Leah Hampton

Leah Hampton is a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers and editor-in-chief of Bat City Review. Her work has appeared in storySouth, Appalachian Heritage, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


We find bodies all the time. Lots of folks come up here to die or kill, or get killed. My first one came in the summer. We were up Back Branch, near the Virginia border, where the treeline thickens above the bald. It was me and Coralis, who trained me when I started with the Park Service. Coralis taught me pretty much my whole job, and the only part I’ve ever questioned is whether he taught me how to deal with the living and the dead the right way around.

That first time, Coralis and me were heading from Back Branch to Sugar Knob. This was back in ’83, my first month on the job, before I got my own vehicle. I was one of the only woman rangers in the whole state then. We were heading north, coming out of an early morning fog, and we saw a flash off to the right, like a gleam off somebody’s smile in those old toothpaste commercials. We thought that was strange with it so gray and misty, so we checked it out. 

Coralis pulled over in the grass near a mile marker—the old stones, white and square, the ones you see all along the whole length of the parkway. When tourists first see them, they pull over to take pictures, touch the hand-carved numbers, but after a while they stop caring and ignore them. Those markers look to me like little headstones, so I think people get creeped out after too many.