Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Different Forest

This past Saturday evening I was in a forest other than the one at Roundtop for a change. Just north across the valley from Roundtop, about 7 miles or so, is the next ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. These ridges to the north are actually the last ridges of the continuous chain of Appalachians.

Roundtop and its few nearest (and smaller) ridge neighbors are an anomaly in the Appalachian chain of ridges. Roundtop is pretty much a standalone mountain, when virtually all the other Appalachians are a continuous chain of ridge after ridge. I like to think of Roundtop as a guardian of the Appalachian chain, the signpost, if you will, that warns of deeper forest realms ahead. But I digress...

So Saturday evening I traveled into this deeper realm, which is itself an anomaly in my area. I went into a long draw between two of these ridges. It’s an area of fairly flat land and yet it is still forested and that’s the anomaly. In this area, the mountains, even today, are largely still forested, and few people live in them. But where the land is flat, the land is usually cleared of forest. Years ago, the forests were cleared for farmland. Today, some farms are still around, though far fewer than even 20 years ago. Joining the farms in the flat lands between the mountains are suburbs and towns and strip malls. Having forest in flat land at the base of the mountains is unusual.

If you look at my photo from Friday’s blog entry, you will see exactly where I was. It’s the area darkened by clouds in the center of the photograph. Several reasons that I know about combined to save this lovely draw. I don’t know the entire story, so pieces of my knowledge are missing. For the past 50-60 years, perhaps a bit longer, the area has been owned by the Boy Scouts and is the site of their Camp Tuckahoe. About 100 years ago, this was an area of small and local clay mining, charcoal production and, I believe, a little pig iron mining.

When I was a very young child, my father often took me on Sunday walks up in here, pointing out the round charcoal pits that are 12-15 feet circles, about 3-4 feet deep. These were where charcoal was made, in smoldering fires that were never allowed to flame, carefully tended continuously for days on end. The remnants of the clay mining never looked like much to me—just a cut into the bank that resulted in an area barely big enough to park a few cars. Of the iron mining, I never saw any forest damage, but I remember the raised foundations of the trestles that carried the iron out of the woods. These were hardly more than head high and on Saturday night I couldn’t even find them anymore.

This mining ended in the early 1900’s and apparently never amounted to much even in its heyday, though it provided some few local jobs. Even during its production days, the area remained forested around these operations and was never cleared. When even this small production petered out, the land was essentially abandoned, and this is the part of the story I don’t know. It would have been more typical at this point for the area to be cleared of its forest. But it wasn’t. Perhaps the owners hoped production would resume at some point. Perhaps the first World War intervened and by the time it was over, clearing land for new farms wasn’t a priority. I don’t know. But for whatever reason, the land wasn’t cleared, and in the intervening years, the forest has eliminated virtually all traces of the operations here, unless you remember where to look and know what you are looking for.

My photo today was taken near dusk on a cold and overcast November day.

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