The West Hills, rounded, bare proofs of erosion of rock from unrelenting geologic time, the inland sea, the scouring of glaciers, the winds of time, and millennia of rains and snows. The cold scene is rather monochromatic. That is our view from the imagination from the scorching heat of summer to an overcast day in Warhaven, an inversion, 10 degrees in mid-January. So refreshing to consider.
The creased box canyons of winter are slyphs, slices and slashes of the deep green of pine. All that was bare was white. Shadows were scores of shades of gray. The foothills rolled as pastureland, and its stubble gave the grayish-brown land a park-like manicured appearance. After the scraping with the glaciers’ retreat, the juggernaut lichens and fungi went to work, building up a fertile loam that grows fine crops.
Last winter Orin Holman descended Blackberry Road slowly in the old truck, all wheels engaged, the studded tires clicking as a castanet ensemble out of the upper farmlands and through these bleached-out surviving humps that once were great mountains, back perhaps when the dinosaurs trod. He sighed, taking in yet again the beauty of it all.
A flicker sailed and dipped and rose high into an Oregon oak beside the road. A jack rabbit, otherwise still, turned its head to watch Orin pass. The man puckers and blows a whistle of gratitude.
The West Hills are an irregular steady descent from the peaks of Mt. Yorktown to the south end of the district over to Mt. Alaska Purchase to the north, down to the Rushing River. Up in the peaks seven miles of groomed cross county ski trails await the adventurous and fit. Along with the plateau, this was the best and most coveted farmland of Warhaven, in fact, in all of New Hope County. In spring, when the grains and legumes were up a few feet and the wind kicks up, the West Hills seem to undulate. In October with the changing colors of the deciduous trees, the slopes in the late afternoon sun shone a sea of yellows and oranges, scarlets and magentas.
In winter one can see the rabbit and pheasant. One is rid, temporarily, of cheatgrass and scotch broom and Queen Anne’s lace! One can see and smell fresh country air without a trace of dust in the nostrils. Winter gifts us with the bare necessities.
Every January, out on the DuMont homestead, we in Warhaven await the annual Sledding Jamboree. Paris Dumont had engineered the course the summer of 1871, a descending serpentine chute that runs parallel to Jasper Creek, a proximity which enables the icing-up the track. It was banked with an engineer’s sensibilities, with a healthy respect for gravity, acceleration, and centrifugal force. Beyond the sled run was built a very stout rose arbor, making an unobstructed walking path back up the quarter mile track. Only once did someone fly from this recessed alley, and that was because of the rider’s greased runners and the fact that he weighed 300 pounds. He had zigged and he should have zagged. There had been a snow of powder, four feet deep; no harm done to the daredevil. That was in 1951. In his white hat and coat, in his curled-up sitting position he appeared to be a Hostess Snowball shot from a cannon.
When pulled from the drift, he dizzily shook his head, “Zounds! Thank you for your shiverous rescue!”
Over the years at the Means’ farm they have been sugaring the maples, birches, alders, and black walnuts since before the Spanish-American War. The farm is now in the hands of the great nephew of Mary Means; traditions continue. It is a kind of neighborhood affair, as the laborers in this arduous, sticky work each receive a fifth of their favorite syrup. They begin tapping usually around Jan. 20 and complete the boiling down of the sap in the lean-to shed about Feb. 10. Oh, the brisk, cold air in the sugaring is something to long for when the summer temperatures pass 90!
Warhaven Hospital sits on a knoll that looks down to the Rushing River along the stretch between Uptown and Downtown. On icy days patients and staff alike would keep an eye out the window for the many mishaps that occurred for vehicles ascending and descending Craggy Way.
Jasper Way is a lovely walk in winter, perched above the Rushing, so one may gaze at the geese and ducks that remain in town. If one were lucky he or she might spot an otter or ermine. Of the many things one covets in the heat of summer, relief from its oppression is the big thing, taking many forms in the minds of us suffering souls of Warhaven.