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.
**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: