His mother and father had talked about the move for several months. The company where his father worked had been bought by another company and it looked to him like his job would be eliminated or transferred to Houston, Texas. They had not ruled the move out and at the first the talk was more about how they would move to Houston and whether the new company would pay their expenses and where the kids – he and his brother and sister – would go to school there. The schools were wonderful in Houston, he heard them say. There would be more opportunity for him. Bigger libraries and a variety of classes as he entered middle school the following year.
But it was not to be. The enthusiastic optimism about the new opportunity for all of them faded away. For a few weeks, nothing much was said about the contemplated move at all, and then there was talk about a new job in a small town only a couple of counties away. It was beautiful country, his mother and father said, and the job there might be a little less demanding and give them all more time to “enjoy life.”
He was glad to hear this. He did not relish the idea of change at all, but was particularly daunted by the prospect of moving a thousand miles away and living in a big city. It sounded to him like he would have been hemmed in by buildings and highways and have had no room to roam.
Their new home in Greenbrier County was a very old house. It had been the farmhouse for the family that had owned the acreage there originally. It was a white, clapboard house; two stories, with a tin roof and lots of windows and covered front porches on both of the stories. There was a porch swing on the lower porch and the upper porch was off of what was now his parents’ bedroom and had French doors that would open wide enough to allow the bed to be rolled out under the stars.
The old farm had been sold off, piece by piece, to new homebuilders. There were still a few of the old pastures and meadows left undeveloped. But the whole place, the farmhouse and all of the new houses on the sold lots, was still surrounded by miles and miles of untouched forest.
They came to the house in the early summer and found that the nights there on the mountain were cool enough to allow them to keep the whole house comfortable throughout the day without using the air conditioner. They kept windows open all day and ran a fan in the upstairs and kept fresh air running through the whole house all the time. The house took in the wonderful aromas of nearby pastures baking in the sun, the scents of pine and hemlock and, after a few weeks, the near magic fragrance of new-mown hay.
In his first few weeks there, all was very busy with the continual moving of furniture, with cleaning and arrangement of the rooms. His room was the simplest of all, with only a bed, a chest and a bookcase to bother with. Once all of the boxes had been unpacked and clothes and dishes and pots and pans and books and linens had all been put in their places, life slowed down.
He had no friends in this new place and, as yet, they had not found a way to get their television to receive any stations. Others nearby, they learned, could get a station out of Beckley, but that required a special kind of antenna that simply was not in their budget and would not be for some time until after dad was established in his new job.
And so he spent those first long summer days exploring the woods behind the farmhouse. He was surprised at the amount of freedom his mother allowed him. Busy as she was with the two younger children, she seemed almost oblivious to his wanderings and if he was home and cleaned up before dinner, almost nothing was said to him about his time or boundaries.
On his first day of exploration, he climbed the hillside behind the house and went to the edge of the forest. He walked along the fence line and thought about going across and into the woods. He considered the possibility of rattlesnakes and copperheads that he knew were native there and he thought of poison ivy and of getting lost. But in less than half an hour he found a breach in the tall weeds and took a long stick and held the top wire of the old fence up and crossed under and through and into the woods. Under the dense canopy of the oak, beech, maple, hickory and birch. Into the shade and cool of the old forest.