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Once grand, prouder
than your neighbors to the west,
the Appalachians,
Thousands of millenia
have washed you away,
year by year, by hurricanes,
thunderstorms, showers,
just as Lao Tzu said they would
not long ago, only
forty centuries.

Now you stand a mere
nine hundred feet, not even
really a “mountain”
You may have lost your
altitude in your old age,
but the children still marvel
at your quartz, your spiders,
and the millions of species
that call your face home.
They still complain, however,
you’re too tall to climb.

-Mark Snyder, May 23, 2009

Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour’s drive from my house, is a special place for me.  It’s where I go when I need to escape the world, to get some peace, to recharge myself when I am running on empty.  My kids and I have canoed on Lake Tillery which she overlooks.  We’ve hiked many (but not all) of her trails, including the horse bridle trails.  (The equestrian folks hate that).  Many a time I have struggled up the steep path up the Morrow Mountain Trail to the summit- a “moderate” hike by official reckoning but enough to make any fit hiker lose it.  One of my favorite memories was my kids and I climbing this trail, up and down, when they were much younger- a total of a six mile hike (I badly misjudged the distance) that left us bedraggled but happily exhausted.  On the way up my daughter walked into the huge, nearly invisible web of an orb weaver, and when the little harmless critter made her presence known she screamed in apopleptic terror:


As many of you from the US know, the eastern half of the country was hit by lines of violent thunderstorms last Thursday, that may or may not have qualified as a derecho.  Whether or not that line was formally a derecho, it clearly was a violent land hurricane with wind speeds estimated over 70 mph.  This part of North Carolina was not spared.   We were lucky- we were without power for five hours, and the kids and I played Risk by candlelight.  Many in Moore County, where I live, won’t have power for days.  Some have been told they won’t have power for a month.  Fortunately there were very few injuries I’m aware of, but there was at least one fatality- a little boy who was killed when a tree fell on him in Virginia.  Hundreds- probably thousands- of trees are down in central North Carolina.  One mountain biker I met today who was riding the trails in the Uwharrie National Forest compared the tree damage on the trails to what was done by Hurricane Hugo. “It’ll take years for the trails to get back,” he said dejectedly before he rode on.

As a Father’s Day gift my kids took me out for a day to paint plein air.  I’d never done it before, and recently I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work and have been taking time to get back to training at the gym after a scare (that was a false alarm).  I wanted to paint the view from the top of Morrow Mountain, looking down on Lake Tillery and the Yadkin River.  The very first painting I did as an adult, a few years ago, was exactly this view, and I wanted to take another crack at it.  Here’s the first one:

Lake Tillery and the Uwharries from Morrow Mountain

I still consider myself a beginner, and am entirely self-taught, but I wanted to see what I could do with some experience under my belt.  I also wanted to simply recharge my battery at a place that has been a refuge.

Unfortunately, that did not work out.  I hadn’t seen much storm damage around my house, and hadn’t heard much about that area, but the area surrounding Morrow Mountain was hit hard.  Here is a video of the storm hitting the nearby town of Albemarle (warning:  adult language):

My kids and I found at least 100 trees down, if not many more.  Many power lines and poles were down, many still in the road.  It was the kind of damage one would expect from a hurricane.  Linemen from as far away as Florida were out in force trying to repair the damage.  In one instance we found a metal ladder being used as a temporary pole, bungeed to the power lines running above it.  I don’t have a picture of this, but it was a bizarre sight.

When we got to the park, we found it closed.  We also found ourselves trapped behind road closures put up after we passed, and had great difficulty finding our way out of the Badin Lake area because roads were either closed or impassable due to tree and power line damage.  Eventually we found our way out and decided to get out of the area entirely.  We drove 90 minutes to Lumber River State Park (which had also experienced storm damage, but the park was open), where I was able to paint.

I found out tonight that Morrow Mountain State Park was devastated according to the Friends of Morrow Mountain blog.  Hundreds of trees are down blocking all roads.  Trees have apparently fallen and damaged the park office, at least one cabin in the campground, and possibly other facilities.  Forestry personnel were in the process of trying to cut their way through the down trees on the road up to the summit to search for stranded visitors.  Several RVs and/or campers were destroyed by fallen trees.  There’s no report of anyone being hurt or killed up there, but the summit is a popular spot and is very exposed in the event of a thunderstorm.  (I’ve been up there during a severe thunderstorm before.  I don’t ever want to do it again, particularly with a monster like this one).  Possibly the only saving grace is that the temperature was in the upper 90’s when the storms came, which probably helped keep people away from the park on a Thursday afternoon.  The park is closed at least til June 24, but I suspect it will be longer than that- maybe much longer- given the damage.

Driving over Lake Tillery on Hwy 24-27, you could see that the summit of Morrow Mountain appeared to have been scalped.  It looks from below that every tree on the summit is gone- though I have no way of knowing if that’s the case.

Get well soon, old friend.  I’ll miss you.