Sunday, February 10, 2008

an unremarkable place

The past few days have been beautiful; crystal blue skies like you only see in the winter, amber sunsets and a pink glow on the eastern horizon at days end. You would never suspect that earlier in the week, a thousand homes were destroyed in Tennessee and over fifty people were killed by the descent of 69 tornadoes, terrifying in their raw power and arriving in the dark.

Let the stove die down, turn off the screen; it is time to get out there. Winter time in these woods means no bugs. I rolled one, grabbed my mala and denim coat and headed off into the hills, followed by an insecure black mutt named Nala. To give you some idea of the setting, the local version of starbucks is named Siberia, and at 35 miles away, it may as well be there. To be able to disappear into the woods without getting into a car, passing a neighbors house or even crossing a road is one of the many blessings of living out here.

So we walked on the mossy path under the dormant redbuds and came to the junction where three drainages meet and sat on crispy brown oak leaves in full sun on the southern slope of Turtle Hill for an hour. Jack, a second dog, joined us here after a typically cautious approach.

A normally dry creek cuts through the bottom, hidden under honeysuckle and brambles. When it rains hard enough, springs and runoff from Sky Metal Field, Resistance and Easter Ridge(s) wash over the gravel and fallen trees in the defile between ridges until the waters are forced into a narrow stream quickly descending a few feet into a log lined gully. An unremarkable place, wild and overgrown, but when it rains enough, the surface water must go somewhere and this is the way it runs down off the hills. Around the base of Resistance Ridge and through a zinc pipe under the road before joining the year-round creek draining the hollow, down past the old shack and behind Zoe's trailer, under the main road before meeting the Saw running west. Under TVA lines, past vacant farms, behind the old churchyard and down through deeper woods and beaver dams into the Buffalo River. After flowing circuitously over thirty miles west, the Buffalo angles north at Flatwood, merging with the Duck forty miles down stream as the crow flies. Both soon empty into the Tennessee, a disturbingly unnatural 'lake' at this point, 184 miles long. Twenty two miles past the Kentucky dam, the Tennessee merges with the Ohio as things really start picking up. West through Lock and Dam nos. 52 & 53, past Cairo and 'Paddle' is finally moving south on the Mississippi. The descent is long and obvious. Here is an energy pathway that connects me directly to the oceans of the world. And doesn't it flow the other way as well? The return in seasonal rainfall has been a growing concern over the past few years. For the first time ever, our spring dried up for a month last summer. This touches on the topic of nagas, but I will save that for another post. Let me take you back to where i am sitting.

At one point, an old school bus was towed back here, set up on a little shelf between Turtle Hill and the dry gully. We ran long waterlines from my spring and buried a phone line and it was home for a few different folks over the years. This came to an end one stormy Saturday morning in 1996 when the trunk of a big red oak was ripped off the slope of Resistance Ridge by straight-line winds and tossed into the air like a dried corn stalk. Fortunately, Silas was laying on the bed and merely got sprayed with rain and shattered safety glass as the roof was crushed in. All that remains now are a few old concrete blocks, and a stump of white pvc where the phone line surfaced.

Looking across the hollow and up through the woods of Resistance Ridge, a thick stand of tall green bamboo marks the home of my neighbor James. We have known each other for nearly forty years, having first met in a small private high school on Long Island. As fate would have it, we were both expelled and ended up in the same public school. Over the years we have farmed local ridgetops, lived in Guatemala and Cape Cod, played uncle to each others kids, and worked together as roofers and chimney sweeps for years. Many seasons have passed and we don't see very much of each other these days, but it is still nice to have neighbors you know who you are at ease with.

The dogs nap in the stillness of the day. People find nothing of interest in this 'in-between' place. I could wait here for six months and never see anyone pass by. An old logging road winds up the valley disappearing into the shade between Easter Ridge and Turtle Hill. After an hour or so of sitting silent in the mid-day sun, we decided to continue our walk.

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