A Forest of Witnesses

Soundly asleep in my new loft bedroom, the full rude moon had focused a light beam through the tall white oaks and into my loft window, slapping me across my face.  I was blinded for a second.  Couldn’t sleep now.  I lay silently contemplating a move to my front porch. Chuck-will’s-widow, who started his call that lulled me to sleep at 10 pm, was still moving about the forest calling for someone. “Chuck-will’s-widow, Chuck-will’s-widow  (link for the bird call by the cabin). 

From my front porch on Pheasant street, it is now 4 am, I relish my front-row seat as the world, seen and unseen, begins to awaken.  I sit in the cool fresh morning summer air before the heat awakens the insects and bugs that seek my attention and my blood. Already, as the morning sun burns a slow path through the forest directly west down Pheasant Street, deer have awakened early, roosters begin to crow on the farm across the ridge, crows call, a woodpecker bullets an old tree seeking larvae. With quiet stealth, a pair of coyote cross the road, and further down an old turkey quietly nibbles by the roadside, disappearing before my neighbor slowly drives by at 15 miles an hour on his way to feed his horse, several miles away.  We wave, sometimes we chat.  “Why do you drive so slowly by the cabin?” I asked.  “That’s the rule in Riverbend,” was his simple answer.  I appreciate that, especially on dry days when the dust from the road can be choking.  But I should expect that.  The cabin was a working structure hosting people and their horse and mule-drawn vehicles throughout much of the 19th century, long before there was a Riverbend. Of course, the cabin would be built by the road.

“Any signs of paranormal activity in the cabin?” A visiting neighbor once asked. “No one has walked through unannounced.” I quipped with a smile.  But, the question has given me pause as I look down Pheasant as it forks upward on Doves Way.  In the fork is the entrance to an old wagon road with the deep tracks of wagon and buggy travel before the cabin was built c.1829.  Walking the remnants of the track, now overgrown and almost covered with new trees, wild berries, fallen and rotting pines, a thirty-minute hike leads directly south to an ancient apple orchard on Grassy Knob Road, almost rudely stopped by a new private housing development and posted farm property.  Eastward, meandering down Pheasant, the old road leads to a crossing on the Broad River.  Unbounded spirits surely inhabit the area.

The ancient Celtic religious folk believed that there was a thin space between the concrete world and the divine.  There were times when the thin space was especially thin and the spiritual world could be felt and revealed.  On this morning I was in that thin space. I was not sitting alone on my front porch. There was a full orchestra of a cacophony inviting me to play and sing along, but there was also a “great cloud of witnesses” peering from the trees.  On more than one occasion faces have appeared in the flora.  You just have to look for them, but once spotted they quickly hide with a passing breeze.  It is a dream world.

In traditional African Spirituality, there is a belief that the physical world is not the real world.  The real world is the spiritual world, and it is through dreams where conflicts are resolved and direction is given to the living.   As the sun burns its way past Pheasant and into the forest, surely the faces appearing in flora, a mixture of fern, wisteria, kudzu, pine, oak, and dogwood, have something to say.  If this is the reality of the cabin, I hope that the Cherokee, Catawba and early settlers, along with Revolutionary soldiers have resolved their conflicts and forgiven for the deaths that occurred throughout the 18th century, as the British sought to populate Hickory Nut Gorge south to Spartanburg and northwest to Asheville.  I can hope that the slaves buried in unnamed markers only a mile from the cabin have found their distant relatives who call them by their African names.  And, I hope there is some wisdom they all can share in the moonlit dreams.  

Some mornings I feel like having a conversation with Posey Brown, for whom some say was the original owner, or the Justice family who lived in the cabin and may have built the ancient spring house on the creek below, or the moonshiners who cooked their brew and stored in the cellar avoiding the revenuers who were often “working both sides of the fence”. Or, even the Confederate soldier who manned the cabin and whose remnant allegiances can be seen flying on a flag pole only miles down Highway 74, along with the collective unconscious in the thoughts and words voiced in private conversations in Rutherford County and beyond. But, this is not everyone’s reality, of course.  

I wonder what they might say to Tench Coxe. To Coxe, who never even visited the area, my beautiful little cabin, with my front porch, and a theater of flora and fauna, filled with the spirit faces of the past, his was merely a financial transaction, but one that opened our area to dramatic change from the First Nations’ hunting and farming grounds.

Trench Coxe

Tench Coxe (1755-1824) was a Philadelphia native where his family was influential in finance, business, and politics.  By his detractors, he was called Mr. Facing Both Ways because of his propensity for changing political parties to suit his own needs.  Sued for spreading false rumors or ‘slanders’, of which he was not convicted, Coxe is famous for riding into Philadelphia with the British army, only to switch sides to the Patriot army, when they defeated the British and stopped the occupation.  During the time of the British occupation he made considerable money and was later arrested for being a traitor to the Patriots.  He was later pardoned.  He served with a number of presidents and had considerable influence in writing the Amendments to the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment.  He believed strongly in the right to bear arms, but also in making money where he could.  So, following the passage of the Second Amendment, he established an arms company.  

Coxe is important in our Riverbend history.  In 1797, he acquired nearly 400,000 of acres in present day Rutherford County, Polk County, Henderson County, Cleveland County, McDowell County, and Buncombe County for as little as nine cents an acre, under the name of Speculation Land Company.  Much of the property was owned by the Rutherford Land Company.  Coxe had served as assistant to Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury under the George Washington administration.  For more history see Speculation Lands Company Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, The University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804.

Early map of Southwest section of Rutherford County where Riverbend is now located.   

Though Tench Coxe never visited the area, his grandson Colonel Frank Coxe would build the Battery Park Hotel in Asheville and eventually purchase the Green River Plantation in Polk County.

On peaceful mornings like today, when the thin space is especially thin, and the real world of dreams is clear, I can see the bearded white settlers with the Cherokee and Catawba, landholders and poor farmers, slaveholders and slaves, patriots and royalists, Yankees and rebels, moonshiners and revenuers whose white, brown and black faces appear in the forest, amicably resolving transgressions.  

But then, during five days of rain, thunder and lightning, flooding, forest fires and frozen winters of Riverbend, I think there is still work to be done.  I do know the witnesses are watching my front porch on Pheasant Street in Riverbend where they call for kind words, honest talk, and true stories–mostly true, anyway.

NOTE: First published June 18, 2019. Riverbend@LakeLureNC Community News Summer 2019

3 thoughts on “A Forest of Witnesses

  1. Pingback: I see dead people – Not So Random Thoughts on Artful Living

  2. Pingback: Grandma Turtle | Not So Random Thoughts on Artful Living

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