“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”
Maya Angelou “When Great Trees Fall”
I recently went on an excursion in the appalachian mountains in TN & NC. I love getting lost on old dirt roads where history seems to drip from the branches of trees. Getting lost here gives you a perspective that can rarely be found in today’s America filled with strip malls and manicured neighborhoods. I sought to find images of a history that wasn’t always recorded. A past that can be sensed and felt from the old dirt roads, abandoned farms and barns, stoic river banks. The backdrop for part of my novel Uriel’s Mask is from this region, and from the pain of those who existed a long time ago, but were never recognized, named, seen, heard. They may never be, but their past still subtly influences the story of our present—which is especially felt in this timeless region of the country.
Here are some more images from my journey:
How old is this house, now eaten by kudzu? What stories does it have? Only the trees and soil know, and they aren’t telling! I found this cabin on an old dirt road near Townsend, TN…I was lost, but so glad I found this, as well as a few wild turkeys and one small black bear!
This stretch of the French Broad River in Asheville, NC seems to ache in a haunting way. Neglected from its former state of importance, few visit, and yet it rolls on as if a witness to those who died silently, nameless, near its banks.
If you look closely, you can see the U.S. Mail sign sliding into a Blacksmith sign of this TN barn near Townsend on a winding old dirt road.
How I miss horses! Gentle, powerful, sensitive, soulful—better company than most people. It was hard to see so many neglected in the mountains. Not brushed, left alone for months. These were better cared for than others I saw.
Why do I love old barns so?
A typical scene between Nashville and Knoxville, TN.
I will always love how trees arch and lean in across streams, as if yearning to touch, to comfort one another. They are silent witnesses to all who have walked near or sat on their banks.
A mask found in Asheville, no name for artist, unsure of age.
My time in southeast appalachia is always special. This time I researched details for my completed novel Uriel’s Mask. I am so grateful to the librarians, historians and art preservationists who bent over backwards to help me! And also to my sister Elizabeth who got lost with me, giggling the whole time. Sometimes it takes getting lost to get on the right path to be found, right? And thanks also to Georgene who looked after the boys so I could go on this adventure… Here’s a poem that has always resonated with me, as it strikes a chord of truth, especially for southerners who can sense how much of our painful history has slipped away without witness, into the soil, the river banks, the roots of trees—and even into the boards of old barns and cabins.
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Baume