Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sky Island

Josh was a little ways ahead of us and almost to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain when he stopped suddenly. "It smells like Maine up here," he called. He should know. We've been telling him to roll down his windows and smell the Maine since he was six. There's a place on the Turnpike just south of Portland where the balsams are so fragrant that it doesn't matter if you're going 70; you can always catch that quintessential scent.

I looked up to where Josh was standing and noticed a gnarly balsam just to his left. I pointed. "That explains it," I said, but that was really only half true. There just aren't too many of those trees here in Virginia. We climbed the rest of the way to the top and enjoyed the 360 degree view of Old Rag, the Appalachian Trail, and the fall color blanketing the hills and hollows below. On the way back down, I lingered more than a moment beneath that balsam before continuing on to the hardwoods below.

It turns out that we had hiked to a "sky island", a place where the altitude allows a totally different ecosystem. The boreal forest we passed through was actually a vestige of the ice age, a time when the climate there was much more similar to, say, Maine, today.  Too bad they didn't have any lobster on that island, too!

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