23 November 2011

More Wild and Wonderful West Virginia!

      Even though sun fell at my back, the sky ahead was still thick with rain. Through the scent of wet concrete and stinky neoprene I could smell my mountains.
      My Appalachians.
      For better or worse, like how a dog belonged to its fleas.

      All this happened as the sun slid across the sky and dipped toward Canaan Mountain on the other side of the valley, four or five miles away. It was a circus of pink and gold that lingered the way that only a summer-bound sunset can.

     "That’s why I’m here." He took an old pistol and a box of rounds out of a shoebox and threw them into the pack.
     I had to look away. "Ben...."
     "For snakes. Let’s go." He tossed the old pack over his shoulder.

     By the time we hit Seneca Rocks the sun was halfway into its trip to noon. Shadows stretched out from the mountains, hiding coolness in their breeches. At the climbing school guides sipped coffee and stretched their ropes. Ben pulled right up to the porch. Tourists lingered by their cars, as far from the guides as was proper. The stoners were slack-lining, their gear littered picnic tables. One had dreadlocks and a shaggy beard. I could smell weed as soon as I got out of the Jeep. Say what you will about raft guides, but at least they got wet once a day.

     We strode over the gashed earth where skidders and bulldozers had torn through the soil. Past smoldering piles of ash that used to be tsuga canadensis, kalmia latifolia. Indian pipes, whorled loosestrife, and flowering raspberry were little more than smoke signals now. A first-hand account of the destruction.

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20 November 2011

My Wild and Wonderful West Virginia!

     The hair on my neck and arms stood when she kissed me. Her breath was cool, like the wind that twisted the spruce on the huckleberry plains above. When she said my name I couldn’t tell if I was hearing words or the arrival of summer.

     Alex didn’t say anything until I pulled up to the old Jenkinsburg Bridge. This was much higher than the bridge over the Big Sandy. The old steel trestle spanned the V-shaped Cheat Canyon quite dramatically. Big pines buttressed each end and a rocky rapid flowed below. Occasional rock outcroppings punctuated the steep, green slopes.

     I slowed as we came through the village of Thomas. Old company stores hemmed us in on one side, the Blackwater River on the other. The Miners and Merchants Bank was the only non-tourism related business left on the whole street. Exiting town took us up still higher, through white pines and past the ball field where I played Little League. Canaan Mountain loomed high in the background; the spruce along the top was visible even from here. We passed the entrance to Blackwater Falls State Park and a chill fell upon us. It was so cold Alex dug for my fleece in the back of the Jeep.

Girls loved raft guides like rabbits love clover...

The ground twisted and slithered. A sea of snakes pulled themselves from chilly crevasses to seek the warmth of the heavy, dark ties. Timber rattlers, too sleepy to be excitable, kept their distance from the heavy wheels. Feisty copperheads coiled and feigned aggression.

The power of the ancient forest was apparent from the moment the sun passed overhead.

The quiet meadows along the road were about to erupt with the greens of wild bleeding hearts and tiger lilies. Some dark pocket on the backside of the ridge probably hid the last painted trillium of the year.

All around the green walls of Mozark Mountain, Otter Creek, and Blackwater Canyon muffled any shouts of assistance to the outside world.

     "Hungry?" I asked. But her reply didn't matter. I was starving, and drifted to a stop in front of Sirianni's. Almost like I'd followed the smell of garlic right to the front door.

     North Fork Mountain kept people out of this part of the world; it was the first ridge in a series that ended at the Shenandoah in Virginia. Where Spruce Knob was capped with its namesake vegetation, North Fork Mountain had rocky fins of Tuscarora Sandstone crenellating its long, narrow expanse. Wanderers and outcasts gave in to the pull of West Virginia's secret border, a place the rest of the country ignored. But the exposed rock nestled in a bed of white pine finally broke my silence. It made me smile.

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