To begin with all honesty, I haven’t seen those woods and that town in almost 30 years. Not much has changed from what I can remember. The paths a little more overgrown.. the houses a little more degraded.. but, the people… My people.
A rugged wilderness once populated by the Shawnee Indians, the hills are dotted with ramshackle homesteads and clapboard barns that on first glance you would assume were long abandoned. You’d be wrong.
The whole of the town is sinking back into the hills. Even homes that have not yet been abandoned by the descendants of the founding families are being overgrown with vines and bushes, untended by an aging population who can no longer manage the work themselves. The house my father was born in.. the shanty town where they lived during the coal boom.. the church my great uncle spoke his sermons in.. all are being eaten by the Appalachian foothills they were carved out of.
I made the trek into the woods, past flooded creekwaters and along abandoned train line to the tunnel that is nearly all that remains of Moonville, a coal mine boom town turned ghost town. A ghost town within a ghost town, though even the corpse of Moonville is gone, leaving only a few scattered bones. The tunnel. A couple of disappearing foundations. A handful of nearly unreadable headstones in the cemetery.
But, just as they were when they made the decision to carve a life out of the stony hillsides, the people are proud, sturdy…and stubbornly determined to survive. They still watch outsiders with a wary eye from their porches and barns. They still keep to themselves and their neighbors, watching fields they worked as children become tilled by their great-grandchildren.My father moved us from there for greener pastures but to him, it’s still home, and in a way, it is to me as well. It was the place where the people that made me began, creating a legacy that- despite the fading way of life- I’m proud of. They’re survivors at heart, you see. Cut from the same stone that they cut their homesteads from. They worked the land and buried their dead in those hills. Whole families rose and flourished only to disappear again. Like we all will one day.
In the end, when the forests of Southeastern Ohio have taken back the homes and the Appalachians reclaims the foothills, they’ll still survive. It’s their way. Our way. And more than anything that can come from my imagination, more than any of the stories this place has inspired in me.. that survival, dear reader.. THAT is the stuff of legend.