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The End of Dog Ridge

By: Bogon, 7:50 PM GMT on April 18, 2010

As various other WU bloggers have noted, caring for aging parents is a tough assignment. There ought to be a mandatory class for all middle-aged non-orphans to prepare them for the task. Shucks, there probably are such classes available, but, clueless critter that I am, I never sought formal instruction. I'm winging it.

It's stressful. This weekend I'm halfway through a stint with my Dad, who is 88 years old and senile. So far I have been unable to accumulate enough surplus psychic steam to power my way through the creation of a new blog entry.

I apologize for keeping you waiting. In order to start the presses rolling, as it were, I have decided to recycle a bit of melancholia I composed in mid-December, 2008.

Yesterday I went walking down Foster Creek Road. The neighbor's dogs raised a clamor as I crossed the bridge over Little Foster. A grove of hemlocks shades the creek opposite the house where my great aunt and uncle once lived. (This is a modern home. I can recall the smell of wood smoke drifting from the chimney of their old wooden house, the dirt path, chickens in the yard, a mule in the barn…) At the forks of the road by the little brick church I turned right, down Big Laurel. When I reached the top of the hill across from the end of Dog Ridge, I stopped to consider the view.

From Dad's house Dog Ridge defines the southwestern horizon. On wintry afternoons like this one my grandfather used to sit rocking, smoking his pipe, watching the sun slowly slip behind Dog Ridge. The sun sets high on the ridge in midwinter. By Groundhog Day it descends toward the notch at the end of Dog Ridge where Big Laurel Creek runs. Then Grandpa would turn to his daughter, Leota, and declare, "'Oter, we've got it made!", meaning that the worst of the cold weather was past, and spring was right around the corner.

When I was a kid Dad took me hiking among these mountains, where he roamed as a youth. He proposed that one of these days we should climb Dog Ridge. He knew where to cross the river; he knew the folks who owned the land. He could visualize the route we would take, the steep climb, then southward along the narrow crest, eventually returning to the road near Cody's store.

Cody's Store

We never made it. We never found the time. I grew up and moved to Texas. Today I'm back among Tarheels, but the window of opportunity has closed. Dad is too old, and I'm not going alone. It would be a hazardous climb for someone of my age and condition. Maybe a decade ago, but… too late.

My view of Dog Ridge seems to blur and fade, present vision occluded by layered recollection. Soon this will all be a memory. Mom and Dad can't hold out much longer. My wife and I don't want to live here. If I inherit the house and land I'll sell, and my lifelong connection to Foster Creek will be severed. I used to think this was a wondrous place. Now, wrapped in somber winter hues, these old mountains look tired and scraggly. My Granddad helped log virgin timber here. Now the remnant forest is hacked for fields and barns and houses, riven by roads and transmission lines. Thanks to spreading human population and careless exploitation the fabric of life is coming unraveled.

Hemlock by Laurel Creek

I see tiny white specks of adelgid infestation among the dark needles of the hemlock. These fine old trees seem destined to follow the chestnut into oblivion. Abandoned cars rust by the river. It's classified as a trout stream, but the native fish are long gone. Shabby mobile homes proliferate instead. What does the future hold for "the jewel of the Blue Ridge"?

I don't think I want to know.

On a sunny day in April the world seems like a better place. And despite signs of wear and tear the southern Appalachians remain my favorite part of that world. I was born here, and like my dad and granddad before me, I would be content to die here. I mean, the rest of the world has problems, too.

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Retired software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...

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