|My mother's old home-place on Spaus Creek, near the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky. |
It was burned down by firebug vandals several years ago.
Copyright 1995 by R. Lee Tipton, author/artist.
Behind where we're camping, there's an old house site. Not a board remains of the original structure, just a few stones used for the foundations. The main signs of a once-beloved human habitation are the wide green blades of someone's spring flower patch. Iris, daffodil, and other blooming beauties have held the faith, though the hands that planted them have long gone to dust beneath cold stone markers.
It's not unusual to find things like these in Kentucky's woodlands. Sometimes it's a pink Seven Sisters climbing rose gone wild among low-growing redbud or similar trees, other times, a rainstorm will wash the soil away from the base stones of a chimney, revealing the carefully laid hearth. I've found them while out riding horses along rough hillside trails, and never fail to step out of the saddle and offer a moment of quiet reverence for memories I don't share with the founders. I will wander and visit the surviving flower patches, seek out the spring or well, treading carefully so as not to fall into a hole no longer guarded by a wooden box.
These sites are the ultimate museums. Anthropologists hum and sparkle over a bit of rusty knife blade or a hand-axe made of stone by native hands. There are no treasures of gold and silver, and one is extremely lucky if some bright bead can be located; those who lived on these hills either moved on or passed on, and the result is the same.
Empty dooryards, a scattering of bright flowers, and time make for a quilt of patches on a patch of earth that has endured glacial formation, the changing of immigrant life since long before European influence.
I stand leaning on my walking stick, the good sense to keep watch for wakening serpents in a remote portion of my mind, and wonder at all the stories time has filed away for the earth to store. Children. Born, raised, married, and the cycle re-beginning, some simply moving away in the name of change. The urge for bright things after a long winter sending someone to grub in the soil, planting, like as not, some flower with a history all its own. All of it for the forest to re-enfold, transform, and give peace to in the way of nature's own patience.
Yesterdays are still tomorrows. We should all learn to plant flowers. The beauty of today is the ability to dream. The ability to look forward through hardship and sorrow sends us into worlds we alone can and do create.
Every old house-site makes me want to take off the cap I wear to shade my eyes, lift up a handful of living forest soil, sniff it carefully, and run it through my fingers as if it were some holy relic to count prayers on. These hills are green cathedrals, every leaf of its living guardian green recording truth and endurance.