Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rhea County, April 2006 (Part II)



As we come up the ridge the fog thickens. Our headlights burn dimly through the milky-white morning and visibility is down to something less than 500 feet. Out of the soup, on the side of the road, a shack takes form then quickly recedes again, like some strange specter. Walden’s Ridge, when the fog is thick, seems to be made of cloud. Or perhaps it is part of the clouds, the massive waves of mist breaking free of the forest and rising up through the trees, rejoining the sky.

But by the time we reach our survey site the fog is burning off and the barren clearcut has come into view. We put on our packs, set our GPS coordinates, and start the walk down the valley toward the creek. Once at the bottom we will start back up again. This will be repeated, up and down, back and forth, until we are out of time or stamina or both.

The work is hard and dangerous, though not as dangerous here as it will become elsewhere. There are sheer bluffs to be scaled and then descended again. The terrain is steep and rocky at best, impassable at worst. Yet the forest, a second or third-growth mix of oak, maple, poplar, and hemlock remains majestic, punctuated by rocky falls and cliffs.

We stop for lunch in a running creek and eat perched on boulders that must have tumbled down into the valley thousands upon thousands of years ago. As we eat I spot an eastern box turtle perched on a ledge of rock, both of its feet hanging over the edge, as if unsure how to proceed. I take my camera out of my pack and begin to photograph the animal, the state reptile of Tennessee. I am pleased that it is holding its unusual pose and soon my partner comes up to take some pictures as well. We discuss angles and compare shots, both laughing at the strange posture of the old turtle. Finally, something occurs to me and I gently prod the turtle with my boot. It does not move. I pick the turtle up and it doesn't withdraw its head nor clamp its shell down tight, as would be normal. It merely blinks at me, slowly and sadly; it is dying.

We return to our lunch, the photos no longer as enchanting. When we are about to move on I leave a bit of apple for the turtle. It moves its head slightly, but that is all. Soon it will be dead. But we have other things to worry about.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Sad story, but sounds a wonderful place. Fog is fantastic, we don't get that much of it here ( dispite the depiction of London being foggy in a lot of books and movies lol ) It has a really magical feel to it. I want some fog!