“Get your old Kodak out or
maybe Rachel’s new digital high definition
thing that pops ’em right up”
The old man on the porch in the late winter sun.
Galluses like no one wears anymore,
old stains of chaw across the chest pocket flaps.
Buzzards circling over Mary’s Rock.
“They’re waitin’ on me,” he chuckled and his eyes smiled.
He was 26 already when he went across the Pacific
On a wave of horror. Death at every side and the blood
of friendship washed out with the tide at Okinawa.
He came home to the mountains.
“The Manahoac Indians lived up around here,” he told me once.
“They were called that because they were the happy people.
It’s easier to be happy out here in the hills.
I’ve been to big Washington, and to Baltimore, Maryland.
Once. Not for me. Not enough woods and way too many
People. Such a thing can rust your soul….”
Take the picture.
Take it now.
Take the picture now in the mourning sun
on the morning side of the mountain.
Take it like it has always been, the mountain like
a natural monument to the Creator,
the Spirit the Indians worshipped
and the One the old man sang to in the little white church that
they tore down
when they built the four lane.
He got to talking a lot
Like there was not much
“My folks came up here ten years before the Independence of 1776.
Fellow told me the Manahoacs and the forest people who came before
them lived here since way before the time of Moses.
10,000 years or more.
And he told me that these mountains were older than the Big Rocky Mountains
out in the Wild West. I saw them once.
I saw them from a troop train
when we headed for the soldier
ships out in California. 1942.
Mountains so big they had snow up on top of them.
In the month of May.
But our hills were old when the Rockies were born.”
“Millions of years older and still looking like they did
before Moses was a baby in the bulrushes basket.”
“Yessir, ours are a whole lot older.
And they’ve got kind of a mystery to them.
It is like they know something nobody else knows.
I believe they are, well, I don’t know the word….”
“Maybe the word is ‘graceful.’ Like the way
your great-grandma danced at the Farmer’s Hall
the night I fell for her.
She was just a little country girl but she danced like the ballerinas.”
“I have set on this porch right here and looked up there since I can remember,
and I can remember when Woodrow Wilson was president.
They say he was from Virginia, but I never seen him around here.
Now, Herbert Hoover used to go up
To Skyland way back before the CCC boys built the park.
Came right by here in a big long black Cadillac one time.
We waved but he didn’t.”
“Government run my Cousin Alvin out of his place up there.
He never got over that.
Nobody liked Herbert Hoover around here.
But it was Roosevelt who run them out of there.
Even so, they seemed to like him better.
He’d wave back.
I didn’t much like any of ‘em.
Politicians, I mean.”
“I keep up. My grandbaby Rachel bought me the satellite dish about ten years ago.
Gets all the channels.
But mostly I just watch the Western shows. I like ‘Gunsmoke’ and Gene Autry.
Ain’t no cussin’, either.”
“Take the picture as soon as you can, ’cause things are goin’ faster and faster.
Like the whirlin’ dervishes. They go around and around
and they get crazy lookin’
and then they fall down.”
“I saw them once in the newsreels
when they used to have a picture show
over in Little Washington.
They laughed and cut up like
they had a belly full of moonshine on a Saturday night.”
“People want to go faster and faster. They want everything right now, right this second, they can’t even wait for a half a minute.
I seen ‘em sittin’ around the café not even talkin’ to each other but lookin’ at their little bitty telephones, and lookin’ all upset that they aren’t fast enough.”
“Fellow told me that
they even do that at funerals now.”
The sun was falling fast
past Thornton Gap. Take it.
“Take the picture now, before it’s too late.”