Tuesday, 2 April 2019

April in the Central Virginia Blue Ridge

by Mary Wescott Riser


Beginning the long walk
Up Long Mountain, signs
Of Spring spear the ground.

Pale leaves push up through dirt,
Unfurl their green fingers;
Scarves around the flower heads appear.

Petals: violet, silk, cream, velvet,
Sunset, sunrise, sky,
Open their faces to the light
Reaching down to touch them
Before the forest canopy shade
Bans their short glorious dance.


At the end of a long climb
Cross an open meadow
Where teenagers have raised
Two branches to build a cross,
Planning a sunset service.

Do they hope to be closer to God
On this mountain, in this meadow?

Do I hope to be closer to God
On this mountain, in this meadow?

What does it take to roll away the stone of self?


Listen! What was that?
Screech owl?
Listen! Eerie howl!

Dark pink bands of cloud
Mark the indigo ridge.
Evening falls.

Listen! What was that?
Owl or howl?

Fierce yips, yaps or barks
Prickle my skin.


Curled in the dry tent for night,
I hear them singing their song of hunt.

They come up from tight dens, lined with oak leaves.
They circle up at the call,
Anticipating the crunch of small bones,
The iron salt of blood.

Furry creatures, beware! Hide!
Be still! Be quiet!

Listen! What is that?
Something rustling in the dry leaves.

I lie very still.

When dawn arrives, they call again,
Ready to curl up, sleepy, cozy,
To rest and dream,
While I tramp, less afraid,
Through their domain all day.


Beside the path, acorns and seeds spread wide,
A banquet for small animals we do not see.

We’re peering into a beer hall the morning after a party.
The guests must be snugged down somewhere, sleeping it off.


Water runs out from under a granite boulder
Into a pool with a sandy bottom, edged with leaves.

We run it carefully through a filter to strain out creatures
That may or may not be there, and when
We drink, the water is cold, sweeter than the water
At lower altitudes.
This water lifts our spirits.


On top of this ridge, midmorning,
We are inside a cloud, quiet, shadowy, damp.
I can almost feel the moss drinking.

Large dark boulders appear suddenly. You see
A farm house and a truck and are surprised
To realize they are granite boulders.

New air currents clear the air at our elevation.
Beneath the ridge, clouds swirl
Like smoke in a cauldron.


Near the top of the Priest Mountain
A stream of water rises up from the ground
Beside a high shelf protected by two ridges.

In late winter, a few water plants begin
To unfold, their roots deep below
Last fall’s leaves.

Boulders sport extravagant lichen, watered
By clouds that rest on this high ground.

A tree trunk twisted into a standing grey swirl
Pierces the mist with spiky branches.

All night, intermittent roars of wind
Pass overhead
Without disturbing the ground.


As we descend the mountain,
We enter Spring,
With her blossoms and her sparkle.

I try to turn the moment into words
And kidnap it for later.
Not possible.

* * * * *

"April in the Central Virginia Blue Ridge" was first published in NatureWriting.com (2018).

Mary Wescott Riser worked in Virginia independent schools for 30 years, most recently as Head of School at James River Day School, a K-8 day co-ed day school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she served as Head for ten years. Mary received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Oregon.  She writes the education blog “What’s Best For the Children?” www.maryriser.org. Mary and her husband, George, live in Covesville, Virginia and have two adult children.

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