It had been a couple years since I last made the long drive across Kentucky to my Mom’s house in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. I had no appointments and my Queen Malisah also had open days on her normally full calendar so we loaded our two Staffordshire terriers, a cooler and lightly packed bags into the Buick and set forth for a few days away from our offices and the apartment. My Mom’s house is situated halfway up a steep mountain in the Clinch River Valley, perfect for hiking the back country as there are no trails. The rough terrain and fear of wildlife keep all but local hunters from straying off the roads in this region; each year I go I always hear the same ominous sermon, “The copperheads are worse this year than ever before.”
This season, snakes and bears were not the obstacle that prevented our ascent to the top of the hill. Instead, it snowed enough to make climbing too dangerous to attempt. Having reached the crest on previous hikes, I knew the challenges ahead if we had tried to claw our way up in the cold snow. We held off disappointment with the reasoning we can always try again in the spring, also our route home would pass a state park in Kentucky that has trails more easily traversed in snow than the wilderness that is Mom’s backyard. Focusing on the positive, we made preparations for a small Thanksgiving dinner. Since it was only Mom, Malisah and myself, we baked a five pound turkey breast instead of a whole bird. Cornbread, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and a vegetable tray served as sides. It wasn’t a grand buffet but it was more than enough for the three of us to have a great dinner, turkey sandwiches the next morning and still leave Mom enough leftovers for another meal or two.
We spent a couple days catching up on stories about family and making sure Mom didn’t need anything done around the house. Her advanced age often prevents her from moving furniture and other maintenance projects that require younger eyes and physical strength. Of course, no trip to Mom’s is complete without looking through the numerous photo albums. My Mom is the keeper and guardian of many volumes of the pictorial history of my family; she has photos of relatives who lived many generations before herself and the collection spans the ages to include her current grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is always one of my favorite things to do when in the home of my elders; each photograph takes me back to the time and place even if it was before my time. Long dead relatives share their experiences in a single frame; context clues remind me what my own childhood was like, whom was in attendance at my fifth birthday party, my nephew and I at the dunes, old neighbors and the cars we drove all still live in the dusty tomes.
The morning came when we were scheduled to return to Indiana. It is always a strange feeling for me; I hate leaving the mountains to return to the fields. Don’t misunderstand me; I love Indiana for a lot of reasons; it is just difficult to leave a place my entire family calls “down home”. Having been born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, during the era my Dad was employed by Ford Motor Co., I do not have the same connection to my birthplace as the rest of my family does to theirs. Reluctantly, I loaded the car and did the customary once over of the guest room to ensure we weren’t leaving behind a phone charger or stray pants. The dogs were excited to be on the road again; they only know the adventure of new sights and smells with no care of road conditions, speed traps or public restrooms. After a cup of coffee, a shot of Jagermeister and a hug from Mom, we were off.
The ride home was graced with the nicest weather we had seen since leaving the Hoosier state a few days before. Our anticipation for hiking grew and we hurried on north to Slade, Kentucky where I had hiked a few times before. I had told Malisah about the naturally eroded sandstone bridge at the top of the mountain; that was our destination. Upon arrival, we parked the Buick and applied harnesses to the dogs. We started up the trail head and noticed a large sign full of rules and regulations. Being experienced hikers, we figured the rules were posted so freshmen would know not to burn down the forest and walked past the posted commandments as though they were in a foreign language. A short distance later, we crossed a small suspended bridge over the river and started the path up the mountain to the sandstone structure.
That is when we noticed the entire trail was littered with regulatory signage. NO drinking, NO fires, NO camping, NO terrorism, NO soup for anyone! What the hell happened to this place? It had been years since I camped and hiked here but I never guessed it was now under what I assumed was North Korean Management. The most troubling sign read this: “NO DOGS”. Now I knew just how full of shit this place was. I’ve been a responsible outdoorsman my entire life. Never have I encountered a dog free state park with dog free trails. Not wanting to cause problems, we decided to quietly and quickly leave. Just as we reached the bridge back over the river, a seriously overweight park employee in a jeep pulled up, blocking our path back to the vehicle. He was the type that wanted to be in law enforcement his whole life but his love of butter and pork chops was stronger than his need for authority over his fellow man. Pathetic. As he rolled out of the vehicle, he was sternly reprimanding us for ignoring his signage about the dog free zone we were in. “It’s $1000 fine per dog!” he exclaimed. Nearby signs reported a $500 fine for defacing the sandstone structures; the anti-dog signs listed no monetary penalty. I have serious doubt that the state of Kentucky, backward as they may be, would care twice as much about a well behaved, leashed dog on a trail than vandalism of a natural structure in a mountain park. This pork-n-bean eater was hoping for a bribe.
Having been faced with government employees before, I am experienced in walking away from them when they make unreasonable demands or other nonsense. I told him we had just seen the signs and were compliantly leaving. He would get no money from us as we were just passing through and did not respect his authority. We calmly walked back to where our trusty Buick was parked and left without so much as giving our names. It was a disappointing outcome to say the least. I had hoped to share pictures of our hike and stories of how beautiful America is when one escapes the highway by a few hundred yards. Instead, I have shared a well written however dry story of a trip to my Mom’s house. At least the rest of the drive home was free of hassle. A safe return was made, the apartment still intact, the cats alive and well. The next day would bring our usual round of appointments at work, laundry and other day to day banality that composes the song of our lives.
© David Rynes and King David’s Tattoo, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.