If you happen to be driving through the mountains of West Virginia, and if you happen to be going the long way to wherever you’re going – because Tucker County is always the long way, unless you’re specifically going there – you may cross a bridge, and go into a town called Thomas, which is full of art galleries, a locally famous bluegrass joint called The Purple Fiddle, and one coffee shop that doesn’t open until 9 pm.
And it may be morning, so there may be a mist over the river that winds across from this town, which is really just two strips of houses on the side of the mountain. So you may drive all the way through Thomas – which you can do in how long it takes to hold your breath, it’s so small – and end up in Davis, which is technically another town, even though everyone says it in one breath, ThomasAndDavis, because they’re both so small and no one every goes to one without going to the other. And you may drive through Davis, past the art co-op, past Stumptown Brewery, past the Save A Lot (which is the only grocery store in either town for locals and tourists alike.)
You may continue down the road for several country miles, meaning not so long in miles but long in the turns and twists that take your through this land where everyone is living in or on a mountainside. It may happen to not only be morning, but also summer, so everything will be green and bright. Because you are in the mountains the air will never truly loose it’s chill, the feeling of pressing your hand to a stone that spends its life sitting only in the shadows.
Eventually you will hit a straight stretch, where you will see the firehouse, the Subway attached to a gas station (which is one of the only places open during the weekdays and after 5 pm,) and the Ski Shop, where tourists rent skis and gloves to try out the slopes.
Finally, you will come to Cannan Ski Resort, or rather, layers and layers of parking lot that leads up to the entrance. If you were there in the winter, you could spend your time here skiing or snowboarding down the long hill and you may see my father or sister, who spend their weekends guiding visitors down the slopes and bandaging up broken arms. But it is not winter, it happens to be summer, so you may want to turn into the far-left parking spot.
When you park, you may want to put on your jacket, a pair of gloves even, tighten the laces of your shoes, and make sure you have water and a towel in your bag. The hike is likely to be a long and lonely one, and possibly damp, as this peak juts up into another layer of atmosphere.
You will have to walk up a well-traveled path of dirt before you hit the forest, which is really the start of the hike and where you may already be out of breath. Oak and maple trees will look down on you and turn the morning light into broken refractions of itself. The trail steepens slowly, taking you far right before going far left again, getting a little higher each time. At some point on this careful movement upwards, you will cross into Pocahontas County. You may stop to drink water more than once before you hit 4,000 ft. elevation, where the trees will turn into all red spruces which will needle at you if you get too close.
Eventually, you will come to a section of rocks leading up to a small clearing and you may sit on them, letting the sun – now at its full power in the mid-day – warm your skin. You may want to take off your jacket, and you may ask yourself what the hell you’re doing here, climbing up exactly 4,843 square feet to this place when there are so many views that you could just stop and see off the side of any old highway, no sacrifice needed. But then you may get up and walk to the edge of Bald Knob, set upon the flat rocks that make up the top of peak. There, all of creation will stretch in front of you, hills and valleys across the open earth. Below you, everything will be green and above you, it will all be blue, and it will all feel both fragile and powerfully old.
If you look to the left, you may see a small airstrip next to a set of Dutch condos, where there may be someone you cannot see, sitting on her porch with her coffee, thinking about her father and sister and when they work on the mountain. To the right, you will see a wildlife preserve, where deer and mice and birds and toads are too small to see from your great height but still, they are there, going about their days in a wilderness you do not belong to.
You may feel both insignificant and mighty, like you are sitting on a finger stretching up to the heavens that you don’t deserve. Here, you may understand – there is so much beauty in the world, whether you happen to be there or not.
Kirsten Reneau come by way of West Virginia, and received her MFA from the University of New Orleans. Her work has been featured in various literary magazines, including No Contact, Hobart, The Threepenny Review, and others. She’s on twitter: @Reneauglow.