Beautiful is the crooked, and thrilling the high and winding, the roads where so many people live with their driveways looking like dangerous playground slides, the narrow one-way roads that turn into washboard gravel with a turnaround place hard to find.
A few rows of corn, plump bouquets of sage colored cabbage, and jungle green onion tops stuck into narrow wedges of folded mountainside appear around every curve.
This is the horse country of Cataloochee in Western North Carolina. Not the bluegrass of Kentucky or Ocala with their white fences and long gentle hills, but a place where the horses are two by two, for steep-sloped trail riding.
A lot of people live on this road from Jonathan Cove to Cove Creek to Sutton Town and Medford Hannah. Little spurs run off with names like Warwick Loop, Serenity and Hoot ‘n Holler. Rich folks with recent construction perch on the side of newly bought mountainside, pasture and classical rushing stream, side by side with house trailers complete with granny, babies and all the young ‘uns plus lolling yard dogs who seem to sit on the porch all the live long day and watch traffic go by. Bright flowers disguise rusty-can planters. The folks on the porch waved at our car. We waved back.
The inevitable missionary Baptist church at the crossroads had a message posted with changeable letters. This season’s billboard to passers-by said, “Faith is the postage stamp on our prayers.” I noticed it when we took a road with a sign that read “Cataloochee Valley ten miles.” The first five miles had a few button hooks and hair pins, but was a good asphalt road. Then it turned to loose gravel and narrowed into a series of corkscrews. We had groceries in the car. This side excursion had been a whim. Buck got lucky and found a place to turn around. Heading back down, I noticed the church had the same words on the reserve side of the sign. “Faith is the postage stamp on our prayers.”
I suspect many of the most fervent prayers are pleas for faith itself. The sign suggests that without faith up front those prayers all end up in the dead letter department.
There had been enough rain to send forth spiky lavender-blue hosta blooms, and the bright brass pot yellow of naturalized day lilies in the cool air was a flatlander’s summer daydream. I could hear water falling off the small bridge of the driveway of our rental, the Emerald Gate Farm. It dropped into the talkative stream and my eye followed its trail into ponds where ducks preened, sunned and slept.
In the shadows, I saw a red fox cross the road and slip into the woods.
Birdsong echoed off the forested ridges. The acoustics were so pure and sharp we might as well have been in a recording studio.
Miles away, a hound bayed.
Gales of children’s laughter were the afternoon hand bell choir. They might have been playing across the street or a mile away up or down the twisty road. Their voices echoes and reverberated. It was a sound like no other: a sound sealed in memory, a strand of perfect young hair in a locket for all time.
These journal notes are from a drive Buck and I took when we were visiting Maggie Valley and Waynesville, North Carolina in June of 2007. They might have made it into a short-lived blog called “The Way Home,” but never into the master archive.