The next morning, on a whim, Meadow emptied a tank of gasoline driving around the region she had known and enjoyed so well as a child, then as a precocious young teenager. Clifton Forge, she remembered, had a rich history that dated back to the 1700s, even before the great Revolution. It had remained a small town until the 1820s, when iron was discovered, resulting in a burgeoning industry thriving on both sides of the Jackson River. One of the key citizens of the community owned the largest iron forge and named the town “Clifton” in honour of his father. Clifton Forge, as a name, became official.
She remembered portions of that information, since it had been part of local lore when she was a kid – just as she recalled how the arrival of the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad established a major maintenance facility, employing 2,000 (mostly locals) for steam locomotives. Almost overnight, Clifton Forge turned into a boom town. Following a few good and prosperous decades, diesel engines slowly phased out steam and the railroad transferred its maintenance sheds to West Virginia, across the border. Suddenly a vibrant railroad town was reduced to Amtrak service only three times a week. It was all a bit disillusioning for the town and brought on years of decline – the years in which Meadow grew up in the area.
Now as she toured the region she could see that both state and federal assistance had partially succeeded in turning it into a tourist region, with parks, a cleaned up Moomaw Lake, and national forests named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. There was kayaking, hill climbing, nature trails, local arts and craft exhibitions and, naturally, a railroad museum.
As she drove in a northerly direction, she came upon a developed area nestled in a valley that sported tennis courts, fly fishing, horseback riding, golf, and what looked like cross-country ski trails. She then spotted a number of ski tows angled across the slopes. A large sign with carved letters denoted that this was “The Homestead” – something which hadn’t existed when she lived in the region. At the bottom of the sign it described itself as a “five-star world renowned resort.” She was happy for the town that this sign of new life was likely changing the local economy.
She drove to the border between the two states, stopping to look over the White Sulphur Hot Springs – part of the Greenbrier Resort – a West Virginian complex that had hosted guests from around the world since 1778, and was also a National Historic landmark.
Meadow got out and rested on the front bumper of the truck, craning her neck as she looked up and down the entire valley between the two states. It was the more shaded time between winter and spring, so it didn’t light up as brightly under a more distant sun. Still, it was beautiful and she admitted to herself that it would always be the area she would regard as home.
Peering across the valley she began to spot various little hamlets and even some buildings – all at different elevations. She spotted a couple of farms she thought familiar, but then saw two churches almost five miles apart but each positioned on top of hills and easily seen. It brought back memories of her dreams, her father’s hand, and the small building that was situated much as the churches were. Was it a church, maybe? She had to consider that possibility.
On a whim she began driving aimlessly along the winding roads, the truck easily handling the climbs. Meadow knew what she was looking for – a small structure with a severely pitched roof, run down and perched on top of a hill – but had no way of knowing where to go. She found all sorts of odd buildings, many of which had been around for over a century, but nothing that matched her quest.
In a strangely mystical moment, Meadow realized that she was appraising light – just light. How it fell on the spruces and pines, how it elevated the top of the hills, and how it played with the broad surfaces of the valley floor, moving in an out in coordination with the clouds. In a sudden moment, she pulled to the side of the road and scanned the panorama of light before her. I’m reading it. I’m reading the light,she said quietly to herself. To the average person this would mean little, but Meadow realized this was the first time she had performed the task since … since the accident. What does it mean?she asked herself.
In a moment of poignant awakening, Meadow Hartley understood instinctively that something had cracked open in her soul – a kind of fissure that permitted some ray of light to escape through to the outside world. Her imagination began to run ahead of her as she was realizing that the artistic impulse was making itself faintly known after all these years in stasis. It was a wonder – and a shock.
A car’s sudden passing pulled her out of the moment. Just like that, the fissure closed up once again. But in that brief moment she had felt more alive than she could ever remember in recent years. It took her a moment to collect herself and resume the drive. Nothing she found in the next hour resembled the building in her dream, and as she watched thunderclouds coming across the ridge from West Virginia, Meadow though it best to head back to Clifton Forge. Yet, for one brief moment, her essence had been catapulted to the surface and even if it was just for that alone, she realized, the trip had been worth it.