On backroads driving slowly
Another week has passed and Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird are still hanging around. He has built a new nest, in a different bluebird house mounted about 12 feet from my window. I presume it’s the same pair that nested in the house farther out – before the English House Sparrow evicted the Blues family. The Blues have yet to lay any more eggs.
I love the idea that I live only a short drive from some excellent geological and historical sleuthing, on my favorite driving surface. I enjoy a lot of pastimes, but none more than turning off the pavement onto a dirt road, especially when I do not know where the road will take me.
Sunday afternoon, I turned onto a dirt road near the north end of South Mountain. One could drive a BMW down that road, but slowly. A couple of curves down, I surprised a couple of deer. They bounced into the wood, in a hurry to get a dozen yards off the road where they could stop and see what I would do.
I stopped, shifted into reverse, and let the idling motor move me back to where I could see them clearly. We eyed each other for a minute of so, then they turned and started walking and browsing their way deeper into the forest. I pulled my camera out of its case and set it on the passenger seat.
A few hundred yards farther down, I spied another deer just off the road. I let the car slow to a stop and shot a few pictures through the open passenger-side window.
I turned onto a long downhill slope, past a burned-over forest on one side, punctuated by new-grown mushrooms, and a beer bottle blackened by the ground fire deliberately set by state foresters to reduce, they say, burnable undergrowth.
The road on which I traveled was a stark dividing line between the burned acreage one side and the greenery of well-established trees and undergrowth on the other. Suddenly, a tiny stream appeared flowing beside me. I mean to go back one day soon and try to find the source, the place where it first springs out of the earth.
The stream became gradually larger, deeper, and faster as I followed beside it to the bottom of the hill. At one spot, I found the remains of a dam of indeterminate purpose. Parts of it were covered with moss, leaves and dirt. Rocks from the original dam lay blanketing the bottom of the stream, forming a minor rapids. I would love to learn why the dam was built there.
The area once was home to a short-lived iron ore smelting operation. Spotting the hillsides are the remains of fire bits where trees were burned into charcoal, which in turn was fed to furnaces to melt iron ore dug from the mountain. Maybe the dam was somehow associated with the mining operation.
Near the bottom of the hill stands the remains of one of the aforementioned furnaces, a huge stone pyramid nearly 20 feet high, cracks running through the walls, portions of which lie crumbled on the ground beside the edifice where, more than 100 years ago, men toiled to wrest low-grade iron from the mountain’s grip.
The furnace, by the way, is difficult to spot. I had been to the site earlier, so I knew where it was. Still, I drove by it twice before I actually saw it.
One day this road undoubtedly will be paved. Houses will line both sides. For now … did I mention one should drive these dirt roads slowly?