Archive for September, 2011

Poe’s Cabin

September 14, 2011

“You know, Edgar Allan Poe once lived in a cabin on Ragged Mountain,” our landlord tells us a few months after we moved into our first rental as newlyweds. It’s an old farmhouse in Ivy, Virginia.  I am an English major in college and Bruce works for the Department of Forestry.

“Really?” I ask, intrigued. I’d studied a few of Poe’s works, knew a little of his history. I’d not heard or read this.

“Yep, the foundation is still there, along the ridgeline behind the house here,” the owner says, pointing toward the mountains east of us. “Stories handed down in the family say that’s where he got the inspiration for The Raven.  You’ve seen them flying around here, haven’t you?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. “I’ve seen some big crows.”

“Those are Ravens,” our landlord corrects me. “They’re bigger than crows and their call is different, more a croak than a caw. When crows fly, you can’t hear ‘em. Raven’s wings make a ‘swishing’ sound.”

After that, I watch and listen for the Ravens. I wonder about that cabin in the woods on Ragged Mountain.  

I imagine a cabin unlike the chamber in Poe’s poem The Raven. That chamber was fancy with purple curtains and velvet upholstery, a place fit for a woman named Lenore. Poe was thirty-six when he published The Raven. It was four years before he died. He wasn’t the youngster he would have been when he lived in this area. His opulent chamber was only a dream when he lived in the Ragged Mountains.

The cabin I imagine is a primitive one-room dwelling crafted of hand-hewn white oak logs, chinked with Virginia’s red clay.  I picture Poe standing by a four-paned, wavy glass window, hands in pockets, his eyes fixed on the traces of sunlight filtering through the tall trees of Ragged Mountain. His front door, simple, made of unfinished wood plank, stands open, allowing the scent of pine and the sound of summer birds to reach into the cabin. I imagine him dreaming of Lenore, hearing her laughter in the warble of a goldfinch, her tears in the mournful call of a dove.  The woman he loves lives in Richmond near Poe’s foster parents. She may or may not be waiting for him.

I stand on his threshold, feeling the cool of the place. Even in summer, the interior is cooler than other structures, a kind of cool where a sweater doesn’t warm the body. Poe’s hearth lays bare, scraped clean of ashes.

His cot in the corner is just large enough for him to stretch out his frame and throw his arm over closed eyes, making his vision darker than dark. A sturdy wooden table of straight lines serves his need for writing and repast.  His papers, scratched with ink, lay scattered on the surface.

He turns from the window, sits at the table, picks up his pen and marks through the lines he’s written that day. He begins again.  

“Let’s walk to the cabin,” Bruce says one morning. “I’d like to see it.”

We decide to make it an adventure, pack a small lunch for a picnic. It’s a perfect summer day for a hike, with low humidity. We call our landlord for directions.

“You go straight back behind the house to the old apple orchard, turn left at the fresh water spring, and head east toward ‘Bear Rock’, that’s the big  gray piece of limestone that juts out near the top of Ragged Mountain. The cabin’s foundation is five hundred feet north-east of the outcropping. “You may have to kick around in the leaves a bit to find it,” he tells us.

We make the trek. I think about Poe and his time in this area, how he’d come to the University, a smart man,  ready to learn, but given less money than he needed for tuition and books by his foster father. He tried to make up the difference by gambling, and lost. He left the University, in debt and shamed.

As we walk, I talk about Poe’s poem The Raven, the sadness of it, and then his story, The Tale of the Ragged Mountains. “Poe called  them ‘wild and dreary hills,’” I tell Bruce.

 “They are wild,” Bruce agrees as we beat down briars, and trip over fallen tree branches, “but I wouldn’t describe Ragged Mountain as dreary.” Bruce was born and raised a few miles from where we live.  He’s hiked the mountain’s ridges, hunted in their stands of pine, and picked blackberries along their edges. This particular area is new to him, but the Ragged Mountains are his home.  He’s had a different experience than Poe.

The directions lead us to Bear Rock and beyond. I’m following Bruce’s footsteps and admiring the wild violets, may apples and pipsisewa that grow under the tall trees.

“It should be here pretty close,” Bruce says, stopping to  look around, directions in hand.

I pause behind him and visually search for some sign of a dwelling, a clearing, partial walls, steps, anything. I see nothing that would hint at the history of a structure.

Bruce starts sweeping leaves away from the forest floor with his boots. I follow his lead.  He moves in a straight line, I zigzag. He kicks a rock, moves to the right, and kicks another, and another, all of them in a row. We follow the line to a corner and sure enough, another line of rock extends at a ninety-degree angle to the one we’ve uncovered.  When we finish, we expose a rock foundation measuring roughly ten feet by twelve feet. The logs of the cabin have long since rotted away and trees now grow within the confines of the former living space, but this is the spot we were searching for, Poe’s cabin.

I sit down on one of the rocks and look to the west at a view that I’ve come to take for granted. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the distance in varying shades of azure,  rolling hills, one in front of the other, with crests and gaps. The interstate winds through a pass. The sun winks off the chrome of cars and trucks making their way up the grade. Big puffy clouds throw shadows on the mountain’s surface as they move with the wind.  

 I contemplate someone living way up on this ridge some hundred and seventy years ago. What road lead here? Who marked the foundation and lifted the rocks? Who felled the trees and carved their sides flat, then hoisted them for walls and roof?  Who walked to the spring for water and how far did he go? Who lived in this lonely place?  

Bruce and I sit together, open our pack, and eat our sandwiches and slices of apple in silence.

“Do you think he really lived here?” I ask after a while.

Before Bruce can answer, there’s a rustle of leaves above us in the tree, then a swish of wing and the rough, throaty call of a Raven.

On That Day

September 11, 2011


On that day ten years ago, I turned the corner from one unit in the nursing home to another. The television was mounted on the wall in the corner of a lounge area, next to a window displaying a clear blue sky. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were discussing an accident that happened in New York, smoke billowed from one of the twin towers in the background behind the commentators.

I stopped in the hallway, stood watching and listening, wondering what caused the smoke.  I don’t know whether I watched the second plane crash into the north tower, I don’t remember, but I was standing in that same spot when it happened.

Time changes when events like that occur in our lives. It doesn’t happen in ticks of the clock anymore.
People gathered in elder’s rooms, in front of every television and watched those two planes fly into the buildings over and over again. As the buildings fell, I remember hands drawn to mouths open with horror. I remember tears and the panic that comes with fear.

When the plane hit the pentagon, I wanted nothing more than to find my children, gather them to me and go home where it was safe.

My Groovy Girl

September 4, 2011

My Groovy Girl. I met her online, her bright image capturing my attention in a photograph. I dreamed of a life with her, adventure, and recreation. After seeing her in person, actually touching her, running my hand along her sleek side, I was enthralled. I fell overboard.

Then, I took her home, and, as with most new relationships, a honeymoon period only lasts so long. I quickly realized she was not nearly as perfect as she seemed. On the outside, she was lovely, bright, cheerful, the perfect size.

When I dug deeper, I found flaws.  Her background was shady, and her inner core was less than pristine. But Relationships take work, sweat, and effort. I decided to give her a chance.

Bruce and I worked an entire month on the boat. Our goal was to have her in the water for vacation on Chincoteague Island. After his daytime job of mulching, mowing and pruning, and mine of caring for elders, we met in the garage after supper and worked on rebuilding the boat until bedtime each night. Working on a boat in a hot garage in July is not fun, no matter who the company is or how much you love them.

With a week to spare, she was ship-shape, with all new interior, a motor that cranked when the key turned and refurbished seat cushions. We bought all the required safety equipment and Bruce waited in line for three hours at DMV to get the boat trailer licensed. The only thing missing was our boat title and registration. All the required documents had been sent to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. We were told it could take up to thirty days to hear from them.  We did have a thirty day temporary registration from Walmart.  With that, at least we could put the boat in the water for vacation.

 I had a dream the night before we left for Chincoteague that I was standing in the boat, dock line in my hand, drifting out to sea. I was supposed to toss that line to my husband, but I didn’t.  I watched Bruce standing at the end of the weathered gray walkway. He waved his hands frantically, yelling something.  I was out of earshot and he tried unsuccessfully to mime how I should start the boat motor. He wasn’t making sense to me.  I kept drifting until my husband was a small dot, then he and the shoreline disappeared as I was lost at sea.

I’ve never owned a boat, never driven one, never docked one. Bruce never has either, but he’s resourceful, has good common sense. I’m dumbfounded in new situations.

Today, we took the cover off the boat, hooked the trailer to the truck and drove to Memorial Park in Chincoteague. Bruce backed the trailer onto the boat ramp and released the strap holding My Groovy Girl in place. She slid easily into Assateague Channel.  I stood in the boat with the dock line  and threw it successfully to my husband. He tied us securely until he parked the truck and trailer.

She rocked a bit as he stepped in, but her motor started right up and she took out to the open water with Bruce at the wheel. I leaned back against the seat cushion, tilted my head, face to the sun, and felt the cool salt water spray me as we motored across the channel. I stretched my legs, crossed my feet at the ankles and reveled in a brand new experience.

My Groovy Girl, she’s a keeper.



A Post Hurricane Update

September 3, 2011

I was called to help un-evacuate the elders from our sister facility in Hampton Roads on Sunday after hurricane Irene. Eight of us spent fourteen hours transporting, reassuring, feeding, assisting, and making comfortable thirty-one displaced and replaced elders. The trip gave me almost two days overtime, and permission for another trip to Chincoteague. Bruce was anxious to check on the dock.

We turned the corner, and with relief, found the dock, but not in the water. It had beached itself during the hurricane.

Bruce got out of the car, stepped up onto the 16×12 ft. structure, now perched on shore among the trees,  and he bounced around a bit. “Still in good shape,” he said.

“It’s on dry land,” I said. “We’re going to have to hire someone with a bulldozer to push it back into the water.”

He looked at me and laughed.  “Did you ever attend a sixth grade science class?” he asked me.

I’m sure I looked confused.

“Simple tools,” he stated. “Did you learn about wheels, levers, fulcrums, inclined planes?”

OK, those terms sounded familiar. Seems to me I studied drawings.

“Let’s find a tree limb,” he said.

There were plenty to choose from after Irene’s winds.  He picked up a long piece of pine, wedged it under the dock and pushed. That mammoth structure moved. I was amazed, stood with my mouth open. “You moved it,” I said.

“Yep, you going to just stand there, or help?” he asked.

I went and got the camera. I had to have a picture of my man with his tool.