The Constant Flow of Voice
It has snowed for four days.
While the moon swelled into fullness and now slowly wanes away like an apple, one sliver-slice at a time, so too the snow has climaxed and started to melt, infecting streams with its glimmering water wake.
Not two steps from the front door I spotted deer, rabbit, raccoon, and squirrel tracks in the snow. Snow has a way of quieting the world it covers, but it holds the activities of the night like a tattoo across Mother Nature’s back; there is evidence here. This morning the tops of the Black Mountains were veiled in a lacey layer of clouds, peaks like the edges of a bride’s lips, waiting to be kissed by the sun. My triumverate of healers (Margot, Cissy, Joe) has been singing in chorus: Go outside, stay outside, walk until the noise stops. It is time for a hike.
I park across the river at the old school and decide to hike in and then up, seeking a panoramic view of the Blacks from across the valley. I follow the old road across two creeks, balancing on hand built footbridges covered in snow with icicle-covered undersides. The water moves quickly in the sunlight and already little White Oak Creek is sloshing over the bank, satiated with snowmelt.
My boots sink into the snow, then below that, into several inches of dead oak leaves. I can barely feel the firmness of the gravel underneath all the layers. I could have cross-country skied after all, but I am happy to wade through the deciduous forest in my dried up old hiking boots and snow pants. If I keep moving, I do not catch a chill and the sun is perched generously overhead. I feel its warmth on my face without the burden of sweat and soak it all in, full-spectrum.
I leave community property and trespass on all my old favorite lots. The road has wasted away underneath my feet and I follow only a footpath I know by heart. Visiting abandoned Appalachian cabins on sunny, winter days has become a defining experience of my life in the South. The closest experience I can relate this to is walking around in the hallowed halls of ancient churches in small European towns. There is a sense of history and sacredness in these cabins; there are stories of both sorrow and triumph, farm life and family traditions, poverty and hard work.
There are three such cabins that I like to visit (and sometimes photograph). One of them still has preserved food stowed away in a root cellar out back, metal tops all but rusted off – but still, I checked, their seals have not popped. Whoever canned these peas and collards and pickles canned them well. The house is a graveyard of Appalachian artifacts: lanterns, cookstove toasters, Mason jars, and more.
Out back I follow deer tracks through the snow in the direction of what folks around here call Wildflower Cove. The snow is thicker here, and virgin except for the deer prints – and now mine. Ironically, the tracks move right past the old slaughtering post of the former owners, where a high-tied pole rests between two oak trunks, ready to hold the still warm body of a buck or bear. I’m certain though, there has not been a slaughter here for at least fifteen years.
Into the cove, hilltops rise all around me, and the creek tumbles down noisily. I climb, climb, climb further into the forest and up into the hills on the opposite side of the valley. If I crouch down and look straight back from where I came, I can still see the Blacks in the full sunlight. After much practice on this trail, I have learned where to cross the creek and cut over onto the National Wildlife Game lands. It is not difficult if you know the spot, but in the snow it can be tricky. My first attempt fails, as I braced myself against a dead limb which fell crashing down the banks and into the water.
Safely across, I turn back downstream and pick up my pace. The sun has stretched across the sky as I’ve hiked and the afternoon grows late. Already, the light is fading. In under an hour I complete the loop and am back at my car, once again convinced of the hidden wisdom in the simplicity of hiking.
The noise never stopped, as my triumverate suggested, but on the way home it comes to me with a different, more poetic quality:
The constant flow of voice,
can move mountains