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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gully

Birds sang me awake amid morning sun that exploded through our bedroom window. It wasn't long before I was out fulfilling a promise I made to myself last week.  I promised to head into the gully as soon as the weather invited me. 

I already knew the planned trip was a good idea, but it was an one my body rebels against even as my soul aches to explore the gully's treasures. 
Gully's, by definition, are steep hillsides.  My gully is no exception.  Spring is when the gully pulls me the hardest.  Spring, when the trees are bare of leaves, leaving the land exposed. Spring, when morning's first light touches the hillside.
 The gully is beside our road so all winter I peer down the hill searching for whatever it is that hides behind verdant leaves all summer long.
Just what is the problem with hiking into the gully?  
Lets just say that I am a "mature" woman with what Mma Precious Ramatswe of Alexander McCall Smith's novel, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, would call "a traditional build." At this point in my life, I don't want to fall and going into the gully will result in at least one fall.  
Damp, decaying leaves are the focus of a battle between decay and gravity.  The earth desperately works to claim the leaves as bugs, damp and fungus decay them, turning leaves into soil.  But, just as fervently gravity pulls at the leaves trying to convince them to slide on down to the creek at the bottom of the hill.  It is a delicate balance between these two powerful forces.  One misplaced human step will loosen the earth's hold allowing the leaves to propel downward accompanied by the foot that set them in motion.  A "traditionally built" woman will follow closely behind the foot.
A spring trip into the gully is well worth a few bruises and sore knees.  This is where I saw my first lady's slipper orchid. The pale blossom squeezed itself out from under a tree trunk lying prone and rotting on the forest floor.  The wood anemones now growing in my garden came from this plot of land.  Our side of the gully is a unique ecosystem. In spring, the gap in the hill lays just right to receive the rising sun, warming it earlier than many other woodland plots.  Once the trees are clothed in their summer leaves, the thick canope protects the steep floor below.  Because of its isolation, very few people travel across this hillside. There once was a time that my two children spent many hours playing in the creek below. building dams, digging up turtles and cooling their toes in the cool mud. Now I am perhaps its only human visitor. 
The creek that runs through the gully is seasonal.  While there is always some mud and damp leaves, running water only lasts until the spring rains cease.  A few summer rains will temporarily fill its bed, but the heat of summer means the water is quickly absorbed by the ground.  Its seasonal existence does not lessen the creek's power.  It doesn't take much looking to see how the creek is taking part in the gradual wearing away of the aged Appalachian mountains.  Exposed tree roots attest to the undermining work of the water as it heads downhill toward the Gulf of Mexico.
There are a few places where the stream travels almost flatly across the ground. providing easy access to deer and small animals needing a quick drink.
Today I am glad that I took the risk of toppling head first through the trees.  The gully is just as I remembered it from last spring.  A place of wonder and delight.  The perfect place to search for Spring.

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