View Electronic Edition


I've been here in Kentucky a little over a year by now. We left the Yadkin the spring of '69 and now the spring of '70 has Come and gone, it's high summer and I'm by myself in this gorge just happy as a coon. I ain't a bit homesick. I think about Rebecca, I remember her well and I remember the children too and think about them vrath affection. My brother Squire has been here once with news about them and he'll soon be here again. It was good to get the news when I did but I'm not laying out here brooding for want of more. I'm not brooding about anything these days. I'm just loafing around in this river gorge, sleeping in the caves, eating fish and berries, whatever I can find to eat without having to work too hard to get it. This gorge is off the main trails, I ain't seen no sign of Shawnees. It's a real easy and restful place to be. All I do is loaf around in the sun, I go naked half the time. I like to stretch out on these big rocks by the river and let the sun bake me. Sometimes I'll go all day and not put any clothes on. I'll swim in the pools and then stretch out on a rock in the sun and lay there like a snake all afternoon. What I like to do at night is get back in my cave and build me a fire for an hour or two, sit looking at it, letting it warm me. I like a fire at night when I figure it's safe to have one. There's one cave with a natural hole up through the top that makes a perfect smokehole. I get back in there and make a fire and maybe I'll roast a perch and eat it, and then if I feel like it maybe I'll whittle a little, carve me out some little doo-dad just for pleasure. I like to smoke my pipe by the fire. Squire left me his tobacco, I smoke a little every night and reaUy enjoy it. After my fire dies down I'll move up to the front of my cave and sit there listening to the river flowing in the dark.

I'll hear the critters talking and singuig and stirring around in the night. Sometimes I go out and stir around with them, walking slow and easy, feeling the breeze on my skin, feeling the moonhght on me. And I'll think: I couldn't behave this way if my buddies was still with me. Old Finley, old Hoiden, and Mooney and that Cooley. They didn't have nothing on their minds but pelts. Work hard, make money, get home quick was all they could think about. Squire's reasonable. Squire's a good solid steady man. And Stuart was good to have along. They was all good in some ways, we made up a ' good company together but the trouble was, you couldn't get quiet in your mind with the fellows around.  Not in any deep way. Since they went back to the settlements I've been here by myself having the finest time, hawng the most unusual dreams, the clearest thoughts I've ever had before.

I don't believe those men had any thoughts a tall except about getting home as rich and quick as they could. Of course that's what we come here for, the purpose of trapping and hunting. That was my purpose too, which shows how strange things are, how things come about in mysterious ways. Ways you don't plan or intend and can't understand even after they happen. One thing leads to another but you can't alwijys tell which one thing is going to lead to which other particular thing. We hunted and trapped all last winter and had us the biggest store of pelts that ever was. But then just as we was starting home with our goods, this gang of Shawnees fell on us and robbed us and took everything we had. Took it all. We followed after 'em and by surprise we managed to rob our stuff back and set out toward home again. But I'll be damned if them boogers didn't come right on and follow m again, and surprise us, and rob all that plunder back again. It's a wonder somebody didn't get killed. My fellows said that was enough for them. All of them except Stuart went on home. Stuart stayed on with me a while but then he disappeared one day and I never did see him no more. He went on home, I reckon, or maybe got lost or killed. Maybe the Shawnees took him, I just don't know.

The fellows gone. The purpose gone. The fellows asked me before they left, they said Daniel, ain't you coming horne with us? I said no. When they said why, I couldn't tell 'em. I didn't know my ownself why I didn't want to go. I could feel in me plain as day that I wasn't ready yet for home. It was like I knew I might find out something I needed to know if I stayed in these woods by myself. But I didn't have any words to say that with. And then when Squire was getting ready to go he said to me, Daniel, are you commg? I said no. He said, what'll I tell Rebecca? I couldn't think of a thing. I knew he'd tell her I was well, tell her hello for me. But I had no message for my wife. I had no word to send her and I had no purpose for staying that I could report. I had no purpose and no words to say to anybody. I talk to myself and sometimes I sing out loud. But there's times I don't care if I ever speak to anybody else again as long as I live. That's a strange thing to think about, but thoughts like that are crossing my mind these days. All kinds of strange things are crossing my mind since I've been alone out here and when I'm asleep too, till sometimes I can't tell if I'm asleep or awake. The first year out here I thought about home every day. I thought about my wife and children. I just naturally figured I'd be going back soon as we harvested enough furs to make the trip worthwhile. But then as the year went along I quit thinking about home so much. I didn't quit missing Rebecca exactly.

It was just that I got used to not being where she was. It got to feeling purely natural to be here by myself and what I know is that I could stay on here in this place alone the rest of my life and be satisfied. I could just let my whole life and name and history disappear into these trees and rocks and rivers. I could do that. I could also go back home, be a husband and a father again. I could associate with my neighbors, pay my debts, stay in close to the house most of time. I've done all that and I could do it again but what's new in my mind is the not knowing if that's what I will do. There's such a wonder about this place. There's such a song to sing about it. It's like Eden. Buffalo, turkey, all game big and small. There's salt, the forest floor is covered with mast, there's rivers of the purest water, with more kinds of fish atid frogs and turtles than I can name. Than have ever been named.

It's a heaven of a place out here and I feel like an angel in it. I never knew it was in me to feel like an angel. What would it be like to go on feeling like one, to stay forever in this place till I disappeared within it? What would that be like? I just wonder; what would staying here forever by myself be like?

The other afternoon I was laying asleep on a rock by the river and I dreamed a snake was coiled up in me. I felt it move around in my chest and guts, I felt it crawl up my throat and out my mouth and across my face. I saw it move down off the rock to the water. I saw it swim across the water into the woods on the other side. And I dreamed that a young doe came up to me in the woods and motioned for me to follow her. It was dark and a rain was falling but I followed along behind till we came to a laurel dell at the base of a rock cliff where a young buck stood, waiting for us.  The doe touched his neck with her nose and the buck nodded and fell in behind us walking.  The three of us walked on till we came to a river ford.  The doe said, kill this buck and skin it and put on its hide. I killed the buck with my knife and skinned it. I put on his hide like a cloak and the doe and I walked on into the night together till we came to the top of a hill.  We stood together looking at the moon, letting it shine on us, until the hill became a rim of a crater on the moon, and I was alone upon it. I laid down alone and gazed at the shining moon that I was on. I slept, I dreamed that I walked down to the center of a crater to a hole that opened through the bottom of the moon. I dreamed I stepped off into that hole and fell through the dark so swiftly it woke me up. I was in my cave, lying on my back, gazing up through the smokehole at the full bright moon in the sky.

I felt the warm ashes in the fireplace. A few embers were still alive, soon I had a new fire. I sat a long time looking into the flames.  The flames are like the sun, I thought. And when I thought of the sun I thought of the moon and I looked up through the smokehole but now I saw only the light of the moon.   The earth had turned and the moon had passed from view. I hated to leave my fire but I did without looking back. I walked out of the cave among the rocks that led to the river bank.  The moon lit the water silver.  The river was a streak of light playing in the gorge. I walked across the water on the rocks, then climbed the bank on the other side. I climbed the hill, passing through tangled laurel and rocks slick with moss. I came to cliffs that rose up high above the gorge.

I climbed the cliffs till I got to the very top where the pines were short and scrubby, not much taller than me. I could see the full moon clear from there, straight above, round as a pumpkin, shining the purest silver light I'd ever seen. It fell across me, across the whole plateau of pine, it lit the far horizon of the hills, it fell into the gorge making shadows on the cliffs that I had climbed.  The gorge was illumined, showered upon and shadowed by the full clear fall of shine.  The gorge was a crater. I was on the rim of a crater of the moon. In the moonlight I began to walk down the crater's side, circling and doubling back till I reached the bottom, the center of the bottom, reached the opening. 

Without hesitation I stepped into it, and fell until I woke again beside the remnants of my fire.  The ashes were still vjarm.  With both hands I scooped up ashes and pressed them against me. I pressed them warm between my legs, into my belly, I rubbed their heat into my flesh, down each thigh to my knees, then with more ash down both legs to my feet. I placed my feet in the pile of ashes, buried them deep while I rubbed my chest and neck and face and arms with the soft warm ash of the burned wood.  When I was covered and warmed all over I stood and walked around my cave, wearing the ash like clothes. But I longed for the water and soon I was among the rocks by the water's edge again. I stood beside a long, deep pool looking at my image in the water, reflecting silver in the moonlight. I couldn 't see my face but I saw my shape clearly and the shine of the ash on my skin. I recognized the shape of the figure in the water as my own. But the figure was a stranger too who moved in mysterious ways. 

The figure moved like a woman moves.   When I lifted my hand the figure lifted its hand, but like a woman. I began to dance with this woman of the water, I moved on the rocky shore while she moved with me in the water. I raised my hand. She raised her hand. I shifted my feet and turned.  The woman turned. I bowed low and most elegantly, and she bowed too.  Our faces were nearly touching. I brought my arms around in a swoop and she did too until Our hands were nearly touching.  Then my hands sank into the water to the wrists, instantly the ash washed away and my hands lured my entire body into the water, I plunged head first into the pool and swam, down, reaching deep and turning over and over in the cold river. The ash washed off like dust. I turned in the water and turned again, I was a fish. I had no need to breathe, no urge to leave the water.  The water was my habitat and I lay suspended in it, running my hands over my body, feeling my own flesh and delighting in it. My arms felt like a woman's arms, my stomach, legs, everywhere upon me I could feel was like a woman. I looked around for the woman I had seen in the water. I swam deeper and searched along the ledges but she was not there. I looked up but all I could see above was the wavy round light of the moon. I swam toward it, reaching for the surface. I pulled through the water toward the bright image of the moon, up, toward the surface and the warm air of the night. But the longer I swam the colder the water became, and I realized I was swimming down, the moon was down.  The water grew colder and colder as I went deeper and for the first time I did not feel at home within the deep. But as soon as the small fear hit me, the woman of the water appeared beside me and touched me with her hand. She swam in front of me and held my face in her two hands, pulling me close. She pressed her mouth against mine, she wrapped her legs. around my legs, she held me tightly in her arms while my arms floated freely out to the sides.

Kicking gently, we swam slowly together, down, deep toward the shining moon.  We approached the moon. Its light was brilliant, yet comforting to the eyes.  We could see its craters, its hills and plains and valleys spread out before us as we swam entwined on through the brilliant water.  Our motion carried us to the rim of a crater on the moon, and past it, down, over the rocks and crags of its steep side to the bottom where a hole lay open before us. 

Come, it said. Fall. Swim through to the other side.  We answered. Entered.  Together. A cave in a dream's dream,