Ann’s Falls Revisited

For months, this minor cataract,  obscured above the daily loop trail by Rhododendrons, was silent.

But yesterday, encouraged by the rumble of rushing water (and with full knowledge of how very much of it has fallen on this hillside over the past week) we bushwacked our way up-slope through a “laurel hell” to Ann’s Falls for the first time in a long while.

In such places where flowing water has cut through the thin soil to the very bone of this place, I try to imagine what you would see, standing in the middle of our pasture, if only those bare bones were visible.

Take away what little soil there is on these impossibly-steep spines of rock. Remove the ground cover of mosses, grasses, sedges and annual flowering things. Peel away under-story spicebush, witch hazel, brambles, vines. Finally, throw back the blanket over-story second-growth deciduous cove hardwood forest to leave only the core of a  mountain. Strip our ridges of their living skin, down to the bare essential inorganic skeleton of bedrock as far as the eye can see.

Look around you. Water has made this place–its shape and slope, its soil and those of us, green and otherwise, that depend on it.

It comes in excess in the flood. It comes not at all in the drought.

That it comes at all, and that it is “just right” so much of the time and keeps its place in rivers and rock, oceans and lakes and living cells–that is a cosmic wonder. There’s no place like home on the Water Planet.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Lovely meditation on Earth’s beautiful geology. I thought the Appalachians were all rounded off, but apparently creeks cut steep, almost-canyons there. Water erosion in the West creates so many bare cliffs that our geology is clearly apparent, not needing your good visualizing skill to see what it looks like. Being a geologist out here must be so fun.