The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild
Published 12:49 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Follow the Trees
By Julie Terry Cartner
Mom had taken Luke and his baby brother, Sam, to the hideout many times, always changing her route enough to keep a permanent trail from forming. But whatever way they went, there were landmarks to help guide them. And every time they went, she pointed out the landmarks, some indicating the correct path, and others, equally subtle, pointing out the missteps, the trails that led to other places. And every time, every single time, she made Luke and Sam repeat the names of the landmarks to her, until Luke, at least, had them memorized. Sam was learning, but he was only six. At eight, Luke considered himself Sam’s protector.
Luke was old enough to understand the necessity of this escape route, whereas Sam still saw their treks as grand adventures. Mom had taught them, as soon as they were old enough, how to move through the forest with little to no sound, and how to keep from disturbing the earth so as not to leave a discernable path. She’d made it fun, an elevated game of hide-and-go-seek, while also letting them know how essential mastery was. They knew the most important knowledge was memorizing the landmarks, the paths and messages essential to their safety.
Some landmarks were rocks and other natural landforms, like the gully between their land and the national forest, but most were trees. A quarter Cherokee, Mom had learned the lore from her parents as well as her grandparents. For generations, Native Americans had used trees to indicate directions in the woods. They would take saplings, still limber in their youth, and bend them to the earth in the direction they wanted to indicate. These trees might indicate a trail towards water, or the safest path to ford a river. Equally, the tree might mark a location for harvesting herbs, medicinal plants, or other edible vegetation.
Regardless of the reason, these trees created a trail as clear to an observant person as markers hammered into the bark as many trails are depicted today. And Mom knew them all, those from generations ago, and those she had created herself, and she was determined that her boys would know them also, both how to find them and how to make them. She knew one day they would have to flee, most likely when her ex-husband was released on parole. He’d vowed to make her pay, and she had no doubt he would try.
So, when Luke and Sam got home from school and saw the three rocks beside the mailbox, they knew not to go in the house. Instead, they detoured to their treehouse, where they left their schoolbags and strapped on their backpacks, already loaded with essentials, and headed out.
The first marker was clear. Using vines, mom had lashed down a single branch of the tree they had just climbed. “Go west,” it told them. That’s all the boys needed. Walking stealthily, they headed deeper into the trees, slipping soundlessly through the trees. Rock, rock, beech tree, gully, maple… Luke repeated silently to himself. He knew the path, but he felt more in control when he let the words flow through his brain in an endless loop.
The boys continued silently but skillfully through the woods. Two hours later, they reached their destination, a natural cave Mom and they had filled with provisions and hidden through years of cultivating evergreens and vines. Not knowing what they would find, the two boys entered the cave soundlessly, Luke taking point, always the big brother protecting his sibling. Heart thundering in his ears, Luke peered through the last remaining branches. There sat Mom, a crackling fire in front of her, and a big smile on her face. “Well done, boys,” she told them, and Happy Thanksgiving,” indicating the bounty of food she had prepared. “I bet you’re hungry.”
Smiling in relief, the boys scampered the last few steps and eagerly began eating. Whew, Luke thought, thank goodness this had only been a test. Next time might be a different story. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
If you’re interested in information about tree bending as a Native American legacy, there are many articles on this subject. I read the following:
Moss, Laura. “Trail Trees are a Living Native American Legacy.” Treehugger. 17 June 2019..
By Gaye Hoots
When thinking about our childhoods, most of us see them through rose-colored glasses. It was a time when we felt safe and were unaware of our parents’ responsibilities. I believed my father and grandfather could and would protect me from anything, and I felt completely safe. I think of it as a safer, simpler time.
Today, we hear all the worst news from all over the world and are acutely aware of all the threats to our families and friends’ safety. Innocence is gone, and we don’t trust our children out of our sight. As children, we played freely and without fear.
On close examination, my childhood was completely protected. Yet, I lived within walking distance of a family with multiple children and an alcoholic father who abused his spouse and children. I overheard stories about them before I was six years old.
When I was 12 years old, a classmate shot and killed his mother. I believe it was an accident, as he had heard his alcoholic mother making plans to leave with men who brought her alcohol. He hid in the barn and tried to stop her from going with the men. He knew the pain this caused his family and thought he could stop her from leaving. The story was that she grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, causing it to discharge.
A man who worked for my dad had been murdered and left to die in the graveyard. It was investigated, but no one was charged. Before we were twelve years old, both Faye and I had been approached by sexual predators. We knew enough never to be alone with them again.
When I was six, I missed the bus and started walking the three miles to school. A stranger picked me up and took me to school. He was related to Jim Peebles, who worked for my dad, and when he told Jim, Jim told my dad, and I got the stranger-danger talk.
When we were young adults, my brother volunteered for the Marines and served in Vietnam. He never shared those experiences, only telling us he was not involved in the really bad stuff. While working, both Faye and I faced situations where a loaded gun was put in our faces, and we were threatened. She was alone with a customer who feared her power would be cut off. I was driving a busload of children and had a father put a shotgun through the bus window when I stopped to let his son off. While I was explaining to the father that I had not discriminated against his son, some boys slipped out the emergency door to try to save me. I was able to talk the man down.
Neither Faye nor I considered having the person arrested. They were both distraught parents trying to look after their families and did not need the additional frustration, expense, and humiliation of their families.
Still, I think of my childhood as golden. Most adults could be trusted, and all my family earned that trust. Our teachers and mentors could be trusted. We learned to become independent and rely on ourselves. It becomes more difficult with each generation, and I understand why parents keep their children so close and have cameras in their homes. The balance between wanting them to feel safe and being able to protect them becomes more difficult each year. Making them feel secure without being paranoid is a challenge.
We never needed shooter drills at school, although our fathers had loaded guns in a rack in their trucks; it was not a threat. I remember that we had tornado drills, but I never feared having a tornado and would like to believe our children learn to take these drills in stride, but if I had seen every day on the news that a tornado had occurred and the graphic views of that destruction, I might have feared them.
By Marie Craig
I watched a fun movie tonight that was based in 1958 about a young woman who is engaged to a man just because the two rich families wanted to merge. She has taken dance lessons all her life and is intrigued by an advertisement about auditioning for the Rockettes. She goes to New York City and pretends to buy a wedding dress but instead she qualifies to join the dance group. Her aunt lives near there and covers for her extended visit. It’s an interesting story that shows her rehearsals, the strict lifestyle, and the performances. The clothes, cars, and scenery were very well done to convince the viewer that it really was 1958.
After the movie was over, I thought of several memories jogged by the Rockettes. My next door neighbor was a salesman who traveled to New York City often. He would tell me about all the wonderful things he saw there. As a little girl, I was really excited about going sometime. It didn’t happen until I was a senior in college and went to New York with a group of students on spring break. We did a lot of amazing things — Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, the United Nations building, TV show The Price is Right, and we saw the Rockettes. What a great thrill to finally enjoy seeing the sites that I’d heard described years before.
The other memory that came to mind happened in 1962. My mother and I watched the Miss America pageant mainly because Maria Fletcher, Miss Asheville, fifteen miles away from us, was vying for Miss America. Her parents had a dance school in Asheville, and she had done well with that skill, going to New York City and dancing with the Rockettes. We couldn’t believe that she actually won. A few people thought that was inappropriate for a Miss America. But most of the Western North Carolina residents were so excited about this hometown girl. There was a big parade in Asheville, welcoming her back home. If I looked hard enough, I could probably find some faded color slides I took of her on the big parade float.
In researching Maria and the exact year, I found a link to a YouTube video of the old black and white TV show where she was crowned Miss America. She danced and sang for the talent portion of the competition. It was fun to see this again. Bob Barker sang the Miss America song to her.
I’ve always marveled at how one memory can trigger another one. This show brought back a lot of special memories through the years.