A robin croons in the darkness — spring’s alarm clock for a pre-dawn journey.
Soon its song harmonizes with another, farther out, then another, closer this time, and still another until they have a choir in full crescendo outside the open kitchen window while coffee brews.
Few will view sunrise today from the Pine Tree Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a few miles north of Roanoke. One of more than 200 such overlooks along the parkway’s 469 miles, there’s nothing much special about this one, except the view of the sun as it rises between Flat Top and Sharp Top.
It’s a 20-minute trip on the winding two-lane road that stretches no farther in the darkness than the reach of high beams. No other cars face east in the pullout, but there could just has well be as the relative solitude of parkway views lures an assortment of thinkers, mourners, writers, hand-holders, picnickers, the occasional string picker and the reverent; many are flatland pilgrims seeking the clarity of high places. As with much that’s familiar, the splendor fades into little more than a backdrop for a valley commute for those of us fortunate to call these peaks and valleys home.
But the faithful are always rewarded for a purposeful journey here: A lifetime of brush strokes hasn’t lessened the wonder Roanoke painter Eric Fitzpatrick feels before such a transitory scene. Brush in hand, he won’t shrink from the struggle of arresting on canvas moments he calls sacred and quicksilver. “I’m lost in worship of what lies before me,” says Fitzpatrick. “To me, those are the most magical of life’s moments; brief passages that let you know in an instant what a blessing it is to be human.”
Indeed it is a blessing — a glory in life and light and land, for the passing of all things comes soon enough: With marvelous speed a child blooms into adulthood, and elders’ hands that comforted and guided for so long are too soon absent.
This dawn vista is no less ephemeral.
As night becomes day and spring comes late to the higher elevations, the dark mountains imperceptibly warm to reveal impressions of redbud and dogwood among the bare hardwoods. And so another night — another season — pass in the comfortable bird song rhythm of the southern Appalachians.