Old Man’s Beard and Pink Lady Slipper come together, resting side-by-side on the forest floor, preparing for their long winter’s sleep. Variegated green leaves of poplar and tulip trees have begun to turn. Hues of orange, yellow and red splatter the mountain’s majestic backdrop. Blackbirds chatter as they plan their pilgrimage to migrate even father south. Autumn’s gentle transformation is bringing subtle changes to the mountain.
small baby lizard
slowly creeps across
wide graveled road
The evening’s cool breeze invites us to fill the fresh, mountain air with music. After supper, my daughter, Barbara, and I sit on the porch and play. She bows her fiddle from one string to the next as I strum repetitious rhythms on my guitar. We play bluegrass, folk, ballads, hymns and southern blues songs. These melodies were new to us when we moved here two years ago but are now rooted in our everyday lives.
Friends we met at the local music store drop-by and join our jam. The lilt from Larry’s resonating dobro competes with the droning harmony of tree frogs and crickets. Allen plays his mandolin like someone lit a fire under him. Everyone grabs a piece of the music and plays along. Our rustic harmonies blend to create the high lonesome sound of sorrow and lost love. Between songs, we can hear swarming cicadas saying their evening prayers off in the distance.
To the west, the setting sun plays hide-and-seek with the hovering clouds that rest on the mountaintops. Pastel pinks and soft blues fill the evening sky like an opening act. Tonight’s main attraction will be the show of stars glistening across the southern sky.
This mountain is at the foothills of the Appalachians. Somehow, knowing it’s part of a larger chain gives me a sense of comfort, allows me to feel connected to the rest of the world. This is a very remote, isolated area that often prides itself for holding onto old ways. Especially old-timey ways of thinking.
People take great pride in owning and harvesting the land here. Steve, the banjo player, talks about growing crops of potatoes in the fields where his grandfather once grew cotton. And he tells stories about snakes; broadbanded copperheads, timber rattlers, and rat snakes that slither the mountainside as well as cornfields and back yards, absorbing the last warmth of the season.
Faith healers at a local church service handle poisonous snakes, dance in the spirit and speak in tongues. They drink “salvation cocktails” from mason jars—strychnine mixed with water. They tell me if you are truly saved, you have nothing to fear.
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-18.
While I have yet to take up snakes in the name of Jesus, I do, however, have a rattler’s tail inside my guitar. My mountain musician friend Steve tells me, “If you’re brave enough to sneak up on a rattler and snatch his tail, surely you’ll be brave enough to play and sing in front of folks. Put one inside your guitar and you won’t never be scared.”
My fellow pickers show me it’s true as they play song after song that has been handed down from generation to generation with great care and deliberation.
slow moving lizard
disappears into yard
tall blades of green grass
Maybe that’s what I did when I moved up here from the city. Maybe I’m hiding out, among the green, in my autumn of life.