Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Coming Home

Reminiscing September 15, 2006

Today, I drove Dad’s 1979 GMC truck to the refuse dump/recycling center. I drove down Ryan’s curve, up through Happy Hollow, out Mt. Tabor road, down Bishop Lane, up Hwy 460 and then into Coal Bank Hollow. The trip was about 3 miles long, and because I didn’t want to distribute my trash over the scenic countryside I never got in high gear. The return trip was even more interesting because I turned wrongly on Bishop road going the other way from where I had traveled it before. I give you these travel details to illustrate that you don’t go straight to anywhere in Montgomery County, Virginia. In my short trip I could see sets of mountain ranges in every direction with a different view at each turn. This is the heart of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Just a few miles from Coal Bank Hollow, one can get on the famous Appalachian Trail that meanders along ridge tops of these Eastern Mountains from Maine to Georgia.

I was taken with the beauty of this pre-fall. Technically it is summer but in the Virginia Highlands there needs to be more seasons to describe the climate adequately. It was sweltering hot just a week or so ago and it will probably be that way again before serious leaf fall. But for now it we have the green of spring, the yellow (Golden Rod) of late summer and the coolness of fall, not cold but the kind of cool that makes you enjoy physical activity outside. I had the windows down and at my slow pace the breeze was refreshing. It almost made the trip to the dump something to write home about.

I turned 66 last month. I left Blacksburg when I was 23. Why? I had graduated from Virginia Tech, for one thing and I wanted to further my education at a Western university. But still I ask, why? I thought, “I’ll bet Daniel Boone had some of the same interest that I experienced when I was younger.” “What’s beyond that mountain? What adventures lie ahead? If I leave can I find my way back? Those were real questions for me and I have a career full of stories. But more importantly, I have a large family that still recognizes that they have roots in these Virginia Mountains.

What is it like to return to the mountains? It is not a complete return but the times at home have been more frequent and of a longer duration than in previous years. I still see the beauty of God’s creation, but the journey has given me new eyes. What were mono colored green mountains now look like waves of the ocean with differing hues of blue, green and gray. The clouds can change from soft and fluffy to dark and bold in what seems to be a flash.

Since I’ve been away barren and back woods places have become prime building sites. Properties that once had rows of peach and apple trees now have columns of houses. The mottled pink and white colors of the springs-past have given way to the symmetry of rooftops. And I wonder if the people that have swarmed to the mountains appreciate the place that now holds them. I hope they respect and work to achieve a balance between use and preservation of this colorful region.

My journey has also given me new insight to the people of the region, my kin and my neighbors as well as the “foreigners “ that have moved in. Foreigners don’t necessarily mean from another country. It’s just that they are “from off,” i. e. “not from around here.”

Some of what I saw as normal black/white/gray has taken on soft shades like the mountains. Most folks with whom I grew up were from Scotch-Irish decent. But they had been away from the motherland so long that they were no longer Catholic, in fact they were almost anti-Catholic. As I grew up I probably had little thought about diversity (probably had never heard the word) . But if I did it would have meant something like people from Floyd or Carroll counties that moved in or real foreigners that had relocated from another state. The English of natives often shocked foreigners who failed to recognize the Celtic terms and phrases ( although somewhat modified) that have stayed with mountain people. And around here folks communicate as Jesus communicated. They tell stories, some are true, some mystify, some make a point, others just stimulate a laugh or another story. The best stories understate the main point and some do only what a native story teller can do; cause one to laugh at the antics of the teller or people of the region. If outsiders told the same stories they would be “making fun.”

Coming home as a stranger to strangers is an interesting journey. May I have eyes to see and ears to hear and appreciate the new colors that blended traditions and modern advances produce.

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