It was the Best of Nights …
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It was the darkest of nights, it was the brightest of nights. It was the coldest of nights, it was the warmest of mornings. It was a cloud of ice, it was an ocean of fog. It was a night of silver; it was a morning of gold.
On a Saturday afternoon in late January, a winter storm moved through the High Country leaving behind a distinct ice-covered tree line at approximately 4,000’. With the full moon later that night and clearing skies predicted for Sunday morning, it seemed like a perfect time to head for higher elevations. Thus, I arose at 4 am and drove about 1 ½ hours to Whitetop Mountain (5,520’) in Grayson County, Virginia.
The narrow and winding roads along the NC/VA border were generally in good condition until I started up Whitetop Mountain Road. Soon the trees overhanging the road did their best chameleon impression and transformed their drab-winter color into a sparkling robe of white. Slippery roads? Well, I just keep driving as I was too excited to sweat the details. Two miles later and it was winter wonderland with Whitetop’s wondrous view of the Tri-state region.
Wonders of Wonders! This is unreal! Full moon, glistening ice covering everything, starry skies, a sixty-mile vista and a sight to the west into Virginia and Tennessee that was surreal. Like those magical moments during a majestic sunrise, it was a rare moment where the pulse rate of a nature photographer doubles while time seems to accelerate faster than that annual event of turning your clock ahead. How does one capture such beauty before it becomes history, never to be seen again?
I quickly got out of the car to set up my tripod and camera but found that the road was impersonating a hockey rink. When is a tripod not a tripod? That’s a no-brainer; when it is being used to transform a two-legged humanoid into a five-legged mortal that’s just trying to stand.
Winter Full Moon – It’s still over an hour until sunrise and the view to the southeast captures my attention. Ice-covered trees glowed like a Christmas trees from the light of the full moon. Stars sparkled in the cloudless skies while on the distant horizon the artificially lit ski trails of Sugar and Beech Mountain resembled the eyes of a giant dragon.
Ocean of Fog – As I walked around to the westerly side of the mountain, the view was even better. The full moon was still relatively high in the sky but the real light was from beneath an ocean of fog that covered southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. Bristol VA/TN and the I-81 corridor glowed below the fog and reminded me of the mythical, submerged city of Atlantis. The light of the full moon produced distinct mountain profiles and valley shadows in the Foothills. Of course, all the rocky ledges and vegetation on Whitetop sparkled from the moonlight.
Wondrous Whitetop – It’s still over thirty minutes before sunrise, the skies were starting to lighten, the eerie glow of “Atlantis” to the west had faded and my attention shifted to the southeasterly and easterly views. Whitetop Mountain was coated with ice and the dark-looking foothills with valley fog and warm glow of the skies contributed to this dramatic view. Mount Jefferson stands above the fog on the left hand side above the shining morning lights of the town of West Jefferson, North Carolina.
Riding the Ice Cloud – Popsicles were everywhere! That’s about the best way to describe the trees and meadows with their thick layers of ice. Walking on the slippery road was an effort while an off-road hike into the open meadows was difficult because of the thick crunchy, crust of ice. Ice clouds? Impossible? Well, I offer the following …
Here Comes the Sun – It’s 7:30 am and the sun finally decided to make its entrance in the eastern skies. An image of contrast with the rising sun, a fog-covered distant landscape, the barren foothills, and the dramatic meadow on Whitetop.
Winter Warrior – As I cautiously inched down the icy roads, I couldn’t help but notice this ice-coated tree. A broken main trunk and dying branch seems to symbolize its struggles with the harshness of the environment on Whitetop. It is broken but still beautiful and probably looking forward to spring.
I finally emerged down from Whitetop’s ice-covered gravel road and drove back onto the barren main road. About a mile before it intersects with Virginia’s famous Highway 58 (aka “The Crooked Road” and the “Heritage Music Trail”), I met a hitch-hiker that appeared to be colder and more weather-beaten than the “Winter Warrior” tree. No wonder! He was southbound on the Appalachian Trail and had started his adventure in Maine last fall and was intent on making Georgia by spring. Seems obvious that he had his seasons and directions reversed and should have started in the spring from Georgia. However, that was easy to understand, I learned he was from Kentucky.
A sixty-mile drive back to Blowing Rock and still plenty of time to make the 11 am church service. Admittedly, I don’t remember too much about that morning’s sermon; I was too busy reminiscing about the beauty of God’s world.
Until next time, live and love life to the fullest!