Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This past weekend, Shirley and I were in Roanoke, Virginia, where she spoke at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) Conference. We had a pretty good time there, enjoyed exploring a new city, and we really enjoyed discovering The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in the Valley View Mall (Yes, I finally found that elusive frozen cheesecake on a stick). But after being in the city, and hob-nobbing with journalists and reporters from around the world, I was ready for a little nature/reality so we decided to go leaf peeping in the high country of West Virginia. We went sightseeing throughout Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Webster & Nicholas Counties. In the higher elevations, the leaves were mostly gone, but in some parts they were just a little past peak. We had the best time at Beartown State Park which sits on top of Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County. I hadn't been there in years and it was even better than I remembered.

At Beartown, there are huge gulches and steep cliffs, so you are required to stay on the boardwalk at all times. The best thing about the boardwalk, it was built with the land so you may have tree's growing up through parts of it, and it may squeeze through the narrowest of passages among the cliffs. It doesn't take an imagination to know why it is called Beartown. A bear would be in heaven here, but I know for a fact that the name Bear Heaven was already taken. Bear Heaven is in Randolph County, but that is another story for another day.

At one point during our walk, Shirley and I looked at each other inquisitively. We could both sense something was different but couldn't exactly put our finger on it. Then it dawned on us. Silence. Complete and total silence was all around us. It was a very spiritual moment. We just stood there for a few minutes and looked around at the surrounding forest in amazement.

We saw a few people there, but not that many, probably no more than 6 at the most. Beartown State Park truly is one of West Virginia's best kept secrets. Beartown is one of those places where you don't just view the wilderness, for a few minutes, you actually become part of the wilderness.

Earlier, I mentioned that parts of the high country were well past peak leaf season. Well, this was one of those places. The whole area just exuded a sense of waiting...waiting for snow, waiting for cold weather, waiting for the emergence of Spring. It was cold here too, it was 40 degree's when we were there, and all I had on was a short-sleeved shirt.

There was also something about the craggy cliffs of Beartown that reminded you of your own mortality. You couldn't help but be impressed with the huge moss and lichen covered boulders. They brand upon your psyche, "I was here long before you were born, and I'll be here long after you are dust." I don't know about you, but I find that reassuring. I may be odd, but I like to see places that lend a sense of permanency in this world of craziness we live in.

I was happy that we got to share a few moments at Beartown, to reconnect, to ponder, to renew. It reaffirmed to me that God is in the details.

As we we're leaving, I couldn't help but hear Beartown whispering goodbye to us. I could have sworn that it told me, "Come here and give me a hug you big ole lump o' sugar". So I did.


Janet, said...

Those pictures are very familiar to me, we have been there before and I loved it. I think our family has a motto, see WV, see the US, then see the world. Well, I think the world will have to wait a while, because we'll still seeing WV.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

It truly was a spiritual experience. The one point you speak of when we were surrounded by silence...well, it was deafening! You could feel God all around, and I felt compelled to place my hands on various boulders and trees...to feel their permanency and how they are a part of us....

Granny Sue said...

I love Beartown too, Matthew, and have some photos that are so similar to your, except they were taken in summer. I especially like the way the park was created--through the gift of the parents of a man killed in Vietnam--he loved the place so they bought it and donated it to the state. We all were blessed by their gift of love and remembrance.

Jason Burns said...

Good grief - are you going granola or something? Have you spent too much time around those who shall not be named? You're sounding a bit like an old hippie.

Bear Town is a cool place though.

Matthew Burns said...

Done went granola, ate it (Apple cinnamon, I think) and came back again. I guess I just felt this way after being stuck in the chemical cesspool known as Charleston for so long.

I guess I just went whole hog with the hippie thing after being labelled an "environmental terrorist" by the good governor, simply for opposing mountaintop removal.

There was just something about Beartown that brought it out of me.

tipper said...

I enjoyed your trip to Beartown! Amazing photos.


The Tile Lady said...

Matthew, what a glorious place! I would love to go and experience the sense of silence, of waiting, of God being in the details! The sense of permanence...of people being so small in the pattern of the world. Thanks so much for sharing this!

And Matthew, nothing wrong with a little granola!!!

How wonderful, Granny Sue, that the family of the fallen Vietnam soldier gave the land to the state!