Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shenandoah Spring

Spring seems to be to the Potomac region what fall is to New England. I’ve been doing my best to get into the backcountry over the last couple months, and the Shenandoahs are only a couple hours to the west from DC. They have a bucolic, woody appeal. As with any mountain range within striking distance of the megalopolis, the famous hikes are overrun on the weekends, but much of the range, at least away from Skyline Drive, feels old and left behind. The fields adjacent to the first uplift are still cultivated, but I suspect that the mountains themselves are far more forested than they were a century ago. One path in particular, the Upper Dark Hollow Trail that crosses Broyle’s Gap, must have been built for wagon traffic.

I imagine the old hollows full of hardscrabble subsistence Scotch-Irish farmers, camps of Civil War cavalry pausing after a feint to draw out the troops in the valley, and CCC employees constructing retaining walls and switchbacks to curtail erosion. Old Rag, Mill Prong, Monkey Head—the mountains are saturated with memory. For now, while my affinity for the region is more perceptual than absolute, my imagination is free from the boundaries conferred by experience.

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