At the end of a one-lane road in Fayette County, West Virginia, there rests a small patch of woods. Little about it is remarkable when compared to the vast forests I’ve explored here in the Mountain State. But it remains special in the eyes of this woodsman. This patch of woods is where I grew from a mountain boy into a mountain man.
I spent many days and nights thriving in these woods. I studied its rocks, trees and streams. I tracked its deer, squirrel and rabbits. I learned to use fire for my warmth and cooking. And I became a lover of nature. Spending hours looking at beaver dams, lodges, cuttings and trails became more than a hobby for me as it slowly became who I am. I also found these woods a sanctuary from the television and the oppression of four walls. Carrying my Daisy pump BB-gun, I became a Vietnam Sniper, a big-game hunter in the deep forest, and a lone police officer searching for a hardened criminal. At the end of the day, I’d go back to the world of homework, school, parents, and social skills. But out here, I could let my imagination and my curiosity run free.
Later in life, long after I had grown into a man and moved away from my patch of woods, I found myself exploring these woods again. For my daily exercise, I would grab my walking stick and hike through these woods. With every walk, I’d find a new memory of my youth and the adventures I’d had in these woods. From early attempts at deer hunting to where I learned the influence of peer pressure, it seemed that every tree or bend in the creek-bed held new memories. Often they were filled with joy and I’d catch myself smiling like a child again as I walked. But occasionally, they were negative memories as I’d discover a place where I learned patience or the rock where I learned that when no one is around to take care of you, you have to learn to take care of yourself.
Two winters ago, I took my family into these woods to tell them the stories of my youth. My children and wife were excited to see the evidence of beaver activity as well as the deer and rabbit tracks. But they were much more excited to see where their grandfather taught their daddy how to use a rifle. They were excited to see my first campsite. And they were excited to see where a mountain man like me was made.
There is a sense of serenity in finding a place in the wilderness. Some of us are lucky enough to have a small patch of woods at the end of our road. Others must travel to find the wilderness. But all of us can learn a great deal about nature, God, and ourselves if we have the opportunity to enjoy nature as I did as a child.