Sunday, 21 of December of 2014

Peter Zmyj – West Virginia Mountain Man

I met him a few years ago,
on a warm and sunny
fall day,
as I hiked through the wilderness
of the Alleghenies,
it was Indian Summer,
the leaves were red and golden.
He sat on a log
outside his little shack,
carving a piece of wood.
Old man in the forested hills.
How long has he lived here for,
I wonder.
I walked closer, and the old man
looked up to me, and made a gesture
with his hand.
Have a seat, son, he said.
Then he went on carving.
I tried to start a conversation,
and I told the old man
about my travels,
I mentioned the places I had been:
Paris, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam.
Tell me more about these places,
he said.
There wasn’t too much to tell, I said.
All I had left was shallow impressions,
I had just stayed a day,
and rushed on
to new sights, new sounds, new people.
He told me that he had spent his whole life
in these hills, and the farthest he had gone
was a town 15 miles to the east,
but that was a couple of years ago,
these days he didn’t go to town any more.
Too many people, too much noise.
And then he told stories
about the land
the trees
the rivers
the animals
and I realized
that this old man
not only knew the land,
he was the land.
When he talked, I could hear
the trees talk,
and I’m sure the old man
could feel
the wild rivers
flow through his veins.
He told me about this black bear
that lived around here,
sometimes he came real close.
The old man said he kept a rifle,
but he never tried to shoot the bear.
God made this land for all critters
to share,
he said.
I still think of the old man
sometimes.
And I wonder if he still lives
out there
amidst the trees
the rivers
the hills.

Peter Zmyj


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