West Virginia

Written by my son Luke Justice in the 10th grade.

There may be thousands of gorgeous places in America, but what makes a place really special and spectacular are the memories made there. My special place is a barn-red, 70 year-old, rusted-metal-roofed hunting cabin in the Monongahela National Forrest lodged right on the Virginia/West Virginia state line. My grandfather and his buddies built the thousand square foot cabin while he was in his early twenties, and most of my father’s fondest memories were established in the mountains around this old hunting cabin.

The first time I vividly remember coming up to my grandfather’s cabin was with my grandparents, my brother, and a few of my cousins when I was about eight. It was the middle of summer and somehow the air was able to stay sixty degrees, quite cold for a kid from Florida. The hunting lodge sat on the hillside and was stuck in between the mountain that rose behind it and a state highway in front. Everything around the cabin was covered in tall, green grass.  Right by the open gate ran a small creek filled with more rocks than water, which had its beginnings way back up the holler (mountain talk for a tiny valley). I remember spending hours lifting rocks the size of my leg to try to dam one of the many miniature waterfalls that fell throughout the creek. One great thing about the creek was that it was chock full of crawdads and salamanders. I loved finding the miniature lobsters, but I always thought their half inch claw would pry one of my fingers off. Even today, I am reluctant to touch one of them.

My family took many voyages to the cabin in the years after that first trip. Just about three years ago, my father hatched the idea to renovate the cabin. He bought new cabinets for the ones that had been rotting inside and was able to refinish the pure hardwood floor. Unfortunately, he could not remove the belongings from the upstairs that the dead members of the hunting cabin had left by their beds. Knowing that the people who once slept in those beds were dead and the eerie sounds made by the rusting spring mattresses reminded me of lost whales beckoning in the night.  I’m sure my brother felt the same creepy feeling.

During the breaks between the renovations, my father and I would go hunting. Last year, after a few days of hunting, I told my father I wanted to go up the holler by the creek and hunt by myself in my grandpa’s favorite spot. So about thirty minutes before the dawn broke we split paths. He took the car to the top of the mountain and I took the small path surrounded by hardwoods. It was near pitch-black, and I couldn’t stop thinking that a bear was going to come out and mangle me. About half way up, a light drizzle started and the forest seemed to go to sleep. After forty-five minutes, I reached my grandfather’s spot, where I hunkered down and began the waiting. Nothing happened – nothing – for hours – so I stood up and decided to hunt the ridge line above me.  I was startled when I turned around to go and saw my father sitting there. I thought I went hunting by myself, but sometime during the morning my father had slipped down the ridge behind me and without a noise had hunkered down 10 yards behind me.  Until I stood up, neither of us knew the other was there.   But I did enjoy the time I thought I had to myself. The fog that had rolled in made everything mysterious, and there in the woods, I realized that for the rest of my life I want to come back to these mountains to uncover all their secrets.