I am lucky, I think, to live in an area that has such a variety of locations out in nature that can be explored and enjoyed. Here in these mountains there are many little-known locations that have remained pristine. There are swimming holes, carefully guarded (hush hush) for fear of their certain popularity ruining them. Down a country road that goes from hardtop to dirt, a bridge that sways down low so the waters can roll over it in case of a flood….very old school. I know of no other bridge quite like that. But there it is still, a few miles from my boyhood home, around three curves and you are where that swimming hole is. You would never know it because it is tucked up around a hill behind some trees. Park in the field, a scramble over moss-covered rocks, a dip through mountain laurel, a massive stone outcropping and down it goes, slanting all the way to the river.

There are mountains high enough to give you a 35 mile view on clear days. A double falls, cascades, and many lesser-known caves which will take you from a grand room down a shaft 40 feet below, and a journey through a horizontal shaft where you walk in an underwater creek, bent over. Most just crawl in the water.

Covered bridges, rivers, swimming holes, caves, artisan studios!

So it was a few days ago that I took my nephew up into our mountains to go see a local waterfall. it is perhaps one of my top five favorite hikes. While walking up to the Falls, I thought about how I had climbed a mountain in my old stomping grounds in these Blue Ridge Mountains some 20 years ago. I had gone up there just after a storm had rolled through. I was moving up to the summit and as I did I came across a wild tiger lily. Delicate, orange, gold, yellow with flecks of brown and maroon, the sight had been burned into my visual memory. I have always been partial to wild varieties of flowers for how delicate they are. Many domesticated varieties seek to get a flower to heavy and big that it limps its way along on its stem. These wild varieties, something about them is just….so sexy because they are wild, natural, like the goddess in her natural state. No pretense. And as I was about to tell my companion about this experience I came around the bend and voila! A single tiger lily, identical to the one I had seen in the backwoods all those years ago, a sight I had not had the chance to have again….until that very moment.

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So what are the chances? The timing, perfect, we kept moving as the sky dropped rain. As we passed a family on our way we said “hows it going!” In the rain the Dad smiled and said “Lovin’ it!” I replied, “I know just what you mean!”

In the dappled sunlight, wild flowers, all natural and indigenous varieties met us along the way.
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Rhododendron is everywhere. It is a vine-like bush that carpets the forests and likes shade. It has flowers through most of the summer. Their scent is so mild that it is easy to miss, but when you know it, you never forget it. This variety is kin to the bay which we use for cooking. The leaves are a very very large version of the cooking variety. Hard and waxy, these are evergreen plants.

 

Top view of the tiger lily: its petals fold all the way backwards!

Top view of the tiger lily: its petals fold all the way backwards!

 

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Our path through the woods is covered in rhododenron. IMG_20140724_155426

A millipede crosses our path, hundreds of legs operating in perfectly synchrony
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A remnant of the Depression era WPA, a works project called CCA was used to build wild mountain trails in our neck of the woods. These were most often college-aged men who would spend their summers up in the mountains felling trees and dragging stone into the hills to build rugged trails. Our Cascades were the recipient of just such a program. While I like the idea of clambering over the boulders that line the path up the small gorge that leads to the Falls up ahead, the pathways are pretty great.

 

 

 
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With a place like this, who needs temples and churches and ashrams? This world of mine is a temple where I feel the God and Goddess moving in stick, stone, moss, river, and sky. And at the top of our journey into the woods? A great waterfall and one heck of a swimming hole beneath it!
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I don’t need anyone to tell me what to believe or think or feel. I am here, directly linked into nature. if there ever was a religion for me, this is certainly it. I worship the wonder of nature, the grace carried in a smile, and those moments no camera can capture so the mind remembers ever-more-vividly. Sometimes I feel I could just melt into nature completely and just fade from the self I was into something akin to dryads or nymphs….aligned to the forces of nature….barely there….but felt. Can you feel it?

So in every corner of this world there is so much to be thankful for. For nature, I am thankful.

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