On top of Big A Mountain (on Route 80 along the county line of Buchanan and Russell Counties, Va.) there stands a fire tower (or in the vernacular of the local accents a "far tar"). Today it is abandoned and around it are other tall towers for cell phones, radar, satellites, etc. But when I was growing up, a ranger actually stayed in the fire tower at least three or four months of the year to keep watch for forest fires.
I remember as child being told how far you could see when you were at the top. Now however, I can't remember for sure but seems like it was five different states that you could see!
Usually at least once a summer, we would decide that we were going to trek to the tower. You could take a car at least part of the way. The turnoff for the road was tucked on the back side of Big A (the Buchanan County side). If you didn't know exactly which one it was, you could pass it all day long and not know about it. There were no signs in those days for the turn. Once you made the turn to go up the mountain, you could go a few miles but at some point the road would become so bad and rutted that you would have to abandon the car (or truck or jeep) and venture by foot. It was still several miles to the tower and it was all uphill.
I only remember actually making it to the tower twice. Once there the challenge was to climb the tower - more uphill (well, actually up stairs but it was still UP). Of all the summers and all the start-outs and the two times actually arriving at the tower, I remember only one time climbing to the top - only to find that the door to the top of the tower was locked - the ranger wasn't there. We couldn't get in to see his view or play with his toys or talk to him about what fires he had spotted. All the other times, I chickened out somewhere on the stairs because it was SO high up. I would get wobbly-kneed and couldn't make myself climb any farther.
As a colleague told me in later life, "Oh I don't mind heights - it's the edges that get me!"
I do remember that getting my feet back on solid ground always felt really great and the walk back to the car (downhill) wasn't quite as bad or as long as the walk up.
I sometimes long for those care-free summer days. It didn't seem as hot as it does now. The world did not seem as dangerous as now. Mother didn't worry about us even though we were miles from home with no cell phones, no twitter, not even any "true" adults over 20 along (sometimes not over 16). She knew (and we knew) that if we weren't back home by milking time, we would be in trouble. If we arrived late but hadn't had trouble along the way, we would be facing her wrath for being inconsiderate ingrates (never quite knew what an "ingrate" was in those days). Thankfully, we always made it back.
The last few years before my Mother died, her bed stood in front of the picture window in our den. The winter picture above shows the mountain as it was seen from that window. She loved that mountain. She told me one day that it never stayed the same. She said, "You can look at it one time but five minutes later if you look again, it is totally different!" I was quite taken with her observation. And she was right. It would look totally different from minute to minute shrouded in the fog of an August morning or as summer storm clouds came across the top advancing rain along with the winds, or as the autumn leaves began to fall. In spring, when the trees began that soft yellow/green tint as leaves began to bud, there would soon be splotches of white and pink when the dogwood and redbud reawakened. And winter was always phenomenal as snow fell, drifted, melted and fell again to change each pixel of the picture.
I remember thinking that we were just as good as the TV Walton family - we had our mountain too! It did (and does) seem like a living, breathing entity. Ever changing but always guarding.