Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Land of Very Off The Map

People who know me well also know that I excel at running away. I never did it as a kid, mind you. I never packed my suitcase full of stuffed animals and books and set off down the block at the sage old age of seven, intending to join the circus but instead turning around and heading right home. Nor did I rebel as a teenager by spending a lost weekend somewhere. No, I'm actually pretty boring in that regard. Perhaps it is that very lack of past experience that fuels my insatiable drive now. Perhaps it is a more benevolent form of a midlife crisis. Perhaps my everyday life simply sucks a**. Because I can't get enough of an unexpected, and preferably radical, change in scenery. In fact, this very blog got its genesis the summer I ran away to the beach. Go on, check out the third entry.

I also dyed my hair blond, but the two are completely unrelated. I think.

I don't know if I was running when I went to Jernigan's Hollow. I do know I was unhappy where I was, and I wanted to be someplace better. I was hugely, immensely pregnant, and some part of me must have wanted to nest. To find a womb-like environment to inhabit and feather until my baby arrived. And I definitely found that in the Hollow.

We had absolutely no communication with the outside world. I mean zero. There was no phone, no cable, no internet. It was so far in the country that service providers simply didn't offer their services. We could not get a cell signal without traveling at least a mile up the hill, and even then only in very clear weather. If it was cloudy, then we had to go probably two miles, which sucked, because that was a very big hill. We couldn't even pick up radio transmissions. As I told my friend Jeff Bryan, when I finally resurfaced into the land of the living, there could have been an emergency broadcast announcing the zombie apocalypse, and I would have missed it entirely. Would I have been devoured, or would all those episodes of The Walking Dead finally have paid off? Who knows? Not me. Not in Jernigan Hollow.

 The cabin sat back from a little creek with many limestone formations that made the water running over them quite musical. That's actually something that's really important to me- the sound water makes over surfaces. It's one of the first things I look for when I'm at the lake or the beach or buying desk top fountains in Target. I really pissed off a clerk at Home Depot once, by insisting he run a fountain attachment over different materials until I found the liveliest one. (Copper is the most cheerful; smooth glass is the most relaxing. Poor guy.) And then there is that most sacrosanct of water songs- the sound of rain on a tin roof, which the cabin had. I wish they sold that at Home Depot.

Animals observed around the cabin include:
Otters (a mother and baby)
Numerous poisonous snakes
Numerous non-poisonous ones, including a huge black rat snake named Midnight
Too many deer to count
Wild cats and dogs
and I swear, one night I heard a panther scream.

The cabin itself had two sort-of bedrooms and a converted loft that ran across the length of the whole thing. There was a huge limestone fireplace that warmed up the whole structure. The walls were laid across just like Lincoln Logs and mortared with something that looked like fluffy white cement. A deep, obscure-the-sky front porch housed a rocking chair. The original cabin had been built in 1855, to the best of our knowledge, by the biggest landowner in the county at the time. The landowner, Clay Stinnet, also built his huge plantation just up the hill two hollows away. And I do mean plantation.

You see, my husband's family once owned slaves.

As the daughter and great-granddaughter of two immigrants, I'm really not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, there is the culture shock and sense of awe I feel at finding my married name written across the buildings and street signs of Limestone County. It's kind of very cool to run into a relative- or at the very least kin- everywhere I go. (Here a "relative" means a measurable degree of shared blood, while "kin" means a shared ancestry that requires a calculator to work out the exact degree of cousin-ness.)  And I do mean everywhere. I have a very small family. And Daniel does not. And the fact that I was living in a cabin that sheltered... how many generations is 2013 minus 1855? Yeah. That many generations... still kind of blows my mind. This is the kind of legacy to which I brought my daughter home.

I wish she had been older. I wish that she could one day remember the lightning bug hour, when twilight got a good hold over the clearing and glowing golden insects rose from the grass in waves too many to count. Or recall the drum of rain on the porch roof while she was warm in dry in my arms. Or could marvel at the sky blue crayon scribbles in the wall logs left by her father when he was very young. Perhaps all mothers wish such things for their children. The truth is, I don't know if the Hollow will mean anything to her at all in the future. But it always will to me. It was a great lesson in family and natural beauty and being, but not feeling, lost. And because of it, I have a hell of a lot to write about. It always comes down to that.