The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our walk on this day would lead us to an island. Not an island that most would imagine, but an island filled with the remnants of death. Within the New River Gorge there is much beauty. Within the New there is much ‘old’. History of lives lived and lives ended.
We started our hike on the Brooklyn-Southside Junction Trail, beginning at Cunard; in search of wildflowers. We were not disappointed. The mountains were veiled with Dutchman’s Breeches and Spring Beauties. Fresh buds of spring green adorned the trees that bordered the wide, and well maintained hiking/biking trail.
Clusters of white and red trillium nestled against old foundations of an almost forgotten time and place. Trout Lillies lent yellow dollops of color throughout the landscape. Larkspur and ferns were stretching their limbs as if to awaken from a long slumber.
A mile or so down the path we encountered a fisherman. He told us that Red Ash Island was definitely worth the venturing. We had heard of this illusive place before and had actually talked of it a week or so earlier. Knowing we were this close, we decided to take a look.
Red Ash Island, according to the New River Atlas, was used in the 1890′s as a community for smallpox victims. It was also a burial place for over 200 victims of the Red Ash mine explosion. I did a google search on this place and it’s events. Unfortunately, I found very little.
Upon reaching the island we were unsure if we could find a suitable crossing place seeing that the river was running high. Tracks of deer revealed the way. The island was nothing like I had imagined.
Standing at the tip of the island we could see, through this newly grown forest, the indention of sunken graves covered with leaves from Autumns past. Most of them were marked with river rocks at the head and at the foot. No names. No dates. Just stones.
As we journeyed further we found a few graves with ornate headstones; most of them were babies. A few rusty pieces of fencing. A white wooden cross. A broken gate. Signs that at one time these souls were remembered.
Death was the theme of this place and I was eager to remove myself from it.
Eerily, upon returning home, I heard the tragic news of the mining explosion of Upper Big Branch.