Fleeting moments and what ifs

There are those times in our lives when you realize that you are in just the right spot, just the right time or with just the right person.  Falling in love, holding your newborn baby, experiencing a perfect moment or place are just many events and times in our lives that are truly fleeting as they seem to come and go much too quickly.  And I find myself thinking the following question at times, “what if”?  What if I had not met him?  What if I had not gone to college or started that one awesome job?  What if I had not traveled to that country and experienced that setting?

For myself, I experienced a unique, albeit rugged and fleeting moment hiking on the mountain with my family this week.  I hadn’t planned it, and in fact did not know that mother nature had just this combination of forces at work to combine and provide us something truly unforgettable.

Hiking and exploring here in January can provide some pretty brutal conditions and believe me there are days that I am quite content to stay indoors in front of the wood stove.  But this week, on one of my days off, we ventured out.   We knew it was going to be cold, temps in the 30s and cloudy.  And we knew about the forecast for windy weather.  Still we all had winter weather gear and boots, gloves and other things that made us feel confident about setting out from home.

We drove to our destination and yet another section of the Appalachian Trail and another summit to climb.  This time it was the 2nd highest peak in Virginia–a mountain called White Top.  We were meeting our daughter at the trail head and while driving it had begun to blow quite a bit of snow on us.  It had begun to stick to the roads and made for some fairly slick spots as we drove up higher in elevation.  We pulled in and my husband noted the snow flying and saw a thermometer on the sign post–got out to read it and said it read 22 degrees.  With the winds about 15-20 mph, we were definitely going to be experiencing wind chills in the single digits.  I will be honest with all of you and say that this did give us several “are you sure?” comments back and forth while waiting for our daughter to arrive.

When she pulled up, we all talked again of the cold, of our gear and clothing and well–we were here and we weren’t going to not try and make it.  We all agreed that if it got too cold, we would turn back.  The thing most in our favor was that we were going to be hiking on the leeward aspect of the mountain going up to very near the summit and would be sheltered from the worst of the wind chill effects.

Hike beginning

The snow as we began was just a dusting on the ground in the beginning, though the ground had many icy patches to navigate.  In the winter, there are so many wet weather springs that it seems as if the mountains have water flowing out of them like a huge sprinkler with springs and creeks that are pouring forth from under ground at every twenty to thirty feet or so.  These made for some careful steps as we crossed them in the cold temperatures.

Beginning winter changes



The higher we climbed though–the more fantastic the scenery became!  With every increase in altitude we saw ice and frost clinging to the trees and branches.  The higher we went, the heavier the thick hoar frost became on literally everything in site!  And at the top, when we left the heavy hardwood tree line we were amazed at the winter wonderland we saw.

The snow, wind, and cold were raw but breathtaking!  Hover over and click on the video link below to enjoy a little bit of that reality.

Winter is Fantastic

We continued back around the mountain that day. We saw a huge owl, red tail hawks all out searching for food.  And as we neared the vehicles in the parking lot, the sun had begun to peak through the clouds and the snow was melting from the roads pretty rapidly.

The hike continues

I began to think about how fleeting that winter beauty can be, a few moments of sunshine on the top of that mountain would erase all the evidence of the winter wonderland we had just experienced.  A true fleeting moment and a what if.  What if we had not been brave enough (or crazy enough) to hike that mountain that very morning together?  Just imagine what we would have missed?


Share the Mountains

More about Colleen

Colleen Patton EdD, RN, PA-C Curriculum Scholar with focus in Narrative Inquiry Appalachian native and writer Physician Assistant Educator


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