Homes of the Fringe

Fringe Hikers have trouble reaching home.
Some of my Fringe Hikers in the book have iconic homes, such as the cozy cabin in WINTER WANDERER. Or the homey cottage in MOSAIC.

I imagine it looks something like this shelter at the Backbone Ridge Campground in Tennessee.
backbone ridge shelter mossy roof stone chimney
The roof leaks, moss has overtaken it, the stone hearth is the social center of the homey place.

At other times, I’ll see a home and I’ll know in my heart some kind of wanderer or mystic lives there. Someone who doesn’t need thick walls to barricade themselves from nature. Someone whose life experiences have led them away from conformity and then some.

Here are a few examples from my travels on Earth:

Homes Belonging to Hikers

A hunter's cabin on a stony mountain. Not much more than a bed inside, and some pictures of ducks the owner would like to shoot someday.
A hunter’s cabin on a stony mountain. Not much more than a bed inside, and some pictures of ducks the owner would like to shoot someday.
A bold memorial reminiscent of Roman architecture. Up near Virginia's border with West Virginia.
A bold memorial reminiscent of Roman architecture. Up near Virginia’s border with West Virginia.
This amazing home sparked my imagination. I have a little story for each addition, and I love that no two wings are the same. Resourceful people!
This amazing home sparked my imagination. I have a little story for each addition, and I love that no two wings are the same. Resourceful people!
A pagoda where it always rains?
A pagoda where it always rains? I think so.
This stands on Barnrock Road. In reality, I'm sure the stone came first. To a Fringe Hiker, I'd count on the barn coming first and the stone coming in rather violently.
This stands on Barnrock Road. In reality, I’m sure the stone came first. To a Fringe Hiker, I’d count on the barn coming first and the stone coming in rather violently.
This castle in someone's backyard is mostly underground. It's not a tourist attraction or anything. Just someone's pet project.
This castle in someone’s backyard is mostly underground. It’s not a tourist attraction or anything. Just someone’s pet project.
This is more of a fringe hiker's home: a shelter on the Appalachian Trail.
This is more of a fringe hiker’s home: a shelter on the Appalachian Trail.
No comment on this idiosyncratic architecture.
No comment on this idiosyncratic architecture.
This house is barely wide enough to lie down in. Built wayyy out in the country where they don't have, or enforce, building codes.
This house is barely wide enough to lie down in. Built wayyy out in the country where they don’t have, or enforce, building codes.

Animal Homes

We can learn a lot from the animals who can make their homes anywhere. Fringe Hikers all have this talent to a greater or lesser degree, but it doesn’t feel like home to them.

crawfish hole
crawfish hole
Ah, to be able to carry your home on your back like this eastern box turtle!
Ah, to be able to carry your home on your back like this eastern box turtle!
A woodpecker's home. Hopefully a cool pileated woodpecker.
A woodpecker’s home. Hopefully a cool pileated woodpecker.
Or be able to just create a new home whenever? Sounds fun!
Or be able to just create a new home whenever? Sounds fun!
This cicada nymph was a couple feet underground, waiting for the perfect time to emerge. A creature of hope?
This cicada nymph was a couple feet underground, waiting for the perfect time to emerge. A creature of hope?
I don't know what creature lives in this perfect log, but...it's perfect.
I don’t know what creature lives in this perfect log, but…it’s perfect.

The real home of a hiker?

The real home of a hiker is right here, around the fire.
The real home of a hiker is right here, around the fire.

Grayson Highlands

Land Use

In the west, Grayson County, VA stretches skyward to become the highest point in the state – the peak of Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet above sea level. That peak is clearly visible and accessible from the Grayson Highlands State Park. Simply hop on the Appalachian Trail and hike a few miles and you’ll end up quite close.

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Trail log from the AT at the parking area

If you are worried about getting Fringed on the trail, perhaps neighboring Whitetop Mountain is more your speed; it’s the second highest mountain in Virginia, but there’s a nice road leading right up the summit. I wouldn’t try it in winter, though.

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Drive or hike several miles down a little 4WD road, unlatch the livestock gate, and take a break in the grassy paddock. There you might see a high-clearance pickup truck and perhaps a tent or two. This is the Scales/Elk Garden area of the Grayson Highlands. It’s been a cattle grazing area for pioneers and farmers for at least two centuries, and it was still being grazed by cattle and WILD PONIES (more on that later) when I was there.

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The roots of the mountains, and on up their slopes, are studded with relatively flat spots, which were apparently logged as soon as the area was settled. All that grazing and rocky terrain keeps those flat areas pretty clear of vegetation throughout the years, creating “balds” where the ground beneath your feet might be stone, caribou moss, or grass.

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Farmers used to sell their horses and cattle (by weight) in this area, leading to the name, “The Scales.” In fact, you can still buy colts….

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…of the wild ponies that roam the highland slopes. The ponies were introduced in the 60’s and pretty much left alone. The population as a whole is managed, but they are not pets (and they will bite you; I’ve seen it). I’ve spotted ponies all over the mountain. Certain areas are fenced off from them, but heck, I’ve seen them in there too.

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Note that a pony is not a word for a young horse. Ponies are their own breed. These wild ponies will never grow to full horse size. You can ride a pony (probably not these ponies). However, Virginia does have some feral horses, especially in reclaimed or abandoned mining areas. Horse owners dropped them off as a local coal economy declined or as agricultural laws changed. The feral horses can breed but it seems their population remains fairly stable and limited. Other times, horse owners might just have deals with the local mineral rights holders to allow grazing on reclaimed strip mines or natural gas extraction areas.

mines

I wouldn’t take a horse with me on the Fringe. I don’t think they have a dog’s natural immunity, and they’re too much a mode of transport. Something terrible would probably happen to it, and that would break my heart much more than injury and discomfort to my own person.

Nature

The trails were lined with berries of all kinds. A Fringe Hiker could stay alive out here by wading into the thorns and picking his fill. I only stayed for a bit this fall, but I sure ate a lot of berries.

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The balds are beautiful picnic spots and scenic vistas. I see lots of plant species up there that I don’t see elsewhere in the region. The ecosystems are also different.

Some of the flatter forested areas form duffy swamps, even at the high elevations. You start seeing yellow birch and spruce.

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Yellow birch has an interesting habit of growing in “nurse logs.” The seedling starts shooting up from within a rotten log that acts as compost for the young tree.

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Roots are sent out, draped over the log, until they find the real soil and dig in. The roots and stem thicken as the log rots away, until it has vanished completely and you are left with the strange sight of an adult tree whose stem doesn’t start for a full twelve inches above ground level.

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I spotted several such trees intertwined with each other.

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And even a tree that had used the hollow of a larger tree as a nursery site.

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The stones are interesting too. They reminded me of the glacial erratics in the Midwest, big stones dropped by melting glaciers. They’re very different from other stones in the area.

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I asked a naturalist, and she told me Mount Rogers is the only part of Virginia where evidence of ancient glaciation can be seen – an ice age even older than the ones that shaped the Midwest. Furthermore, Mount Rogers and the surrounding area were formed by volcanic activity!

I’ve been on so many great trails in the Grayson Highlands, and this blog only details a few areas of the park. Get out there, explore, and don’t forget to take the long way home.

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Chantarelles, a delicious wild mushroom

I’m gonna get Fringed.

 

I found delicious Chantarelles, an edible and much-sought-after mushroom, three days in a row without even trying.

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Remember, don’t eat mushrooms unless you have been helped by an expert. When in doubt, throw it out, unless you are trying to earn karma by undergoing a very painful gastrointestinal experience.

 

Anyway, chantarelles are a very tasty mushroom that can last an entire week in your fridge, which is good because I found 3 lbs of it. They are known as the Queen of the Forest, and I think I might use either that or “chantarelles” as a name for a character someday. They can be made into stews or a creamy pasta sauce. Like most shrooms, they must be cooked first.

Here's my stew, with just a hint of spiciness to it
Here’s my chantarelle stew, with just a hint of spiciness to it

Chantarelles grow on the ground, not on wood.

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They have false gills that are simply a fold in the main structure of the mushroom, not a separate reproductive part of it. Often the gills criss-cross. A luxurious earthy apricot smell is released when you get enough of them together.

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Their scariest lookalike is the Jack-o-lantern fungus, which grows in clusters but has a similar color and gill pattern. (Though with the lookalike, these gills are true gills that can be picked off the stem). This mushroom will make you very sick, though it won’t kill you.

 

If I was a fringe hiker, I’d probably have to eat this half-rotted Chicken of the Woods fungus:

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