Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sequatchie County, May 2007

We step out of the dusty S-10 at the end of an old logging road in Sequatchie County, Tennessee. The surrounding landscape is blasted, just piles of dirt and debris, shorn of trees or shelter from the relentless sun, but we’re used to this. A vulture wheels overhead as we check the GPS. “This is as good as we can do,” Jason says. “But we’re about 2 kilometers northeast of where we really want to be.” I take out my compass and look across the clearcut to a patch of trees, trees that quickly disappear below the horizon. A steep descent. Cliffs. Bluffs. Rocks. We’re used to this, too. Yet just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. We start off northwestward.

While walking through the coves and gulfs of the Cumberland Plateau you want to stay alert. There’s loose boulders and dead trees that can fall over in a stout gust. Copperheads and timber rattlesnakes might coil near every handhold. Stick your foot between the wrong two rocks and you’ve just snapped your ankle with no easy way back up the slope. But it can be hard to concentrate on the terrain when the hours and the heat stretch out before you and all your body does is walk while all your mind does is consider things as they should be. Or as they could be. Or mostly as they never are. Ghosts. Ghosts are dead things, of the past. Often terrible. But there are other ghosts. Worse ones. Ghosts of the present. The living dead. The shape of things to come falling apart. Then there are ghosts of the future, the worst kind. Dreams that will never come true. Just keep walking.

Jason and I get beyond the clearcut to the treeline and look across the valley. Typical. The valley is so steep and covered in laurel and bramble we can’t even see what’s below us. The opposite slope actually rises above where we’re standing. Typical. We pick a route that appears reasonable, yet might end abruptly in a bluff and a sheer drop to the rocky creek below us. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d be forced to crawl back up a hill and look for an alternative way down. But eventually the bramble and laurel yields to a landscape of 50-100 pound boulders that appear to have been literally thrown across every slope. A rockslide waiting to happen. Jason and I keep a good distance apart so that we don’t inadvertently bury each other. The going is not easy, but we reach our first transects and begin walking south to nowhere in particular.

Alright, so that's a pretty melodramatic way to return, eh? Before everyone starts sending me bottles of Xanax, let me just say that I was TRYING to be melodramatic. Something about walking around out in the woods this summer didn't feel quite right and it was hard to convey the sense of burn-out. On the other hand, no one pulled a gun on us, no one almost died, not much of interest happened at all, for better or worse. With that in mind, I'll try to pick up the remaining threads of last year's harrowing mess in subsequent posts that hopefully won't take 6 months to put up.

Interestingly, I can end this post the same way I ended my last one, over 180 days ago: "By the way, anyone wanna give me a job?"

P.S. These photos are from the flat land of far-western Tennessee, not anywhere near the Plateau, geographically or spiritually.