It’s cold, but I’m on the verge of sweating. The sun is shining and although the foliage is thick and plush, it is not spring and the sounds around me are just the rustling of the brush and the steps of the person I follow. We’ve been inclining for what feels like miles; my realistic mind knows, however, that it has only been about .3 miles since our last group stop at Foscoe view. I am lost for breath, but my friend in front of me does not seem to sway as much as I do. My deep breaths keep me from talking every now and then, but I don’t mind because it forces me to think.
How much farther is Calloway’s Peak? We trudge on knowing that not only are our companions not far behind us, but more are beyond our current position.
I trip over a protruding root and think about how I can’t wait to have a hot shower.
“How you doing, girl?”
I feel as if I’m moving too slow for my buddies preferred pace. The people I came with seem to think it’s a race. I’m just happy to be out here enjoying the fresh air. Though, iIt would be nice to not come in last. “ I’m good.” We keep progressing.
My foot slides on a small sheet of ice. How are my friends? I can’t hear or see them and I wonder if they are all being safe. The trees are so thick around this part of the trail. You can hear the sound waves from your voice stop a few feet you’re your face. Grandfather mountain is a majestic place, however, we are quickly learning that it is easy to get too comfortable and then too careless.
A bird chirps like a siren over and over again, and I can hear it jumping from bush to bush around us. For whatever reason we have ticked it off. I see it’s streak of green and orange as it darts between branches. We just keep walking.
Soon, we arrive at a view on the trail where you can see the profile of Grandfather, himself. It’s a cool sight. It makes you wonder what elements carved his face. We stop to catch our breath, have a sip of water, and snap a few pictures. A few more girls in our group get there about the same time we do. We exchange comments on the overlook, and move on.
Sometimes I think I will not make it up to the top. It’s hard enough right now and if we’re only this far how much worse, how much more steep will it get? But the anticipation keeps me going. I am ready to be at the top. I’m ready to be able to say that I did it. I wonder if my peers are struggling, too. I don’t think they’d ever admit to it, but I wonder if they’re thinking about how hard this is. I’m sure I’m not the only one having a hard time… am I?
I can’t wait to eat lunch. The snack at Foscoe View only made me hungrier. My sandwich isn’t anything special, I’m actually tired of deli meat, but it will probably be one of the top ten sandwiches of my life.
Another root grabs my foot. I’ve learned the more tired I get, the more often I will trip. Each step increases the probability that I will stumble and I am thankful that I have not yet fallen.
I’m glad that my walking buddy is not that talkative. We kind of have a mutual understanding. I haven’t known her for that long, but we get along great. It makes me uncomfortable to be pressed for conversation and she doesn’t seem to mind the silence between us.
I am having a great time on this hike, but I can’t wait for it to be over, to be able to say that I did it. It seems that every time I walk up a hill, there’s another hill waiting. Above all, though, I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be with a class that I am having fun with in a setting where we can bond over similar experiences.
It’s a beautiful day as I bask in the sun. Each day brings different joys. Today just happens to be sunshine. Earlier, a few days ago, my companions and I were happy to receive rain. From the rain I receive nourishment; all of my being feels more at ease. I like the wind, it makes me dance, releases my limbs of leaves that are ready to be shed. There is almost always something good to be said.
I am enthralled in the constantly changing environment around me. Birds perch on and build their nests on my higher and lower, stronger and weaker branches throughout the year. I get to watch their babies hatch, grow, and fly away. The eagles in their brilliant beauty come into and out of my sight. During the winter though, there is much less to see. The deer become more prevalent, but they are skiddish. Hikers become scarce during the colder months, but people still come like the group of students who have been passing by.
I’m tall, but it’s hard to feel that way when the slope you are on towers over you. Trees loom over me, but it’s only because they have their roots at higher elevations. T doesn’t matter, though; there are no bad views on this mountain. The rolling hills in front of us stretch for miles and on clear days it’s as if you are looking at the edge of the Earth.
I like watching the humans. I appreciate that they try. I appreciate that some of them try, anyways. The people that come through here do what they can to not disturb or hinder my home. But stories have traveled many miles from other places where there are other people who are more reckless. They purposely toss their trash, spill substances toxic to the environment, chop down trees older and wiser than me. I can’t fathom what it must be like, but I am happy that it is not so much of a problem here.
The group of kids here today is a motley bunch. They’re happy to be here, I can tell. They are enjoying my home as much as I do. They don’t seem to fully appreciate it though. The view that I take in every day, that I see differently each time I gaze at it, they pass by without five minutes of thought. How can they understand my Grandfather’s wisdom and beauty in one fowl sweep? At least they are delighting in it.
If they would take the time, they would have a greater understanding of my home. Maybe they would realize that it’s not the weather that should determine whether your journey is positive or not. They might decide that this specific place may not be their home, but it is mine, and it is the home of all the other creatures and plants around me. We make up a community of give and take.
I am thankful for life. I’m thankful to be avoiding struggle, and for the fact that my home is enjoyed by so many creatures. The birds use my branches and trust me with their young and the humans use my trunk as a back rest. I am old and have made it through many years of hardships, but it only makes me thankful for good times.
I flutter from branch to branch between old, sturdy trees. My needs propel me from area to area as I zoom back and forth over the trail. I’m hungry. It’s a gorgeous day. The sun is shining, and the cold air makes it more comfortable to fly. The sunshine makes it easier to see. It heightens my senses as I search for my next meal.
Where I live, it’s not hard to find food in the warmer months. Humans come to visit Grandfather and leave many crumbs and things for me and a lot of other animals to eat. It’s colder now though so not as many people come to this area. I look for seeds, bugs, and worms with a small amount of luck. I’m not as hungry, but I continue to look for things to eat anyways.
I sit and look at Grandfather’s profile for a moment. He is so old, full of so much history. His rugged appearance makes it seem as if he knows more than anyone ever will. He has sat there as long as I can remember, seemingly a protector of this area.
A group of people have come to the trail all together today. They spread themselves out, but I can fly between the front and tail of their group effortlessly. The drop crumbs from their snacks as well as peels and seeds from their fruit. Do they not want it? They seem to do this carelessly, but I’m not complaining. Now I’m full, and there is no need to keep looking for food.
The group of people comes close to my nest. I chirp out a warning which they seem to ignore. It seems as if they may knock it over. I start to get anxious, but it is dangerous to go near them. I dart quickly from branch to branch, trying to scare them and stay far enough away at the same time. I continue to scream at them. One or two of them look around to determine where my call comes from, but the rest obliviously continue. Thankfully, they don’t notice my nest or bother it.
I need to remember to build my nest somewhere safer next time. Farther off the trail. I know that won’t completely protect it- humans stray from the trail often- but it will help.
I continue to flutter around. Another male bird has flown into the area. Swiftly, the dominant male swoops in with a scream scaring the newcomer off and it ends as quickly as it began.
Food. My stomach reminds me to find something to eat. I fly down the trail looking for something convenient. I find another scrap of fruit. I find a bug crawling under a rock. For the moment I’m content, so I fly back up to where my nest is.
I’m thankful, for now, that my home is protected and that I have a full stomach.
I see a lot of things that happen. This is my mountain and it is my responsibility to watch over it. Today, the problem is not weather. The sun is shining. The air is crisp, but not dangerously cold. However, it is unpredictable. It can change in an instant and though the humans will leave in time, the permanent residents of this mountain will not. The ones that are still here now, that didn’t leave for the winter, will more than likely stay and persevere through any snow or ice that may come. I am proud of my mountain and all that inhabit it.
The people come and go. They don’t spend as much time here during the cold months as they do when it’s warm. They take the mountain for granted, but I don’t resent them for it. They don’t know much better. They often don’t look past themselves, their immediate surroundings. I have learned over thousands of years about the land around me and the flow of life. Over time, the people will learn that their actions have consequences. They will learn that as their numbers increase, their care will have to as well. They cannot leave their trash places. They cannot be careless with their chemicals. They chop down forests for their selfish needs, and think that they are invincible. Only time will teach them. They will have to learn from the experiences and the consequences of their actions.
The circle of life in this area is vital. It’s how the ecosystem thrives despite setbacks caused by outside factors, like humans. Even if one thing is suddenly introduced, or suddenly removed, we have learned to adapt. A piece of trash is degraded by fungus’ that thrive here, or it is used as protection, or it is used to help build a bird’s nest. Similarly, many species of plants and animals have not been able to survive throughout the past years, and we have learned to thrive without them just as well as we did with them. It just takes time.
The people that hike the mountain don’t generally pay particular close attention. Humans aren’t bad, however, many of them are ignorant. They don’t understand the importance of their actions. To them, the forest and everything in it is there for their use. And why shouldn’t it be? The trees in this forest don’t mind. They gladly give their resources. The animals understand that they might give their life for the nourishment of other beings. But that, again, is the circle of life.