The Three Sisters, Knob and Neighbor Mountains looming, soft and green.
Jeremy’s Run courses, cold and glittering, trout flashing by in my Daddy’s boyhood dreams.
I float, chin deep, in a wide, murky lake…the expanse of water smaller now that my child’s body has grown.
The floating dock is just a stone’s throw.
The slippery blue tendrils of lake weed brush my toes and small minnows slide past me as if I was just another tendril of gently swaying grass that might offer shelter.
I watch my nephew’s blonde head as he turns his little body head over feet off of the dock, and churns back, grinning, for more daredevilment.
My memories blur as the softly grained images of the past and the sensations of the present collide.
Above me, the soaring mountains and a perfect arc of cloud-stained sky, the same when I was a lanky, sun-browned child.
How our lives mimic each other, one life and then another, timeless.
At Stoneyman, there were tiny frocks of morning glory, lady slippers for shoes and rough acorn caps laid out as offerings, adornment for our fairy friends, and a crock of scraps for the neighbor’s happily grunting pigs.
Up into the winding hollows- look, there is where my Mama and Daddy first lived when they were just married and blushingly in love, there is where my Great-Grandpa’s farm was, there’s where the family’s country store used to stand, there’s where my Daddy’s childhood friend lived, here is my Nanny’s (faded to the red of an heirloom tomato) one room schoolhouse.
My daddy, on his little horse, rode all over those hills as a boy, flying across the meadows, as free as he could ever be.
The only sounds are the rustling of tall oaks, the whisper of the run, birds murmuring to each other.
As I listen, deeply with my blood and my bones, I hear the cadence of a hundred voices drawling sweetly into my opened ears.
The sun breaks through the oaks and ash, lights up the forest floor and the slow streams.
In the cool shadows, indian pipes, soft ferns and witch hazel nestle between the mossy rocks.
Somewhere in those hollows and mountainsides, remnants of family homesteads stand sentinel to the passing of generations, the usherings into life and to the final resting places amidst rolling hills.
The ghosts of springhouses that quenched thirst, cold cellars that stored the bounties of summer, fireplaces that warmed and fed tired bodies, they still tell their stories, and my blood and bones absorb them.
My eyes take in the old homesteads, I can almost smell the gardens that once bloomed, full of enough of the earth’s offerings to feed a family, and the neighbors, too.
The graves of our ancestors turn porous as the seasons change from spring to summer to fall to winter and back again, no footstep has trodden there for years.
The mountains stood watch as we committed each of our own to the forgiving ground, the sun making patterns of gold and shadow across the sloping hills, our love for each other more than the valley can hold.
Over the gravestones of my grandparents and great grandparents and ancestors, clouds move to their own design in a robins egg sky, as below, we clasped hands tightly and prayed, shouting in unison to send off a loved one, an uncle, a brother, a husband, a friend.
Our loved ones stand near to us still, the bonds do not break so easily.
A plea for a sign, a photo and a sprig of thistle placed by an unseen hand, to remind us that there is more than our humanness.
My nanny’s knitting still comforts me, saves me from my own storms, shelters me in shades of her handworked greens and blues and browns.
The hollows hold me close, grace me with their secrets and stories, their lessons in fortitude and loneliness.
My ancestor’s hands calloused by work, backs bent to the task, feet planted firmly in the earth as snows raged and droughts ravaged, as children died in birth or illness.
The voice of my great-uncle still echoes, locked eternally in oral histories.
He spoke for them all, the soft voices and stories of these people and these mountains cannot be contained.
(A photograph of the one room schoolhouse where my Nanny attended school as a child)
(c) Annie O’dell Hendrick 2014