Appalachian Spring

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal: This morning I will be going north in the county, looking at a farm to put on the market. Overnight snow blew in, dusting the valleys. All the daffodils are bent to the ground. High gray ridges are crusted white. The loftier mountains are still lost in storm, cloaked with heavy snow clouds. The first day of spring, Vernal Equinox, blew in on sharp wind, several days ago. We remember many days in January and February warmer than today. Retreating winter has turned around like a white wolf, baring its teeth once more. This is Appalachian Spring.

As I head north, large patches of deep blue are breaking through the turbulent skies. Pastures just starting to glow bright green with new grass are coated white, but melting quickly on south-facing slopes, in strokes of cold sun. Underneath, the earth is not frozen, releasing its stored heat. The soft pastels of flowering Plums are laced with snow. This is the gloriously unpredictable Appalachian Spring.

Today I recall Aaron Copland's well-known classical composition with that title. His evocative music expresses so well the volatile harmonies of the mountains in springtime. In the counties around Asheville, elevations range almost a mile, from the lowest river bottoms to the crests of many mountains well over six thousand feet. This robust topography makes for some exquisitely beautiful and highly variable weather conditions. Especially in early spring.

I arrive at the farm and the owner, an elderly man, shows me the old farmhouse where his parents had lived, many years. The house has been closed, fully furnished, several years since they died. Down steep narrow stairs into the dark basement cellar, wooden board shelves are still stocked with unopened blue Mason jars of peaches and half-runner beans his mother had canned in her final years. It occurs to me that keeping the colorful food unopened somehow preserves a few poignant memories of her. I want to ask for a couple of jars of the peaches, but decide not to.

Back outside, in harsh north wind we walk the twenty acres of muddy melting pasture. A mother Angus, whose calf was stillborn two days before, moans loudly into the cold gusts. The owner commented: "she still looks kindly slab-sided, don't she?" (Often, the local vernacular is the most descriptive.) Her pitiful bawling in the bitter wind makes me feel keenly the loss of all things dear, the unborn child we lost many years ago.

I shook hands with the owner, and headed back. Stopping in town, I warmed up with a cup of fresh-ground dark-roast coffee. Ah, the perfect complement to a snowy day in the mountains, in the fierce and delicate beauty of Appalachian Spring.