By Candice Magill
When Christian and I first moved to the Arbovale area after the death of my husband, I found. I really liked our little cabin. My landlords are nice people, too. It’s a quaint cabin with a deck that makes reading a book on the porch swing while sipping cool ice tea on a warm day, all the more enjoyable. We’re not far from Trent’s General Store if we need something, and the people I have met since moving here are really very nice people. Within a month or so I was privileged to meet my neighbor, Willard, who lives on top of the mountain across the road. I have enjoyed several conversations with him as he shares his colorful mountain life experiences, he is such a joy to know. I feel blessed to count him my friend.
The landscape outside my kitchen window holds within its soil an old tree with thorn bushes surrounding it and foreign green lichen covering its gnarly yucky branches. The dormant and tall brown weeds are plentiful as my eyes scan the empty lot next door, hoping to catch the first rays of the sun rising over the mountains in the mornings. I never liked the gnarly old tree with its thorny overgrowth and often thought how the view would be so much better should it be replaced with thick manicured green grass spotted with colorful flowers, or perhaps a fragrant lilac bush.
When I first drove the mountain roads during the night near Seneca, a couple of times I saw what appeared to be a large black standard size poodle running across the road in front of me. I felt really silly when it finally dawned on me several miles later that what I had seen had actually been a bear.
Then one dark snowy night the most beautiful white homing pigeon showed up on my deck near the tree. When I opened my door, she just flew right into the cabin and proceeded to make herself at home. While not totally out of the norm, it was slightly unusual for me to go around lying down newspaper for this stunning, but uninvited, snow white creature. She followed me from room to room. If I put wood in the stove and turned around, she was there.
Coming out of the bathroom, there she was outside the door looking up at me. My heart was totally captivated by her charming disposition. I knew she had to belong to somebody. I set out to find my friend, Arnie, who had some pigeons of his own and he helped me locate her owner, Wayne, who lived down the road. Wayne stopped by our cabin and with such a compassionate attitude toward my enchantment of “Snowy” the pigeon, he permitted me to keep her for a few days. What a wonderful neighbor with an equally wonderful heart, not to mention pigeon.
One morning as I looked out the window, in the branches of the old tree I saw these rolly polly big round birds picking at the remaining sparse red berries. I grabbed my binoculars to get a closer look at this strange but intriguing sight. My laughter bounced off the cabin walls as I watched their comical antics while they walked the branches with their big, round bodies. I likened them to a circus tightrope show for more than once they would lose their balance reaching for one of those shriveled up berries.
Soon the first grouse I ever saw relocated to the ground and settled in the weeds, laying down for what I assumed was a rest from walking the wooden tightrope. I kept watch on my little visitors until the next morning when they disappeared and moved on to their next food source.
Occasionally, during breakfast, a beautiful song would arise from a bird sitting up in those same branches and it would brighten my day. Quickly I would bring everything to silence in the cabin just so I could relish the sound of their song. Later, the first dusting of snow brought noticeable bunny tracks around the tree. As I followed the maze of tracks from the tree to behind the cabin, I found bare soil indented near the foundation’s wall. It would appear my little “thumper” had made his home under mine. It brought a smile to my face as I welcomed another life form besides our own.
When the first snow melted, I noticed a large bowl of snow still in the old tree. It was an old nest - now vacant from the feathered family that once lived within its delicate architecture. I wondered as I stared at the large old nest whom it once housed. I still like seeing the nest up in that unsightly old tree, even if it is empty. Perhaps because I can imagine any story to fit its existence. The one I imagine the most often is the one of the former tenants possible return.
The mountains are beautiful, as their rivers and creeks wind their way along the roadside for all to see their swift but nonchalant flow. To lower a fishing line in the water only to see the fish swimming 12 feet down is astounding. Even the brown deciduous ridge lines along the mountains during the winter, outline the stunning beauty of the area. I have really enjoyed being here. There are many things I find beautiful.
One day of mountain life gave me the experience of finding an injured raven like those I see in the tree next door. Although enduring the great excruciating pain of a wing torn with buckshot, he scouted the floorboard of my old truck finding a stray French fry that seemed to have been waiting under the seat just for him. The 400 foot plus drive through the river to take the injured raven to a habitat, was an exciting experience in itself.
Waking up to this heavy snow pouring out of the white sky this morning was not exactly a welcomed sight in my book, however. After building a quick seasonal snowman or two, I am always ready for warmer weather. So, it’s not unusual for me to become a winter hermit.
Scraping the snow from the deck this morning so I would not slip as I prepared to carry in some of my dwindling supply of wood to keep my cabin warm, I took a break. After hanging up my jacket, I was standing by the window looking past that old tree to what appeared to be a tiger cat in the weeds.
Although it was 60 plus feet away in tall weeds, it was definitely larger than most cats. I scrambled for my binoculars but could not locate them. I grabbed my glasses near the rocker, slipping them on to catch a better look. I soon realized this tiger cat was three to four times larger than a house cat. I wondered to myself as I looked toward its tail. The tail was half as long as a normal cat and it was then that I realized I was watching a bobcat. As it was stalking its prey, it’s whole body moved in spring like unison, but without so much as a squeak. I found it incredible and was totally entrenched at watching it walk slowly and noiselessly through the weeds. Taking my eyes off the window for only a few seconds, when I looked back I saw the bobcat with a black bird in its mouth. My eyes must have become as big as saucers while my adrenaline was pumping, for now the bobcat was walking straight for that dumb old tree next to the cabin. How incredibly beautiful this cat was as I watched it walking toward my cabin window. It ducked under the twisted branches of the old tree. I was hoping it would walk just a few feet closer to the clearing under the branches so I could get a really up close and personal look. Instead it turned and headed past the trunk of the tree, through the thorn bushes and tall weeds. Then it was gone.
This morning I just wanted to tell the world how much I enjoy being here.
I love my cabin, the general store, the clear rivers, the brown deciduous mountain ridges, the bear running across the road, the agile deer scattered throughout the region, “Snowy” bird who lives across the way, the birds who fight for the seed in Willard’s feeders while he weaves a fresh story for my ears, and the elusive bobcat who thrilled my flatlander heart. And I have come to view that gnarly old tree in the lot next door differently over the past months. It seems to hold new surprises each morning. One day it may be “thumper tracks,” the next day an imaginative story of former feathered residents gone by, or new wooden tightrope walkers. A friendly pigeon finding shelter, or some days a perfectly exquisite song or two. But, on those really special mornings, one may wake up to an astonishing, magnificent bobcat making his way through its twisted old branches with his catch of the day.
God says that all good and perfect things come from above. Thank you, Jehovah, for the many good and perfect aspects of your creation with which you ceaselessly overjoy my heart. How glorious and endlessly amazing you are. Thank you Pocahontas county natives for sharing a wave of your hand and the beauty of the land.
I drive my dad’s old pick-up truck now since he is gone, and think often of our former road trips together. I wish he could have seen this place—for he’d love it here. Although I have no family here, I love so much about being here. But do you know what I have really come to love the most of all the things I have seen? I wish you could see and experience it as I have. It is the gnarly old tree all covered with lichens, surrounded by thorn bushes and tall weeds which grows near the cabin, and all the wonders its branches may hold.
May it never be cut down and replaced with a lilac bush or some stupid manicured green lawn. The gnarly old tree is so much more beautiful.