Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Back Way

Rose early to sit with the ladies, to share coffee and some of the best conversation of the day, before they drove north to work. I processed some email, strapped into the old vandura and cautiously lumber south. A 20 year old GMC, with 160K on the engine and she never breaks down.

Before hitting the asphalt, I pass Zoe's trailer which they were going to move today but recent rains have made the ground too soft. I turn onto an old paved railroad bed which parallels the creek, passing a stretch of white-flowering trees. I decide to cross on the first bridge and climb out of the Saw Valley and take Buffalo Road into town. This is one of many 'back' ways into Lawrenceburg, about 14 miles south in any case. The two lane road dips and climbs through a rural setting over the headwaters of the Buffalo River. Shamefully, I lived in Tennessee for many years before knowing that this was not just a good strong name, but that big hairy buffalo, technically bison, were actually common in this area for over three hundred years, having crossed the Mississippi around 1500 CE. I doubt that the Big Muddy has ever frozen over, so they must have swam. Abundant pasturage springing up on the eastern banks in the wake of intentional burns may have attracted them to make the crossing. These controlled fires were used by Indians to drive and trap animals against a wall of flame. Buffalo herds in the east were smaller than their counterparts on the plains, often numbering 50 -100 individuals. Although never as popular as white-tailed deer in the pantry of woodland tribes, the great beast was soon over-hunted by settlers from Pennsylvania to Florida and so disappeared from the east by the 1820's.

My regard gravitates toward familiar references. The shady hollow with the dangerous curve where Dechen's cousin rented a trailer before his fatal accident. The border of pine trees we planted on the Maxen's pricey spread at the top of the hill, and the little wooden house next door that some younger friends used to rent. Once on Buffalo Road itself, I am extra careful. It is very curvey, there is so much to look at this time of year and I don't drive often. Slow moving vehicles such as tractors are common and there is no shoulder. A glance over the hedge at the right moment reveals the house of an old friend still sheathed in blackboard with no permanent siding. They are poor old hippies. About 15 years ago they were forced to leave the community they had lived in for the previous twenty years, so I helped salvage their old house and then rebuild a few miles down the road. Ivan is an interesting if eccentric fellow and used to come visit me once in awhile, but it has been many years as I don't get on well with his wife, who accompanies the old boy everywhere.

I slowed to pass a few Amish men, one walking on roadside gravel, two out doing business in black horse drawn buggies. Two barefoot boys in an empty wagon emerge from a side road, one holding the reins. Everyone waves back. I am driving through the best farm land in the county. The forest opens up and fields stretch from horizon to horizon, interrupted only by a few white houses. The Amish settled here in the 1940's and their busy homesteads occupy these plains. Men wear beards and hats, women long skirts, sleeves and bonnets. They all dress in dark colors, avoid internal combustion engines, electricity and military service. They do however own a diesel generator to run a large carriage saw and provide truckloads of cheap slab for firewood as a byproduct. It keeps us warm through most of the winter.

Purple and blue chromatics from some dewey wildflowers give way to new greens. Are they more or less brilliant because I do not know their names? Patches of earth near the houses have been freshly turned for gardens. An emerald field of winter wheat, thick and headless rises above the bank. At this time of year, passage on Buffalo Road is like driving in a Grant Wood painting.

Made it safely into town, stopped by the library where I picked up a few books o the Indians of the southeast before heading home the 'front' way; Highway 43, formerly Jackson's Military Road, but that my friends, is a topic for another post.

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