The Odd Meeting

This is sort of a follow up to my story, The Rock.  One of those strange coincidences that occurs occasionally in our lives.

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For a short time in my life I used to go deer hunting. I never really enjoyed it but I did enjoy being out in the woods, in remote, quiet forested places with towering mountains and secluded, deep cold lakes.  I just wish I could have been there without the hunting part, although I liked carrying a rifle as it made me feel secure, especially with all the bears that were wandering about.

On one particular hunting trip, we ventured to an area known for its mining history.  I later discovered that there were more back roads in this area than any other in my region.  Most of these back roads were made for the express purpose of linking up the isolated mining communities that once flourished throughout the mountains over 100 years ago.  The odd part was that many of these back dirt roads had street signs, which always looked out of place.  They were often stolen, but someone always replaced them.  Finding street signs way out in the back woods, along narrow mountain dirt roads just seemed wrong to me, but at one time as many as 5,000 people lived up in those mountains, all earning a living, one way or another, from mining.  There were many isolated communities, which included one room school houses and log cabin churches.  Many old log cabins could be seen around there, most rotting remnants of their former glory, along with exposed, deep, open mine shafts.  A very interesting, if dangerous place to go hiking and exploring.

One morning we were getting ready to hunt in an area named after a large mine that once existed in that part of the mountains.  Almost all the areas in this region are named after old pioneer mines, or after pioneer miners.  We were unloading our gear early one morning from our truck, along with our ATVs, getting ready to start out on a hunt when a white station wagon car drove by.  Being in a fairly remote, back woods, area, which was really 4x4 country, it was strange to see a rear wheel drive station wagon driving about.  It did not look right.  The vehicle drove past us and then a short time later, just as we were about to leave, it drove past us again, going in the opposite direction.  The vehicle stopped about 20 feet past us.  I instantly surmised that this person was lost.  It had the feel and look of a lost soul.  I thought this person must have been looking for a short cut through the mountains, which many of the locals actually did from time to time.  Out from the car emerged an elderly gentleman.  I pegged his age at between 70 and 80 years old.  He introduced himself and asked if we knew where a certain town was.  I informed him that he passed the town on his way up the road.  It was about 20 minutes back "that way", as I pointed down the road.  He looked puzzled and said he didn't see a town on his way up here.  I told him that that was because the town was leveled  in 1953.  Although it still shows on maps, along with two other pioneer towns, all ghost towns, they were destroyed because the government deemed them hazardous.  He looked sad at this news.   He told me he was up here to show his 85 year old girlfriend the old town.  I looked at his car and saw a second person sitting in the passenger's seat.  She was hooked up with oxygen.  When our eyed locked she waved to me.  I waved back.  

The old gentleman said he was up here in 1932 and had visited that old town.  There were still people living there back then, he explained.  I remember reading that the last fellow to live there died in 1953, then they bulldozed what was left of the town.  The town once had 4,000 residents.  The old gentleman stated that he traveled out one day, to the town just after he graduated from high school.  He mentioned his high school's name.  I informed him that I had gone to the same high school.  He was suddenly happier to talk with me.  The town we both went to school in was about 150 miles away and was also a mining town.  It survives and thrives to this day.  I should have pointed out to him that our school principal retired the year after I left that school.  I remember talking with the principal and he had told me he started teaching at that school in 1932.  What a strange coincidence.  The old gentleman started talking about living in our mutual mining town.  I told him, when I lived there, I used to go up into the mountains to explore the old mines.  He stated that in 1927, he too did this.  That would have made him about 13 years old when he explored the area, just like myself.  He asked me if I ever visited the mining camp at the very top of the mountain, and I said yes, I had.  He stated, "You know, the blacksmith shop was still locked up when I and my friends were up there".  I stated that it was locked up when I was there too, but the roof had collapsed and part of the front door had caved in under the snow, so you could go inside.  I told him when I was there, all the tools were also still in place, hanging on the walls.  He said that was what they saw through a small window.  Like us, he felt it was a sacred place and should be left alone.  He asked when I was up there, and I said it was in July 1974.  He asked how much snow was there at that time.  I said, about 1 or 2 feet.  He said it was deeper when he was there.  We talked for about 10 more minutes about the mining camps in the area.  His descriptions matched mine, only, when he saw the sites, they were in better shape.  Then he bided me goodbye, got back in his car and he and his 85 year old girlfriend drove away.  I never saw them again.

I will never forget that meeting.  It happened for a reason.  There were far too many coincidences, but to this day, I cannot figure it out.  He and I were both 13 years old when we went exploring into the same mountains, along the same old mining roads.  We were exploring almost 50 years apart from each other and saw the same sites.  I felt too much of a kinship with this man.  It was like meeting an old friend and yet, it all happened within the space of 20 minutes, along a remote mining road, up in the mountains.  An area where you rarely saw anyone, let alone talk to a stranger face to face.
PastPilot PastPilot
51-55, M
Dec 1, 2012