It is Coleta Valley on the map.
I passed this way a few days ago. Stopped for a photo and a memory.
Once upon a time three boys wandered into this spot in an old Jeep Scout. The Scout is no more. Neither is one of the boys. The other two are worse for wear.
The day that old Scout clanked into the valley the driver immediately christened it “the back side of heaven.” It was the most beautiful landscape they had ever seen, and the name stuck, part and parcel of the bond between them.
In their boyhood journeys together it became the end of the line. The turning-point back toward home.
The mountains in the background are a part of the Talladega National Forest and the Hollins Wildlife Management Area. The boys spent countless teen-age hours in those mountains, learning to hunt white-tailed deer. Never any success, as deer were not abundant in Alabama in those days. They might see less than ten a season between the three of them, and they never managed to kill one. That was not important. Still isn’t.
In other seasons they bounced along Bull Gap Road on Friday and Saturday nights, straight through the heart of that country between home and Coleta. Spot-lighting deer without guns when that pastime was legal in Alabama. The thrill of eyes reflecting back like stars from the beam of the white light gave hope of success for the next deer season.
Occasionally they brought a girl or two along for the ride. Jokes told. Tales of nocturnal killers that roamed those woods, always useful if the girls wouldn’t scoot over a little closer. Zeppelin, Skynyrd, and “Do you feel like we do?” blaring from the Scout’s tinny speakers.
Conversations eventually turned spiritual. Always. What Jesus said here, what He did there. What it all meant now. The driver had plans to be a preacher of the Gospel. In truth, he already was.
A couple of hours later Coleta, then the trip back toward home.
The boys grew up and went their separate ways, as boys do. Contact became less frequent, then not at all.
The preacher got his flock, but his life unravelled, the thread picked and pulled until the fabric was unrecognizable. His journey down the road of life ended, leaving a shadow on that valley that blue skies and wispy clouds cannot overcome.
He once reminded us that Jesus said “the road to heaven is narrow, and few find it.”
I know that the road to Coleta is also narrow, but there was a time when three boys travelled all the way to the back side of it.