I could have given her the long answer, which would have touched on Bambi, hoplophobia (that’s fear of guns, not rabbits) and an incident from my childhood that involved a deer and a Porsche. Instead, I simply replied, “Yep.”
From an interior decorator’s POV, the stuffed animal, bright-eyed and majestic with a full head of antlers, perfectly matches the property’s rugged aesthetic. The seven-room, two-suite inn (which also has a private cabin) is hunkered in the natural folds of the North Fork Mountain, about 25 miles from Seneca Rocks. Surrounded on two sides by Monongahela National Forest, the inn takes its remoteness seriously. To reach the front door, guests must navigate a noodly eight-mile road up the mountain, followed by a driveway as challenging as a black-diamond ski run and a steep walking path that leads to a set of stairs. The obstacle course might also feature grazing deer that you don’t want to end up as home decor.
The 15-year-old lodging, which is constructed of white pine logs and fieldstone collected a mile away, feels like an extension of the landscape, not an intrusion. Even the interior, with its tree-shaped light fixtures and woodland critter-themed artwork, was inspired by the outdoors.
Carol and her husband, Ed, moved to West Virginia from Indiana, and a Midwestern warmth pervades. When I arrived after dark, visitors — once strangers, now friends — were loudly socializing on the front porch. I had to step over a few dangling legs to reach Carol, who was fielding phone calls for a guest. I felt as if I had crashed a family reunion and was then handed an invitation to join it.
While waiting for Carol, I rummaged through the 24-hour hot beverage station (cocoa and a vast collection of teas) and eyed the freshly made batch of I’d Marry You All Over cookies (oats, chocolate bits and toffee), a heaping pile that shrank with each passing person.
I followed Carol and her bubbly talk through the grand den (requisite rocking chair, mess of books, massive picture windows) to the Eagles Nest room on the second floor. It was time to meet my deer.
The creature was harmless, obviously, and actually played well with the other design elements, such as the twig chandelier, the stone fireplace and the cathedral ceiling. We were going to get along fine.
With a few more hours left in the night, I ventured downstairs to the basement, a teen’s dream hangout with a pool table and board games, a fridge stocked with cold drinks, a microwave with packages of popcorn and an entertainment center with promises of a double — if not triple — feature. A Maryland husband and wife welcomed me on the worn couch, where we shouted out comments during a confusing Jon Voight film. I left before the end; the couple agreed to fill me in on the missing details the next day.
In the morning, a gauzy mist (hence the area’s name, Smoke Hole) cloaked the peaks and valleys, obscuring the time and the weather forecast. I padded downstairs to find everyone up and at ’em, their day leaps ahead of mine.
Over breakfast, Carol presented a guest with a personalized walking stick, a present offered to all three-time visitors. (Before the Fischers took over, guests received a handmade birdhouse; an assortment hangs in the enclosed dining nook.)
Although this was my first stay, Carol did not leave me out of the gift-giving circle. After learning about the region’s moonshine-making activity — for proof, check out the old still off the side porch — I was craving a sip.
Hearing of my quest, Carol disappeared into the kitchen and returned with peach moonshine stashed inside a peach schnapps bottle. She poured me a sample and sat down beside me towitness the moment and serve as an emergency helper in case I choked.
I took a sip, chasing the burn with some fruit salad. Then I drank some more, comforted by the thought that if I needed to sleep off the alcohol, I knew exactly where to go.