Last week, I wrapped up my third and final field season working in Highland County, Virginia. The temptation to be grandiloquent and maudlin is overwhelming; I want nothing more than to wax nostalgic for umpteen paragraphs about all the wonderful times, incredible people, beautiful birds, and gorgeous vistas. As I realize that such an essay would be obnoxious, I’ve attempted to refrain from writing one.
Yet letting this chapter close with my mundane final act in Highland County (emptying the dish rack, hopping into the Lesbaru) seems too anticlimactic. Thus, I feel obliged to take a moment to give my heartfelt thanks to all the people who shared this place with me, and to type a fond farewell to the project. I will keep it brief, in hopes that you will forgive my sentiments, however trite.
First, to all of the landowners that allowed us to tromp around and play bird songs at the crack of dawn: thank you. Thank you so much for your hospitality. I can think very few places where people would welcome complete strangers onto their land, and fewer that would offer them coffee and watermelon. I am so grateful for your warmth you showed us and the interest you showed in our research.
Second, I need to acknowledge the three field crew cohorts. I use the word “acknowledge”, because their is no single verb that conveys the praise, gratitude, warmth, friendship, and camaraderie I want to express. Everyone worked so darn hard and complained so dang little. You all knock my socks off, and each one of you is destined for awesome things. And to all those who showed up to lend a hand without asking for a dime–Ryan Weaver, Anna Tucker, Emily Johnson, Wyatt Carpenter, Alice Besterman, and so many others–I am forever grateful for the help and the fun you brought to the field.
Third, I would like to proclaim my undying love for Patti Reum: teacher, landowner liaison, artist, musician, birder, activist, conservationist, and our surrogate mother in the mountains. None of our work would have been possible without her tireless efforts in making introductions and getting the word out about the project. Her friendship has been a huge support for me–and not just during the field season.
Lastly, the nature…the environment…or…something. I’m not sure what I want to say here. Is it weird to thank a collection of ridges and valleys? Or bizarre to extoll that funny mix of pasture and forest, the smell mint-choked streams and cow dung, the frosty mornings, the windy afternoons, the woodland paths crawling with red efts, or all the cacophonous animal choruses–birds in the morning, insects in the afternoon, frogs at night?
Probably. Instead of gushing further, I’ll end with this: I will always remember how perfect it felt to witness a tiny, yellow-capped bird singing brashly atop a bramble as the sun broke over a foggy valley. Everything seemed miraculous and fascinating and impossibly beautiful.
So long, Highland County.