With respectful apologies to Henry David Thoreau, 19th-century New England naturalist, I have appropriated what he famously said of his hometown in Massachusetts: “I have traveled widely in Concord.” By this, he simply meant that if you look closely enough at your surroundings, you’ll discover the whole universe in microcosm.
More recently, a Sewanee professor named George David Haskell spent a few minutes every day for a year sitting in silence watching one square meter of forest on a mountain slope in southeastern Tennessee:
“On almost every visit, the forest surprised me with interesting creatures (scuttling shrews, waddling salamanders, peculiar mushrooms) or ecological interactions (bees covered in pink pollen, writhing parasitic worms, ants wrestling with caterpillars). More often than not, I understood only a small part of what I had seen. To learn more, I ran to the library.”
Rappahannock is blessed with its own incarnations of Thoreau and Haskell; and we can learn from them, to see the world with their practiced eyes. To do so, the “blue-bird days” of the month of May seem an especially appropriate time — when the land comes truly alive, with high, fast water in the rivers and the greening of the fields and forest — before the onset of the sluggish summer.
The newspaper’s own Pam Owen, in her weekly “Wild Ideas” nature columns, shares the animals she’s come to know and love with their human, newspaper-reading neighbors.
When it comes to native plants and wildflowers, Bruce Jones knows as much as — arguably more than — anyone else in Virginia. More, he’s a man of action, using his knowledge to eradicate invasives and restore and nourish natives.
Even rocks can seem alive, just lying there glistening and reminding us of earth’s ancient lineage. Rappahannock’s John Henry is not the “steel-driving man” of American folklore but the stone collector and builder of Flint Hill. What most of us view as inanimate objects, he sees with the eyes of neolithic man: Their beauty and mystery.
Architects — Tom Tepper and Bruce Preston, to name just a couple — are often like poets in the way that they layer the landscape with interpretative meaning. So do artists, of course; and from R. H. Ballard in Washington to River District Arts in Sperryville, Rappahannock is blessed with their uniquely appreciative visions — helping us all travel not only widely but also deeply.