Years ago I tore out a story out of Country magazine about where the television family known as the Walton's came from. While in Harrisonburg I remembered the clipping. After a few minutes on the computer, I found out that, unbelieveably, I was on course. Walton's Mountain became the first destination on my walk that I planned. Schuyler(Sky-ler), VA became the first place I had to see. After leaving Harrisonburg, I entered the world of mountains, and rolling hills in a big way. What looked like an inch or two on the map gave no clue to height, or depth of the route I was to travel.
Now, I am in Forest, VA with something in my stomach making me give back all that I eat a few hours later. Not good, but not the first time. A rich diet is not a regular theme of the walk. It appears that I am a bit under fed--when I really get to eat I lose it. The people in Schuyler, VA were wonderful. I just need to feel a bit more in sorts before I can start putting it down from pages of notes in a respectful way. Right now I am at the home of Tom and Martha Robinson. Martha is the sister to my basecamp, Betty Dunbar in MA. Betty has done a wonderful job getting my gear here. The problem is that it is mostly warm weather gear. I also recieved a replacement knife from my second cousin Darren, that he generously gave to me and the walk. It is heavy, but serious. It seriously will not break, and I'd have to be crazy to not notice it's absence should it decide to stay late in a snow covered camp, or jump in the leaves when I am not looking. It is a knife that a bear would say,"That's a knife". I was supposed to swap out other gear for the lighter weight summer wear, enjoy great company, and eat, leaving refreshed. The tempature is falling, food barely visits and it is lost again, and it looks like I need to carry the heavy winter gear for a another month or two. I am surrounded by cold mountains with snow fat in the clouds. Before the temps fell it was a steady 20 degrees at night. Now?
My body has a way of saying back off. Yesterday was beyond hell..today I pay.
Before I was even in Schuyler, I was offered a bed for my stay by Homer and Ruth Tyler from the open window of their white honda. I flagged them down on the empty windin mountain to make sure I was in the right country. Homer was a quick smiling face telling me that he still slept in the same room he was born in seventy something years ago, after he assured me that eventually I would be in Schuyler if I just kept climbing. I asked about the Hamner family excitedly, eager to know even the smallest detail. Ruth told me that if Homer didn't know about something that happened on the mountain, probably nobody did.
The Tylers are a older couple that hum together like two loving instuments in the same song. I could just watch them cook together, or plan out details over a map, knowing that they had what I wanted after this walk was done. I had come to see Walton's Mountain, and this was part of it. To be in their company reminded my inner soul of what marriage was designed to be like. I saw two souls giving instead of taking, with smiles that rolled back into their mouths. Always there. I missed them before I left.
After two and a half days I left the mountain. Leaving was as leaving something great always is. All the roads were known, gentle, and too fast behind me. I wanted to think longer about where I was--not the next town. The Rockfish River stayed with me as long as it could, always talking, explaining, confirming...forgiving. I rested by the Rockfish before the river and I parted in a valley miles away from Schuyler. The rain went from a light tapping on my hat to a downpour. I drank the cold river water, eating homemade waffles Ruth and Homer had bundles for me, heaping with their canned apple butter. I stood by the river looking for fish, or something below the current, something inside that was raw. I had been to the Hamner home. I had been given a gift for my travels from Earl Hamner Jr's cousin when Homer and I paid Mrs. Hamner a visit at her invitation. Mrs. Susan Hamner was a joy to meet. Mrs. Hamner is in her ninties, has the voice of an angel, and dresses elegantly. With a sharp mind Mrs. hamner told me about her childhood with her cousins down the street. She gave me words combined with Homer's to all the questions I could think of. We took pictures,talking in trade, story for story. I could have stayed in her voice for a week, still leaving too soon. With addresses in my journal I at least knew we could touch each other's world from time to time. I was leaving with something dragging behind that I know will one day pull me back to the mountain again. It amazed me that these were the only mile of my walk where no trash littered the roadside. If ther was a bottle or can, it was far from the norm. It sounds like a little thing. After all the miles I have walked it is the garnish on a plate. It was not entirely 2006. Something old and priceless was still alive here.
Until I feel like myself,it will have to be enough to note that the trip to Walton's Mountain was worth every steep step. Reality and the television have edges that blur up on the mountains. There are definately more than a few places where you can hear the narrator's voice of "John Boy", Earl Hamner Jr. coming up out of the Rockfish River as the evening change of light puts timeless gilt on everything. With the warm and gentle voices of Homer, and Ruth walking with me down the mile road to the post office, it was more than clear that this was an important part of the walk. It was the beginning of family, healing, understanding. On Walton's mountain I was beyond blessed. I felt expected, and loved. It was so easy to love in return.
I have been to the 'Walton's' house. Pulling my watercolors from my pack, I put down the image I studied until the setting sun made a liar out or me. I didn't want the painting. I wanted to remember.