By Bill Hodge, Executive Director
As I laid in my hammock, literally on the edge of the Linville Gorge, my attempts to sleep alluding me, I found myself captivated by the low rumble and eventual high-pitch whistle of a train passing, somewhere down ‘off the mountain’. It was odd to me, that here in this Wilderness, being aware of those mechanical sounds of man that I was not more irritated. I had nothing but time, so I gave it a thought or two.
The connection between man and nature has been evolving through the millennia. Man was one with nature, man was separate from nature, man feared the wild world – and then – man began to see nature as a refuge, a cathedral in which to seek solitude. Man, as a society, began to realize that the natural world had other tangible values. Maybe, I thought, it takes a society evolved enough to develop intricate transportation systems to be evolved enough to recognize the value in protected public lands?
But here I was, in one of the first designated Wilderness areas in the country – dare I say ‘enjoying’ the drone of a locomotive. This was confusing. Was it the comfort of knowing that out there was another human - awake – working through the night?
Maybe it was just a recognizable sound, one with context, to focus on while trying to find the stillness required for sleep?
One thing that I know the low rumble and whistle represented, was a juxtaposition to the cries and yips of the coyotes we heard just before dinner, no more than 50 yards away. The sounds of those canines represented exhilaration, and it brought smiles and excitement to the SAWS Crew working on Shortoff Mountain.
Eventually, I found the sleep that alluded me, and in the morning awoke to the coyotes even closer to our camp – magical! A couple of hours and a couple of miles later and I found myself back in ‘civilization’ removed from the splendor of the gorge and staring at the very tracks my train probably traveled the night before – and I wondered what sounds will fill Chimney Gap tonight?