There once was a thriving little city deep in the mountains of West Virginia. This city served as a hub of business due to its rail system and its close proximity to the vast coal mining industry of early West Virginia. Known as the “Dodge City” of the East, Thurmond, West Virginia, became known as a rough and rowdy locale, a place where you may get rich – or you may get killed.
I enjoy following the winding blacktop roads along Dunloup Creek towards Thurmond. They always inspire personal reflection and remind me that things are always in a state of transition – what once was, is not, and what is, was not always. Glen Jean or Oak Hill, the closest towns to Thurmond, are now commonplace towns where mountaineers congregate today to drink beer, to meet friends, and to share stories. Driving down the road to Thurmond represents a drive into the wilderness, to a place civilization has forgotten. But at one point, not far back in the state’s history, Thurmond was the pinnacle of mountaineer civilization. Coal barons, miners, travelers, prostitutes, and preachers all gathered here to find safety in numbers. Glen Jean and Oak Hill represented trips toward “no man’s land.” Leaving Thurmond for these far–flung communities and their wild surroundings was a task left only to the hardened mountain man, a man who could survive in the depths of the forest for days or weeks with no help from the rest of the world.
Of course, I typically keep these thoughts to myself while taking my wife and son on a leisurely drive along this road. They are more interested in the remaining train station and hotel at Thurmond and the views of Dunloup Creek as we safely travel in our five–star–rated SUV and our highway performance tires – a far cry from the horses and carriages which once carried mountaineers along this route.
My wife enjoys the views of the waterfalls as does my son. To be honest, the beauty doesn’t go unnoticed by this old woodsman either. I love watching the cold mountain water fall and crash onto the surface of the earth. Waterfalls enrapture me. They make me feel close to the land, close to the water, and close to myself.
I most enjoy feeling this closeness in the company of my son. He loves being outside. He loves nature. And if I have anything to do with it, he’ll love this great state and all the wonders and beauty found here.
I watch him and see how intently he stares into the water. Whether a mountain lake, a frigid mountain stream, or raging river, he stares as if he will find the answers to his own life somewhere beneath the murky water. I watch him and grow more and more proud of the young man he is becoming.
I watch him and I am thankful to be a father.