It’s good to be back on the Mountain. Another round of teaching Creative Nonfiction at Sewanee School of Letters, up here on the Cumberland Plateau. If you find yourself nearby, I invite you to join me for an event this week. I’ll be reading and then having a conversation with School of Letters Interim Director John Gatta. Here are the details:
I always try to deny dawn. She slips under my eyelids and I reach for my eye mask, craving one more hour of unconsciousness. But I hear birds. Knew the light was illuminating the unexplored forest behind the house I now find myself living in. Discovered myself pulled up and into clothes warm enough for the cool morning, lacing up my hiking shoes before I quite realized it. My eyes don’t read so well in the morning anymore, but before I walk out the door, I squint at the map for the Perimeter Trail that loops around Sewanee, hugging the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, and figure it should be due west of the house. Why walk along the lanes to find a proper entrance? I tuck my pants into my socks (the default fashion for us in Cape Cod’s tick-infested landscape. Are they here or am I liberated?) and cross the bit of backyard grass and enter the woods. Ten steps in, I flush a herd of white-tailed deer twenty strong, their cotton-burst butts bounding down the hill of the small valley, then up the other side. A hundred feet in and I find a brook I can step across with one stride. Twenty more paces and I’m on the trail. I take a right and go. It’s good to be back in church.
Just before I left Knight Science Journalism fellowship up in Cambridge, Maura O’Connor spoke to us about her new book on wayfinding. She explained the wonders of the hippocampus, how it grows when we challenge it by getting lost and then finding ourselves. I have not (blindly) used a GPS since then. I find a map, preferably on paper, and study it til I can put my finger on the spot where I am. I have loved to do this, always. It felt like a reward when the last page of a test in third grade was a map, the legend reliably there in the corner, a gift of a key that would unlock the mysteries some mapmaker made.Here on the edge of the plateau, there is the added orientation ease of heading towards the almost horizon that appears between the boles of upright trees, that indicates the drop-off of slope and the potential payoff of views. It’s why I went right. But I am distracted. A russula mushroom there in the duff. A widow-maker tree defying gravity until her uprooted roots decide to give out completely. Rounding a bend and finding myself below a sandstone overhang like a chiseled layer cake of rock, seeps staining spots dark, the smell of iron in the air. Did I gasp? I think I gasped. At a fork I go left, each rock outcropping greater than the last. I scramble up a rock to pass through a tunnel of stone and then the sound of water pulls me forward until I’m below the spray of Bridal Veil Falls, oxygenated, awake. [update: that wasn’t Bridal Veil, I discover later. Just some unnamed cascade. Just as lovely, if not as spectacular.]
How many landscapes can one love? How many humans? How many creatures, great and small? Imagine an infinite number and you are correct.
#Sewanee #hiking #waterfall #Tennessee @univofthesouth #schoolofletters #PerimeterTrail #getoutofbed