A couple of weeks ago we were treated to the Perseid Meteor Shower. As soon as I read that the conditions would be optimal for meteor viewing (no moon and no clouds), I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
I left the house just after midnight and headed out to the Parkway. I wasn’t surprised to find that I wasn’t alone out there. I started off on a hilltop where it was cold and windy and there were too many people for my liking.
I ended the night by myself on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just below where I asked Emily to marry me a few months ago. Over 4 1/2 hours I saw at least 80 meteors. It was pretty magical. Not a bad night outside!
In the Otchipwe language (the language spoken by the Chippewa Indians) this word means house or fortress.
Wakaigan is also the formal name of the old cabin my Great-Grandfather Stoneburner bought in the 1920s on the coast of Virginia.
We have always just called the Cabin, though.
My grandmother spent time there every summer throughout her life. My mother grew up spending time there every summer. I grew up doing the same.
When my great grandfather passed away, my grandmother and her four brothers inherited the cabin.
These days a great uncle and his son own the cabin. The stipulation when my grandmother and a few brothers sold their shares some time ago was that they would always be able to bring their families to the Cabin.
I spent last week at the Cabin with my family. There were twenty of us in all. My mom. My brothers and their families. Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. It was a grand time.
The word on the street is that this may have been our last trip to the Cabin. Now that my grandmother has passed, my family’s time at the Cabin has moved down the priority list.
We hold hope that we’ll return to the Cabin, but we made sure to enjoy every single minute of our time there this year just in case. The Cabin holds so many memories for so many of us. Lifetimes of memories.
One evening after dinner we were blessed with a double rainbow. A promise of things to come.
My last night at the Cabin the moon was big. Almost full. Almost supermoon size as they call it.
I spent some time out on the dock, looking out across the water. Thinking about the memories I’ve made at this place. The life lessons I have learned. The time spent with family. The smiles and laughter shared.
On Saturday, my last morning at the Cabin, I awoke in time to see the sunrise. The overcast sky didn’t allow me to see the actual sun crest the horizon across the river. So, instead, I sat at the end of the dock with eyes closed and waited for the world around me to slowly come to life with a new day.
Although I didn’t get to experience the grand explosion of rising sun that I was hoping for I did see a small sliver of light, which holds just as much hope.
One last chance for reflection at the end of that dock overlooking the North River.
If I am ever fortunate enough to have a Cabin of my own I may name it Apenimowin.
This is the Otchipwe word for hope.
When I came home to North Carolina three weeks ago I brought a suitcase that had only two things in it. Photography equipment and backpacking equipment. I knew the photography equipment would be put to use and figured that for sure the backpacking equipment would be put to use with how much time I was going to be back in the motherland.
I realized on Friday that the suitcase hadn’t been touched in almost three weeks. Which meant I hadn’t been backpacking. Which meant it was time for me to go. To get out in the woods. At least for a night if nothing else.
Leaving the trailhead at just after 8pm it isn’t long before the last light is gone. I don’t need my headlamp, though, because the moon gives more than enough light to hike by. Half a mile up the spur trail and I am on the Appalachian Trail. Heading South. Towards a place that I have spent more than a hundred nights in over the years.
The Mount Rogers High Country. More commonly referred to as The Grayson Highlands.
A place that boasts open meadows, wild ponies, rhododendron bushes, expansive views, rocky outcrops, and wild blueberries. It’s kind of my idea of heaven.
Crossing the boundary to leave Grayson Highlands State Park I see the first set of weekenders, sitting around their campfire. They don’t see me as I quietly pass just out of the circle of light and begin the climb up the trail towards Wilburn Ridge.
From the highest point on Wilburn Ridge I have 360 degree views. The landscape is speckled with campfires. Mostly near Rhododendron Gap. This place gets crowded on the weekends. The parking lot at the trailhead was completely full. And that is only one of three main trailheads here. I’ve hiked in from all three and the trailhead in the State Park provides the quickest access to the High Country. I have been up here enough times that I know where the secret campsites are. Even on the busiest weekends when there are probably over a hundred people camped up here it is possible to get away by yourself. You just have to know where to go. Sometimes the trail can be like a highway, crowded with hikers. Look both ways to make sure know one can see you and slip off the trail, through some trees, to the secret spots and you have the place to yourself. Of course, I have also been up here in the middle of winter when there is two feet of snow on the ground and not seen another person for three days.
The moon is brighter than I was hoping it would be. The nice thing is that it illuminates the landscape. The not so nice thing is that it washes out the stars. I take a few exposures anyway. Nothing more than 30 seconds. I sit on top of Wilburn Ridge until 10:30. Enjoying the night air and the landscape around me. One by one the campfires are starting to die out as hikers crawl into their tents.
Making my way down the north side of the ridge I meet back up with the AT. Between the ridge and Rhodo Gap I make my camp on the edge of a craggy meadow in a clump of spruce trees and capture a few more images before crawling into my sleeping bag. The meadow is already covered in dew, but the ground is completely dry beneath my spruce trees. I set my alarm for 1:30am when I know the moon will be below the horizon and the stars will be shining bright.
I hear a deer snorting and stomping in the meadow just before my alarm is supposed to go off. I think I might be sleeping in its bed. I crawl out of my bag and take a three minute exposure. There is more ambient light than I was hoping from the cities and towns on the horizon. I lock the shutter open and set my alarm for 3am. I don’t know if this long exposure will work, but it can’t hurt to try.
My alarm goes off again at 6am so that I can catch the sunrise. Way earlier than I’d like to be awake. It feels like I just crawled back in my bag after the 3:00 alarm. But I’m up and the sunrise is beautiful and the hiking is easy. This was just what I needed. A night in the highlands. Some time in the woods. In two days I catch a flight back to Arizona. The landscape there is beautiful, but it is different than the landscapes I know and love.
I take my time getting back to the car, stopping to eat wild blueberries along the way.
Photographer’s Note: The first five images were all captured at night. The exposures ranged in time from 30-seconds to three minutes. As you can see, the moon played a big part in illuminating the landscape. And, even in the 5th image -after the moon had set- the ambient light from the surrounding cities and towns helped to light up the sky and the landscape. When trying to capture the stars, it is best to shoot when there is little or no moon in the sky. It is also good to get as far away from the light pollution of cities and towns as possible.