The Promise of Spring in the Mountains

Hope springs eternal along the riverside

Live stakes to plant | Photo courtesy of American Rivers

It’s official – spring has sprung in the Appalachians. All that has lain dormant is emerging. This spring feels special to me as momentum grows around COVID-19 vaccinations. I see potential in all the sprouts and swelling blooms around me. I see a way through into a better future.

In the darkest part of this past year, at East LaPorte Park in the mountains of North Carolina, we worked alongside the clear water that flows from the Balsam Range, past Judaculla Rock into the Tuckasegee River. We drove stakes of native woody plants, alive with potential, along the bank line. Now, these sticks are sprouting. 

Sprouting Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) live stake
Sprouting Silky Dogwood
(Cornus amomum) live stake
| Photo courtesy of American Rivers

As those once dormant stakes spring to life, I find myself ruminating on the words of Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. She speaks eloquently of healing our relationship with the world, and about reciprocity with all that surrounds us. I have posted a question from Dr. Kimmerer on the wall next to my computer asking what does the earth ask of me, after the earth has given so much to all of us?

As I ponder that question, I think back to those mid-winter days, planting, when the water flowed crystal clear — but it is not always like that. The Tuckasegee River, like many, struggles with muddy water from construction and thoughtlessness, making life difficult for fish, insects, and other creatures. 

This was exactly why we were there in the winter planting along the riverbanks – we planted to make homes for food and animals, to shade the water and to reduce erosion. We were creating a mini-wilderness along the riverside, following the tenants of Shade Your Stream for cool and clean water. It is something that anyone can do, and it makes a positive change from the smallest drainage ditch to the mightiest river.

The buds on these sticks will unfold into leaves and put out roots this summer. Next spring, they will do it again. After a couple of good growing seasons, the plants will fill out and shade. Like anything good this takes time, along with rain and sunshine.

So, what can I gift our earth and our waterways? Planting hundreds of native plants along the water is one way to give back. Another, less tangible, answer is embracing collaboration with the passion, knowledge and expertise of partners.

East LaPorte Park, aside from being one of my favorite parks for its beauty and easy interaction with the river, is run by Jackson County Parks and Recreation, who had the vision to support this riparian restoration for the greater benefit of the community. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provided the funding. The vision of this work was a part of the landscape level coalition of the Little Tennessee Native Fish Conservation Partnership, visioning change for the watershed. Mainspring Conservation Trust, a driving force behind Shade Your Stream, powered the work.  Mountain True supplied critical plants and expertise. And, most importantly, the tireless efforts (and dedicated volunteers) of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, or WATR, will continue to move these habitat and riverine improvements into the future. 

I am also hopeful that the hard-working folks at the  Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Natural Resources program will be able to use the area to test auditory surveys of the area as it develops from a relatively sterile swath of grass to a deeply inhabited strip of land, resonating with life. This park is part of the vast aboriginal land of the Cherokee Indians, and right downstream from the landmark Judaculla Rock.

The author, planting along the banks of the Tuckasegee River
The author, planting along the
banks of the Tuckasegee River |
Photo courtesy of American Rivers

Can embracing this kind of collaboration be part of a larger reciprocity to each other, and to the rivers that deliver so much for us? Could we, together, inspire more cultivation of these narrow wildernesses along our flowing waters? Can we start to see riverside beauty through its ability to support layers of life rather than a manicured edge? This spring, the answer sounds like a resounding yes.

I hear this yes as I watch the new growth and have faith that the currently lifeless live stakes will bud out into a multitude of growth. These links of collaborations will put out strong roots. Such is this spring.

In the tender sprouts around me I am finding the answer to the question that Dr. Kimmerer poses: what does the earth, these rivers, ask of us? The answer is in these small, individual things that collectively sprout into verdant, intricate, healing growth. 

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