LOOSELEAF LAUREATE: A pin-striped fig leaf for Adam and Eve?

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By Terri Likens, Editor

Two miles in and six miles out was the running joke among the hikers I was with in Cumberland County on New Year’s Eve.

The 50-degree weather was nice for the last day of December as we made our way down Black Mountain to Windlass Cave.

The wind kicked up at intervals, necessitating some wardrobe adjustments, but we all had adequate layers.

The couple of miles downhill was an easy romp. Even though we covered the same ground on the way out, it was all uphill — hence the joke about it being three times longer.

We carried light packs with our lunches, which we shared and devoured at the mouth of cave. None of us went far beyond the cave entrance, heeding the warnings that people can spread the white-nose syndrome that is killing cave-dwelling bats.

A small stream coming off of Black Mountain disappeared at the mouth of the cave. It told a bigger story.

In the overall scheme of things, this is part of that beautiful area called Grassy Cove. Over eons, streams eroded away much of the limestone in the area, creating a large group of sinkholes that merged to form Grassy Cove.

At the top of the mountain, the rocks were even more interesting. The formations were windswept and water-pitted, with passageways, overhangs and sweeping views. When we weren’t on top appreciating the vistas, we explored the fissures between the rocks.

The leaders of our hike, friends Joe and Rita, are geologists.

They were married in a natural courtyard in this stone village.

The rest of us could appreciate their desire to commit to a lifetime together here, and we vowed to come back for a picnic.

Other than the rocks, caves and vistas, we were intrigued by a series of large, pinstriped leaves that lifted their green heads up out of the tawny leaf litter along the trail.

We were in agreement they belonged to a wild orchid, but which?

Later, back at Joe and Rita’s house, we consulted a plant guide and learned that they are puttyroot, also known as the Adam and Eve orchid. One can only assume that the large, single leaf led to Biblical nomenclature.

The native plant book said the leaves disappear before the plant blooms in the spring. That was no matter to us.

Whatever time of year it is — dead of winter or heart of spring — we’ll always think of Black Mountain as our own little Garden of Eden.