Through Our Native State

By Lenore Coberly

We drive down the Little Kanawha late in life,

enfolded by green hills in spring leaf, at speed limits

forty on curves, a constant in these parts. 

At Dolly Sods we climb to see calypso orchids in

deepest red and boulders piled across the top, the 

heart of the world’s oldest mountains laid bare by 

fires that burned the cedar mulch of centuries. Firs, 

one-sided from wind, and berries grow in crevices 

among old rocks at 3,500 feet. Mr. Dahle from Germany 

cut the trees and grazed sheep here, found a place 

that was home, never dreaming land could burn. 

Uncle Bob, ninety-four now, understands the strange 

volatility of mountains. He drills for gas, remembers 

feuds and deaths and going for a job in fifty-cent 

overalls when the railroad came up the Guyan to get coal 

that burned hotter than peat. The foreman asked what 

he could do and he said nothing so they made him a 

tie-tapper on a twelve mile section of track for $2.10 

a day while the men were fighting in Germany. “Not 

one of them from Harts Creek got killed,” he says, “they 

were used to gun fire—whatever happened to that Kaiser? 

The cousins and their children’s children gather to laugh 

and talk about how easy it is to make mistakes in this 

life and how important it is to forgive and be forgiven. 

When the burning sun sets 

there is light 

beyond the next mountain.