by JR Martin, contributing writer
On a long walk up the Laurel Mountains hiking trail, I come to an important place. It’s a huge rock formation with slabs of boulder lying one upon the other, stacked into what I see as a piece of art.
The layers of rock appear to have emerged from the earth in a way that looks like the face of a man: a tall forehead, slits for eyes and mouth, and a protruding nose and chin. Put together, the features look to me like the profile of a man—a Native American man.
The man sits there, maybe for centuries, among the mountain laurels, the tall trees and the cascading mountain stream.
As an avid hiker, I have walked many wooded paths, but this one is among my favorites. Each time, I stop to rest at this place of solitude. I imagine a conversation with that ages-old man, wondering what he must think of this land that once belonged to him and to his people.
The Laurel Mountains were home to several tribes: the Algonquin, Iroquois and the Lenape, as well as the Monongahela. As they walked this path, hunting and foraging for their food, was the rock already there? And would they have recognized themselves in that proud face?
It’s hard not to wonder what the man would think of what’s become of so much of the land now. Development has robbed it of trees, has chased away wildlife. In cities, tall trees have been replaced by skyscrapers. Is that anger I see on that rocky face?
On my most recent hike up the trail, I took a friend along.
“Look at that boulder,” I said. “What do you see?”
“It’s a man’s face,” said my friend.
Maybe our shared recognition suggests that what I see is more than my own imagination. Who’s to say that rock face is not the spirit of the people who lived and walked here all those centuries ago?
After each hike, as I head down the trail, I turn back once more.
“Don’t ever change,” I say. “Be here the next time for me.”
JR Martin lives in a log home in Salzburg, PA. He is a bluegrass music fan, guitar player, poet, and part-time landscaper.