Bald eagle wheeled high overhead against the bright blue sky for a moment or two before soaring away at breathtaking speed.
A good omen, we figured, as we headed west in its wake, embarking on this year's version of our annual quest for the perfect Christmas tree.
Fast forward twenty-four hours...
cold, fog and a heavy drizzle,
and we are the only non-natives stirring along the crest of the Blue Ridge.
Young folk grazing eye the strangers' passing with mild curiosity before fading soundlessly into the mist like spirits of ancient Appalachia.
A little farther up, we dismount at a likely looking spot and pause for a portrait before inching our way forward along the ledge.
The rain intensifies as we enter a rhododendron thicket near the falls,
and the galax at our feet glistens in the cold and damp.
The firs and spruce dwelling here by the stream are much too tall and lanky,
nowhere near the perfect tree,
so we make our way farther up the mountain still...
A thousand feet higher,
far beyond the babbling of the brook,
galax is here on the heath as well, mingling on the margins with wintergreen.
Relentless rain puddles on the barren bald;
freeze tonight and thaw again on the morn,
converting ancient stone to fresh new soil,
one grain at a time.
And from this softened stone rises moss and galax and grass,
then rhododendron and blueberry and pine.
stunted by the wind and ice and dearth of dirt;
yet evergreen and shapely,
the perfect tree?
Perhaps, we think, but who would dare to cut such trees as these?
Ancient, gnarled survivors, bowed but not broken by nature's nastiest blows.
So we linger and admire these perfect trees,
and we pose for a picture or three,
with just a hint of envy,
the adventures they enjoy
and the sights and sounds and sensations they experience
here in their home
on top of the world.
And then we make our way down,
leaving behind their mountaintop abode,
paths converging near the base of the slope,
a clear consensus building,
a knowing that comes from the head and the heart.
This year's Christmas tree, just like the last, and the one before that,
was planted and watered and fed and groomed
on a farm in the valley,
where our one perfect tree, among thousands,
waits patiently in the rain for our arrival.