Northwest Georgia

Whoever designed the house I grew up in must not have taken into consideration that by having a twenty foot ceiling in the living room would make the house difficult to heat, so for the most part of every weekend, my dad and I would scour lots in North West Georgia downing trees, hauling them home or else splitting firewood by the truckload in the back lots of church friends so that we could keep the great cast iron stove running all winter. The few twenty acres or so we had at our place were divided almost grid-like by hoary tree-lines laced with barbed wire. We thinned some of these back and stacked cordwood along the lines, we had cordwood piled under the back porch. We had wood stacked under the open sided shed roof where the tractor lived, which is where one day, loading with my brother I threw a quartered log clean through the back window of the old black Chevy we used to haul it all with and I’ve never been sure if I did it by accident or not. I remember the smell of fresh cut oak, I remember the bark of the saw, the smell of chainsaw exhaust. I remember loading wood into the truck and keeping track of the figure of my father from a distance so that I could get out of the way should he bring a tree down. I remember working hard and nobody talking, driving hours along curving nameless two-lane county roads through rubbed down Georgia hills and nobody saying anything.

The mountains of Georgia are the oldest in Appalachia, worn down almost to nothing. Something that ancient has an inherent weirdness to it, I believe. Down the road were woods several acres thick behind my friend Jeff’s house which nobody seemed to own. We’d get into them a day at a time, tell each other lies and smoke his dad’s cigarettes. They had stands of lower pines there and open areas with rock and sand for some reason, and in one clearing him and his sister and two brother’s had made a stone ring lined with stone chairs in the middle of which they would burn things. We found cars in his woods and farm equipment in mine. He showed me a fox-hole under a cedar one time and we dared each other to scramble down into the walls hung with roots yet neither of us would go. The hole was still too thick with the smell of wild animal.

Next to my house was a stand of tall loblolly pines, planted originally in rows but then grown to dark vine-twisted wildness. I had to cut an entrance with my buck knife just to get in them. I would spend afternoons laying quiet in big piles of pine needles, sometimes reading, sometimes daydreaming. Once, from nowhere a great wind rushed along the roof, shoving it all back and forth till I realized it was a low flying cloud of blackbirds. A pestilence flying so thick they almost obliterated what little sky showed through. I used to think it was normal for a twelve year old boy to spend all day getting lost in the woods, now I’m not so sure. I used to try and force my wrists to grow retractable claws, like Wolverine. Sometimes I would pretend I was Grizzly Adams and my only friends were deer, rabbits, birds and snakes and they could talk to me.

At the end of one summer my dad thought we should clear out one tree-line divider between fields, the one that ran away from the back of the house into the state park. Hacking at one end we found what seemed to be a cave entrance, a passage through the wild brush with childrens tin toys scattered along the floor and pieces of fabric nailed to the underbelly of low branches. It ran about fifty feet, had two or three entrances and in five years or more, none of us had discovered it. We named it the “Rabbit Hole." I think that was the summer I first read Watership Down.

Adjacent to that was where we kept our usual stack of seasoned material ready after a year or two to be brought into the house. It was here once that my dad, my brother and I finally got down to the lowest layers or soft and rotted timber and rolling over a log, I uncovered something, an animal of some sort that turned its small head and hissed in rage at me and then disappeared. It wasn’t a snake and it wasn’t a cat, but maybe some sort of large insect only about a foot or two away from my face. When I saw it, my entire perception seemed to go blurry, I only remember eyes and a mouth. I paused and turned to my brother and my dad, but nobody seemed to have noticed anything as they kept working. I’m not even sure now if it really happened or if I dreamt it.

Many years later, either in a dream or in a blackout, I returned and climbed down into that fox hole behind Jeff’s house. It was tight and dark but after a distance opened up into a large tall cavern. The walls were made of clay and lined with hundreds of small animals embedded into the red mud, rabbits or something like them, horrified wide-eyed and screaming. In the dream I scrambled back out as fast as I could, tripped and fell breathlessly, laying among scattered piles of shale and gnarled, whispering cedars with the sky above cloudless and mercilessly blue.