Spectacularly colored and shaped cloud designs regularly develop over this wide mountain valley landscape that sits at a headwater rivers of the Cheat (the Blackwater). The wetlands and grasslands that dominate the valley keep the vistas wide open and filled with wonderfully different (for WV) springtime breeding sounds of woodcock and snipe, bobolink and Savannah sparrows. Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge trails provide opportunities to discover the Valley’s treasures on a hike, snowshoe, XC ski, or mountain bike! But the big view of the evening sky remains my favorite reward of visits to the middle of the Valley as it calls Montana to mind every time!
My Secret Place
My Secret Place
My favorite place is a secret place.
A place deep in the woods in West Virginia.
A place that I have retreated to since I was 15 years old.
Beyond overgrown trails and through thick rhododendrons you’ll find my special “rock”. A rock so big and so high that you’ll find yourself as tall as the trees that surround you.
The wind so strong that it has the ability to dry an emotion quicker than the tear can even hit your cheek. Strong wind — healing wind.
This one rock has seen me through multiple life stages.
My teenage confusion stage.
My 20 year old self destructive stage.
My lost 30 year old stage.
It was the first place I stopped upon returning to my home state — after leaving an abusive engagement.
This rock — these winds — these trees … received me just as I was. Beaten down and broken. Sobbing there, in the vacancy — in the openness, I rediscovered my strength.
It is the place I escape to.
The only place that actually makes complete sense.
It’s wildly quiet.
It is the place I carried my dog of 15 years to before having to put her down.
The last place I sang to her.
The last place she felt the wind on her face — sniffing into the strong breeze.
This rock — held us together in that moment of “goodbye”.
This favorite place of mine is a secret place.
One that I know others have found — but even in knowing that I still believe that this special place — this favorite place — this secret place…
In the moment
In the moment
I can’t put my finger on a specific special place. Maybe that’s because at any given moment, a special place can just appear. And…it may not be a place at all.
For me, a special place can be a discovery, feeling, or experience. It’s the changing of the seasons– taking notice of the spring’s first trout lily’s popping through melting snow, the arrival of warblers and other migratory birds, a chorus of insects and frogs on a summer evening, the brilliance of autumn colors, or the absolute silence after a winter snowstorm.
A special place can be as much a place as the wild happenings of that place.
The banner photo for this story is of Spruce Knob– West Virginia’s highest point– 4,863 feet above sea level. I’ve had more than one experience on this mountain that makes it special.
I’ve picked ramps from patches tucked away on its eastern flank, drank clear, pure water from its headwater springs, backpacked its ridges and slopes, climbed its rocks and boulders, and stood at the edge of the Allegheny Plateau as speeding winds whipped up and down its slopes. These same winds are the ones that over time have battered the branches from one side of the spruce trees, given them a flagged appearance.
It’s always very humbling to know that on one side of the mountain, waters flow into the Potomac River and head toward the Atlantic Ocean, while on the other side, they funnel into the Cheat River, which makes its way into the Monongahela, to the Ohio, Mississippi, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
During the last visit, I took my oldest daughter on her first dad-daughter camping trip. We did a leaf peepers circuit– connecting from Dolly Sods down to Seneca Rocks and back up to Spruce Knob to spend the evening.
As the sun began to set, we pulled off the edge of the road to claim our own view. I boiled some noodles in a jet stove and my daughter ate her dinner while I set up my camera to take some photos.
I also lifted my drone to take some pictures and what I captured was an image that reflects the reason for Spruce Knob’s namesake– the band of spruce trees that spans its ridgeline and continues north and south along the Allegheny Divide. It’s one of the most unique ecosystems in the northeastern United States and one of the most diverse in the world, providing habitat for a large number of unique plants and animals.
Senator Byrd once wrote: “West Virginia is one of the most beautiful and unique of all places. It is the most southern of the northern and the most northern of the southern; the most eastern of the western and the most western of the eastern. It is where the East says good morning to the West, and where Yankee Doodle and Dixie kiss each other good night!”
And so I snapped a photo of this place. And my daughter and I watched the sun disappear from the day.
The Gaudineer Scenic Area
The Gaudineer Scenic Area
One of the many beautiful places that I love in West Virginia is the Gaudineer Scenic Area, which is a National Natural Landmark in the Monongahela National Forest. While vacationing with my family on the Cheat River, my husband and I took a day trip to this virgin, red spruce forest. A wonderful peaceful feeling enveloped us as we walked the trail and enjoyed the unspoiled beauty of God’s creation.
Please activate some Widgets.