From The Mountain
Mark J. Tidwell
In one of those quirks of life, Good Friday turned out to be a very special day for me. That morning the Smith clan showed up at our house. Three generations of um’ bailed out of trucks. They had their four-wheelers and a side-by-side UTV all loaded up on trailers and were ready for action. The Smiths come over about twice a year like that to go riding. This time, however, I was off work for the day and signed myself on for the outing.
We headed up the mountain in a convoy as the weather turned from just right to pretty nasty. Soon, we halted for the donning of rain gear. Mercy did the heavens open up on us. Big drops, little drops, and drops of all in-between sizes pelted us relentlessly. In my haste to go, I had only slipped on my Gore-Tex jacket. In no time I was soaked from the waist down.
We persevered onward though, skipping a scenic overlook to ride to some nearby cliffs for a temporary reprieve from the weather. We stood around under a huge cliff shelter and chewed the fat for a spell. Talk of old moonshine stills, old time mountain folks, hunting tales, and the lay of the land abounded. Ya’ see, the Smith clan, ten kids in all, was raised in the far country we were touring. So, the combination of their decades of knowledge far surpasses my acquaintance with the land.
Soon, the storm passed and we were back on the trails. It was truly amazing how the Smith boys could tell of all the old timers that used to live upon the land we were passing through. Time has erased almost all evidence of inhabitance, but sharp-eyed Smiths could point out a rock here, or a holler there where “old so-in-so” once lived. Chester Smith wondered how some of those old mountaineers ever survived in such remote homesteads. As a matter of fact he said he was told by old timers, when he was a boy, that sometimes folks did starve or freeze death, especially when they became old, infirm, and unable to care for themselves anymore.
The sun came out and burned the fog away about mid day. We looked over some spectacular vistas of landscape. Lloyd Smith spouted off names of rocks and prominent land features I’d never heard of before. They talked of Indian artifacts and all manners of stuff remembered from their childhoods.
The day was not without its bumpy spots though. More than once, vehicles had to be winched out of terrible ATV swallowing terrain. Lloyd had to wield his chainsaw several times as well, clearing out downed trees to make passage possible. Amber, the youngest of the group at sixteen, handled her ATV quite impressively in some very rough country. Her father Ronnie beamed with pride at such accomplishment.
I really enjoyed the day out with the Smith Clan. They were raised in a remote situation by a mother and father they still speak of with reverence. Every member of the family went on to a successful career. Lloyd retired as a Major in the US Army then worked twenty years for the postal service. Chester, worked 43 years in a supervisory manufacturing capacity. “I always felt I had to work twice as hard,” Chester said.
The woods were adorned with wildflowers after that spring shower. We also saw lots of wild turkeys and even one ruffed grouse. It’s the time of year that grouse don’t flush so readily, so I got some really good photographs of the elusive bird. But being out with men who wear the mountains like an old familiar jacket was the most interesting thing of the day. It pays to listen to stories like I heard from the Smith Clan. Unless stuff like that is recorded in family history, it’ll sadly pass away someday just like all those old overgrown homesteads.