Sunday, September 26, 2010

The View from the Bus

     Last night I peed in the woods and slept in a bus and I wasn’t even at Woodstock. Joe and I spent the day repairing the board fence that keeps the cows out of my garden and yard. There were posts to replace, boards to prime and paint to scrape. At 4:00 when our arms were sore and our tempers short, we called it quits and packed up for a campout in the bus at the top of the mountain.
     Two years ago, Joe bought an old school bus at a surplus sale. It had been his dream for some time to convert one into a hunting camp. After a week spent painting the exterior forest green, Joe and the boys built four bunk beds, a small eating area, and a kitchen counter. This bout of interior decorating was capped by the installation of a tiny wood burning stove. Joe drove the bus up the incredibly steep path to the top of the mountain on the eastern edge of our property. He parked it so it commands a majestic view of the lower part of the Bullpasture Valley.
     The boys had spent two hunting seasons up there, but I had never had the opportunity to spend the night. The weather was beautiful. High blue skies contrasted with the trembling orange and yellow fall leaves. A Red Tailed hawk screamed overhead as it drifted on the thermals. We drove the logging road to the top of the ridge and unloaded our few supplies into the bus. Then we hiked up the holler to the watering hole and followed some old logging roads to the top of the mountain. We visited Brent’s pond, which is almost completely dry and then trekked southwest into the setting sun until we reached the high meadow. Perched on rocks at the edge of the field, we admired the one hundred eighty degree view of the surrounding mountains which undulate endlessly to the west. Views like that always remind me of how big my God is.
     As the sun slid below the last mountain we turned downhill and headed back to the bus. Our legs were trembling with exhaustion and it was completely dark by the time we reached it, but Joe ran these mountains as a young boy chasing coons in the moonlight, so I knew I could just follow him home. After a supper of warm pork tenderloin sandwiches, chips and beer, we talked into the dark until finally we were yawning more than conversing. Then, we crawled into the tiny bunks and fell asleep to the distant sound of dogs barking in the village below. At midnight, when Joe returned from a brief trip to the woods, he stood at the bus window and I rose to join him. The moon rising in the east behind us was casting a brilliant light on the ridges below. We crawled back into our cozy beds, refreshed and bone tired and slept until the sun woke us. After another brief hike down to Dark Holler, we packed up and bumped our way home.
     This was my second hike of the weekend.  On Friday, I stopped in Ramsey's Draft at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountain and hiked a small portion of the trail there.  I am planning a field trip to the area for my students and wanted a chance to check it out.  The path there follows the stream bed,which was almost completely dry from the continued drought.  I did find several small pools of crystal water and although I didn't drink any, I have read that it is so pure, that I could have.  Justin has hunted all through the Ramsey's Draft area and before I left, he jokingly offered me one of his dog's tracking collars, so if I got lost the signal could be used to find me.  He cautioned me not to leave the main trail because the wilderness there is deep and tricky with lots of false hollers. More than one hiker has spent several cold and lonely nights there waiting for rescue. I only walked thirty minutes in and thirty minutes back out so I wasn't in danger, but I also didn't reach the virgin timber tucked deep into the heart of the valley.  I would like to go back soon and try to find it.

It is a privilege to live in a place where the best vacations can be found right out my back door.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Words and Bread

     When I first moved to Highland County, my principal suggested that I learn where all of my students lived. He wanted me to understand some of the remote and rugged places that they called home. So, I hopped in my car and started looking for their houses, but I couldn’t find them. One set of directions said to go three miles up Straight Creek until I reached the Forks of the Water.  Then I should turn left on the Blue Grass Road and follow it until I reached the road to Laurel Fork.  Seemed simple enough, but although all of the roads in the county had names, none of them sported a road sign. The locals and old timers knew which road was Possum Trot and which one was Seldom Seen, but county maps only listed roads by route numbers. When I finally mastered most of the place names and the people attached to them, I felt like I was officially a member of the community. Then, the government required us to post street signs on all the roads so the rescue squads and firemen could come to our rescue, even though they already knew where we lived. Even my quarter mile driveway was marked by a brown sign. And of course there were arguments as folks tried to determine if the street signs should read “hollow”-(definition--empty space), or “holler” (definition--friendly yell.) Hollow won out over the more poetic local vernacular. Many of the place names were changed or replaced.
     Last weekend I attended a happy reunion on the tree lined shores of Camp Hanover. Several of us climbed into a tree house high over the tannic brown lake and recalled the language of the magical summers we spent there. We talked of  Mystery Lake, the P-fer Teepee, Vesper Dell, the monkey bridge, the Trading Post, the sawdust pile, the snake pit and Fairy Land. We remembered drinking bug juice, initiating the innocents into the Honey Bee Society, listening to John tell stories about “Our Elephant,” and “Old Roanie,” going on dry runs across the lake and kneeling reverently to light a fire. The words were enough to carry us, if only for a moment, back to the firefly nights of sleeping in hogans, making s’mores, and gathering on rainy nights in the Kirkwoods.
     But, like the road names in Highland, some of our words have been lost or replaced by a new vernacular which will resonate in the same way in thirty or so years for another bunch of old friends who, like us, will come back to hike the lake and speak the words that evoke such rich memories. And like me, they will be fed.
Evening has come. The board is spread. Thanks be to God who gives us bread. Praise God for bread.