The cold weather if late Fall and early Winter always draws my imagination to the Pleistocene era. I can imagine how the lone hunter must have seen his pristine world. He walks through a land untamed by clocks and unnatural restrictions. As he steps out of a thicket his eyes behold the falls for the first time. He is at one with the rhythm of nature as he approaches the edge of the water. He sees the fluid movement of the shadows as they dart around beneath the falls. His feet are in tune with the earth as he raises his Atlatl spear and slowly gets into position. As he casts his stone tipped dart towards the target his eyes never lose focus. There’s no splash as the dart penetrates the fish below the water’s surface. His skills with the weapon are so deft that the rest of the fish are undisturbed until he wades into freezing water to retrieve his meal.
Today Blackwater Falls is a popular tourist attraction in West Virginia. A paved path leads to the wooden staircase and there are platforms for taking in the view. However, it’s still easy to imagine that you’re a wild human roaming the wilderness in the distant past as you look down into the Falls.
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One by one colors fall from the sky. There’s a rainbow in the wind. The forest takes on a different scent and the sounds change as well. For a moment I paused to take in the change and feel the bite of the oncoming cold weather. There’s a loud thump behind me. Cautiously I turned to face whatever beast stalks me. Emptiness. Only the falling leaves and the bare trunks of the trees. Perhaps it was just a branch that had pruned itself in the breeze. A few more steps down the pathway and this time I definitely hear the dry leaves crunch behind me and move to one side. I stepped behind a large yellow poplar as the crunch moves closer. I peek out from my hiding place and then I see the noisiest creature in the woods. A grey squirrel comes bouncing towards me. How a one pound bushy tailed tree rat manages make more noise than a Sasquatchin a dance off is beyond me. But they do. When I step back out the squirrel realizes that his prankster antics are over and in one last leap he disappeared up his own tree. Amused by the fluffy little rascal as he moved from branch to branch I smile and thank God for the beautiful fall day and the warm thermos of coffee back at my big blue truck. It time to leave the squirrel to finish stashing away his winter supplies.
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Hello Friends, before I continue my prehistoric fiction story inspired by the rocks at Beartown State Park in West Virginia I wanted to invite you to make sure that you read Part one first. The Hunter (part 1)
The hair on the back of the hunter’s neck stood up . He strained his eyes trying to penetrate the shadows as he prayed for strength. The thumping of his his heart was so loud it was drowning out the growling and hissing from the back of the cave. His voice cracked as his prayers grow more audible. He moved slowly as he leaned to the right and groped the dark cavern floor for the shaft of his spear. He could not break the lock that the beast had with his eyes. Instinct told him that if he looked away that the creature would pounce. He kept his movements subtle and deliberate. Finally he felt the bite of the spears stone tip against the palm of his hand. He drew the shaft forward projecting that razor sharp obsidian blade towards the danger. With his main tool now in place he braced the butt of shaft with his foot and waited for the terror in the shadows to make its move. His eyes widened as a shrieking howl burst forth. The noise sounded almost like the screaming of a woman. The eyes moved lower as something slinked his direction and paused. Another scream shattered the cavern air and the hunter tightened his grip on the spear. As the firelight fell on his opponent his worst fears were confirmed. The jet black cave lion drew it’s hind legs in tight and sprang forward. The hunter gasped as the cat became airborne and for a split second it seemed to hover in mid air. The hunter felt the full impact of the cat’s weight as it fell motionless across his body. His spear had found it’s mark at the last second. The cat was nearly as large as he was. His muscles strained as he pushed the animal off of himself. He he quickly scanned the cave to make sure that there was no mate to avenge the first cat. Satisfied that he was once again alone he picked up his discarded flute and renewed his song of thankfulness to the creator.
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The crisp breeze gently shakes the trees. Brightly coloured leaves rain softly from the canopy. The rustic boardwalk welcomed me foreword and with the first step the outside world disappeared. The rock cap ferns form a thick mat in the leaf litter atop each crag. The rocks at Beartown State Park form a Labyrinth with tunnels and canyons that wind their way through the forest. I imagine that Millenia ago this was a large cave system. Perhaps some prehistoric hunters took shelter here while tracking a primeval beast. In my mind’s eye I can see him unroll a bundle pelts with all of his treasures tucked away safely inside. Wrapped up in the leather pouch at center is the dried meats and wild roots that sustained him on this journey. His fire kit is bound in a separate pouch. Not just any dry sticks will start the fire. The twigs were selected with great care. This was magic and must be treated with the utmost respect. With ritual precision he places a stick in the notch and begins to sing the fire song and spin the evening fire. Soon the smell of smoke rises up from the joining of the wood. He knows not to quit yet and keeps his efforts in time with the fire song. Once the last verse has ended he shakes free the ember from notch and places on a dry mushroom. He remembered the words of his father when the magic was passed down to him. “The fire is a living thing and like all living things it must breath”. The hunter kindles the ember by passing on the breath of life. Again his father’s wisdom speaks to his memories, “living things must be fed slowly so that they do not choke “. The hunter starts to feed the fire fluffed leaves and then small twigs. He progresses from step to step when the fire was strong enough he began to cook his meal. He doesn’t require much. Just a thin stew from his provisions. After the meal he thanked the creator by playing his flute. He had a lot to be thankful for. Good shelter, a warm meal and a rich heritage to keep him strong. As he played something stirs in the back of the cave. Something that is not happy about the noisy music in the cave. The hunter whirls around and comes to one knee. Deep within the shadows of cave the greenishglow of eyes in the firefight glare back at him.
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I’ve said it before about how much I love twisted and crooked, gnarly trees. The curls sweeps of the wood speak of challenges that were overcome to survive. I’m not sure what caused the arabesque in the trunk of this one but the moment I saw the double curve I fell in love with the tree. No doubt that it had to have carried the weight of at least one or maybe two larger trees as it grew. I also have no doubt that it’s unique shape prevented it from being harvested at some point in its history.
Sometimes God allows us to go through struggles that we don’t understand. We might wonder how much longer a situation will last. We might think that the burden we carry will pull us down. But if we just keep going and we don’t give up we can make it. Sure, there’s going to be scars and we may not stand as tall as some of our contemporaries. But, that doesn’t make us any less beautiful. It makes us overcomers and it makes us unique.
As I looked around at the surrounding forest there were hundreds of trees that were straight and tall. Some of trunks were so thick that you and your best friend couldn’t reach all the way around them by joining hands. But they all faded into the background. The only one that stood out and begged to be photographed was the one who was unique. One day this tree will fall just like the rest of them. As a woodworker I can imagine some bent wood furniture being made from crooked trunk. If it ever happens it will be a centerpiece in someone’s home where the others couldn’t compete with the graceful curves produced by overcoming the struggle. Don’t ever give up. Bend and adapt to overcome and you’ll grow into something special.
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As I stepped out of the house today the signs of Fall were everywhere. The Box Elder tree in the yard is really dropping it’s leaves. The air is cooler and less humid than yesterday. Soon the green leaves will turn golden yellow, red and orange. Early Fall is a great time to be outdoors. The oppressive heat of mid to late summer gives way to the cool dry winds from the North. This the time of year that we would start putting up firewood for the winter. The smell of the fresh cut oak mixed with coffee from a thermos during a work break will forever be one of my most cherished memories. I can remember sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck and watching the squirrels play as I ate my lunch. The mottled light pours in from the broken forest canopy and in the distance the sound of footfalls in the dry leaves let’s me know that I’m not alone. I hop off the tailgate and peek through the bushes to see a buck looking back at me. His antlers are still in velvet. His nostrils flare as he tries to catch my scent. I make one move forward and he snorts fiercely then disappears into the shadows of the closest thicket.
Another thing that I look forward to in fall is homemade stew. Often the firewood collected in fall would soon be put to good use just a few short weeks later. We heated the house with a Fisher wood burning stove. A large stock pot and a low flame kept the stew simmering for hours. The smell of cooked tomatoes and carrots and a beef roast filled the house. The stew was always thick and rich. We would come in from the crisp air and the aroma alone was enough to renew my vigor after a hard day’s work.
Fall has so much to look forward to that instead of mourning the loss of Summer I want to welcome Fall with open arms and my favorite denim jacket. I look forward to being able to share with you the bright colors of Fall and some the activities in my mountains as we move ever forward in the river of time.
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It’s hard to believe that in just a few short weeks summer will be over. The pop of color from the wildflowers will be replaced by the reds and yellows of the fall leaves. The soft feeling of the the cool green grass on bare feet will give way to the dry crunch of fallen leaves beneath my favorite pair of boots.
I spent a few minutes outside of my office at my day job and there was a familiar crisp scent in the air. The wind blew a little cooler and I knew that this was the prelude to the change of seasons. The Appalachian Mountains in fall are one of the most beautiful sights your eyes can behold. The vast forests give us a grand finale with a symphony of color just before the trees take their winter slumber. The days are still warm enough to enjoy without the jungle like humidity. For a brief time the trilling song of the tree frogs will change over to the chirps of katydid. The bucks will begin to rub away the velvet from their antlers and establish their territory with epic wrestling matches. The bears are now fat and looking for a nice quiet den to sleep in. Country gardens are in harvest and those who still live off of the land are busy with canning. The wonderful aromas of stews, jellies and jams are coming from every hill and holler in the backcountry. So breathe in the last few moments of summer and get ready for the grand finale of Fall.