There’s a yearly event that takes place near the top the Blue Ridge at the Clarke and Loudoun counties line on Route 7. You may have noticed a wide parking area on the east bound side of the highway. The Appalachian Trail adjoins this area and there are usually vehicles parked there: car poolers, hikers, big trucks — actually, the clientele is quite diverse.
Traveling this route sometime in the early 90’s, I became a little curious when the area hosted a sizable group of people sitting in lawn chairs and peering through powerful telescopes.
I looked around trying to determine the object of their attention. Across Route 7 and uphill from them, a fellow was mowing grass with a little tractor and it almost appeared that their scopes could have been trained on him — but this couldn’t have been all that interesting. It was one of those clear fall days — so clear that they could have been counting the rust spots on the Sputnik.
At the time, I was a field editor for CountRy magazine.
Sensing a story, I felt compelled to stop, state my press credentials and ask what the heck they found so fascinating.
(The Field Editor arrangement was discontinued as a cost-cutting measure when Reader’s Digest bought CountRy.) The fellow whom I accosted wasn’t impressed — in fact, he seemed a little miffed. He told me what they were up to but it surely wasn’t the long version.
Basically, they were watching the hawk migration. I had no idea that hawks migrate — possibly because they fly too high to be seen with the unaided eye.
I was always under the impression that they hung around and chased the daylights out of mice and chipmunks all winter.
Isn’t there a famous painting of a hawk overlooking a winter landscape? My reluctant host also informed me that some insects migrate as well. He trained his short, hand-held finder scope on a Monarch butterfly slowly gaining altitude over the purple broomsage, goldenrod and magenta sumac. He cited this insect as one example.
I began to think that he was just pulling my leg, trying to get rid of me and perhaps praying for a meteor. He went on to describe how the Monarchs flew at a slightly lower altitude than the hawks, making it very convenient for a hungry hawk to dip down and grab a snack.
He also told of how smaller birds fly much higher yet and were swooped along by the mysterious forces of magnetic fields and wind currents.
Right. Later research confirmed that he was on the level.
These folks are also the official monitors of these migrations and their bird count is used by the governmental people whose job it is to know these things.
I, however, learned a few things: hawks as well as butterflies migrate, different species of birds and insects migrate at different altitudes so that they aren’t always bumping into and eating each other. My most important lesson, though, is that you shouldn’t disturb a fellow who is counting hawks.
Since we have a little space remaining, please allow me to touch on another subject. Pam Lehew just gave me a copy of “Chase,” the yearbook of the Thornton Hill/Fort Valley Hounds fox hunting group.
Even with my lack of understanding of fox hunting terminology, (I don’t know the difference between a whipper in and a gone to ground though the latter sounds like it could be an electrical problem.) I find the magazine interesting nonetheless.
In the first issue that I was given, though, editor Sherry Toole, a customer for about 20 years, treated me to a business card ad for my tractor repair service. The ad brought no new response. I soon figured out why when I examined the many photos in the magazine. I found a photo of long time customer Irwin Opitz bent over the engine of their stalled truck at a fox hunting event, talking on his cellphone. I remembered the incident — I was on the other end of the line. It seems that almost everyone in this group already knows me.
Irwin’s father-in-law, Dr. Todd Addis VMD, of Elverson, Pa., owns a property near Berryville that is maintained with a 1946 2N Ford tractor. It is said that Dr. Addis’ thrift holds true to his apparent Scottish heritage — though him and Opitz seem to be in a competition to see which can pay their bill the fastest. Still, this may explain why it took me about a decade for me to talk him out of a free copy of his book, “A Backward Glance.” I was sorely disappointed when I received the book. Not that the book didn’t live up to my expectations — it certainly has — but I thought that I, not Dr. Addis VMD, would be the next James Herriot. (I hope that the reader will forgive my reference to Scottish thrift but I’m married into a branch of the Gordon Clan so I can speak with some authority on the subject.) The elegant 280-page hardbound book is full of stories about veterinary medicine and fox hunting (the fox usually gets away). It can be a little earthy and even tragic in places — Dr. Addis is a medical professional after all — but his stalwart optimism and subtle humor are evenly and tastefully present throughout.
Call me 304-96-8067 for information about ordering the book. That way, I’ll know if I’ve helped Dr. Addis sell any copies and can take this into consideration when writing up his next repair bill. As I’ve mentioned, I have vast experience with the Scotch. The reader can apply a double meaning to the previous sentence without jeopardizing historical accuracy.
First published Oct. 26, 2011