I went for a walk this morning along the portion of the property line that runs straight down the Bald Eagle Valley side of the mountain. A scrim of cirrus softened the contrast between light and shadow without actually blocking the sun, and thinned out as the morning wore on.
Just off the crest, a 15-foot-tall, fire-scarred white pine snag glowed in a private sunbeam as if spotlit, and I stood admiring it for several minutes. The longer I looked, the more impressed I became, until finally I had to back away: this thing had power.
I avoided the open talus slopes as much as I could, though the wooded portions of the upper slope are just as rocky. The thin soil is enough to keep most of the rocks from tipping underfoot, though. I renewed my acquaintance with several outlandishly crooked rock oaks.
Why go to all the trouble of picking my way down to the base of the mountain? Well, for one thing, this corner of my parents’ land contains the largest rock on the property. It’s about five feet tall and ten feet long, and forms a cluster with two smaller companions. They’re probably the remnants of a single boulder that calved off the ridge crest during the last glacial epoch, as a result of the intense freezing and thawing that also gave us the open talus slopes.
I sat with the boulder for a long time, trying to block out the roar from the other side of the property line. There’s a reason why I don’t come down here very often.
No matter where you are in America, a Wal-Mart truck goes by every twenty minutes. I’m convinced of it.
A hundred feet up-slope from the biggest rock on the property stands the biggest tree. It’s a red oak, well over 200 years old, I would guess, and close to five feet in diameter at breast height (sorry — I never remember to pack a tape measure). At one time, there was a small grove of giant oaks here in this corner — maybe eight of them in all — but the line wasn’t surveyed very well, and our neighbor to the south along the mountain laid claim to most of the grove and put it under the chainsaw about fifteen years ago. The one other giant on our side was split down the middle in an ice storm, though the standing half still lives.
It’s a bit of a mystery how such big old trees could’ve survived, given that they adjoin an old charcoal hearth and haul road dating back to 1815. I can only surmise that some early settler had fenced the area for pasture, sparing it from the collier’s axe, and left a scattering of oaks for shade. That would also explain their big, spreading crowns, which are atypical of forest trees. The grove might also have been much bigger before the construction of the highway in 1970; we didn’t move here until 1971, and didn’t acquire this portion of the property until the mid-80s.
The lower flank of the mountain is dotted with small seeps and springs, so even though it faces northwest and doesn’t get much sun, trees grow a lot bigger down here than up on the dry ridgetops. Running northeast of the corner, paralleling the highway, there’s a ten-acre stand of mature oaks and other hardwoods that would seem pretty damn big if they didn’t suffer by comparison with the last of the giants.
See the whole photoset from today’s walk: Down in the corner.
UPDATE: For the conclusion of the story, see the next post.