I woke this morning to the sun rising over the Short Hills Mountains. It was very peaceful, listening to the chickadees, titmice, sparrows, robins, and all the other birds sending out their voices. The birds start singing at dawn to take advantage of less background noise and the greater air density that lets their songs carry further. They sing to attract a female or reinforce their claim to their chosen territory.
After several minutes, the “dawn chorus” worked its magic and lured me out of bed. The skies had been gray and dreary for several days, so if the sun had decided to show itself, that alone was something to celebrate. So I got up and dressed, poured a cup of coffee, put on my coat, and went out on the porch to greet the morning. Looking down through the valley to the Short Hills in the distance is one of my favorite views.
View from the front porch of the Short Hills
My presence was soon noted by a Red-bellied Woodpecker who swooped into a nearby tree, issuing a friendly churr, churr, as if to say -- “Fine day, isn’t it?” This male and his mate are nesting in a cavity in a sycamore tree out back, the same tree they nested in last year. He will spend a large part of his day foraging and drumming on a resonant tree to stay in contact with his mate, who is probably sitting on eggs.
Male Red-bellied woodpecker visiting the suet feeder
South Buffalo Creek, with its origin in Big Camp Mountain to the west, is murmuring in the background. Just a few days ago, after several days of soaking rain, the creek was roaring out of the mountain with a vengeance, but has since settled down to its normal flow for this time of year. From our property, the creek runs east where it will merge with North Buffalo Creek, flow into the Maury River in Rockbridge County, then on to the James River, and finally, empty into the Chesapeake Bay.
South Buffalo Creek winding its way to the Maury River
I remembered another morning when we were still building the house. We were having our coffee on the back porch when I saw a bear cub backing down a tree, maybe 20 yards away. As we watched, two more cubs backed down the tree. Realizing that momma bear was close by, we called back the dogs, already halfway to the tree. The three cubs, paying no attention to us, casually ambled across the creek and disappeared into the woods. Momma, who had probably stashed her cubs in the tree while she went hunting, called out to them and eventually her cubs were reunited with her. It was then that the realization hit that we would be sharing our farm with the wild creatures that called these mountains home long before humans began living here.
We are surrounded on all sides by mountain ridges, some as tall as 5,000 feet, so if anything symbolizes this place, it is the mountains. Even though we have only lived here a little over a year, we can’t imagine ourselves living anywhere else. The mountains are our home.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams