Longing for the call of the Whippoorwill: A reflection

Catawaba Falls North Carolina

Autumn on the horizon, there is a coolness in the night air and the days are getting shorter. I am sitting on my front porch recalling the first time I used a crosscut saw last summer. That’s when I first met The Wilderness Society’s Bill Hodge and when I cut my first tree – an experience that prompted me to spend nine weeks with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) as a crew leader.

Something has been missing from my life since the program ended and I couldn’t put my finger on it until now as I listen to the sound of silence.

My mind wanders back to my time in the woods. Week number three, we visited the Flatside Wilderness Area in Arkansas and cleared dozens of trees on a part of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. We headed to Tennessee after that to work in the Citico Creek Wilderness for a trail restoration project on the Crowder Branch Trail. Here on the first night at sunset we were welcomed by a Whippoorwill calling to its mate somewhere out in the wilderness. We next went to the Big Frog Wilderness doing another trail restoration project on the Grassy Gap Trail. Again we were welcomed by a lone Whippoorwill.

The Shining Rock Wilderness in North Carolina was next on the agenda. We did general trail maintenance and worked on drainage issues. We weren’t welcomed by a Whippoorwill this time but we were given a spectacular week of sunsets. Week number seven, we were off to Georgia to the Brasstown Bald Wilderness for more trail maintenance and some rock work (building steps). Here also the lone cry of a Whippoorwill sang to us at sunset.

Week number eight took us back to North Carolina to work on a trail reroute on the Hawksbill trail in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Yep, you guessed there was a Whippoorwill there, too. This was also the last week that my SAWS Team 6 worked together. We headed back to Tennessee the following week. That’s pretty much my back yard. We hit the Sampson Mountain Wilderness for storm damage and some trail work.

Bill repeatedly asked me over the past month to name my favorite place. It was hard for me to answer until now. Each and every Wilderness Area we worked in holds a special place in my memories: the spectacular views at Hawksbill, the sunsets at Ivestor Gap, the incredible downpour on the Crowder Branch Trail, the black bear on the Arkaquah Trail, meeting Wildland Fire Fighting crew from Iowa, a haunted girl scout camp, and all the volunteers and trail techs doing the work they do. I have to say, though, that the Sampson Mountain Wilderness is my favorite place of all.

As I sit here writing this, I know those experiences have redefined me as a person. I now look at the world through a different set of ideals and eyes. For most of my 42 years, I lived life with a love of the outdoors but was firmly planted in civilization. Now I have a passion for those areas “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor and does not remain” (Wilderness Act of 1964) … those areas where “solitude” and the call of the Whippoorwill go hand in hand.  And it is that solitude and that call that I long for.