From a distance I’m watching and waiting
Longing for a trip up Mill Mountain again
I live in Roanoke Virginia, the “Star City” of the south. The “Noke” as we hometown folk call it, was so named because of its most famous attraction, the star that sits atop Mill Mountain which is part of the Blue Ridge mountain range. This iconic landmark is in the South Eastern part of the city, facing North West which is where I live. From my upstairs hallway window I can see the star towering above the buildings, houses and trees about 6 miles away. My husband, 3 children and I once made a trek up the 3 1/2 mile mountain path that took us about an hour. We walked to the star, walked back down, drove our car up then went to the picnic area to eat. I watch out my window now at night, taking in the sight of the star that has brought comfort to the city for 70 years. I watch and I wait for what I believe is to come.
The star was erected in 1949 and dedicated on November 23 of that year, which was the day prior to Thanksgiving. Actor John Payne, who starred with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara in the original 1938 version of Miracle on 34th Street was on on hand. Payne was a native Roanoker, and returned to his hometown for the big event. News reports state that it was very cold that day and because of the extreme weather, less than 100 people showed up for the event. The weather won out over a movie star and a historical event. Now, seven decades later, hundreds of thousands have made the trek up the mountain to the top to view the star.
For many decades this bright, white, light would burn red at night whenever someone was killed in a traffic accident. As a child I lived in the county and would cringe every time we were in the city at night and I saw the star was blood red. It became too expensive to change the white bulbs to red ones so that was stopped many years ago. The star has now become a beacon for visitors that welcomes them to town. It is recorded that the Mill Mountain star can be seen for 60 miles in all directions from the air. For me, now, as I gaze out my window, the shining light has become a reminder of what once was and what I hope will soon be again. I watch from a distance, gazing at the wonder that was constructed with 2000 feet of illuminated tubing. I reflect on yesteryear and hope for tomorrow.
I stand at my window now imagining this icon turning from white to red, with flip of a switch, knowing it too a lot of manpower to remove all the white bulbs and replace them with red ones. I stare at the beauty of the star, illuminating the night sky. I can barely make out the mountains as I consider all that has taken place around them. I envision young men getting down on one knee and proposing to their girlfriends. I can see women in flowing wedding dresses, their intended in a tux, and a preacher holding a Bible as they exchange their vows. I think of movies about the 1950’s and I can see the Buick’s, and Ford pickup trucks lined up as young couples turned underneath the star into a lovers lane where they would be making out. I wonder how may children were conceived underneath the star, but alas I shall never know.
I can visualize the church members from all over the community, that once united who went to Mill Mountain on Easter Sunday for sunrise service. I can hear them singing hymns and see them shaking hands and having fellowship and food together afterwards at the designated location.. This was not possible because of the coronavirus, so the faithful will be eager to gather once again. I don't know if the road to Mill Mountain was actually blocked off but even so people have their ways around such matters. I wonder if anyone braved the trail in spite of the pandemic to cast a loved ones ashes out into the wild blue yonder as they did prior to the pandemic.
As I look out my window I wonder if anyone has ever fallen or jumped from beneath the star to their death? I’m seeing in my mind the sign from the Hollywood Hills where tragedy and suicide have reigned for many decades. I quickly come back to reality and again am gazing at the star above Mill Mountain. It’s bright white light illuminating the sky as though it were actually in the air, because the mountain itself cannot be seen that clearly. I try to form pictures in my mind of school busses scaling the mountain road, going round and round all the way to the top. I can see the gleeful faces of the children as they get off the busses and drink in the fresh air and stand in awe of this landmark.
All that I have recalled, and imagined has ceased because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mountain has been free of hikers climbing, out of town visitors, laughing children, and sight seers to the adjoining zoo and picnic area. No lovers taking strolls, becoming engaged and marrying beneath the star. No teens driving up to just hang out or drink a few beers. All is silent now but one day soon life with return to the mountain and beneath the star. From a distance and through my window, you don’t see the bushes that have grown around the star. Neither do you think about the aging rusting metal that makes up this icon and how at close range during the day you wonder what all the fuss is about.
From a distance on this night the blight and trash that human leave behind is invisible. The cans, and bags that some have dropped underneath the star. I don't think about all the wires and cables that are attached that can only be detected when you are up close during the daylight hours. Instead I marvel at the image that is before me. I intend to climb the mountain again one day. Like before I will park at the very bottom and make my way up one of the trails. I will marvel at the winding path and take in the beauty of life as forged by nature, the trees, the foliage, the rocks beneath my feet.
I will enjoy leaving the sounds of the town behind as I walk. No car horns, police sirens or the wail of an ambulance, No chitter chatter of people talking and best of all no smog. I will drink in the fresh air and all the benefits it offers as I ascend. I will relish arriving at the spot were not even a bird cane be heard chirping. That place of blessed dead silence. I will emerge just past the star to the tourist area only now I am awaiting the sound of humans. I want to hear voices, and see people walking, children running and life atop the mountain once more. All of this I long for as I stand in my upstairs hallway window, looking out at Mill Mountain, from a distance.