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Archive for December, 2013

credit: Brian Stansberry/Wikimedia Commons

Bob white quail

Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain came to me first as a purchase on the recommendation of my uncle J.T. and then again, as a gift from my cousin Linda, who knew I would enjoy a book of local historical fiction. I kept one, and gave the other to my brother.

I remember when Uncle J.T. told me about Frazier’s book. J.T. had found himself in a conversation about Cold Mountain. “I said, Yeah, I know where Cold Mountain is. I was raised in the shadow of it at Toxaway.” Well, as often happens, there IS more than one Cold Mountain, just like there is more than one Toxaway. Frazier’s Cold Mountain is over in Haywood County and can be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway. And J.T.’s Cold Mountain is indeed at Toxaway.

Frazier has received considerable acclaim for Cold Mountain, and I am not saying it is undeserved. But one thing ruined Cold Mountain for me. At various places in the narrative Frazier has the unmistakable call of the little bob white quail ringing out AT NIGHT! Did not anyone in the whole process from manuscript to press know the difference between a bob white and a whippoorwill? Makes you want to whack your forehead in exasperation.

J.T. and Linda have both gone on to their reward now, but of course they knew, as I do, that no self respecting quail is going to be out after dark. That mistake just didn’t matter that much to J.T. and Linda, since it was such a good story otherwise.

Now, I have recently finished reading Wayne Caldwell’s two books Cataloochee and Requiem By Fire. I notice on the internet that Mr. Caldwell’s writings are considered to be somewhat akin, or shall we say, somewhat equivalent to Frazier’s. Of that I am no judge. I enjoyed Caldwell’s writings lots more than Frazier’s, but I noticed Caldwell has his plants a little out of order; for instance rhubarb in February. But as Linda and J.T. forgave Frazier about the whippoorwill, I am forgiving Caldwell also.

I have seen Frazier’s Cold Mountain from a distance, and of course my Uncle J.T.’s Cold Mountain is practically over the hill from here. And, I have actually been to Cataloochee, twice. Cataloochee intrigues me. It is not the animals, the elk, the bear, the turkeys or the deer. It is not even the old buildings, lovely as they are. It is the imprint of the past that remains on the land.

It has been nearly a hundred years since the National Park took over the valleys of Cataloochee. But an observant eye can still discern the old fields that today are grown over in pines and poplars. Nor is it hard to hunt out ruins of old stonework, and other evidence of human habitation. The hiking trails so popular now were not made by deer and bison, but by people, whose bones now mingle with the dust beneath the grave markers in the churchyard and cemeteries.

It was the intent of the founders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that the corridors of Cataloochee would revert to wilderness, and to that end nearly every house, barn, shed, and chicken coop was destroyed. Nevertheless, so thin is the veil between those days and these that even today one can almost hear the ringing of axe and anvil along Cataloochee Creek. The unfortunate residents of Cataloochee were long ago dispersed. But there’s something, what is it, that remains?

Mr. Caldwell answers that question in Cataloochee and Requiem By Fire. And for a short read, check out my article in Yahoo Voices entitled “Cataloochee — An American Treasure.”

The photo of the quail is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and is just one more great shot by Brian Stansberry.

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Quebec Home

Quebec Home

This time of year I can not help remembering Christmas Past. There was a time when I was younger when I felt that life began after Christmas. The hard part of the year was the end, and once I got past that I could manage. I am not the only one for whom Christmas was (is) a wincing pain, to be endured until friends or family have had their little deal. Untold numbers of people today are only too glad for Christmas to be over.

I thank God that the pain of those years is now only a memory. And it’s not because I’m married now, and life is good.  It is because the Lord led me step by step, by little and by little, away from pain into peace, until finally the pain was gone. Today I can remember that pain, but I can not feel it any more.

It happened during the years I lived at Quebec, fifteen in all. I am brimful of stories from that time. So many astounding things took place. One of them was a real White Christmas.

In North Carolina, unless you live at the crest of the Smokies, it is rare to consistently experience snow at Christmastime. Here in the mountains we have snow fairly often, but not necessarily when we want it, such as December 24th after we have finished our shopping.

I don’t remember what year it was — some time in the late 90’s. Nor do I remember the exact day the snow began falling — maybe Christmas Eve, maybe the day before. I was off from my job for a few days, which was good, for I was never one to drive in new snow. It was beautiful, and I didn’t have to go anywhere so I sat beside the stove and watched it from the living room. It snowed and snowed and snowed until there were ten or twelve inches I guess.

Not enough to keep the four wheel drive trucks from rolling. My house was somewhat hidden, but near the road. I could always hear the traffic going by, and Christmas Eve was no exception, snow or not. But gradually their rumblings became farther and farther apart, and as night drew near an unusual stillness began to settle over the valley.  What was it?  Why had the vehicles stopped passing? And then I realized: It was Christmas Eve — the one night when all self respecting coon hunters, road runners, good old boys and girls, and their kids, stayed home and waited for Santa.

I eventually had to go out to get some firewood to feed my stove. The snow had stopped falling. A pale moon lit up the whole valley. There was no noise, no sound at all except the far away rushing of the creek. The stillness was almost tangible.

I took my wood back inside, chunked it into the stove, and went for my coat and cap. I stood in the snow for a long time that night, under the bare limbs of the big dogwood tree, looking at the white fields below me, and listening to the silence of Christmas Eve, savoring what I knew was a once in a lifetime experience.

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