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One afternoon in late May, Daniel drove to Mulberry Creek to pick up a flat of heirloom tomato plants that a green-thumbed friend had offered him. Now, he could start counting the days until the first homegrown tomato sandwich, one of summer’s sublime pleasures.
He was curious to see what was happening on the old Charlie Craddock dairy farm and it was only another mile-and-a-half up Mulberry Creek Road, so he decided to drive past before going back home.
Although the long-abandoned farm still looked ragged, he could see that some work had been underway. For the first time in a long time, the fences were free of tangled, choking vines. The lower pasture was no longer dotted with multiflora rose. And the big barn sported fresh boards and a newly painted roof. When he neared the entrance to the farm, he saw a woman setting out flowers at the base of a small sign.
He pulled into the driveway and got out of the truck.
“Hi, Lola. Winona said I’d find you out here.”
“Hello, stranger. It’s been a long time.”
“I didn’t even know you had moved back to Owassee. How have you been?”
“I feel like I’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool. We have a big group of volunteers coming out tomorrow to work on the barn and I want to make sure they can find us.”
“So what possessed you to take on this old farm?”
“That’s a long story. Are you sure you have the time?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then come on up to the house. You look like you could use a glass of iced tea.”
They sat on the porch and caught up on what had happened in their lives. Lola talked about some rocky years, a brief marriage, a difficult divorce and then a return to school in Georgia where she started working with kids. Lola spent five years on a therapeutic equestrian center for young people with autism. Then she thought it was time to come back to Owassee to start something similar.
“Winona got excited about it, too. The stars aligned to make this happen here. We already have six horses in the upper pasture and we’re remodeling some of the old outbuildings as bunkhouses. By this time next year, we should be up and running.”
“I went to hear Winona at the library last week. I admit I haven’t read her books yet, but I enjoyed her lecture.”
“Winona has a gift, alright. She’s trying to slow down, though, and she really needs to. But she’s in Knoxville today, meeting with her agent about a new DVD.”
“This is a fine thing you’re doing here. I’m sure Charlie Craddock would be pleased, if he were still with us.”
“Danny, are you OK? You’ve been rubbing your eyes.”
“Oh, have I? If I’m a little bleary, it’s just that I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I don’t know why.”
“I can tell you exactly what you need for that. Do you know the wild plant, skullcap?
“Sure I do. There’s some growing near my cabin.”
“Good. Take the leaves and steep them in hot water to make a tea. Drink a cup of warm skullcap tea before bedtime and you’ll sleep well.”
“And where did you pick up that valuable prescription?”
“That was a favorite remedy from my grandmother - my mother’s mother. She was an herb doctor. Some of the Anawaya wisdom survives,” Lola laughed, “although you wouldn’t know it from the Anawaya Casino and the all those souvenir shops.”
“No, but that’s progress. I’m surprised you recognized the valley when you came back.” He glanced at his watch, “I’d better go now. I know you have to get ready for tomorrow, and I have tomato plants to put in the ground. I’ll bring you some tomatoes when they get ripe! Good to see you again, Lola. Best of luck with this place.”
Daniel took off for the woods again. His destination was up the mountain about five miles from his cabin, next to an unnamed waterfall surrounded by a laurel thicket. Few people knew about the place because it was far from any of the well-worn forest service trails. On previous trips, he had cut a discrete discreet trail through the thicket, commencing at a point that most people walk right past. The place was his own secret and he intended to keep it that way.
As he hiked up the mountain, Daniel saw that it would be a good year for blueberries. The fruit was still green, but the plants were loaded with berries. He would be sure to return when they ripened. By mid-morning, he arrived at what had become his favorite campsite. It was what the old-timers called a “rockhouse,” a large overhanging rock that created a sheltered space as much as twenty feet high and running for almost 100 feet along the face of the mountain. A small stream plunged over the edge of the overhang, fanning out to form an elegant waterfall.
At the opposite end of the long rockhouse, a sheltered flat spot about ten feet wide offered a tremendous view of the Owassee valley. On this terrace, he could work or read or sleep in comfort, protected from any sudden showers.
A couple of months earlier, he has stashed a pile of kindling in the dry, but since the day was clear he gathered more wood to supplement what he’d already collected. A campfire was good for cooking supper and even better for providing companionship to a solitary camper.
He felt at home here, more so than any place he knew. In the past ten years he had lost his grandmother (the last of her generation), he had lost his parent, and he had lost several aunts and uncles he had been close to. He thought about the times his family had been together, and how he would never return to that place of love and comfort and acceptance, except in memory.
Life was different now. He thought about Michelangelo’s explanation, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He imagined his own life as a block of stone. Was there an angel, or anything, waiting to be freed? But envisioning what could emerge from the raw material of his own life was more difficult, much more difficult, than seeing what could emerge from a gnarled chunk of wood.
After he had settled in his camp, he unpacked a sandwich and savored it as he relaxed and enjoyed the summer day. He saw chipmunks close by and tossed crusts of bread where they might retrieve them. As the chipmunks approached, he studied them intently, burning their image onto his memory. He had never carved a chipmunk, but he would like to someday. He did spend the early afternoon on several small carvings he had brought along. He made some finishing touches and then sanded and polished until they shone like glass.
His mind drifted to Lola and Winona. The skullcap prescription was helping. Ever since he started drinking a cup of the tea at night, he was sleeping much better. He had even started to remember bits and pieces of his dreams, and it had been years since he had remembered any dreams.
Daniel had been reading about dreams and realized that the dreams had been there every night, whether he remembered them or not upon awakening. It was almost inconceivable, that such an integral part of his life could remain so hidden from himself. In a book on dreams, he found a statement from Heraclitus, in the fourth century BC:
Suddenly, I was asleep. I had fallen into that deep slumber in which are opened to us the transmigration of the soul, the evolving of the dead, all those mysteries which we imagine ourselves not to know and into which we are in reality initiated almost every night.
He thought about the quantum shift of Winona’s lecture. He remembered the old Chinese story that she shared:
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. But there must be some difference between them! This is what is meant by the transformation of things.
Daniel reminded himself to keep a notebook and pencil on the nightstand at the cabin. He'd heard that writing down dreams immediately upon waking helps with the remembering. He wondered just what he might find within the secret life he led at night.
[to be continued]
From The Owasssee Prophecy, by E. G. Paine
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