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.