A ‘blue’ mountain, lovingly maintained

Horseback riding up the Keyser Run Fire Trail is a wondrous ride. The forest is lush, deep and green, reminiscent of visuals from the German forests enchantingly described in the tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

The National Park trail is well-manicured: Whether in snow or the lime green-leaved spring or the deep dark greens of summer, the trail is beautiful. It’s also a place and holder of secrets, as one finds a cemetery midway up the padded pine needle paths, an apparition that rises seemingly out of nowhere.

From left, Beulah Bolen, Wayne Baldwin and Mary Bolen Burner enjoy lunch during a recent trip to the family cemetery that is now part of Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Chris Doxzen.
From left, Beulah Bolen, Wayne Baldwin and Mary Bolen Burner enjoy lunch during a recent trip to the family cemetery that is now part of Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Chris Doxzen.

It’s a beautiful cemetery, its graves surrounded and protected by a painstakingly reconstructed ancient stone wall. Graves are marked with field stone and granite, small headstones of little ones, bereft of inscriptions, from days gone by when life was harder, a testament to lives ending so tragically after only months only on God’s green earth.

One can dismount to explore this grave site and come upon a plaque inscribed with a poem – a soulful, poignant ode to those who lost their homes, most by government force, to make way for the National Park. The poem, “Why the Mountains are Blue,” reads, in part:

To tell of a people who once resided on this land,
who toiled, labored, loved, laughed and cried,
having their lives altered by a ‘plan’ . . .
Out from the protection of the hollows and vales,
out onto resettlements or to properties that their pittance procured at sales,
looking over their shoulders with tears in their eyes,
pitifully departing their old homes among the skies . . .
Leaving familiar sights, their homes and their burial plots,
most left begrudgingly for some low country spots.
The blue of the mountains is not due to the atmosphere,
it’s because there is a sadness which lingers here.

That lovely poem was written by Wayne Baldwin, who was born and raised in Rappahannock County and now lives in Madison, and who often writes poems of his family or his ancestors. Twice a year, the family gathers at Keyser Run to meet, mow, clean and manicure the cemetery housing their moms, dads, cousins, uncles and aunts.

Many of them, like Beulah and Mary – now 94 and 92 years old, respectively – lived here on this mountaintop, walking more than three miles to school, a tad less to church. Back in 1935, they lived a life of self-sustainability in an eight-room farm home, raising cattle, pigs and horses for work and pleasure, and making cheese, planting vast orchards and vegetables and all sorts of crops.

The Bolens owned 1,000 acres, and some 50 other families lived here on the mountaintop as well. They thrived, loved and lost. The park, however, won. Mary and Beulah remember, wistfully and vividly, days gone by – of time spent washing clothes and wringing them dry, of milking cows and relating funny stories of their siblings.

Take their sister Ruth, for example, who was all of 16 when her boyfriend leaned a ladder up to her bedroom window in the dark of the night, a bedroom she shared with her sister Beulah, before escaping and eloping. Beulah woke the next morning and ran downstairs to Ma and Pa, saying “Ruth is gone!”

At first they told her to go back to bed, that all was well, but she insisted, “Ruth is gone!” So Pa went upstairs . . . and ran back down to call the police, because his Ruth actually was gone. But the line was cut. Ruth lived a happy life, indeed – until the age of 97.

The sisters eventually moved to Luray, and Mary speaks of the beautiful farm on the river her dad bought, a place she came to love. “What about here, this mountaintop?” I ask. You were young Mary, all of 15, when you were forced to leave, and you loved your daddy’s farm in Luray.” She looks at me, as we stand together in the Bolen cemetery, a quiet sadness in her eyes.

“Yes,” she says, “I loved my daddy’s farm in Luray, but we all want to come back home.”

This author makes a point of dismounting each and every time she passes this hallowed place to reads aloud the words inscribed, especially for folks in attendance who’ve never been up this mountainside. Most people don’t know of this sad chapter in our history, even many who drive down Fodderstack Road and pass by Resettlement Road – so named because of the mountain families who were relocated there.

Chris Green
About Chris Green 131 Articles
Chris Green (formerly Chris Doxzen) is an an executive recruiter by profession who enjoys exploring and writing about all things Rappahannock. Friends and neighbors with potential stories for her Sperryville column should email her at chrisdoxzen@gmail.com.