Time: the River’s Work and the Stone’s Burden

Old Stone Fort SAA, Blue Hole Falls, marking time
Blue Hole Falls

Everywhere I turn is a stunning new view. I’ve descended a somewhat steep path into the woods behind the museum at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester, Tennessee. A cluster of dozens of waterfalls combine to cut a craggy, descending amphitheater, its gallery facing downstream, where the water glides, tumbles, and creeps along on its way to Tennessee’s central basin. Broad slabs of limestone–five feet thick, fifteen or twenty yards long, and wide as a highway–angle toward the riverbed, lying just how they fell, however many eons ago. Here, the river’s work is obvious: it carves its gorge incessantly, and as it cuts into the bases of its bordering cliffs, the rock above loses support and falls like stacks of dishes off the edge of a counter. And my mortal brain can’t fathom the time this all takes; the brevity of my life is clear in this spot, overlooking Blue Hole Falls, and yet I feel connected to it. Many of us return to nature for psycho-spiritual realignment, and this makes the most sense of just about anything I can think of: rivers, woods, mountains, deserts, and oceans realign us because they’re the stuff we’re made of–they’re the stuff of our origins: water, clay, minerals, viscera, and mystery.

I’m standing (as I write this) on a shelf of limestone that juts out over the gorge, several yards down-trail from where the photo above was taken. Here, the riverbed’s at least a hundred feet down. And I suspect that this ledge, too, will break off in time–it will fracture away from the bluff behind me with great, terrifying cracks that echo like rifle shots, and then it will slide with a many-throated roar to the river’s edge, where it may rest for ten-thousand years, propped at a forty-five degree angle against the steep hillside–a giant stone plate, snapped in half, with the back half tilted against the rock wall from which it fell and the front half lying flat in the riverbed. A tree might arise and thrive in the break. The river will have altered its course accordingly.

At some far-flung future time, this stone that supports me will remain, either in its present place or at the bottom of the ravine. Long after me and my offspring and their offspring are lost to time, our names no more remembered than those of the citizens of ancient civilizations, the stone will exist. Nature carries on without us, but also it is us. This is a great mystery, and I’m past the point where I think anyone alive understands it or is even capable of understanding it. But that doesn’t keep me from searching.

Alan D. Tucker: content blogger, essayist, & novelist
Alan D. Tucker
content blogger, essayist, & novelist

**Here’s an earlier post in which I grapple with time: http://alandrue.com/nashvilles-current-time-warp/.

***Here are more images from Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park:

Winter Love

brown sneakers on wet pine needles

kinship with the cold
and built for solitude,
me in my brown leather sneakers,

mashing down a wet bed
of pine needles. the memory
finds me, like a friendly dog

whose owner’s property
my trail traverses, and January
opens again resplendently,

its frost-gilded limbs growing
wet with the warming day–
how clean light crackles

through the canopy,
pinned in place by a bolt
of cirrus clouds curling

across my panning eyes,
a coasting vulture glides,
its wings a black whisper

shushing like the jagged floes
that tilt and tumble down
the rocky river’s dips

and the water’s glassy slide
draws a song of life and death
from the slick, ancient limestone

the author
Alan D. Tucker
Content Blogger, Essayist, & Novelist

Hiking up a Mountain, Which Sits atop a Famous Cave

Cardwell CollageHalf-an-hour or so after noting that this particular hike, taken on a chilly early-March morning, may be the quietest one I had yet experienced in Middle Tennessee, a vicious rumbly roar issued from an indefinite distance.  This was not an animal’s roar.  It was manmade–the product of explosives.  The big sound shook me from my reverie, and I searched for its source.  Through an opening in the bare-branched canopy I watched a wide cloud of gray-brown smoke disperse upward off a faraway hillside and take slow flight on the breeze.  A dynamite explosion, perhaps, for some mining or quarrying process, was my first assumption.  Unexpected outbursts often startle, but in this wooded sanctuary, it was plain unnerving.  After a period of bemusement, there was nothing to do but trudge onward.

 

An ominous air had already insinuated itself upon the morning, beginning when, en route to the trailhead, I turned onto a narrow, shoulderless two-laner named Dark Hollow Road.  It seemed the kind of remote rural backroad that has some grim legend attached, the details of which the locals are familiar but outsiders are regrettably unaware.  Once on the trail, the total absence of other hikers lent its own eerie charm to the labyrinthian limestone, and a fresh, sizable set of canine pawprints, big as my forefoot, was a nice touch.  I measured a print at four-and-a-half inches long, which is well within range of a mature wolf’s.  The tracks may have belonged to a large, friendly dog, but being in a spooky frame of mind, I was picturing a red wolf that had migrated west from the Smoky Mountains, hunting these very woods.  All of this just adds to the enjoyment of a solitary hike, however.  These dangers are mostly imaginary and provide the same brand of innocent thrills one may experience on a trek through a haunted forest during the Halloween season.

 

Later, having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders, the earlier disruption was becoming a memory.  Peace had been restored.  Buzzards circled overhead, their shadows crossing the ground endlessly before me–yet another spooky element.  But in spite of these things that may seem scary to the imagination, the very real and present danger seemed to be the explosion that had occurred that morning.  It carried a violence that the backroads and rocks and wolves and buzzards did not.  A question came to mind:  Is this progress?  Is this the way to steward the earth’s resources?  It feels like a perversion of stewardship.  It seems that as our kind advances with its technology, the goal should be to come into harmony with nature, not to destroy it in an attempt to take what it does not readily give.

 

It is naive to think we have reached a place in our collective journey where we are ready to stop taking resources from the earth.  But maybe there is a better way to do it than by blowing up vast tracts of wilderness.  Maybe a mind more technical than mine already has the solutions, and maybe those solutions will plod through the muck of bureaucratic special interests and come to light before our wild places disappear completely.  Maybe.

...having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders...
…having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders…