Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blogging from the Mountain

Short excerpt from what I am working on...
...Below is a SHORT, FIRST DRAFT section of what I've been working on. Yes, this is a draft, so no one jump my case for tense shifts (I'm still not sure how to structure this) just look at this as a little more polished than just general free writing or stream of consciousness.

Oh yeah, and this is copyrighted, blah, blah, blah, insert legal jargon here....

Big Tom Wilson

If you were exploring the Black Mountains of North Carolina in the late 1890s, and had the need for rest, nourishment, and a decent night sleep safety away from the elements, you might stop at a a small farm near Pensacola, around the Cane River. You would be greeted by frenzied barking from blue tick and black and tan hounds, while chicken and livestock wandered around the grounds next to small plots of corn and other crops. You might hear a worried bray from the sheep’s pen, its residents debating which one would be the next to end up as mutton, and smoke would be slowly curling from the chimney of a cabin that was covered with bear skins. As you walk toward the porch you catch the scent of something delicious cooking on the stove---though your scenes can’t quite identify what was cooking. In block letters on the side of the cabin, someone has painted “Big Tom,” as if no other explanation or detail were necessary.

If you were expected ---and even if you weren’t expected---a tall, lean and lank figure with a snowy beard and dancing eyes would invite you inside to rest a spell and have some of the vittles that Mother had been cooking. As he ushers you through the front door, and you marvel at the collection of fishing rods, hunting traps and guns that seem to decorate every nook and rafter of the three room home. After miles of hiking, the cozy cabin melts the dank moisture from your feet. If you wanted to sample some homemade apple pie while you were there, that could be arranged, and you may even be given a snack to take with you on the rest of your trip. If you needed a reliable hunting guide and trailblazer for the rest of your journey, that could be arranged as well, for you were in the company of one of the best the Appalachians had ever produced.

And if you wanted to simply sit back in front of the fireplace and listen to backcountry mountain tales, that could be arranged --and often was --- without even having to ask.

It’s quite possible that Big Tom’s life could have continued simply unnoticed like many of his fellow Scots-Irish mountain breathern who farmed and made a living on the mountains. But one event thrust him from the face of the mountain into the front page of newspapers, and from newspapers to history, and from history to legend. It was one of the most sensational events of the 1850s---the search for Dr. Elisha Mitchell, university professor and scientist, who had traveled to the Black Mountains to confirm the highest peak of the Appalachians, and was missing for more than a week........

.....Big Tom loved to tell stories. I don’t know if this trait can be genetically linked to a chromosome in my family’s DNA, but if there were a link, I’m sure you’d find a stream of storytellers not just in my family, but in every family that roamed these hills through the decades.

It is not my job to play as judge and jury as to which stories have merit and which ones do not. I’m not a historian. I am a storyteller. And I believe Big Tom would be okay with that.

After all, he was a storyteller, too.

Blogging from the Mountain

Saying Goodbye to Wildacres

I have heard so many good things about this place and I can see why.
It is only just now that the fog has lifted so that I can see the mountains (or see ten feet in front of me for that matter). But it doesn't bother me---I am very familiar with the mountains, and I actually like the way the fog curls off of them. But the sun is shining and I've gone for a few short hikes, so it's been good.

In addition to getting a lot of work done, and meeting some of the way cool people here at Wildacres (Mike, Kathy, Chris, Dana, Brian, and of course, Keeva the poodle caboodle). Here are some of the things I have learned:

  • I am usually not comfortable with quiet. I even have to have a noise machine to help me sleep. While the quiet at first intimidated me, I realized it was not quiet--it was just different music. The hum of crickets, woodpeckers, and one really, really, teed off squirrel were a wonderful symphony. Are these things around us all the time and we're just too busy to hear them? Things that make you go hmmmmm....
  • I have lived alone for a long time, so I didn't view being in a cabin in the woods with any apprehension. However, there is something exhilarating about being totally, totally alone. We find it intimidating because we are never alone. Even if we live by ourselves, there's always the neighbor down the street or the days full of work that we welcome what we think is being by ourselves. You get to know yourself a lot better (okay, that sounded dirty, but I didn't mean it to). It has really helped me hear God better.
  • It's okay if the interior of your cabin looks like the room Johnny Depp had in "Secret Window." As long as you don't start writing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy..." you're okay.
  • Scripture has power when it is read aloud. I've read the Psalms but never aloud when I was by myself. Truly power in the word of God read ALOUD. Maybe it was my imagination, but when I read it on my porch this morning, all the birds and critters started chattering more enthusiastically.
  • Small, black, ringneck snakes look a lot like cell phone charger cords.
  • Lightning storms can be thrilling. Don't worry, the cabin will protect you. Enjoy the light and flashing without fear. That loud popping and fizzing was just the transformer.
  • Wild turkeys are everywhere. Sometimes unexpectedly, when you go around the corner.
  • The food here is really good (okay, that wasn't a lesson, just a point)
  • We get so obsessed with where God wants us to be that we fail to realize if we walk with Him, the place we need to be will natural cross our path.
  • I have been extremely humbled by reading about all the adventures of the other artists who have lived here. There are three journals that we are invited to contribute to, and I have read about artists who have battled breast cancer, searched for family history, came from as far away as Texas and New York. It is very humbling to know you are one in a long chain of Owl's Nest (that's what they call the cabin) who have loved this place.
  • For some reason, day 5 here is always magical. I was fairly pleased with my progress, but for some reason on Day 5 it was like lightning coming off my fingers, and I was so wired that at 1:30 a.m. I finally had to take an Ambien to help me sleep. I've found similar things in the journals, and it always seems to happen around day 5.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blogging from the Mountain

Some photos from the mountain--

* My "Johnny Depp" Owl's Nest Cabin:
I confess, I was not used to being so far back in the woods, even when I stayed at Brevard Music Center or went to visit my Grandma in Yancey County. Although the lightning storm of the first night was beautiful / unnerving / wonderful / scary -- it made me realize that this little Owl's Nest cabin would hold fast and take care of me this entire week. Since then, I've been okay with it.

And of course, I have to say that everyone here at Wildacres has been fantastic. I've also enjoyed reading the journal logs left from the other writers that have been here before me....
Look at the beautiful woods that surround this cabin.

Blogging from the Mountain

In Search of Big Tom Wilson

Days 3-4

For some reason Wed. night, I was strangely much more tired than usual. I finished a lot of things, and was hoping to get in some more, but for some reason I was afraid I had a sore throat coming on, so I did my nose spray and went to bed. The rain sounds wonderful on the tin roof. The squirrels dropping acorns on it, sound like machine gun fire.

I dictated a lot of tape material I gathered from Mt. Michell earlier. When the rain subsided, I was even able to take the cabin trail from my cabin to the rest of the Wildacres campus (about 15-20 minutes each way). It is really beautiful.

No critters Wed.---except for a squirrel outside my cabin that is very agitated. He keeps making "angry squirrel noises" --- kind of sounds like a cat.


I ended up calling it an early night.

I am really only just now starting to get adjusted to living on the side of a mountain in nowhere.

On Thursday afternoon, after finishing up the into to Big Tom's bear stories, I went into Little Switzerland and went into one of the best bookstores I have ever seen. I then went on to Spruce Pine to the Large Chain Store that Shall Not Be Named and picked up a few things---milk, a chill pad for my laptop, and some Dramamine because I had been experiencing some vertigo. I think it may be sinus / driving around all these sharp turns related. Those of you who know me realize I can get car sick at the drop of a hat---even if I'm driving.

Saw three wild turkeys on my way down the mountain today. Evidently, there's a family/ flock of them that hang around. here.

On Friday, I go back to Mt. Mitchell again for a short period to go through the remaining bits of the files. The folks there have been so nice to let me look through their archive,s and I've even made some copies of some of the items I've found viamy family to pass long to them. I'm even thinking this book can come with a small children's companion piece "Big Tom's Bear Tales" that will tell about his adventures.

There is a really,really, dense fog around here. I haven't been able to see most of the mountains. It's made for slow driving, but as you can see in these pictures, I think it is really beautiful when the mists are around the mountain.

Since I'll be close to Asheville when I'm on Mt. Mitchell (well, I won't be close, but Mt. Mitchell isn't really that close to anything....) I'm a going to try to connect with Mom and Dad and have an early supper....

I had originally thought if I had become "bored" with the "nuts and bolts" of research that I could return to completing my short story collection. But I've found that the more I research, the more I write, and I've become incredibly fascinated by the entire thing...

I did "cheat" a little bit--- I brought two movies with me-- "Eternal Sunshine" and "The Hours" (or as I like to call it, "The Bipolar Family Christmas Special.") I may actually watch Eternal Sunshine tonight (on my computer.) The Hours is great, but just a little too depressing to watch while alone in the woods.

All the best!

I am planning on leaving here on Sunday morning, early, early, probably leaving just after breakfast at 8.

Enjoy these cool photos of Wildacres. It's been rainy and foggy most of the time, so I've not been able to get very many great photos. But that's okay.


PS-- Despite the fact that the layout of this cabin reminds me of Johnny Depp's house in "Secret Window" (a movie about a writer who goes nuts) I've found that I really like the layout of it a lot....

Mists rolling off of the Black Mountains...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blogging from the Mountain

In Search of Big Tom
Day two

Last night, there was, without question, the BIGGEST lightning storm I have ever experienced. Lightning was all around the “Owl’s Nest” cabin---cracking and thundering…and needless to say, every loud pop made me think of every Stephen King movie I have seen in the last five years. The rain poured on the tin roof---which is fine with me because I love the sound of rainstorms.
After an Ambien-induced, blissful couple of hours, I awoke around 1 a.m. to an INCREDIBLY loud clap, a blinding spark and a long, loud “fizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Evidently, lightning struck a transformer just above the cabin I was staying…part of my power was out for a while (not a big deal) but it did really jolt me awake. I think that is the closest I have ever been to a lightning strike in my life (and of course, it sounded as if it were right on top of the roof---and I thought for a minute lightning had struck the roof itself. ) I then heard what I thought was the outside glass light fixture shatter (there was the loud sound of breaking glass) but upon not finding anything in the morning, I wrote it off to imagination.

Today I went to Mt. Mitchell and went through the museum display that features my great great grandfather (I learned it was two “greats”--I had erroneously reported three earlier). There was a life size wood carving. The rangers allowed me to go through the Mt. Mitchell archives for a while. They were incredibly nice and professional.

I had a little hang time, hooked up with a nice couple from Waynesville, and went about one hour into the Balsam nature trail. About halfway in, it started to rain, then pour and then really pour, and by the time I got back to my car, I was pretty soaked.

Animal count: 7 wild turkeys in my driveway this morning 6 wild turkeys met on the parkway (clarification--I’m not talking about people, these were actual turkeys.)

I got back just in time for supper (food here is fantastic!) and went back to my cabin to settle in for the evening. I’m starting to feel overwhelmed because the information I got today was complete sensory overload, and for the first time in ??? I haven’t checked my e-mail all day….I’m sure that’s good for me and character building and all that jazz.

BTW---I highly recommend the restaurant on Mt. Mitchell, along with the cool Balsam gift shop there. It is a great place to get small gifts for people who are generous enough to help out with work so you can take the week off (wink, wink, nod, nod).

Enjoy these photos: of me with a woodcarving of Big Tom on Mt. Mitchell---

Monday, September 8, 2008

Blogging from the Mountain

Wildacres Writing Residency -- Blogging from the mountain-- Little Switzerland, NC

Part 1

I am so blessed to have been selected for a writing residency at Wildacres ( I will be working on a non-fiction book about my great, great, great grandfather, "Big Tom" Wilson, whose claim to fame was finding Dr. Mitchell's body on Mt. Mitchell. This residency is very competitive, so I feel very, very, blessed to be here. It is a beautiful area and I encourage you to visit.

Little Switzerland is gorgeous, and it isn't exactly at the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.

The Owl's Nest cabin is lovely, but I have to confess, the interor of it reminds me of the cabin that Johnny Depp had in the movie "Secret Window" (about a writer who goes crazy.) So while it is beautiful, I do sometimes find myself finding it just slightly intimidating.

Tomorrow I head to Mt. Mitchell, where I have an interview with some rangers. I was hoping that someone would take me to the waterfall where Mitchell's body was found, but that is on private property, so I need to find out who owns it and get permission, etc.

They have a whole display on Big Tom at the museum on top of Mt. Mitchell. This should be very interesing. I am hoping to get a book proposal completed by the end of this week to start shopping it around to agents...

Here is a photo of Big Tom.

Long story short, Big Tom was a bear hunter (he had killed over 100) and trapper in the mountains. There is a nature preserve named after him. Dr. Elisha Mitchell had determined that Mt. Mitchell was the highest peak east of the Mississippi and was confirming his findings when he went missing. After many failed attempts to find him, they sent for Big Tom, who found him at the bottom of a waterfall.