of her Cabrio and we crossed the mountain, the family unloaded happily at Patterson’s Creek.
We set off down a trail, which I undoubtedly decided to veer from once in the woods and on top of the mountain. “Let’s take this hollow down to the creek,” I say. “Are you sure this works,” Carrie asked. Out of all of our adventures she always takes the role of cautionary advisor, me being the exploration’s leader. “Sure, we followed a creek in here, and crossed one on our way up, regardless of where this particular creek goes, if we follow the water we’ll eventually find our way back,” I said.
A hollow traverse later we were out, back on the dirt forest service road. I was amazed at aging Toby who seemed to be in better condition than Carrie, me, and Geronimo’s puppy energy. As we rounded the bend and spied Carrie’s red VW poking through the trees we heard a crash. Looking down in time to see Toby sliding/falling down the steep bank with every winter dead leaf, 30 feet to the creek, we both gasped.
Carrie was beside herself, and we rushed to the road’s edge to look for Toby. There, 30 feet below us she was swimming like a champ in the creek. “Carrie,” I smiled “Toby found a swimming hole! You’re dog is awesome! Let’s go swimming.” Still shaken up, Carrie and I made our way off the road through a field, and the woods, a safer way to Toby. I threw my T-shirt and shoes aside and look over at Carrie, fully clothed. “It’s January,” Carrie said, frowning. “It has to be at least 60 degrees,” I reassured her. “I don’t have dry clothes to wear on the drive home,” she said. “We’ll go in our underwear, and then take it off after we’re done and wear our clothes, we’ll be warm and dry,” I told her.
Tiring of my pep talk I walked into the chilly chest high water, and swam over to Toby. Carrie grimaced. “Get IN,” I coaxed her. Finally, stripped down to her underwear she walked in, calf deep. “Ahhhhh it’s freezing,” she said. “You’ll get used to it,” I told her; but before I knew it she was back on the bank with Geronimo, both of them shaking their heads at Toby and I.
“I’m taking Toby with me everywhere I go Carrie,” I laughed. “She’s like the metal detector of swimming holes.” “Yeah, really great,” she said as she stood on the bank waiting for us to stop.

“I don’t know why you’re scared to roll,” my kayaking instructor told the class. “You spent the first nine months of your life in the water; it wasn’t until you came out that you started screaming and crying. And now you’re scared to go under. Why? It’s peaceful. Don’t you think it’s calming? Just take a deep breath and flip over, enjoy it.”
We laugh at him of course. He has a habit of saying off the wall comments. Sculling, he would tell us to lean more, look at our paddle blade. “There’s a picture of your roommate mooning you on that blade, but you gotta get down and look for it. You won’t see it if you don’t concentrate.” We never really wanted to see our roommate’s moon, but we skipped the blade across the water, like spreading butter, and tried to look while we braced low.
“Ladies what advantage do you have over these guys?” he would ask us. “See a lot of people think kayaking is about this,” he said as he pushed his tricep up to fake muscles. “I mean I know all you guys wish you were as ripped as me, but I’ll let in on a secret, that’s not what this sport is about. Do you know what it is? Why girls are better? One word: FINESSE. They don’t try to muscle through it. You shouldn’t look like you’re working when you do this. If you’re working, you’re not doing it right.”
Finesse, my roommate and I laughed as we biked home from the pool. I took her to the bridge, thinking whitewater would inspire her. We sat with chlorinated hair, wet suits and towels hanging from our bikes. Laying on our stomachs, looking down at the waves I asked her which line she would take if she was paddling through it. We studied the flow, figuring out the least dangerous route, where we could make the river work instead of us. Finesse, you spent the first nine months of your life underwater.

My high school cross country team used to swim about as much as we ran. If there was a water hole in any creek, river, pond, or lake remotely close to our planned course of action you could bet we’d be in it. There were trails in the woods by our school. We’d warm up on the track, jog past the practice fields, recycling bins, and softball field until we got to Tinker Creek. Usually we climbed onto the railroad bridge to cross the creek and get to the trails that a local cleared and up kept.
We’d laugh through Lover’s Lane, Turkey Trail, Deer Run, to the meditation spot, and other overlooks the owner had planted flowers in, made wooden trail name signs, and set an occasional bench or swing at. But after about 30, 60 minutes we always ended up at the creek.
One deep hole in that whole stretch of the creek, and it was ours. There was a young tree that arched over the hole. We would strip our shoes off and monkey on its underside to drop off into the cold water. Screaming gleefully we would see who could make it the highest in the tree before dropping. Our coach would stand on the bank and shake his head smiling, reminding us practice was over and we were choosing to do this on our own time, as we’d tout back for him not to sneak into the woods for a cigarette.

It rained all summer in 2003. I had my friend, Dr. Scott’s kayak, and every weekend when I was free of parenting 12 church campers I would watch the creek, wanting it to be high enough to paddle. One Sunday I got back to camp particularly early. Grinning I walked up to the porch of the Staff House. “I’m going to run the Roanoke River before the staff meeting; does anyone want to come with me?” I asked. Most of the staff looked at me from the dilapidated couch and metal folding chairs strewn about the porch. “I’ll go,” Paul said. “I’ll go too,” Josh chimed in.
We made our way down to the supply shed to grab my boat and a Perception Torrent the camp owned. Josh opted to grab an inner tube because of the limited space in my Honda CR-V for two boats. After some complicated shuttling of three people, two kayaks, one inner tube, my CR-V and Josh’s Miata we hit the river. What was usually a calf-high crawdad catching creek was rolling with rain water, white. Within minutes Josh was screaming with his hand under his butt. “I got a hole in my tube over that last set of rocks,” he said. “I’m holding it shut with my finger, I think it will be ok.” Paul and I laughed, and asked him if he was sure, then kept trucking.
Not long after that I looked back at the sit-on-top that Paul was paddling. Josh was straddling the boat just in front of the seat hole, with Paul straddling the boat just behind the seat hole. Both had mini paddles from splitting the kayak paddle in half. They looked like a sad war party of Indians scouting out the river, and not getting anywhere they wanted to with their insufficient paddles. They would scream in the rapids, Paul’s high pitched voice like a girl that just saw a spider. They fell off in every bit of whitewater, chased their boat back down, and got back on.
How we made it back to the Miata across the street from camp’s entrance I’m not really sure. Once our wild ride was over we pulled the boats and half-inflated inner tube out of the river, shuttled the cars and boats to get back to camp, just in time to snicker into the staff meeting, right on time.

I met Henry David Thoreau when I was 16. It was like waiting my entire life to meet my best friend, someone I finally related to. He was my hero for years. That year we had a project in my English class to pick a Thoreau quote and illustrate it on a wall size piece of paper. Sifting through books of his writing I came across something.
“You can’t count a river while it moves by you. The best thing to do is take off all your clothes and go swimming in it, then when you feel the water all around you you’re part of the total river. Where it’s been, where it is, where it’s going, Plunge In!”
I embraced it, wrote it on my 8 foot long piece of paper and taped pictures of runners, swimmers, skiers, bikers, hikers, and other endorphin loving junkies getting into the good stuff in life. After they hung in our classroom for a week I took mine home with me, and hung it behind my bed room door. It stayed there until I was 20.

The fact of the matter is, most of life on this planet is water. It covers about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and composes about 70 percent of human beings. From the beginning it has been mystical, a cleanser, bearer of life; and in that great tradition I am connected to it. “Plunge In!” is perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received, and I make it my personal goal that wherever there is water, to be a part of it.
I have to taste it, breathe it, slide down cliffs through the leaves, drop out of trees, paddle creeks while they’re raging, all to trapce back into society dripping with nature. Because nature is like that, you can’t count it while it moves by you. The best thing to do is to take off all your clothes and go swimming in it.

Dialect Resides in the Heart

I pronounce it apple-at-chin. Most folks in the north, and the west, really everyone except the locals, pronounce it appal-eh-shin. But to a child of the trail, mountains, and culture, apple-at-chin resides in the heart.
It’s a mysterious place littered with deciduous and evergreen trees, exposed rock formations, rivers, secret creeks and waterfalls, tobacco fields, cow pastures, hollers, shannies, suburbs, and an occasional mansion.
The Appalachian Mountains are a pair of your dad’s worn out jeans from the 70s. They lack the starch crispness of the Rockies; instead they are faded, worn, and soft for the most part. They’ve been lived in, carved out by a tough group of folksy people who still moonshine, wash clothes in barrels, use the word pawpaw, play dulcimers, and mine coal.
The Blue Ridge, nestled in the southern Appalachia, has more newts and salamanders than anywhere in the world. A forester said this was due to the ice age stopping just north of the region, pushing the amphibians to creek valleys and hollows, never creeping south far enough to kill them off. Salamanders you’ll see. Newts are a different story; you have to keep a keen eye and know which rocks to turn over in creek beds to find them.
Those are my favorite, the newts, their sleek, mucoused skin, slender, fragile bodies, quick movements. They live in Purgatory Creek. When Styles Falls is low I hike along the creek and up boulders under the waterfall mist to dig in the sand. I once found about 20 there, with the help of 12 elementary kids, wide-eyed laughing summer campers.
The Wildflour, a small restaurant along Route 11, displays Michael Harrington’s black and white collection of photographs of “Appalachian Folk.” They are a gray-scaled glimpse into life here, including personalities such as Homer Davenport who crushes up wild onions and applies them to the snakebite to "draw out the poison,” and Julia Anders who catches fish for her cat seven days a week from a nearby bluegill pond. Their faces are old, weathered, and leathery, each wrinkle and glare of their eye drawing you into stories of wood-burning cook stoves, barefoot summers, and dairy farming.
Harrington resides near Marion, about a 45-minute drive from Damascus “Trail Town USA,” where thru-hikers can stroll along the Appalachian Trail (aka the main sidewalk through town). Damascus is also home to “Trail Days,” the AT festival held the first weekend after Mother’s Day where backpackers can talk to gear reps, listen to music, and swap stories of “trail magic” before they continue North and develop the “Virginia Blues.” Thru-hikers are in Virginia more miles than any other state from Maine to Georgia along the trail, 549.9 of 2,174.9 miles.
These mountains are some of the oldest in the world, and in their southern regions we do things a little differently. Crawl-dads roam, Ale 8 soda boasts a caffeine content equivalent to 8 cups of coffee, bull frogs’
cow-like croaks trick children into thinking the dairy is 3 miles closer than it really is, spring peepers come out around March, a mountaineer is always free; but if you’re going to come around here, I suggest pronouncing it apple-at-chin, you’ll make friends a lot faster.