Wednesday, February 6, 2008
On the Roan
I stand at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald, trying to hold my balance in the wind that whips across this mountaintop, rippling the long grass like waves. I look out over the other balds, the rhododendron with blossoms full and pink on their tangled branches, the mountains covered in emerald forests rolling out below, the valleys and towns in the distance. Nothing is so beautiful to me as these mountains, this piece of land that is my home. I breath deep of the mountain air, an air that fills not only my lungs but also my soul, an aroma of hot grass and laurel blossoms, of tulip poplars and mossy mountain streams.
I have been there many times in my life, and many hundreds more in my mind. The colors change with the seasons. They are bright orange and gold in Autumn, purple and gray and covered in rime ice in the winter, pale green and blossoming pink and white in Spring. The smells change to: decaying leaves underfoot, mountain water dripping from icy rocks, and the mountains coming to life again with the first Spring rain.
As I child, I thought foolishly, as most children do, that everyone's existence was as idyllic as mine. I have come to learn, of course, that it is not so. Some people do get to grow up in beautiful places, deserts with amazing creatures, cities full of energy and variety of cultures, rich fields of black dirt and open skies. All are beautiful in their way, but to me, none is as beautiful as my mountains. And when life does get difficult, I always return there, by car or in my mind, to the place where my soul is anchored.
I remember summer picnics on the Roan, crawling through the tangle of rhododendron branches, being chased by my brother and the bumblebees, while my dad and his brothers cooked hamburgers on the grill and my mom and aunts set out the baked beans and potato salad. My Grandma and Great Aunt Mary were overseeing the whole affair, making sure we hadn't forgotten the sweet tea, Mary's homemade rolls, or Grandma's chocolate cake.
I remember other picnics, these not at the top of a mountain but down in the valleys, at a place called the Laurels. Cousins and uncles and I waded barefoot in the mossy creek, jumping across from stone to stone, turning up rocks in search of salamanders, always on the lookout for snakes. We dried out in old lawn chairs while we ate hotdogs with homemade chili and drank more of the requisite sweet tea. Maybe this time we finished it off with a slice of butterscotch pie.
I remember living in a place where my Great-Grandmother had an half acre of rich land in the middle of town, right smack between some houses. My daddy worked that garden, growing tomato plants that turned my skin green and made it itch all over. There were rows of green beans for my Grandma and Mary to can after we strung and broke them. There were new potatoes and pumpkins and greens and hundreds of ears of corn. I never knew what a store bought vegetable was as a child. I only knew the apple trees that I climbed as I watched my daddy till the earth and plant the seeds to grow that year's crop.
I remember being a teenager, hiking along the river up to Laurel Falls with my friends. We would always wear our bathing suits and jump right in, the water so cold it knocked us flat for a few seconds. I remember climbing up the falls and jumping off into the swimming hole, ducking behind the rushing water for a quick kiss from some cute boy, drying out on sunny rocks in the middle of the river before pulling out a picnic lunch.
I remember late nights driving the curvy back roads, listening to oldies or bluegrass, finding a place to camp out and watch the sunrise. We'd drive back down to catch a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and fried potatoes, probably with a glass of sweet tea, even for breakfast.
There is so much more I could remember, that I wish you could see, of this place I love. It is no longer where I live, but it will always be my home. I want it to be my boys' home, too. I am lucky that the place where I grew up is lacking in natural resources and surrounded by a lot of state and national parkland. Even if we had coal, there are a lot of universities in that area and people with the resources to fight manmade ecological disasters. The worst that has happened so far is the invasion of Floridians who think we make a great vacation spot. Overdevelopment is bad, I will admit, but not so bad as what is happening in other parts of Appalachia. A paradise is being destroyed, and the poor of Appalachia are not being heard. Will you add your voice to their cries?
It's Blog for Appalachia week, and my regular readers know this is a cause near to my heart. I hope to do a giveaway related to this sometime in the next few weeks. Check back for the chance to win your choice from a list of great books, fiction and non. To read more posts, click here.