Something stalks the neighborhood in my mountains. Slowly and silently it creeps along the banks of the rivers and streams. It sharp eyes detect the slightest movement just below the water’s surface. It strikes like lightning and it’s prey has little chance of escaping the razor sharp beak.
The Great Blue Herons are one of my favorite birds. I have never seen a native species that reminded me more of a dinosaur. The one pictured here was close to three feet tall. The long serpentine neck, wide wingspan and habit of trailing it’s lags as it flies really makes one think that they’ve crossed into the distant past. This one also seems to have a sense of humor. It likes to lurk around just below the bridges in my neighborhood and spring up out of creek when you least expect it. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it laughs as it flies away. I haven’t been able to spot the nest yet but I do occasionally hear it’s grunting calls coming from the thick bush. They’re truly one of the more amazing sights in my wild wonderful West Virginia and hope you get to see one if you’re ever traveling close to the water. And, if you happen to hear a snicker it’s probably the one that likes to startle me.
The hot summer sun slowly sinks into the West and I can feel the coolness of the night sweep across the Lake. On the other shore near the sunset I can hear the doors of cars shutting as the engines pur to life and the swimmers make their way home. The smell of food cooked over an open flame lingers in the air. Small birds begin to skim across the water catching insects. The bird songs soon give way to the chirping of crickets and the occasional sound of a treefrog close to the shore. Deeper into the woods the hair raising cry of a screech owl rings out as he challenges his rivals for territory. Soon the evening star raises over the mountains signaling an end to the day. The headlights of my big blue truck come to life when I use the remote to unlock the door. It’s time to ease back up the gravel road and go process the images of the day.
I love big old ancient trees. The older the better. In ancient times, big old trees were thought to be magical entities that stood between heaven and earth. They guarded the secrets of the universe. Trees also represent a shelter for weary travelers. The give us food and medicine. I believe that the tree in the feature image is a Red Elm tree. Also known as the Slippery Elm, the inner bark yields a mucilaginous substance that is used to treat respiratory ailments. The tea made from the inner bark has a sweet spicy flavor that’s pleasant enough to enjoy just for relaxing. Don’t drink too much because it’s also a laxative.
I’m really surprised that this one is still around. Sadly, the Elm population was nearly destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease. In the spring the government hangs purple boxes in the trees that attracts the beetles responsible for the spread of fungus. The beetle traps seem to be working well so hopefully we’ll have these awesome trees around for generations of travelers to shelter under or collect medicine from.
One of my favorite things about summertime is the blackberries. I have fond memories of finding a patch of ripe berries during long hike on a hot summer day. The wild blackberry is collected and brought home by the bucket load. June and July is cobbler season. Often a wonderful Sunday dinner is followed by the extra special treat warm cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. The berry grows on a cane lined with thorns. I’ve created all sorts of contraptions in attempts to pick the berries but I seem to come home looking like I’ve been wrestling a wildcat. Sometimes the sweetness is worth the pain. A few years ago I found a patch that been mashed down in the center. I cautiously entered the patch. Something to remember when collecting blackberries is to keep your ears open for the velvet tailed glow worm. (An old-fashioned term for the Timber Rattlesnake). Satisfied that no venomous serpent was close by I began picking. I started at the top of the canes and worked my downward. I had about a half of a bucket when I suddenly realized why the berry patch had been mashed down. Do you know that old saying about what a bear does in the woods? You know, the cliche that sells toilet paper? Yeah, that one. Well, they seem to do it in the berry patch as well. In fact, as I looked around I saw that they do that a lot in the berry patch. At full alert now I finished filling my bucket before the bear came back for a second helping. Today I manage a small patch on the edge of my property. Bear free of course.
I’ve been a hunter for most of my life. These days I’ve replaced my rifle with a camera but the basic skills are the same. If you sit still long enough they will come to you. But there’s a trick. You have to be able to become a part of the environment. Sitting in the woods with a camera isn’t enough. They can hear your heartbeat long before you can here their approaching footsteps. On a calm day they can smell you from hundreds of yards/meters away. If you don’t belong there they will know and stay away. Learning to belong to the wild places takes some time and practice but being at peace with creation is a very positive experience. Keeping your mouth closed and your ears open helps prevent them from smelling your breath. The birds will tell you where he is. As he walks towards you, the forest falls silent. Control your excitement. A racing heartbeat is a sure sign that you don’t belong. When he comes into sight he’ll snort and try to get a fresh scent of you. Be steady and move very slowly. His ears will twitch as he tries to pinpoint your heartbeat. Easy does it. Focus. Now, take the shot. He heard the shutter snap and he bounds off to be hunted again. Each time will be different but you’ll never lose the thrill of the hunt.