Sunday, September 24, 2006
I reel in confusion; I don't understand what I see. With the naked eye I can see two million light-years to the Andromeda galaxy. Often I slop some creek water in a jar and when I get home I dump it in a white china bowl. After the silt settles I return to see tracings of minute snails on the bottom, a planarian or two winding round the rim of water, roundworms shimmying frantically, and finally, when my eyes have adjusted to these dimensions, amoeba. At first the amoebae look like the muscae volitantes, those curled moving spots you seem to see in your eyes when you stare at a distant wall. Then I see the amoebae as drops of water congealed, bluish, translucent, like chips of sky in the bowl. At length I choose one individual and give myself over to its idea of an evening. I see it dribble a grainy foot before it on its wet, unfathomable way. Do its unedited sense impressions include the fierce focus of my eyes? Shall I take it outside and show it Andromeda, and blow its little endoplasm? I stir the water with a finger, in case it's running out of oxygen. Maybe I should get a tropical aquarium with motorized bubblers and lights, and keep this one for a pet. Yes, it would tell its fissioned descendants, the universe is two feet by five, and if you listen closely you can hear the buzzing music of the spheres. -Annie Dillard
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
After another 2 hours of time travel, I'm happy after all the hustle and bustle to be at Bald Rock in KY at the beginning of our southward journey on the Sheltowee Trace trail. Although the pessimistic shuttler doubted I'd be able to make it that far, I set my sights on Cumberland Falls 21 miles distant. With 3.5 days to go 100 miles, I knew it would be nice. The trail for the first 10 miles or so around River Laurel Lake was good and flat and wound around many inlets. I spotted a beautiful box turtle "sheltowee" on the trail. The litter, heat, and horrendous motorboat homes along the lake taught me a lesson about our ignorance.
I grew weary of such schooling and gratefully changed subjects into the wild woods alongside the lower Cumberland. The cliffs and moss-covered boulders reminded me that the primal awe and attraction to this country in TN and KY has everything to do with the geology. It felt like we descended to middle-earth and were walking underneath the mountains. The miles passed by through extensive complementary patches of jewelweed and stinging nettle. We dined on a rock at Devil Creek while I washed thousands of irritating chiggers off my ankles. This is my first experience with these parasites, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
The last five miles slipped by as we enjoyed the eve's orange light reflected off the river. Uwharrie and I arrived at dusk to the over-developed viewing area for the moonbow. This night rainbow is generated by the mist from Cumberland Falls during a full moon. While waiting, the crowd grew to over 100 people. We were all getting soaked by the intense mist from the falls as we patiently waited for the moon to appear. A faint bow suddenly stretched across the vast expanse of the large pool below the impressive falls. I wasn't sure at first, but slowly, the bow grew brighter with faint hints of color. To the naked eye, a moonbow is a specter of a rainbow. It's a beautiful phenomenon.
September 8th: The largest of the frasier magnolia leaves I've seen so far are as big as my torso. These young trees with their gigantic leaves mix well with the mosses and hemlocks to produce an authentic Appalachian feel... A miraculous thing happened this morning after breaking camp on a flat river rock: I forgot all about the motors and rush and consumption and waste.
We only heard the river nearby and walked on in peace. Sadly, this feeling did not last as we passed through several trashed ATV accessed campsites and struggled to find our way along the trail. Along one sunny stone shelf, the litter, dead branches and graffiti made me think I was already in a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it won't end with a bang, but with a slow meloncholy whimper: the same noise I hear inside on this rock.
I knew this was going to be a challenging day even before hitting the overgrown and poorly marked sections of trail. Although it was indeed a long 28 mile day, it was a wonderful trek. The variety of experiences has me feeling we covered an amazing amount of terrain while aging alongside it. We saw two more sheltowees on the trail serving as reassuring mobile markers.
As we left the Cumberland River, we began the long traverse to Big South Fork. There were miles of country roads to walk, and some miles of bushwhacking along the "trail." But as we crossed Hwy 27 north of Whitley City, I truly felt thankful for it all. Perhaps it was in part due to the discovery of the hidden gems along Barren Fork, a section often overlooked. We enjoyed this hemlock saunter with the refreshing cold air from the occasional mine shaft.
Finally on the homestretch, we descended the last few miles to the Big South Fork. We had to hike on to Yahoo Falls to find water, and we were both getting quite thirsty and hungry. But soon we had water and a riverside campspot with a fire going and two delicious burritos on the way. I went for a swim in the river and tried mud, and first aid for the chiggers. I fear I won't have any feet left if I don't deter these buggers!
September 9th: Had a bobcat sighting this morning at Alum Ford. As we continued to follow the east bank upstream, we came upon an old chimney. A wise friend has told me about the powerful vibes he can pick up at some homesites. So we took a break and I sat in meditation and felt a sense of tranquility, but that likely has more to do with the quiet morning in the forest.
We crossed the Big South Fork at Yamacraw Bridge. A few cars stormed by and scared us back into the woods. A trail overgrown with wildflowers awaited. I watched a bunch of water bugs of some type do a wonderful water dance in Rock Creek. Then we continued up the wide forgotten forested valley of Grassy Fork.
I felt I could've been anywhere at this moment. Clearly I knew where I was, but perhaps due to an enhanced unifying sense, I was with everything wild everywhere. I can't describe the feeling very well. It's just one of those great feelings one gets from time to time when walking in the woods. It's a gift that can never be manufactured by the meager and mortal selfish side in us.
After a hot climb, I felt we had earned lunch at Koger Arch. We continued on and promptly got confused with the map. Fortunately the food in my stomach kept me in a mild mood. After searching and searching in the hot sun, we were rewarded to a pleasant ridge walk. Clouds, rolling thunder and a breeze carrying the fresh scent of rain helped make this dry stretch enjoyable.
It was here that I had my second and third profound sensations on today's inner journey. One involved seeing a beautiful box turtle with crimson scales along its legs shortly after becoming unlost. I felt at peace with a kinship to the sheltowee with my own home on my back. The other: I felt the thoughts of loved ones blow into me like the cool breeze from a storm. I sent out my replies.
We were loving today's walk, but along the final miles, we were also longing for rest. We arrived at Big Island after dusk, started a fire and took a dip in the river. With close to 30 miles hiked today, some on very rugged trails, it just feels so good to lie down.
September 10th: This morning we followed the John Muir Trail thru the Big South Fork along the river following horse paths that made me think I was in another era entirely. It was quiet, even the river here was still, where only insects droning and mourning doves mourning set the mood. I thought: this must resemble what a man who walked from Indianapolis with a new vision to see nature and write of the experience 150 or so years ago had experienced.
Climbing now, up to the rim of the plateau. We entered into a whole new world of dead pine trees and a blazing sun: a forest deserted. Looking across the gap we caught sight of the red cliffs and of the river below while hurtling hundreds of blowdowns. These were mostly victims of the Southern Pine Beetle. The trail continue ruthlessly through this terrain. Realizing I had underestimated how far we had to hike today, I had a foul feeling wash over me.
Suddenly there was time, not space-time, but that same unbearable illusion of a ticking clock: time bearing down. We wanted to be done, we were sore, tired, ready to eat fresh food etc. Suddenly the landscape was no longer a friend, but an obstacle. A horrible sensation! I carried this burden for too many miles during this 24 mile day. But then something happened...
I took a wrong (or was it a right?) turn and added 6 miles to an already "too long" exit hike. We were now on the Grand Gap loop and realized our mistake too late where turning back would have made any difference. It was a beautiful trail that wrapped around the cliffs and through the shelter of a cool hemlock forest. At first bitter, my mind evaporated into the moment, a sweet release. There was no righting the wrong now. Just unplug and accept. And I unplugged...
Gone were my worries of the chigger sores, hunger and thirst. There was just the trail and it had to be hiked. I glanced back at Uwharrie, her steadfast peaceful expression she wears on all these adventures indicated she was already there living in the moment. Oh my wise companion! We walked stronger than ever before on the hike, in fact we ran in laughter. How could I be so lucky to mistakenly become enlightened like this: peering up through the darkness, into the light.
And so the hike ended, we made it to the car, bathed in a stream, itched our wounds... As we left Leatherwood Ford and climbed up out of the gorge, I realized we were not just emerging from inside these mountains, but we were emerging from ourselves: an inner journey as much as it was an outer one. Soon we were enjoying brew, pizza and stories with loved ones in Asheville. Thanks to Adam, Suzanne and Asa for their hospitality despite the risk of chigger infestation!
Thursday, September 07, 2006
With a canvas sack filled with an extra beverage and towel, I climbed upstream into the dark forest. Senses adjusted, I followed the lunar light reflected in the white water's silvery thread, which roared through an ethereal valley below. The water sounded fierce in the night.
After some time walking, I set about searching for the Place. I stumbled down to hole after hole where the sound and fury seemed too intense to be any other than Midnight Hole. But these were just smaller places, with their moon music playing loud and proud. And soon I was just a small particle in the universe with my tail tucked between my legs.
Nursing the last of my liquid confidence, I continued up the trail on what seemed more and more to be a foolhardy endeavor. But I knew that it was already too late to turn back, and what are these bodies but beautiful vehicles anyway? And then at last, the clock struck twelve...
I can say this much, it's a beautiful and special place to be. And it's not so menacing as one may think. And it shouldn't be feared; there is too much fear at work in this world already. And if I can remember this night when it comes time for me to die, I would love to dive into that darkness just as I enjoyed this exercise at Midnight Hole!
Sent via PocketMail
Monday, September 04, 2006
this is really happening... cold climate, the insincerity is staggering. it's crept up the mountain, into my universe. only our core warmth to melt the frost, and i fear the frostbite is on me and my friends. i've lost my way, living in the fantasy world. do you know how to become unlost??? yo-yo master: try to remember everything you passed, but when you go back, make the first thing the last. laugh until my head comes off, swallow till i burst.
When I go forwards
you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
(corequisite listening: kidA, corequisite reading: wendell berry, "the idea of a local economy")