The rain beats down on the pavement outside my office; the stale rattle creating a tapping noise on the steel siding like the rhythmic pulse of warring drums. I find myself staring off in a stupor, my memory serving correctly of a time long past when I was very young.
I didn’t have many friends that would visit because my folks had a house on a ridge that was about fifteen minutes from town or so. Most people didn’t like to come up in those parts because the area was very steep and
the townspeople were not accustomed to driving outside of the town anyhow. Our house was built a few years before I was born and was, as my mother would state- “assbackwards.” It was true that it was built with the
front door facing towards the valley below, rather than facing the street, so people would constantly wander to the back door rather than the front. When they first built the house, my parents had the acreage cleared off so
that one could view the large valley. By the time I was five, however, it had long since grown up. I’ve seen pictures, though, and it was quite a sight indeed, especially around my birthday when the leaves turned golden.
Our home was rather large for the time, even before we built the addition to it, with spacious rooms and huge skylights. I remember many a time watching the Dallas Cowboys with my dad, eating dinner on a TeenageMutant Ninja Turtles tin tray, unaware of what football was about but just enjoying the rare time I was able to spend with him. My sister and I shared a room when we were younger, and I remember my mother building elaborate walls of canvas and 2x4s to separate our areas. She painted popular characters on them that we liked and from an early age she would have us do workbooks and craft with her. I remember her teaching me how to cook and my favorite things to cook were French toast, “cheesy” potato soup, and sautéed mushrooms. We had a big wicker chair that I used to sit in and I would draw dinosaurs and houses and people that
looked like monks. My sister and I would make elaborate tents out of sheets and pillows in our dining rooms, and pretend we were back in the olden times. My mother would let us play dress-up and although meek, my
big personality would shine through when I was play-acting. She felt I was a born actress.
For a kid in the late 80’s, the wilderness that surrounded me was full of adventure and mystery. First, there was the mysterious meteor hole in the woods on our property. It has eroded into a gully by now, but when I was
a kid it was a large conical hole in the ground. Then, down the street from us there was the “cow graveyard” where you could find the bones of cows from back when the ridge was farmland. Sometimes in the mornings we
could hear Cherokees chanting as they made their way through the woodlands in the valley below. We knew they were on our acreage, but in a way we understood that it was their land long before it was ours. I would
stand outside before we left for school, listening to the beautiful vocals that echoed out from the fog. In the fall, you could hear wild turkeys calling to one another and if you were lucky, oftentimes you could see 20–30 of
them through the underbrush. One time we found what looked like a fresh burial mound in our woods. We tried to dig to see what it might be (we assumed a deer, but it could have been a human!) but we became scared
and decided to let it be. After that we started hearing recurring noises every night near that area and often joked that it was the ghost of whoever was buried there. To this day, I bet one could hear the sound of footsteps
in the leaves as the ghost walked near the lights of the house only to turn back around again.
Nature was more a friend to me than anyone at school, and so after doing homework I would embark on a quest into the unknown. I would walk for hours into the woods, my tracks lost forever in a sea of leaves and roots.
I would call to birds and deer, play in the creeks, discover old buildings, look for caves, and play with earthworms. I did not feel like the master of my domain, but there was a sense of wilderness in me that I could not
ascertain by sanity’s standards. In the woods, I was wild. I was a Cherokee princess; an astronaut; an explorer; a warrior. I would study rocks for fossils, watch the clouds and name them, and curl up on rocks and draw
on them with pieces of shale and coal, imagining I was part of some ancient civilization. I would run barefoot at times, my hair unkempt, sometimes getting caught in briars and thistles. Lizards and snakes were fearful
allies, but I was fascinated with them and the writing spiders whose webs I would be careful to leave unharmed. The bats would come out at night, their little bodies fluttering in the lamplight as I would sit and watch the
moths gathering. I saw a Luna moth once and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever witnessed. My mother would take me out with the telescope and we would look for faraway planets. Sometimes we would
drive down to the Ponderosa and watch meteor showers for hours until well after midnight. On winter nights I would watch the snow drift down past the floodlights and when the blizzards would come in, I would wrap
myself up in a blanket and sit by the fireplace, listening to the wind howl and shake the trees as the snow would pile up outside.
My great-grandmother (Nana) gave me an Audubon nature book one year and so often I could be found with it, identifying insects and trees and speculating on the significance of feathers or remains I found on my
journeys. The bagworms would come out some years and their dingy cocoons could be found all over the plants and the trees and when we removed them, the green slime would get all over everything. Detested pine
beetles and Japanese beetles came in swarms over the years, as did the ladybugs, although I rather liked the cicadas and their mechanical drone that filled the air in the late summer. I used to climb up in our cedar trees
looking for cicada shells, marveling at how they stayed so perfectly formed. Click beetles would always get in our pool and I would save them from drowning, although I was always amazed by how they would jump right
back into the water and swim around. I would journey with my friend Ben and I would watch him find crawdads in the dried up creeks and search for big, red shiny mushrooms that we didn’t touch for fear of getting their
poison on us. I would often sit on the terra-cotta porch, playing with beetles and lighting fireworks that would leave black marks on the tile.
We had a pet cemetery near our shed for all of the animals that died. Our dog, Jesse, was buried there as well as countless fish, lizards, frogs, and birds that spent their brief lives with us. We raised ducks once and I was
very sad to have to give them to a neighboring farm when they became too old for us to raise anymore. We had iguanas for several years and my parents built a large habitat for them outside when they became too big to
stay in the house. We had plum and crabapples trees outside my house and my mom used to lift me up and let me pick fruit off of them during the summer. When we built the addition, the trees were cut down. We would
pick muscadines and I used to spit out their leathery skin and seeds which were almost impossible to eat, but they were delicious all the same.