I had not been home in so long I almost missed the turn into my brother's driveway. The trees had grown, and the look of his mountain had changed. I had to readjust my memories, but only a little bit.
Most of you, if you've read my Aunt Bett stories, know of my love for the Appalachian mountains of southeast Kentucky. I grew up there, and spent many years helping my great Aunt Bett find wildflowers to use for home remedies. I learned a lot, but never realized just how much I learned until I'd lived for many years in the flatlands. When I passed her house, I could almost see her sitting in a rocker on the front porch, and hear her: "Now chile, don't you fergit none of what I'm tellin' you."
So I was home again.
I was a little scared, after all, years had passed and I'd heard that my mountains had changed. I was not sure what to expect.
They had changed, new roads had been built, others had been widened, logging had opened some surfaces to sunshine, and reclamation had taken place where coal mines had once been. But my mountains, those closest to my old homeplace, had hardly changed a bit. My paths were still there, a little overgrown, but not so much that I couldn't find them. My boyfriend's initials were still carved on the old maple tree, and the wild honeysuckle and Mountain Laurel were both in bloom! I had not been home in 14 years, but my mountains were almost just as I had left them. They simply took my breath away.
I live about 500 miles away from the mountains, which is no excuse for not visiting them, but it is the only one I have. Sometimes life just gets in the way of best laid plans. I sat beneath a tree in my brother's yard last week and looked up at the top of the mountain in front of me, knowing if I climbed it, I'd be in Virginia as soon as I crossed to the other side. I remembered the time I tried to convince Aunt Bett that those people in Virginia had chased a bear across that mountain, and it surely must be waiting for us just behind the next tree. She didn't listen to a word I said, she just kept right on climbing. And if the bear was there, it kept right on hiding.
A friend of my brother had a 4 wheeler, we borrowed it and those uphill trips were much easier than they had been during the fifties. I wonder what Aunt Bett would think if she knew I four wheeled over all the paths she and I had once climbed. She probably would want to hop on and go with me.
People waved as I started my ride. I'm sure they didn't often see a little old lady roaming around the mountains on a 4 wheeler. But I knew in my heart that they'd come looking for me if I wasn't back before dark. Whether they knew me or not, that's the kind of people they are.
I saw areas where the coal had been mined, places where seams of coal could be seen along the cliffs. I saw too, that reclamation had taken place, and though they can't replace the mountain to its earlier beauty, an effort had been made to try.
Along the way I followed a pipeline, and out of it gushed fresh cold mountain water, just right for quenching thirst on a very warm day. I also saw patches of pumps, 7 miles straight down into the depths of the mountain, my brother said. "Gas," he explained as I complained of a bare spot that once held coveted ladyslippers and bee balm.
Some of the beauty had been marred by careless logging, and erosion had already begun. "But it's his property," said my brother of the logger, "he can do with it as he wants and we have no laws yet to stop him." I hope somebody tells the owner that if he doesn't do something quickly, that bare mountain behind his house will soon be on top of it, if nothing is done to stop the erosion.
We climbed higher, 3500 feet, my brother said, and I could see for miles around. The mountains are stunning in their beauty. Even with a few bald spots here and there, they are simply breathtaking. If you've never stood alone on the top of a mountain, if you've never breathed deeply of unpolluted air, if you've never listened to leaves whispering to each other, then you have missed a moment of deep reverence. My brother was with me at that moment, but it didn't matter. Each of us was alone.
There are higher mountains, there are mountains that are older, but these special mountains are mine. From them, I learned important lessons. And standing upon them, I felt anchored, safe and strong. I stood there for a long time as the setting sun cast rosy shadows all around me.
So you see, we can go home again. I needed to regain strength I'd lost along the way. I needed to remember that some things don't really change. And I needed to remind myself of those important things the mountains taught me. A long time ago my grandfather gave me a Bible verse, and it doesn't matter what we believe, I always thought of it as a song about my mountains:
I will lift up my eyes to the hills from where comes my help. Psalm 121:1.
As I stood on the highest mountaintop, I thought of my grandfather, I thought of my Aunt Bett, and I thought of all those who had taught me precious things, important things. I was home again.