Cara Ellen Modisett is a pianist, writer, editor and teacher living in the mountains of Virginia. She is editor at large of Blue Ridge Country magazine, an adjunct instructor in writing and music at Community High School, and a reporter and producer for WVTF public radio. She graduates from Goucher College in August 2012 with an MFA in creative nonfiction.



A Mountain to Cross

She was walking across the parking lot, holding the small hand of a boy in a purple shirt, I think, but now I can’t quite remember, it might have been green. “Let’s get back ’cross the mountain before the storm hits,” she said. He looked like he must be her grandson. I also don’t remember what she was carrying, maybe loaves of bread, or goat cheese, barbecue for dinner, or a bag of coffee, whole bean. Could be coffee, gourmet coffee, these days, from the Dayton Farmer’s Market, east on 42 out of my hometown. But the grandmother and grandson still had a mountain to cross, and the sky was darkening, and the clouds were deep and rain-heavy in the west, moving toward the hills and the silos and the fields of corn, the Mennonite farms. The windmill next to the road spun. Just over the hill is a doctor’s office, with a line of hitching posts at the edge of the parking lot.

I headed out this road once in college, in the middle of the night, riding the handlebars of a bicycle navigated by a boy I was in love with, under the silent black firmament, filled with stars. There were no cars, no buggies, no storms, just the giant sky, maybe the moon reflecting on the barn roofs, and us with no thought as to how dangerous that might have been, just finding out we could fly fast out of the city into the countryside late at night, under the stars, in the beautiful silence, while the cows slept and the road was empty.

But the afternoon I saw the grandmother and her coffee and her grandson, headed home over the mountain, I was home for a visit and there with my parents, and as my father drove us back to Harrisonburg, the clouds moved dense and dark over the willows and maples, the beautiful cows, this year’s young, still slender and soft-furred. Hidden roads for the tractors carved through the green stalks, wrinkles in the hillsides. Men wearing nets over their hair sat outside the chicken plant, smoking. A flock of blackbirds rose from the corn, moved like a low cloud across the hillside; a truck of chickens roared past on the road, obscuring it. 

We passed an old barn with white-painted wood siding and small paned windows set in it. There were trees, small clearings, a house with overgrown boxwood and old chimneys. On the sign outside the Dayton Church of the Brethren: “Even though we are not perfect we can be strong.”




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