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The Mountains in Early Spring

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Seasons in the Mountains

By Robert Towe- From my nature journal March 8: This afternoon I look at a farm in the pretty Price’s Creek valley, northeast of town. It’s one of Yancey County’s broader watersheds—wide tillable bottom lands, especially toward the lower end before its confluence with the Cane River. Although vernal equinox does not occur until the 20th, this week the temperature climbs into the 70’s. The land wakes and warms.

The soil is yet heavy, too wet to work, but country folks weary with winter are out of doors enjoying the pleasant weather. They’re cleaning up deadfall and blowdown from the stormy colder months, burning piles of brush. Although the mountains looming above us are still robed with the mauve-grey wool of January, lower fields and pastures are rapidly greening in swaths of rising light. The turning earth rolls back toward our closest star. Nightly, the winter constellations decline. Arcturus, the bright gold star of spring, ascends, gleaming above the eastern trees.

The daily climbing sun warms the soil, stirring dormant roots. The stronger light slowly opens tightly folded buds of flower and leaf, drawing sap into every highest branch and dormant twig. Each week, birds are returning to the highlands from the lowland south, making exuberant territorial music in thickets and trees.

Some deep primordial root in us also listens and stirs, quietly thrills anew. Spring brings to us the profound realities of resurrection, the grace to let go the withering past, to live with renewed hope. Once again we welcome the fresh warmth on our upturned faces and in our bones. The growing radiance filling the mountain shadows brightens also the cold hollows of our very souls.

At least for this week, we let the woodstove fires go out. Scattering ashes to the March wind and to the garden soil has become a rite of spring. Yesterday I bought fresh green starts of kale, broccoli, lettuce and two packets of snow peas. It’s time to break open the thawed earth again, and plant things.

Warm evening wind sweet with birdsong blows down the valley with its rushing swollen stream. Bush willows and alders heavy with pollen glow silver and golden in the lowering light. The air rings with the liquid o-ka-leeee! of red-winged blackbirds just returned from the low country. Loose flocks of chirping robins pull worms and grubs from the unplowed field. A thread of smoke floats downstream with the wind. A nearby farmer is burning the stubble and dead limbs from the winter land.

Robert Towe is a mountain naturalist, a fifth-generation native of the area, and owner of Mountain Acreage, Inc., specializing in forest land, farms and retreat properties. Contact him at 828.253.7055 or See his ad on page 5.

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