Nature


Straddling the long stony spine of West Virginia’s North Fork Mountain is an expanse of natural meadows, edged by red pine groves and gnarled oaks, called Nelson Sods (‘sods’ in local geographic usage means ‘meadows’). While the views are spectacular, the photos below, taken on a recent hike up on the mountain, are of the smaller wonders found there.

 

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Above: wind-sculpted grasses along the ridgeline. Below: grass woven into a circular shape by the action of wind upon a milkweed stalk.

 

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Above: a lone tree in the midst of the Sods. Below: a view across the ridge, red pines in the foreground.

 

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Above: an old pine stump in the Sods. Below: detail of the weathered wood of the stump.

 

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Below: British-soldier lichens.

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Taken along the Potomac River, below the Great Falls, Maryland, October 31. From top to bottom: Sycamore leaves on river-eroded stone; bits of downed wood; metamorphic stone up-close; driftwooded tree and Solidago sp.;  Chasmanthium latifolium, river oats; seed pods of Clematis sp.

Below is another selection from the autobiography Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1792), described in detail in a previous post. Here Paisius provides a charming vignette of life in the little skete of Trǎisteni in Ottoman Wallachia, where the small monastic community was split between monks living in common and monks living as hermits- though, as it turns out, their reclusion did not preclude participation in the common life of the community.

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For the holy offices they all gathered together, both those who lived in common and those in reclusion. Among the latter was Father Proterij, a Ukrainian by birth, from the city of Rešetylvika in the regiment of Poltava, who had been a goldsmith during his life in the world. Whilst he stayed in the monastery he made the most beautiful spoons and sold them, and he received visiting monks with inexpressible love.

In his mercy he nourished the many diverse birds that flew in the air, providing them with an abundance of food at a suitable time. They would gather at his cell every day, and would await the time when he would come and open the window; and flying into the cell with no fear whatsoever they would eat the food he gave them. He took into his hand of them he wished, stroking them and letting them go: they in no wise feared him. When they had had their fill, they flew off. As he went to the holy office, many of the birds would gather and accompany him to church, some sitting on his head and shoulders, others flying round about him and singing in their diverse voices. As he entered the church doors, they all flew up onto the church and awaited his coming out. And when he came out of the church they flew down and sat upon him, accompanying him to his cell in like manner. Seeing this with all the others I marveled with great wonder and glorified God for having deemed me worthy to see such a servant of His.

Another of the recluses was the schemamonk named Ivan, a Russian by birth. This man, whenever he provided a meal for all the brethren out of the righteous work of his own hands, would go before the meal to each of the brethren with a vessel suitable for the washing of feet; and stopping at each cell and washing the feet of all, he would give them all a kiss of love. Others of these recluses copied books of the fathers and thus obtained their sustenance.

Paisius Velichkovsky, The Life of Paisij Velyčkos’kjy, trans. by J.M.E. Featherstone (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1989), 70-71.

I wish, O Son of the living God,
old eternal King,
a hidden hut in the wilderness
that it may be my dwelling,

A bright blue narrow stream
to be beside it,
a clear pool for washing sins away
through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

A beautiful forest near by,
around it on every side,
for nourishment of many-voiced birds
as shelter to hide them.

Facing south for warmth,
a little stream across its land,
choice ground with many benefits
that would be good for every plant.

A few sensible men
(we shall make known their number),
humble and obedient
to pray to the King:

Four threes, three fours
suitable for every need;
two sixes in the church
both north and south;

Six couples besides,
as well as me myself,
praying perpetually
to the King who makes the sun shine.

A lovely church decked with linen,
a house for God of Heaven,
bright lights afterwards
above pure white Scriptures.

One house to visit
for tending the body,
without ribaldry, without boasting,
without contemplating evil.

This is the housekeeping I would get,
I would choose without hiding it:
real fragrant leeks, hens,
speckled salmon, bees-

Enough clothing and food for me
from the king of good renown,
my being sitting awhile,
praying God everywhere.

Anonymous, Dúthracar, a Maic Dé bí, c. 800/900 AD, translated by Ruth P.M. Lehmann, in Early Irish Verse.

Sitting here afloat, pockmarked and saltstreaked cordgrass
Shivering up in the gathering morning heat,
I search for a word for the waters under me.
Creek, the map says, but flowing up,
Against the world’s plane,
Reached by the moon, hard to believe,
Like the best things that also are true.
I listen.
Everywhere, motion and sound, just above silence—
An infinite city in reduced scale, plunging
The five or six feet down in the turbid flow, then into
The mud, the worn-away of the ages,
Ancient Appalachians crumbled,
Creatures great and small alive in the bubbling wash,
The ten thousand things circling in and out.
I hover overhead.
I’d say I’ll withdraw, but there is no real away,
Only a slight difference of distance.
Every moment, earth, under
Moon, self, triangulated, over, below
The waters. Here, and everywhere.

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening—
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up,
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every later they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

Bogland, Seamus Heaney, in Door Into the Dark (1969)

The ceilings are five feet high, house crowded
by history and rotting rafters he’ll have to tear out-
the tall, young man who just bought it.
Beside a stooped old apple
(too long un-pruned to be bowed by fruit),
while the day backs down
behind the ridge, he makes plans.
He wonders, for a moment, what it would have been
like to be born here, though he is hearing
the answer when peepers in the boggy places below
send up their little staggered songs
and let them fall down. If you have had
spring evenings, then you know
how it has always been here: Love always shot
with the feeling this is the last of it.
Always told to outgrow
the mountains that would block your view,
these serious, sad playhouses, these low, old places
where you want to hunker, where you can’t
stand up straight.

Rose McLarney, ‘Living Up,’ in The Always Broken Plates of Mountains (New York: Four Ways Books, 2012).

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