Posts Tagged ‘The Raven’

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.