Friday, November 28, 2008

We Are All Kituwah People

Thanksgiving morning at Kituwah

What better way to spend Thanksgiving, I figured, than to go bicycling around Cades Cove.

The night before, I'd packed everything I would need in order to get an early start. After the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 sharp, I grab a cup of coffee and my keys and start for the door. At the last minute, I decide to invite someone to go along with me.

What better way to see Cades Cove, I figured, than through the eyes of a thirteenth century Persian poet.

I have plenty of room for Rumi.

Under the best of circumstances, Cades Cove is not exactly a quick jaunt from Oscar, NC. But it is unusually quiet on the roads, and I find myself wishing it were like this every day.


Up a ways on the Oconaluftee, the sun has not yet come over the ridge. Purple light floats over the frozen meadow. A coyote stands by a ditch, waiting for some doomed field mouse to move beneath the frozen grass. Wary of my stopping to watch, that coyote decides to leave. She starts across the field, each stride longer than the last, accelerating into the woods, and then pausing long enough to tell me, "You can’t get there from here. You cannot cross the mountain. You must follow the river."

And, of course, the coyote is correct.

With the unexpected change of course, I find myself at Kituwah, and it is too pretty not to stop.

Kituwah was considered a mother town, and upon meeting their Eastern brethren, the Western Cherokees would declare, "We are all Kituwah people." This ground has been occupied for 5000 years. Off in the distance, faded stalks still stand in a cornfield. I stop to consider how much corn has sprung from this field. How many different varieties of corn have grown here over the centuries?

I try to imagine one day here, say, July 4, 1776. I can see the corn, vigorous and green, being tended by people of all ages. In a few weeks, the corn would be destroyed, the village itself wiped out, by Griffith Rutherford.

People are buried in this ground, perhaps a thousand or more. I wonder if the flock of birds swooping overhead knows that. I wonder if the gaggle of Canada geese, honking and shuffling through the cornfield, knows that.

In a graceful gesture, the poet sweeps his hand across this plain, and speaks:

Sometimes a body rises to the surface
Like Joseph coming out of his well of abandonment
To be the clarity that divides Egypt’s wheat fairly
And interprets the royal dreaming.

Some people say about human beings, Dust to dust.
But how can that be true of one
Who changes road dust to doorway?

The crop appears to be one thing
When it is still in the field.
Then the transformation time comes,
And we see how it is: half chaff, half grain.

He stops and gives me a big grin. I look back at him, my skepticism poorly hidden. I start to say something, but thinking better of it, get into the truck. We continue down the river road.

It’s still a long, long way to Cades Cove…

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