Thursday, November 19, 2009

True Sight

At length I rested on the most elevated peak, from whence I beheld with rapture and astonishment, a scene of power and magnificence: a world of mountains piled upon mountains.
-William Bartram, describing his journey to the Nantahalas (and possibly Wayah Bald)

Everything becomes enchanting with true sight.
-Richard Rohr

The view from Wayah Bald

I almost skipped the big Book Fair in Sylva over the weekend. With so many stacks of unread books throughout my house, I can’t justify any more binges of book-buying.

Despite my reluctant frugality, I enjoyed the Fair. To have the literati of this region convened in one room is something special. For just a minute, I slipped over to a corner and surveyed the scene. Observing the authors, one by one, I considered the many places they’ve taken us and the many characters they’ve brought to life. I appreciate that kind of magic.

That exercise in memory at the Fair reminded me of a recent trip to Wayah Bald. I’d not been to the lookout tower there in years and had forgotten what a unique, and tremendous, view it provides. The mountains that ring the horizon enclose a rough bowl of land more than 40 miles across. From the tower you can see the better part of the Little Tennessee, Nantahala and Tuckasegee valleys.

Every direction I looked reminded me of the past. People and events from long ago crowded the scene. Memories of my own lifetime rushed back, born and borne upon the geography stretching out from Wayah.

If you had the sharp eyes of a hawk and the patient endurance of granite, what a show you could have seen from here.

The John B. Byrne Memorial Tower on Wayah Bald

I focused on Cowee Mountain, a little protuberance of earth between the Tuckasegee and the Little Tennessee. Closing one eye and extending my arm, I could conceal the entire mountain with my thumb. I looked at Cowee Mountain again and saw the ancient road connecting Kituwah, a center of spirituality, with Cowee village, a center of commerce. I pictured that same road, busy with hundreds of British soldiers crossing the mountain in 1761. I recalled my own time on that road, this past summer, bicycling through a reverie of wildflowers. From Wayah, the mountain looked impossibly small, too small to hold all that history.

Scanning the horizon, my eyes paused at one prominent feature to the northeast, Balsam Gap. Only from this distance does its significance become clear. Balsam Gap was, and is, the natural portal to this province. Sometimes, topography shapes history. What began as a deer track on Balsam Gap became a hunters trail, a traders path, the Rutherford Trace, a drovers route, the Western North Carolina Railroad, a blacktop road and a four-lane highway.

In the distance, Balsam Gap

As I look out from the tower, centuries run together, human accomplishments appear small, and the people themselves are imperceptible. The panorama from Wayah is an unfamiliar perspective on the world I know and, at first, seems absurdly distorted.

But on second thought, my everyday prospect on life might be the distorted perspective, while a trip to the tower at Wayah Bald offers a rare moment of clarity.



Betty Cloer Wallace said...

Gulahiyi, what wonderful commentary--on many levels! Wayah Bald is truly a special place, and you certainly brought out its magic through your historical perspective and personal insight.

I learned in my 1750s research that the Cherokee name for Balsam Gap was (is?) the "Blue Door" or perhaps, depending on the translation, the blue-green door or portal. From atop Wayah Bald on a clear day, one can surely see why.

Do you know the story about the battle at Wayah in which one of the slain Cherokee warriors was discovered to be a woman?

(My research is in dire need of some basic organization so that I can more easily find and revisit some of my favorite resources, including many of your "ruminations" about the historical and cultural heritage of the region. There are so many interesting tidbits to be unearthed, and I can surely identify with your comment about book-buying binges and stacks of yet-to-be-read books.)

GULAHIYI said...

I appreciate that, Betty. Some places have a strong effect on me, and I am unable to find the words to convey the feeling. Oh, how I wish I could describe what it was like to discover New Harmony, Indiana nine years ago. That is a very special place.

That's interesting about the blue door, and if I ever knew it, I forgot it...the same for the slain warriors at Wayah. Now, another great story tells of the yellow jackets near Wayah. These stories need to be told and re-told.

Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

Pass This Way

Blue, blue farscape,
Wave upon wave of mountains.
What others strode here before me?
Did they marvel at what they saw?

Earth seems so empty,
Trackless forest, fields and hills
I feel the spirits of the old ones
As they pass this way still.

Chuck Connors, November 21, 2009

kanugalihi said...

the tanasee way in is much less of a defeater. the pinhook, aptly named. balsam is a cruel hole i believe. the southern routes must have been much easier to use to gain entry to the tuckaseegee and little T than the pigeon side. i would like to stand and observe this landscape with you sometime.