Nothing is too important to keep me from stopping just after sunset and scanning the western sky for the appearance of the bats. I anticipate their arrival like I used to count down the minutes to favorite TV show in the “other world”. I think it was October when I saw them last. They hibernate over the winter months. My bats are “little brown bats” very common in West Virginia. I had a chance to examine one close up last summer while walking down Rock Creek. It was spread out on a rock next to the water. It did not appear injured but I was concerned it was out during the day….not a good thing for bats. It was gone when I returned about an hour later and I like to think it flew back to its roost. I am not sure where they spend their days but I suspect it is in a craggy rock face across the river. They came back to life tonight, flying back and forth along the river. I hope they ate well. Welcome back bats!
Dooly is having a night out with the boys. He sometimes hangs with the infamous McCroskey pack, eight mutts belonging to my nearest neighbors down on the main road. Before dark they run from one side of the road to the other sniffing things and working themselves into frenzy, after dark I have no idea what goes on. Perhaps they play poker. Whatever, Dooly is his own man.
I got a new book from town, 1491, by Charles Mann. It’s about Indian life in the Americas before Columbus set his salty little toes on land in 1492. Anticipating a good long read I decided to take a little vacation from the cabin and campout on another part of my property. I have a Clark Jungle Hammock, which, in simple terms, is a tent that hangs like a hammock. It’s been raining for a couple of days but the sky to the west had a bright glow that usually signals the end to rain. One of my favorite places is the waterfall down near the old mill site. I figured with the rain it should be running pretty good. I set up right next to the creek and the falls in a little niche with a rock overhang where I planned to start a fire later on. I’m not sure there is anything better than laying in a warm hammock on a chilly rainy evening with a great book beside a waterfall in total solitude. Just before dark, totally engrossed in the book, two giant terradactyls (actually sand hill cranes) came flapping around the bend the creek about four feet off the ground and scared the pa-jesus out of me. These things were huge, fast and totally unexpected. An omen, perhaps? I got out of the hammock and noticed the creek was getting a little higher and running a little faster. I spotted a rock on the other side of the creek as a reference. If the water rose above the rock I would pack up and move to higher ground. Time to start the fire, calm down and get back to the book. Two more chapters in and “Crack! Crash!-KaThump!, Splash!” My first thought was a clumsy deer had fallen down the bank into the creek but there are no clumsy deer. Bigfoot? Aside from the fire glow the only light I had was a head-lite which is a small flashlight you wear around your head. Great for reading, but spotting Bigfoot on a moonless night, not so much. “Crack! Crash! Ka-thump!” This time it was up on the hill…something was falling through the trees. I was under aerial attack! Large dead limbs on trees hundreds of years old were becoming waterlogged from the steady rain and the weight was bringing them crashing to the ground. I moved to the overhang. The book didn’t seem that interesting anymore. I shined my light across the creek to check on the reference rock. It was totally underwater. In less than an hour the creek had risen over three feet. Time to move up the hill. Twenty minutes later the creek was a raging, angry thing, overflowing five-foot banks and carrying winter debris to the river downstream. It was roaring like a train through the valley. If the flood had come later that night after I had fallen asleep I would have been washed away. I found a dry spot among the rocks on the hill and crawled into my hammock, which I just laid out on the ground. I was safe from the tree bombs and the enraged creek. I don’t remember sleeping but I must have. It was dawn. The rain had stopped. I packed up and maneuvered down the hill. The creek was still high but had calmed dramatically. I crossed and headed to the cabin for dry clothes. Two days later I hiked back to the waterfall to look for my antique Zippo, which must have fallen out of my pocket during the excitement. The rock overhang where I had started my fire had collapsed into a pile of large flat rocks. During the winter month water freezes in the cracks and the expansion separates the layers of the rock. Whew! Lesson learned: When it’s time for Mother to clean, stay out of the way.
If you remember last fall, the local town folk had asked to allow my story to be publicized. They felt it would increase “tourism” in the area. Over Irene’s apple pie I had agreed. Although I claim our winter alone was some feat of self-sacrifice and endurance the fear of limelight it is probably the real reason Dooly and I hid in the woods for the last five months (of course Dooly didn’t know that). “Holy cow, I thought you had packed up and moved back to Florida”, were the first words out of Irene’s mouth when we stopped in to see her on our first visit back to town in five months. “No, just haven’t had a reason come down off the mountain”, I explained, thinking she might be impressed with our self-sufficiency. “I see. How’s old Dooly?” “Mean as ever,” I joked. “I see,” she said while glancing back at some papers on her desk. The conversation was dying at an alarming rate. She seemed to be a little perturbed that I hadn’t fulfilled my obligation of exposing my secret cabin in the woods to the public. At least that’s what I thought. I said a polite goodbye and drove over to the store to gather some supplies. It was the busiest I had ever seen the place. There were five or six people laughing and chatting with a lady who was obviously the center of attention. The only one to look my way was Harry the hardware guy. “Hey”, I said with a little wave, “I need some chicken wire and seeds.” “Go on back and pick out what you need, I’ll be with you in a minute”. When Harry finally came back I had to ask about the woman. “That’s Caroline McCoy” he explained,” she has a farm up on Rocky Branch and she’s a romance writer, a damn good one from what I understand.” “I see”, I said, trying not to appear too impressed. “She’s been the talk of the town since she got here. That’ll be $65.00, anything else?” “No, I guess not”. Driving back to the cabin I was a little sad. The town had found a fresh and far prettier newcomer to focus their attention on. My big fish days were over.
Dooly and I sat on the porch and watched spring arrive this morning. I thought about creating a dance or something to welcome her in…something that could be a personal tradition but I guess my muse had not yet come out of hibernation. We just sat and watched. It was spectacular. I would have been smoking a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum cigar to celebrate , but I ran out in mid February. Dooly and I ran out of a number of staples over the winter months. We did it though, we were totally self sufficient for almost 5 months. We were two righteous hermits of the highest order.