It was there from before you were born, waiting for your arrival into its arms. Your first friend. Not the sort that you could reach or touch, but the kind that watched and kept you as you grew. When you were young, it watched as you played in the creeks and streams, watching the fish in the cold, clear pool dart back and forth beneath the rocks. It smiled as you sat and laughed with friends underneath the shade of the oak trees it provided. In your moments, lonely in your room in the dark, it's sky smiled at you through the window. Moonlight illuminated your face as you looked out over the rolling hills escalating to mountains. You were one of its favorites, the spirit of the hills.
It sat beside you in the truck with your parents, telling you its old story as you traveled the two-lane highway southward. It pointed to the rock facies and told you how long it had been here and what it had seen. It spoke of the generations of flora and fauna that had existed in its valleys and plateaus. You were part of its family now, the mountains intertwined in your blood the same way creeks and streams intersect and join to become a mighty river. The song of the hills would be yours forever, it was yours the moment you were born.
You grew older, you loved and lost and failed and won. It watched you with proud eyes, a child with the spirit of the ancient mountains and old traditions. It shared your sadness at heartbreak and your jubilation in a first kiss, shared with another of its children. The collective experience of Appalachian growth defining your experience together, for all its good as much as its bad.
You felt its pain as it watched other friends become sickly and pass. Together, you watched as other children of the mountains grew addicted to substances pedaled by the land, with little regard for the loving and giving spirit of those who it exploited. The mood grew stale and sad, and you decided that you had to journey eastward or westward to see your fortune.
"No matter where you reside, I'll be with you always." it says mournfully as you load your car and leave. The call of the hills speaks to you in the day and the night as you call another place home. You grow and learn as the songs of your home are sung in your subconscious. Amid realizing the person you were always meant to be you come to the question of where you were meant to be this person. You hadn't talked in a while, but you call out in the night, "Where is my story told?"
Your oldest friend, there with you always, calls back to say "You will always have a home under the oaks and the pines and by the rivers. I can't tell you the ending or the space between the chapters, but my arms will always be open to you." The thought of the sunset over the mountains and the changing of leaves fills a void in your heart you didn't know you had. Your friend smiled as it heard your thoughts. It would be a pleasure to have you home, among relatives and friends wearing gold and blue.
You make the journey back, with your vehicle loaded, and cross the Ohio River back into the place you belong. You leave a plane from a vacation that left you fulfilled and rested, but with a hunger for the sight of the mountains and rivers. Your oldest friend, like a made bed with a warm blanket, embraces you as you return. You smile at the painted sky, and it smiles back at you. You take in a sunset, in a place called home, where you've always belonged.