In The Wake of Sheltowee
Saturday February 27 1999
It had been far too long since we'd been out. Under overcast skies, ten of us left Turtle Hill at 8 am in the big grey guru vandura. We crossed over the newly constructed Judge Ed Workman bridge, 150 feet above the train tracks, fresh roadcuts revealing layers of sediments laid down in the shallow seas of the Devonian period, 360-408 million years ago. Samten behind the wheel. I put Fiddle Fever on the deck and said, "The one thing you don't want to do, is, don't break in new boots on the trail." Stopped at Cumberland Transit in Nashville where Rigdzin bought a fine pair of Saloman boots. Getso was the last to get back in and had forgotten the candles I'd asked for. Up out of the Ordovician basin onto the rolling hills, the eroded Mississippian limestones of the northern Highland Rim, passing seven miles east of the entrance to Mammoth Cave. We ride further north. In the low hills to the east, in a one room cabin, a woman named Nancy Hanks gave birth to a boy named Abraham., 190 years ago. Further east on the Blue Grass Parkway, back down into another Ordovician basin, this time around Lexington with exits for the Whiskey History Museum and My Old Kentucky Home State Park. East of town, we leave I-64 listening to sympathetic beats from Ray and Dave. Samten in the driver's seat seemed to be getting a bit tired after seven hours of driving, coming pretty close to the edge on a narrow two lane, spooking a few of us.
Rolling upstream past the sign for the Sheltowee Club beside the north fork of Triplett Creek into Bill Brown Hollow, parked at the Sheltowee trailhead sign, exactly 380 miles from home, 15 miles from the Ohio River, 50 mles from the West Virginia border. We unload and strap our packs on in the last light of a cold and sunny winter afternoon. Once everyone is on their feet, we say Chokgyur Lingpa's prayer asking Guru Padmasambhava to clear away obstacles before following the mark of the turtle east into Henry Short Hollow. This is the Northern Terminus of the Sheltowee Trace. I have not set foot on this path in over three years. The pack feels heavy on my hips, bringing pressure to bear between the pelvis and ball joints on the top of the bones. This northern section, all of which drains into the Licking River watershed, is completely new to me.
The crew consists of Padma Rigdzin (26) myself (43), Tenkar (43) and Dechen (23), my sons Isa (14) and Ksana (11) as well as Padma Getso (50) a trained RN, and her two daughters Lizzie (13) and Chodon (23). Samten (54), who was kind enough to drive us here, will only be staying with us the first night. Ksana leads, and the trail quickly ascends up onto the main ridge, tending south for a few hours. It is enough to work up a good sweat and forewarn your heart, back and legs about what to expect. We make camp just before dark on a small saddle which Rigdzin and the boys clear of briar with a folding camp saw. Hot Minestrone soup, well-spiced, is soon passed around. Everyone turns in early. As if to welcome us back, rain falls hard and the wind blows with power throughout the night.
Sunday February 28 1999
we are walking on a muddy road
ain't no one here besides me I don't know
we're the links in the chain
just passin' thru again
we are walking on a muddy road
Thanks and goodbye in the rain to Samten who was going to drive the van back home and come pick us up in three weeks or so when we get near the southern terminus in Pickett State Park, Tennessee, 270 miles away.
We begin our trudge across fractal land in what is locally called the Knob Region. The Knobs are a narrow strip of steep, flat-topped hills separating the Bluegrass Basin from the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field region. When I first saw them from the Interstate on Saturday afternoon, they defined the northeastern horizon; dark waves of wooded hills, all of the same height and breadth. The uppermost bedrock is comprised of sandy limestone, sandstone, and shale. All of the strata on this end of the Sheltowee Trace was originally laid down in a shallow sea called the Appalachian Basin during the Mississippian Era 360-320 million years ago. That is the same time period when the sedimentary beds which comprise Turtle Hill were formed. Even this far from home, geographically, culturally, bioregionally, we are basically wandering in our backyard.
As expected, there were lots of pack adjustments on this first stretch. Still learning to accomodate the weight and wobble of the thing, nearly slipping before taking more time to walk carefully up or down a muddy hill with a load. Passed across a dozen camel humps, observed some clearcut sections on the private land beyond the forest boundary to our east, and then again to the west, ugly roads scarring tangled hillsides within the DBNF itself. All the water flowing downhill to our right goes into the Licking watershed while water that flows to the left of the path soon drains into the Kinniconick Creek, a beautiful stream draining north into the Ohio, which is bordered by relatively steep terrain and home to more than 60 species of fish.
Well, here we are, out in the middle of it. It was high time to get out of the house again. My fascination with the net had waned for the moment. For a number of reasons I won't go into here, we had cut way back on group practices and once again, there was a definite need to make use of the territory provided by National Forests. The benefits of going at this time of year are too many to count, so we decided to get out once again while the trees are bare, and the shape of the hills is revealed. Distant views will soon be hidden in green. Many visually expressive Chestnut Oaks line the ridgetops, as if to demonstrate how to transform storm winds and waves of emotional torment into dramatic and inspiring forms which speak louder than Beethoven about the Noble Truths. So good to be outdoors once more in this way, still very alive and breathing in the winter air of these mountains, moving in the company of tall Poplars and Hickories, second and third generation growth.
The entire day presents a very rough stretch of hilly woods. And it goes like this: walk down a southern slope along the ridgetop as it curves, descending to the west near the bottom and then ten or twelve steps on the flat before it heads up a steep grade toward the next level rise. Get to the top and walk along a southern sloping ridge as it curves to the right and descends soon towards the next pass. Repeat this pattern for hours. Depending on the particulars, each hill can take anywhere from five to ten minutes. Lots of rain. At one point, Ksana (11), who had been out ahead since we broke camp, could no longer maintain his lead. It was difficult keeping up with him at first, but now that I was gaining on him, he threw himself down in the leaves at the edge of the path and sobbed, I can't go on! I told him he didn't need to pace us so hard and that when he broke, it was likely that other people would want to stop too. He quickly got it together and we kept going. Breakfast by a small green pond. Burned sage on Compassion Rock, the first visible boulder on the trail which afforded a mossy bench. Took lunch by another green pond in lighter rain. I point out a fresh antler on the grass near this second pond to Rigdzin who grabs it and carries it back to Tennessee, although not before allowing Getso to think she had found it. A few of comments about Getso losing an antler. A tough day but eight miles accomplished. Descended onto private land in a valley and crossed the very wet Dry Branch near day's end. Put up tents along a clearing on the edge of the forest not far from the orange and white posts indicating where gas pipe lines are buried. A border of endangered Ground Cedar grew near the tents. Dinner is Thai rice with ginger and coconut, pretty exotic fare way out here in the muddy hills of northern Kentucky. We did not zip the bags together and Dechen was cold.
Monday March 1 1999
Anniversary of Milarepa1792: in the past few days, the Chickamaugas have staged several successful raids on white settlements. After celebrating an all night victory dance, War Chief Dragging Canoe dies at 62. He will be replaced by John Watts (Young Tassel).Descending into the V-shaped defile of Deep Cut Branch, Ksana asks if we can stop for the morning business and I pick up an old box turtle shell while waiting. Suspension bridge crosses Holly Fork and leads through nice stands of American Beech and Tulip Poplars up Big Tom Brown Branch to its headwaters where we arrive at the bottom of a slope that leads up to the interstate. We take a long lunch in the sun under blue skies. Trail climbs steeply and bows up toward rock exposures as we approach I-64. This section of trail seems quite a bit longer than listed. Out of the woods, onto a road and three puppies bark loudly but soon stop and get very friendly when we bend down to pet them. Crossed I-64 and the trail slopes up a gravel road twisting across a very long ridge. Stopped for a late lunch at a grassy roadside field that had a small pond on the sloping edge of the woods. Burned some fine Tibetan Incense here, waved to the ranger passing in his pickup. Walked ahead with Dechen at the end of the afternoon. Again, we did better than eight miles and ended the day camped on a spur of some recently clearcut land east of the trail. In between the tents, I cleared a twenty foot exercise walk where I hobbled back and forth to keep my legs from getting stiff. Watched the full moon rise in a pristine sky as the sun set. It was to be a very clear, cool night. Mercury in the far west, Orion in the south. Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus gathering in the high west. Zipped the bags together and everyone stayed warm. Lots of tight muscles, even my hand is in spasms from holding the beads. Rigdzin spent the night outside next to a big log.
Earlier in the evening we had seen a truck tooling around that was parked in the woods on a nearby ridge, about a mile from where we camped. We figured it was some kid with his girlfriend. Due to the clearcut, we could see his headlights occasionaly and he could see our flashlights. Nothing special in that. After sharing a delicious broccoli-walnut stir fry and hot mocha, there was the usual talk and we soon retired. Awoke after 10 pm CST by the Morehead Sheriff's Department. The deputy had to walk a quarter mile out a muddy ridge over fallen trees and edge between huge dark puddles to check on us. With flashlight off, at an appropriate distance with a serious twang, he inquired:Excuse me. I'm from the Morehead Sheriff's Department. We had a report that there were some flashlights out here. Is everybody alright?
Yes sir. We're all fine. We're just backpacking and camping out.
Where are you all from?
Alright, well, sorry to disturb you. We got a call, so someone had to check it out. You all have a good night.
Tuesday March 2 1999
Anniversary of Garab Dorje and MarpaThus I was surrounded with plenty in the midst of want. I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences. In such a diversity it was impossible I should be disposed to melancholy. No populous city, with all the varieties of commerce and stately structures, could afford so much pleasure to my mind, as the beauties of nature I found here.
Clear morning. We joke about last night's visitor. As with most of these ridgetops, there is no water up here and we choose to bypass the large, dark, still puddles we had pitched the tents by, hoping to find fresh little ponds like we had seen yesterday, here and there along the ridges to the north. Unfortunately, no more water sources of any kind were to be found at all. Walking along a gravel track in the sun all morning, the weight of the pack is getting to my right knee. Rigdzin points out a dead coyote on the roadside grass. Not a good sign. Once in awhile, the path winds off the gravel to a ridge top view of a half dozen other wooded rigetops, and then trails back down again. This is particularly annoying to Padma Getso, who is having as difficult a time as the rest of us. She suggests that when the path splits in two like that, we should take off our packs and wait while we send the boys on a scouting mission down the low road to see if the upper and lower trails meet up again; that way we could save ourselves the trek to the top of every mound. You should have seen the look Isa and Ksana gave me when I proposed that plan to them. As Rigdzin said, parts the trail seem like they were designed by someone armed a can of spray paint, a whiskey bottle and an ATV.
The sounds of I-64 begin to drift in from the west now and then. Late in the morning, the road once again becomes a foot path and we breakfast in the woods among an outcropping of boulders at the junction with the Martin Branch Trail, at the head of Rodburn Hollow. Lots of creative speculation on the origin of the name Rodburn. Continuing on, we could soon see the buildings of Morehead through the branches and narrow valleys in the eastern distance and then off to the west, down in the low area between the hills the sparkle and glitter of windshields and chrome, while air currents carried the swish of tires and the rumbling of engines bouncing over pavement into the aethers. A restless channel, the always busy Interstate cuts through dark grey beds of the western passes. A moment with Padma Dechen and Rigdzin, admiring the wild liberation of forms displayed in the Celtic-crowned Chestnut Oaks, proud tribes of their kind well-established along the upper slopes of these high dry ridges. Their dominance goes unchallenged.
We all get off trail for a break on a grassy hillside when a quick check of the compass indicated we missed a turn and have strayed a bit to the west. Ksana and Isa were sent to scout out the trail and soon got us back on line. At a later break, two collegiate joggers in skimpy running clothes pass us. We are dressed like it is winter. There must be a dorm nearby. We move under power lines a few times. Right knee really starts aching afternoon, causing me to limp. A deer is spotted by various members of our party. At days end, still in search of water, we descend into a busy valley of trucks and cars (Rt. 32) walked by the Carl Perkins Community Center and a mile west toward the bright lights in the dark, spending a few minutes in Kentucky Fried Chicken until we realized they didn't have anything we dare eat, walked past the State Troopers Headquarters and then by Shoney's where we saw a table of men in blue sitting down to dinner. Continued walking into the next lot where Rigdzin removes his backpack and leans it up against a wall around the side of the building while we wait. He rounds the corner alone and steps into the front office of the Day's Inn to ask for a room. The attendant was busy watching Jeopardy and handed him a plastic key-card for $45. It took Rigdzin a minute to figure out how to use it to open the door. Then I observed eight filthy wildernauts with full winter gear disappear through a doorway. Pineapple pizza delivered. Showers. Working it out with Tenkar who sometimes clings to meaningless details with great emotion. She has been adverse to coming on group trips for years but rather than settle for that, I encourage her to come. Never mind a difficult trail with a full pack, for Tenkar as it is for many, these retreats are a challenge. Simply to be in a situation where we can observe and communicate with each other first thing in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon or last thing at night removes many of the usual props and breastworks. The dramatization drags on for hours before she regains some semblance of equanimity and we go to bed.
Wednesday March 3 19991837: Cherokee removal begins as 11 flatboats leave Ross's Landing on the Tennessee River crowded with 466 indians.Snow falls all morning. Resupply at Food Lion. Isa and Rigdzin forage in Wal-mart and talk to an old timer.
1847: birthday of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, a primitive sort of internet, in 1876. In 1888, he founded the National Geographic Society.
Before hiring a ride out of town, Isa and I hiked to Walmart to pick up supplies. On leaving the store a friendly native Kentuckian initiated a conversation with us. Asked 'What e're ya doin' and if we came off the Trace. He told us he and his three sons used to do some camping, hiking the trails, both son and son-in-law used to do some rock climbing. Once son-in-law fell, saved by the rope, but a gun which he kept in his pocket for killing snakes went off and shot him in the foot. Couldn't understand why we would want to come to this part of Kentucky because it is absolutely the worst part, an' he should know, he's been here for 83 years. 'I was raised on parched corn. Bet you never had parched corn eh?' Couldn't say that I had, as a matter of fact, although one winter we ate an awful lot of wheat berries. When he was young, he earned 45 cents a day untill WW II when he went overseas, where he was paid $25 a month. He said they asked him if he would go and fight in the war and he said he didn't figure he was any better than any one else.
At the beginning of our conversation he said that when he was young people had to work for a living (perhaps referring to our apparent vagrancy). I told him that I was a hard working man, a carpenter on a rare vacation. He heard me, said he bought and fixed up houses for extra money. He's been a Pastor for 30 some years and never took offerings. 'Don't need it; I've managed to support the church out of my own pocket and I've never had any debts.
We shared hot chocolate and french fries at Hardee's while watching the Weather Channel which showed nothing on the national map except a front of miserable weather running in a vertical strip from Michigan through Ohio, Kentucky, and Eastern Tennessee. We phoned for a taxi-van to take all nine of us to the suspension bridge crossing Triplett Creek off Hwy. 60, about six miles through the rural neighborhood of Bluestone, all across paved roads without much of a shoulder for $20. It was worth every penny. Snow continues to fall afternoon as we negotiate Phelps Branch on logs, the ladies and kids heading upstream for an easier crossing. They fill water jugs as Rigdzin and I adjust the shoulder straps on my pack to the inner setting. Walking again, I listen to the sound of ice bouncing on dry oak leaves throughout the woods. Looking down, I see that it is not uncommon for the snow flakes to fall in relatively large, perfect six-pointed stars. At first I thought I was seeing pieces of sugar candy that one of the kids had dropped on the path. Yeah, just a box of mini-star tarts or some sweet chemical crap that they picked up in town. But no, these were perfectly formed, composite snow crystals, perhaps 1/ 8 of an inch across. Although our band collectively comprised over 250 years of planetary experience, and the three of us over forty were raised in the snowy northeast, none of us had ever witnessed anything like this before and wondered about its significance. At days end, we pass a small dark pond in the woods to the east of the path where Rigdzin fills his jugs. As we are close to water and tired, we soon make a beautiful camp high on a thin snowy ridge while winter weather blows in from the west up the Hungry Branch Valley. Pita bread and chili for dinner.
Read aloud from Sandburg's Abe Lincoln Grows Up ;Words like 'independent' bothered the boy. He was hungry to understand the meaning of words. He would ask what 'independent' meant and when he was told the meaning, he would lay awake at night thinking about the meaning of the meaning of 'independent'. Other words bothered him, such as 'predestination.' He asked the meaning of that and lay awake hours at night thinking about the meaning of the meaning.
1541: Chickasaw Indians attack de Soto's forces on what may have been the plains of Lawrenceburg today, setting fire to the huts of de Soto's men. Approximately 12 Spaniards are killed as well as a considerable number of their horses and livestock. The Chickasaw suffer only minimal losses.
1863: General Van Dorn takes the offensive against Rosecrans who has advanced from Franklin. Forrest's Cavalry shatters the Federal Brigade near Spring Hill Tennessee
Snow on the ground as the skies clear and the sun shines. Tent pole joint slips away into tube courtesy of shockcord. Easy march to Cave Run Lake, visible long before you actually arrive. An hour is easily spent looking through their fine little museum explaining the natural and human history of the area. There was a picture of a four ton boulder in a Kentucky farmer's field, a rock which was apparently carried hundreds of miles south by glacial meltwaters at the end of the last ice age. Thinking about this led to visions of early streambeds flowing south and cutting into the plateau from the north. I wonder to what extent the shrinking of this great wall of ice helped establish the future course of present day drainage patterns. Interviewed by a ranger about trail conditions to the north before he explained the problems they had getting private landowners to give them access, which has resulted in through hikers walking the seven miles of blacktop through Morehead, six of which we had bypassed via the ride. We had grits for breakfast at a picnic table overlooking the valley of water and burned Tibetan as we tried to visualize the nineteenth century lumber boomtown of Yale, the remains of which lie at the bottom of this 8300 acre lake.
Cave Run Lake, Kentucky
The reservoir collects the headwaters of Licking River, originally named for the mineral springs and salt licks that attracted Buffalo and other animals. It flows about 300 miles, 173 of those below the dam, before emptying into the Ohio near Cincinatti, draining an area roughly 3,600 miles square, or about a tenth of the state. Eighty percent of the 340,000 people living in the Licking basin take their drinking water from the river and its tributaries. I snap a few photos.
Reading aloud the pamphlets about Bald and Golden Eagles who winter here but had recently left for the upper Great Lakes and lower Canada as they do each year. Cave Run Lake provides 144 miles of shoreline, which is exactly what these great beings are looking for. Weighing up to 14 pounds with a wingspan of up to eight feet, they seek out large trees where they can just sit and watch for fish, which comprise 90% of their diet. They will also take a variety of birds, mammals, and turtles when fish are scarce. No one really knows how old they usually get, but they have been known to live for half a century in captivity. They may roost singly as well as in groups exceeding one hundred birds. The major factor leading to the decline of the Bald Eagle and other species such as the Peregrine Falcon and Cooper's Hawk, was lowered reproductive success caused by the agricultural chemical DDT. Since they are at the top of the food chain, these birds serve as indicators of the overall health of the environment. Use of DDT was suspended in 1972 and by the late 1970s eagle populations began to show signs of recovery. Currently, the most significant factor affecting the recovery of the Bald Eagle in the Southeast is habitat destruction and disturbance by human beings. Additional factors in the decline including illegal shooting and electrocution in power lines.
Hazelnut Coffee is passed around with more talk about the couple who nested at Laurel River Lake in 1991 but produced no offspring. Osprey live here too, but we do not sight any of these bigger birds. After brunch, we strapped in and crossed the dam where Seagulls hovered around the white gushing outlet. Lizzie and I were far in the lead, so far that we were wondering where the hell everyone was. Entertaining typical thoughts of campers who are separated too long, like, 'Do they think we went somewhere else and are they hurrying down the wrong path to find us?", we inadvertantly interrupted a young fox, who stood still as a burnt stump on that grassy slope, quietly advancing on a gathering of Canadian Geese who were busy watching the white water with some interest; stunned fish make a good lunch. Lots of red and black hair shone in the sun and the fox was so well groomed, I thought for sure he must be someone's little dog. I looked away and Liz said, "Hey, his ears moved." I stopped and looked again. He must have figured he was had at that point, and pranced down the slope and off into the nearby woods.
We passed the riser, the little building in the lake where the controls for the dam outlet are located. Three construx men in hard hats and sunglasses who had been working in there, returned along a walkway to the road spanning the dam where they had parked a Tonka flatbed and pulled away as we passed. Walked through a desolate parking area and trailhead on the farside of the dam as a few local, beat up cars with single male drivers pulled in, looked around and then drove off. I wondered what they were looking for. Each other perhaps. A shiney, dark, late model sedan also made the same rounds and we figured it was Johnny Law until we could see that his plates were from Ohio. Suddenly he seemed like a distraught business man who had come to this isolated place to commit suicide. The minds spins on...
The lake environment evokes a feeling similar to what I experienced after finishing a stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies in the winter of '95. The trail there descends on Fontana Lake and dam in North Carolina; Nell country. A vast landscape significantly altered by man, but at this time of year, almost completely devoid of human presence. Both environments have artificially altered a great amount of terrain, the view has been extensively engineered, but presently all is strangely quiet. Up the southern ridge above Hog Hollow, we move through a field of broomgrass on an open plateau lying between Cave Run Lake and the fish hatchery. At the juction with the Caney Trail, we turned away from the water and took another long break in a sunny pine grove. Made camp a few hours later on an open rise in the big woods. Liz sees an owl. The rest of us hear it. Rigdzin and Isa trying to figure out how to make the aluminum tent pole yield the connector but it is frustratingly futile and we figure out how to put up the tent with less poles. Good enough. Tibetan Noodle Soup for dinner.
This is the outlet gate for the dam. Seagulls were hovering over the rapids looking for stunned fish.
A flock of Canadian Geese is sitting on the lawn to the lower left. The Fish Hatchery is visible in the distance.
Below Cave Run Lake dam is the Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery, operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. As if photoshopped in, acres of rectangular concrete tanks fill a long valley between wooded hills. This is one of the largest warm-water hatcheries in the nation producing nearly four million fingerlings a year. These babies are released into Kentucky lakes, rivers, and streams. Largemouth bass, Smallmouth bass, Muskellunge, Striped bass (Rockfish), hybrid Striped bass, and Walleye are some of the sport fish reared here. More than 248 species of birds have been observed at the hatchery and around the lake. On the dark side, eleven mussels native to the Licking River are endangered; some of these are adversely effected by cool water discharges from the lake.
Friday March 5 1999
Beneath the everlasting hills lay vast beds of coal, iron ore, and pools of oil, and from its surface grew endless forests of finest timber, all waiting the coming of the white man and the needs of civilization....
Dense forests crowded to the water's edge and reaching back in endless profusion--through valleys and uphill slopes--were matted many places with a tangled undergrowth of bushes, briars and vines that made difficult, a passage even for the wild animals. Giant forests of oak and tulip, beech and ash, sycamore and linden, cedar and pine, and many branches spread a canopy through which the rays of the sun could scarcely penetrate, producing twilight effects even at high noon.
-Thomas Crittenden Cherry
in Kentucky, the Pioneer State of the West
Woke to the sound of Wild Turkey gobbling and Canadian Geese flying overhead. Grey morning. Noticing my limp, Rigdzin cuts me a walking stick from a fallen Hemlock and although it takes a few hours to adjust my upper body to the new economy, it becomes a great friend helping redistribute the load on my knee, allowing it to heal and get stronger. New insights into the symbolism of the katvanga. Caney Creek breakfast.
Readings from Atisha's Jewel Rosary of an Awakening Warrior; on the seven treasures.
These seven gems are never exhausted. Do not tell this to non-humans.
When home, each morning we fill seven glass bowls with spring water which flows out from the base of Turtle Hill and place them on the altar as an offering to the Lama. These represent the Seven Treasures which should qualify one's standard offering to all sentient beings. This is only one dimension of interpretation. May all beings acquire the key to the full discovery and extraordinary empowerment of these treasures.
The woods we are walking through are particularly beautiful; the trees are tall and well spaced with very little undergrowth. These deciduous forests were once part of a much larger community spreading across one huge continent which included North America, Asia and Europe. As the land masses drifted, the world's forests separated, the continents became isolated by the oceans. When widespread glaciation commenced in areas that had drifted far from the tropics, every living thing in the path of the ice was wiped out. Broadleaves grasses and wildflowers were able to survive by spreading south. Continents like Asia and Europe which have great mountain barriers running east to west suffered a great decline in species. By the end of the ice age 10,000 years ago, there were only a few remnants of the primeval broadleaf forests left in Europe. In North America however, no east - west mountain barrier prevented the sun-loving broadleaves from migrating to the southern uplands. Today's deciduous forests were well established on the Cumberland Plateau and on the slopes of the Southern Appalachians when the massive sheets of ice scoured most everything north of the Ohio River out of existence.
Current timber stands on most of the plateau are second or third generation trees, with mixes of oak-poplar-hickory dominant throughout this upper part of the Licking River watershed. The biological community here is known as the easterm and mixed mesophytic forest. Sprawling across parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, this eastern forest is the greatest hardwood community in the world and the oldest in North America. Nearly as big as New England, the mixed mesophytic (meso: mid-range and phytic: plant) forest is the largest relatively unbroken stretch of deciduous woodland in the US. It has been called the 'mother forest' of eastern North America -- as has provided the germplasm resources from which all other forests have subsequently arisen. This is one of the most biologically diverse resources in North America. The only other deciduous stands on the planet of equal diversity occur in Eastern Asia. Interestingly, some very close relatives of many of the trees familiar to the southern region such as Hickories, Walnuts and large-leaf Magnolias, re also found native in China, Japan and Taiwan. None of these trees is native to Europe, although all of them have been introduced there.
Besides the ever present oaks, a particularly strong presence in this area is a tree known as the Tulip or Yellow-poplar, which grows very straight and tall. It is part of a very old family, going back 50 million years. There are only two species in the world, one in the southeastern US, the other in China. One of the tallest native broadleaves east of the Mississippi River, the Tulip-poplar often grows to 100 feet in the wild and occasionaly clears 200 feet. Yellow-green blossoms grow high in the tree and are not obvious unless you look up in the spring when the sun isn't in your eyes, or if you happen to be lucky enough to find one on the wet ground. There is as much as a teaspoonful of nectar in these flowers. Honeybees and ants love them. The Indians of Pennsylvania and Virginia used the long, clean boles from the largest trees for making dugout canoes. Yellow Poplar wood is still favored by modern boat builders, crafting light, strong sail and row boats.
D. C. Peattie wrote:
But, despite the splendor of its dimensions, there is nothing overwhelming about the Tuliptree, but rather something joyous in its springing straightness, in the candle-like blaze of its sunlit flowers, in the fresh green of its leaves, which, being more or less pendulous on long slender stalks, are forever turning and rustling in the slightest breeze; this gives the tree an air of liveliness lightening its grandeur. So even a very ancient tuliptree has no look of eld about it, for not only does it make swift growth in youth, but in maturity it maintains itself marvelously free of decay.
Easily forded Sulfur Branch, passed the Buckskin Trail which traces the northern border of the Pioneer Weapons Area, while the Sheltowee runs to the west of the yellow slash marks. Hey, if you simply must hunt, it seems a whole lot more fair and sporting to be using the same weapons that were available to the first settlers instead of high-powered rifles with telescopic sites, don't it? Horseshoeing around the mossy boulders of the high Cedar Cliffs and winding down. Late lunch in the sun after hitting the bottom on a tributary, such an abundance of Tulip Trees, the light gray of the bark seems to illumine the woods. Camping the night amongst the cane on a very muddy floodplain of Clear Creek. Chunks of glassy grey and green slag strewn all along the river bank. They drag the Trace too far west up the Clear Creek Valley toward the dammed lake and force hikers to cross the river at a place where it is not easy; meanwhile there is a very good bridge a few hundred yards further east which we will know nothing about until tomorrow. Whatever... Blackbean soup is hard to beat. Again, we have no trouble sleeping. Rain falls again this night.
Saturday March 6 1999
All of my life I feed the Big Chimney
Coke and Ore, I pour it in
Food for the hungry mouth of the monster
Got to keep the production rolling
Taller than the church's steeple
Forever the Big Chimney owns my soul
I'm a midwife to a pig of iron
born of flame and sweat and coal
pig iron, pig iron,
making pig iron
-Richard Thompson1777: 70 Shawnee warriors, led by Chief Blackfish, attack some settlers near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. One of the men, James Ray, managed to escape and warn the settlement of the war party.A very moist morning. The ground is soaked. Some of the bags are wet. Crossed bridge labelled 1996 and made appropriate use of the shitters at the campground first thing after getting the tent packed. Inspected the Iron Furnace and was struck with the primal power afforded by this element which is the ultimate ash of an aging star before it goes nova. As it spreads through the interstellar medium with the force of the blast, some of these atoms may eventually become associated with the proto-planetary disk of a new sun. A fraction of these have found their way into the earth, where an even smaller fraction are exposed in surface rocks. At some point, a perceptive monkey noticed that some of the stones near the central fire seemed to bleed or melt at high temperatures. The earliest iron implements discovered by archaeologists in Egypt date from about 3000 BC, but iron ornaments were used even earlier; the comparatively advanced technique of hardening iron weapons by heat treatment was already known by the Greeks before 1000 BC.
1836: Davy Crockett and others killed at the Alamo
In the 1830s, Kentucky ranked third nationwide in pig iron production. The furnace tower on Clear Creek was built in 1839, a few stories tall with an inside chamber diameter of 10.5 feet. Huge slabs of rock were quarried and then loaded on to horse-drawn wagons to the creek-side site for the construction of the stack. Actively smelting pig iron until 1857, countless tons were produced here and used primarily for the manufacture of railroad car wheels, a vital component of the primary machine allowing men to reach even deeper into these ancient hills to maximize resource exploitation.Large tracts of the original forests were cleared for one purpose; to make charcoal for the iron works. A sign explained that three acres of forest could be converted into enough charcoal to run the furnace for one day. Many men were employed in felling trees and in overseeing the slow-burn operation to make charcoal. Although this whole area must have been clear cut at one point, it apparently was some of the first to be conserved when folks began to see the need for it, as the woods in this area are some of the most impressive on the trail so far. The furnace had to operate at 2000 degrees and ran all summer for many years. Limestone was added to the charge as flux to remove impurities.
Altogether, a very rainy day. I ask Dechen if she has taken aspirin yet, hoping her foot fares better than yesterday. First, we must ascend a steep zig-zag to the ridgetop. Across the top, now higher than we thought, soon the day's visuals kicked in as we entered Gnomereignen, Reynardine's castle on the heights, mossy grey monoliths, wreathed by an emerald garland of mature rhodedendrons and lichens of many colors, Chestnut Oaks guarding the whole scene with glorious crowns, raising the vibration of the hill into the sky like a spontaeous prayer. Ksana is the first to enter and turns to smile before passing between two huge boulders, obviously placed there by mysterious beings as a fitting entrance to this mountaintop fortress. Female rain began minutes before we spot what at first appears to be a rockhouse. We pass around and behind it and start descending on trail when Ksana points out that when seen from the backside, what had appeared to be a rockhouse was actually an arch. We rose off the path and took shelter under Natural Arch as the rain picked up. Stoves fired, we prepared a hot lunch, soup and tea. Soft red sandstones above while a pebbly conglomerate of creek gravels cover the floor. Wind is constant except on the far western shelf, so we gather over there and hang sleeping bags and pack covers to dry in the breeze. Surrounded by clifflines, the evergreen of Eastern Redcedars and the pandemic rhododendron.
The first Rhododendron I was aware of in this life was a purple flowering variety in the corner of our backyard in Queens, New York. Over there between the white picket fence and the neighbor's block garage bordering our yard. I was told that this was my father's tree; apparently, Mom had wanted one and bought it for Pop as a gift. Ain't that how it goes? Since when does Pop want a tree? As kids, we used to pick up the old leaves that had fallen and curled into a cylinder-like shape and holding them adult-style, between middle and forefinger, put them to our lips as if smoking; thus, it was known to us as the cigar tree. Pop loved cigars. It made perfect sense. And dig this: the brand he smoked was called Bering Straights. The box had a picture of a bearded dude in front of an artsy cartographic rendition of the area in question; the north Bering Sea where Eurasia and Turtle Island almost touch . The casual reader may well wonder, what in avici hell is the significance of that?
The globe spanning Rhododendron must have already been well distributed in the mid-Permian (250 mya), the once upon a time when all the continents were merged in Pangea. Most species (over 900) are found in Southeast Asia, ranging from the Himalayas through Tibet, Burma, China, Thailand, Viet Nam, to Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and New Guinea. Distribution extends down to northern Australia, up to Siberia, and around the world. Europe has four types, and in North America about twenty-eight species are found.
We are starting to get tired. It is easy to get too warm when you have rain gear on; it becomes tiresome to take it off only to put it on again every fifteen minutes. If it is wet enough and you are moving, the best thing to do is strip down to one thin shirt and the rain parka. This is fine until you stop for a bit and start to get cold at which point you either decide to dig out you polartec or keep moving. Feet are aching but we push on. Walking along the countour below the ridgetop and down into a bowl crowned with yes, once again, Rhododendrons. The basic forms remain the same, the arrangement is everchanging. We immediately ascend up the curving edge of a rise upon the shelf supporting the tiara, move across a sandstone ledge and then up again using all fours through the dark leathery green to a misty overlook. A quick moment's view of Carrington's Rock, an outcropping next to a ridgetop rockhouse used by Indians and Civil War soldiers as a lookout. Rigdzin was ready to stop here but a cold wind and more rain drove us onward. Still warm and dry inside, we move around puddles, exposures of old rock, the clouds blowing through these hills, looking up at the life adapted to this place and observing how the trunks and branches of the trees to the east of the passes are covered in blue green lichens, thriving in the incessant flow of moisture. Began descending off the high ridge, soon reposing in a very dry rock shelter on private land a few minutes after passing over from Bath into Menifee County. On the last leg of the day, Ksana gets ahead of most of us in the dark and continues on another two miles with Rigdzin to a store on Route 36 where they call home and inform the resupply crew of our coordinates. They return with water and candy bars, long after dark. Sleet turns to snow overnight.
Sunday March 7 19991777: The Shawnees reach Harrodsburg and attack. With the forewarning, the settlers hold off the Shawnees, who prepare for a siege. The Shawnee eventually give up the siege.Sunny morning after last night's dusting. Come down early past a small white rock full of crinoids, a fist-sized cluster of stems from sea lillies, fossils which are so common in the limestone rocks back home. These animals are relatives of sea urchins and were fastened to the sea floor by a long stem. Thriving in the rich, warm waters of the time, their flower-like heads are fringed with delicate arms to filter plankton out of the water and feed it into a mouth in the center of the head. Scientists can distinguish hundreds of species, from giant forms to those small enough to be almost invisible. In the early part of this century, one of the first research projects was manned to dredge the floor of the ocean and scientists were amazed to see the whole bucket filled with crinoids which apparently dominated the continental shelves and shallow sea floors during the Carboniferous era. Mississippian limestones are largely composed of the pulverized remains of these plankton feeders. Although modified, there are still forests of sea lillies in the deeper parts of the ocean.
Passed Rigdzin's camp, about a half mile down the trail below us, before heading east along the blacktop of 1276 through a neighborhood of trailers, and small homes. Yellowish smoke drifting through the woods smelled dirty, like soft coal. I was still alone and about to cross Beaver Creek when a late model Dodge pickup truck stopped in the middle of the road. Conversation with Mr. Spratt. He is going to be 80 this spring. Without turning off the truck or rolling down the window, he opened the door and began to tell me all about the burial mounds, rock houses and other artifacts on his property. He moved into this area in 1952 from West Virginia, buying up land around the piece his father had originally bought. Gave me a replica of a Spanish dubloon. Mentioned the pre-Columbian Welsh pioneers in this area and invited us to check out the archeology on his land or make use of his rock shelters if we were ever close by and it was raining. We really should go back there and take a look. Between his accent and age, I thought I heard him saying something about finding gold, silver and platinum back on his land. He also said he'd been underground for over thirty years. He didn't look in any way like a fugitive, so I asked him what that was like. Nothing special, he said; he'd worked as a miner for a coal company.
Breakfast in a sunny field on the banks of Clifton Creek where Rigdzin catches up with us after making a second phone call. We all lazed in the Sunday morning sunshine, brushed hair, rubbed feet and looked at the maps as the grits cooked. According to the US Forest Service handout, The trail along Clifton Creek passes through an area reported to contain several natural features described in the famous John Swift journal. This made my encounter with Mr. Spratt even more interesting.
John Swift was a ship's captain and while in his home port of Alexandria, Virginia around 1757 or 1758 he befriended a Frenchman, George Mundy, who had been held captive by the Shawnee and Cherokee Indians. Mundy told Swift of a rich vein of silver in the land beyond the mountains, south of the Ohio. In 1761, Swift, Mundy and a small party including two experienced miners set out into the wilderness. Among the crew were several Indians and a man by the name of Montgomery who had been employed by England to make dies to mint silver. The party successfully ventured into the wilderness in present eastern Kentucky and located the mines. Operations began and the first silver was extracted, smelted and coined into English crowns. For the next eight years Swift and his company crossed and recrossed the mountains, mining and transporting the precious silver. But there were problems. Internal dissension, difficult terrain, hostile Indians and rival traders caused him to rebury much of the precious metal along the way. While on a trip to England to find parties to help work the mines, Swift's views on independence led to his imprisonment where he languished until after the revolution. When he returned he was old and blind. Nevertheless he began to organize expeditions, and relying on the maps of memory he set out to try to find his lost fortune, but in vain. Swift died penniless, leaving behind his map, his journal and a dying admonition,
"It's near peculiar rock, don't ever quit looking fer it, it'll make Kentucky rich."
One of the mines is supposed to be somewhere right here in present day Wolfe County. The county was named in honor of Nathaniel Wolfe, a noted lawyer and member of the Kentucky legislature, although the Confederate government attempted unsuccessfully to change it to Zollicoffer in honor of the nearsighted General who died at the Battle of Mill Springs. As for evidence of treasure, outside of the controversial journal, none has ever been found. Even Daniel Boone is said to have searched for it.
Rigdzin reports that he contacted Turtle Hill again and updated our coordinates for the rendezvous but noted that the road crew had not yet checked in. He points out a few black walnut trees in the riparian zone before we strap in and continue south. Further along, the road becomes a track and then enters Clifton Creek for a short stretch. Both Rigdzin and I hope that whoever is driving this way knows better than to attempt going up the creekbed. Eventually rising past a gully used to dump refrigerators and old washing machines where Getso wonders about just how these things may have arrived where they presently lie. To others, this is no mystery. Water falls from above a nearby rock shelter featuring black spray paint graffiti which reads TO HELL WITH COMMUNISM followed by a swastika. This is the last water source we will cross draining into the Licking River Watershed. Once we mount Tarr Ridge later this afternoon, we will be in the Kentucky River Basin. Sunday is in the air, in the light of the bare woods and the angle of the midday sun.
We soon hit the highway which leads over the hill to 460. We are making good time but the asphalt is hell on our feet, squashing them flat and heating them like tortillas, so we take a short break by one of those areas which are fenced to keep people from bumbling into huge electrical transformers. Dechen and Getso hitch a short ride to catch up with the rest of us. This is Mariba, Kentucky, although a large watertower which we pivot around reads FRENCHBURG. The people of that town must have paid for the tower.
A unique little store sits on the high ground near the junction of 460 and 77. It is sided in old, heavily corrugated aluminum, the kind you see on quonset huts. We drop our packs and sit on the edge of a covered concrete porch out front and spend the better part of an hour eating corn chips and hot sauce. Bryant's Store. Dechen walked in and immediately walked out laughing. Meanwhile, I hear Chodon ask the man at the register, "Did you just open?" He replies, "You mean this morning?" I enter and greet the owner, who sits behind a counter of sorts. Piles of many different things, papers and boxes, are stacked up on his counter. Everywhere else there are large piles as well. Hundreds of dusty cardboard boxes are thrown about everywhere, most of them empty, many of them containing rusted tins or things other than the label on the box suggests. It seems as if nobody has dusted, stocked the shelves or thrown out a single thing from this collection since 1971. One of three aisles is completely impassable. In spite of this, we buy good spring water, sodas, fresh chips, hot sauce and a bag of this years M&M's while a steady stream of cars come to do business at Mr. Bryant's unlikely goldmine. It looked like cigarrettes and soda pop were the main items moving. Very few Lexus' or Saturns among the clientel. Rigdzin again calls in our coordinates on the store phone, the third message in 20 hours without receiving any indication of our second crew's location or even a word that they had checked in to see if anyone has heard from us yet. As we munch, Ksana sees a brown highway sign on the corner of Tarr Ridge Road which reads NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK, 18 MILES, with an arrow pointing south.
That's where they are meeting us right?
Originally, we were supposed to meet there. That's probably where they were last night.
So will we meet them there tonight?
No. That's still a ways down the road. They will probably meet us somewhere between here and there because Rigdzin keeps
letting them know where we are."
Or so I figured. We would actually rendezvous with them almost two days later, approximately two miles north of Natural Bridge State Park.
We walked along the high road and Isa found a bowling bowl in a ditch. We tried kicking it down the road for awhile but it quickly ended up finding its way back into the ditch. As the sun began to sink into western Kentucky, Kenneth and Bonnie Breashears & young daughter invited us aboard their little red pickup and drove us the rest of the way out Tarr Ridge and then east along Corner Ridge to the trailhead. Three cars from Michigan were parked. Earlier, Mr. Breashears had suggested we go further down Tarr Ridge to the trail that led to Indian Step because he knew there were some trees down from hail damage on the Sheltowee, but we decided to stick to the path. "Besides," he said, "If you do what I say and it don't work out, you'll blame me, but this way, you can't do that." Bonnie, sweet and toothless, assured us, "You're talking to a prospector now, so you're on your own." As it turned out, there were a few blowdowns in the first mile or so which primarily served to keep vehicles off the path and I figured this is what Kenneth was referring to as 'jungle' but it was not bad at all. The path was a nicely graded grassy bed about seven or eight feet wide with old black and white wooden posts placed along the steeper edges here and there leading me to realize that this had once been more of a motorway.
We camped on an old homestead to the east of the path evidenced by an open grassy area, daffodils, and a rare stand of American Chestnut trees which were still producing nuts. These trees grew huge throughout the Appalachiams and Cumberland Plateau region but were almost completely destroyed by a blight introduced from Europe earlier this century. We cleared the brown prickly shells away and set up the tent. I sent Isa down to the bottom,which was not too severe at this point, to scout for water and he and Liz soon came upon a spring which kept us in good water through the night and the next morning.
Monday March 8, 1999
1862: Frigate USS Cumberland is the first victim sunk by ironclad CSS Virginia. 121 of 376 drown. Hampton Roads Virginia.
had we but known in the beginning
the tune would twist our fingers so
and drive our feet across the border
the way the north wind drives the snow
over hills and valleys
this world but for to wander
to be here and gone...
Nineteen degrees and partly overcast morning. Made some hot drinks and walked ahead with Padma Tenkar. All of us using walking sticks for support at this point. Followed the ridge down Salt Branch to the sandy bank and green pools, the fluid junction with Gladie Creek, before wandering off trail and bushwacking the narrow creek valley down toward its junction with the Red River on the floor of the gorge. The sign at the trailhead yesterday afternoon had read NO HANG GLIDING but we had not yet passed anywhere that it even looked possible. Another sign we saw this morning said that the trails in this area were not well marked. When we passed that one, I was suspicious that we were no longer on the Sheltowee Trace, but felt we were still advancing in the general direction of our goal. Soon we were at the confluence. Aquamarine pools, sandy banks, talk of returning in warmer weather. I like the wild feel of this part of the trail. We take breakfast at a turn in the creek that seems to demand we either cross it precariously on a dead log running high above the water or remove our shoes. Rigdzin manages to carry all the packs over on the log without incident and almost everybody walks across the stream on the log. Everyone except for Getso and I. We remove our boots and ford.I could have gotten over on that log.We ended up in the creek five times, stayed barefoot after a few crossings in anticipation of the next and learned how Indians kept their feet warm after crossing streams in winter. Just keep walking. The feet dry quickly and leaves feel warm. Almost.
Oh, then why didn't you?
Well, I figure we are going to have to cross water a few more times as we work down this valley and it is extemely unlikely that there will be a well placed log at every ford. So get used to it.
Horsetails growing on the banks; during the Carboniferous, trees extremely similar to horsetails dominated tropical forests. I have seen them growing at 8,000 feet in Guatemala. And as in other river bottoms along the Trace, there are thick green stands of River Cane (arundinaria tecta) growing down in this hollow. Aboriginal tribes used these for torches, building materiels, mats, blowguns, arrows, shields, drills, tubes to wrap hair, for food and for many styles of basketry. A very handy plant. Broke over some fruit bars in a green field before leaving riverbed at road and bridge where I caught the attention of a softspoken Ranger in a green jeep who kept a copy of a Tom Brown book on his dash.(exchange of hellos)
Where are you coming from?
The northern terminus.
Oh really? You must have wandered off trail a little. Bet you saw some pretty country back in there, eh?
Fersure. Its very wild and beautiful.
How many of there are you?
Yeah, we've been out for nine days so far.
That's great. Well, you can catch the trail by heading up this road to the suspension bridge.
As we approached the bridge, Rigdzin points out two figures moving on the opposite bank. These are the first people we have met on the Trace proper since we hit it nine days previous. John crossed first, followed by friend Chuck, two hikers in their mid-twenties from Ohio. Spoke with them for almost half an hour. Friends since grade school, they love backpacking. A few stories and an exchange of recent terrain descriptions for each others benefit, Rigdzin takes a sip of Chuck's Drambuie in a Nalgene, tries to call ground control in Houston again on John's cellular phone but we are too deep in the gorge to get a signal out. John tells us of the last time he was up on the clifflines when a local drunk challenged him to a shoving contest. He used his cellphone to call the police. They advised him that he would be well within his rights to "use whatever force is necessary to subdue him." We encourage each others presence in this place, saying fare well, cross the creek and nestle in among some huge boulders for lunch. No sun on this gray day.
It was here that we spotted Dondrub moving along the opposite bank like some unsuspecting endangered specie. We hail him up as we pass around hot soup and cocoa on the banks of Gladie Creek. Dondrub crosses upstream on that same suspension bridge and soon joins us. He nonchalantly informs me that his crew had arrived two days previous, courtesy of my recently purchased van. It is parked up on the road. I do not like hearing this and wonder why they would use my vehicle for a 700 mile round trip when there are at least five other vehicles back home, owned by the very folks who needed transportation on this run or close relatives, besides the option of renting a car, but I figured I would hear everything explained soon enough. Suddenly I realized I really didn't want to hear anything about it at all. Like Alan Watts said, the problem with explanations is that they don't really explain anything.... I tell Dondrub they can meet us at Gladie Creek Campground, where the road meets the trail. Ironically, it turned out that such a place does not exist. After parting, we were a little ways down the trail when I realized this, but it was not really a problem. We would simply meet them in the morning. Even though we had been trying to contact them for the last 48 hours, I was actually glad we would not going to be seeing them for another sixteen hours or so and wondered how I had come up with something so simultaneously ingenious in keeping our distance for the moment and yet obviously sincere.
At this point, I knew exactly what was coming and did not want to weather the imposition just yet. We had originally been looking forward to their ingress. It can be regenerative to connect with Sangha members in these places, or so the theory goes. For one reason or another, some of us do not get out very often, and even a little time spent with the group on a short resupply run can be very psychedelic. Hell, I have seen it happen. But the intention here was not service oriented. They had not bothered to call home because they had simply accepted the tentative time and place of our rendezvous as an absolute, although for many reasons, such as weather and injuries, we had been moving slower than estimated. As Dondrub indicated in The Southern Door, thinking for oneself does not seem to be one of this group's strong points.
Rigdzin had gone to a lot of trouble to call and connect with them thrice. But they were content to park mute at the place which had originally been designated, a few minutes from a pay phone, leaving it to us to arrive whenever we would. It was now Monday night. They had been in the area since Saturday afternoon, day-hiking, while we steadily negotiated the next thirty miles of trail. This was supposed to have been a resupply run, a reshuffling of crew. The plan had been to continue south for another two hundred miles, over the next two weeks but the baton has been dropped, the seal has been broken. I am thinking too much about these things. I can't see the trees or the hills around me any longer. This retreat is over.
Once we realize that we will not be meeting them this evening, Rigdzin considers charging ahead to attempt connecting but quickly decides against it; What the hell am I running for? This is the last of my retreat and I've been running around trying to connect with them for days! Yeah, right, just forget it. He stops to walk with me at the end of the afternoon. The more we walk together, the better we agree. This has been a good stretch of trail. We have all done well. Morrocan stew for dinner.
That evening, I had a detailed workout with Dechen about the process of purifying emotional attitudes as well as creek water. Also, she realizes that the Tiger Balm Chodon gave her to rub on her sore ankle days ago is actually Vick'sVapo-Rub. While we sleep, a fat raccoon visits the packs and scores two envelopes of grits courtesy of Getso. Getso, who was worried that she would evoke the habitual loops she usually gets into with Lizzie and afraid I'd see too much and give her hell. But not this trip. We were much too busy. I didn't see anything except a lot of good energy and amazingly friendly attitudes, even under considerable stress. Everyone on this stretch had performed admirably, injuries and all.
Tuesday March 9 1999
Awoke and packed in the pouring rain. Pushed hard uphill with Rigdzin and the boys. The little guys spurt ahead in anticipation of a dry vehicle. We are wetter than we have been the entire trip, but this is who-gives-a-shit mode and only serves to put me in a better mood for my state of the union address. Met Dondrub coming down in his new green rain suit, looking like a displaced postman. We discussed the non-existent campground I had directed him to for a minute and then he turned to start back up out of the gorge, so I paused for him to get ahead and waited for Rigdzin. When he arrived, I asked, "Is that a down coat over Dondrub's shoulder?" Dondrub had been planning on joining us for the next section of trail but his down coat was already drenched. A little further up the hill Rigdzin points out a dirty woolen mitten in the path. "Grab that would you? Its Dondrubâs." Dondrub was somewhere up ahead with the boys. We stop near the top. Chöön ambled up. The three of us move off the path, lit incense and say some prayers in the rain while waiting for Getso, Tenkar and Dechen to catch up. During this interlude, a young English couple armed with umbrellas, accompanied by their leashed dog, pass by as if we were in Trafalgar Square. Good morning...
When we get near the parking lot, Padma Tsering, who had driven the van most of the way from Tennessee, was so weirded out that she took Kunga's car off to a store so as not to have to see me when we arrived. It was about a year ago that she told Dechen and I she wanted to live a more normal life and hang out with more normal people; that was when she stopped meditating every morning and started drinking more beer. She has not been in very good communication with anyone in the sangha except maybe Rigdzin for over a year now. It seems normal people just ain't that easy to find anymore. Do normal people just take off in their neighbor's van on a 700 mile run simply because it would be more fun to drive than their own? How about a neighbor that you have not spoken with in months? These folks are hard to figure sometimes. Why am I still having trouble believing this really happened? Then it occurs to me; on the basis of a common desire to avoid legal problems and not attract undue attention in any quest for normalcy, you might easily avoid making this type of loan from your neighbor; on the other hand, if you are of a certain upbringing and mentality, you certainly might do it to your father.
Met Padma Kunga on the path and hugged him tight; how noble to have driven here in his own car! He seemed really happy to be in Kentucky. I told him I was sorry we would not be able to share this space very long this time around, as we headed back toward the parking lot. At the edge of the woods, Tenkar finds a nice sharp hunting knife on the ground. I throw my pack down behind the van and announce that we are all going home. Kunga asks "Why?" To keep it simple: "This trail ain't easy and you don't know me very well yet. The van was used to run the 800 miles up north to drop everyone off in the first place. And it was going to pick everyone up in Pickett a few weeks from now. Since no one could figure out another way to get here besides this, it seems like your karma doesn't really afford you any time out here. If you thought this plan would make any sense to me, you don't know me yet and I really don't want to walk this trail with strangers."
Hey, am I a party pooper or what? Rigdzin calls out to me, "Oh man, look at this!" as he points out a smashed panel on the passenger side of the van. Dondrub, who did not seem to be taking any of this too seriously up till now, slowly acknowledges the crunch and suddenly seems rather concerned. Six year old Kyema offers, "Don't you remember the big bang when you hit that tree the other night?" Dondrub, his detachment a bit shaken, attempts to explain, "Yeah, it was dark and there were a lot of trees..." Really? Welcome to the woods.
Head home with all campers besides Rigdzin in the van, everyone else riding in the Kunga-mobile. Stopped at the historic Knob Creek Farm, which was closed again. Two police were parked there, one in a state car, one unmarked, no doubt talking about how best to preserve the Union, right there in the parking lot. This is the land where Abe lived from when he was two to seven. A little one room cabin with one window and one door. A chimbley made of mud and sticks. A little brother, Thomas Lincoln, was born and died here. The sixteenth President of the United States learned to speak and started attending school in this area. He watched slaves being marched south on this road, picked berries in these very hills, fished and fell in this creek. We also stopped at the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, after standing in the rain to photograph the statue in the town square. The little woman behind the counter told us how much the museum cost and gave us some free pamphlets, but we didn't go in. The weather was getting nasty, and we wanted to head home while there was still some light. Something about this little woman struck me, besides the fact that she was standing behind the counter of a business located on the square in Hodgenville, which seemed like it had long ago been pronounced a commercial dead zone. I didn't put it together until we were passing through Munford; it was that she was so incredibly tanning bed brown. She had taken this practice to a new level which only tanning bed-owners and a few determined others can afford; it was to the point where she painted her nails cream for contrast. Did her girlfriend's husband own a video store or did she have to pay retail? I was miffed. Not only did the South lose the war; it seems now that thousands of white women throughout the south have surreptitiously begun posturing as black women.
Arrived back in Summertown in the wet dark, warmly greeted and slimed by Wallah-Kazoo.
TURTLE HILL ©2000