Smoky Mountains II: Cabin Fever

My mother shook me awake at 6:30 the next morning so that I could fulfill my vow to see the sunrise over the mountains, an epoch of my life I aptly rename Waiting for GoSun. Apparently, the sun does not come up over Tennessee until 7:37 in August—which I might have had a chance at knowing if my Local on the 8s actually projected the weather conditions of anywhere remotely in the vicinity of Gatlinburg—and no, Chattanooga is not close enough. [Neither is Atlanta. FYI: ‘Weather Channel: Dixie’ sucks ass.] I sat wrapped in a blanket on an Adirondack chair with my toes poking out to the wrinkling humidity for the better part of an hour, waiting for the sky to lighten. I made friends with a few spiders, shifted as quietly as I could so as not to disturb the stillness, and gradually watched people in the cabins below sluggishly turn lights on and make their morning noises… I forgot how nice it can be to be awake before the world is. As sobering as the unspoilt nature was, though, I'm not saying a cup of coffee wouldn't have been stellar.

Yeah, Folgers might’ve helped me out a little here.

The last of us got up around 9:30, which was later than we’d been able to sleep in for days (the extra rest, of course, weighed against the stiff legs and sore backs from the hike—leaving each of us no choice but take a shower, pull on shoes and pile into the car all whilst doing our best Wincing Robot). After a breakfast of (the best) pancakes (ever), we did a last sweep of the mountains via Cumberland Gap Road, stopping at little preserved farms and historical dwellings along the way. My little sister and I, with backgrounds in Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables, were absolutely loving the 1830’s farmhouses, springhouses, smithys and corncribs on each property, most notably the one below.

The two rooms in the house are connected by the covered walkway. The interior, floor to ceiling, is composed of wooden planks, wooden pegs couple the wooden hinges, the sparse furniture all of hewn wood; with the exception of the stone hearths, the entire house might have organically sprung from the ground. It must have been quite the adventure to live there, especially during the rainy season, especially squared during the snows. You know how they say “they don’t make them like they used to”? They meant people. Because no person living today would elect to live in this cabin year-round, unless it was for a documentary or some insanely large cash prize. I loved it—I would vacation in it, probably, even with all the onerous chores attached—but I couldn’t live there. It would be exhausting just to do the tasks necessary for everyday living, because I have been brought up with the latest modern conveniences (arguably read: sissified and lazy), and that sort of makes me fell like an effete wimp.

The last person to live on the property died around 1940, one “Nervy” Bales, whom I would give a king’s ransom to have a posthumous conversation with.

Minerva “Nervy” Bales

You can see just how much this woman is not an effete wimp—she’s practically a squaw. My sister, noting a resemblance between a stubborn, frank-spoken eighty-year-old woman and myself, insisted on the following photo. I won’t speculate as to the resemblance.

Beedoo “Cranky” Musclespasms

The various structures on the property were all useful, built for production and the needs of living; the lean-to was stacked with firewood, the henhouse and pig pen boasted both solid walls and hasty repairs. The smell of farm permeated the outside air, but every building (save the pig pen, natch) has the smell of damp pine, that smell of mildew and rot that results from building before wood protectants were invented. Wood was not meant for protecting any more than fat was cut off bacon, or shoes were worn to cross the shallows. The smell is what happens when nature patiently and impassively allows for human history.

Cadfael? Have you the herbs?

I believe this is the bakehouse; as much as I hate cooking, I wanted to leap the barricade and pestle me up some spices. I love food for the smell rather than the taste, which is probably why everything I cook is made slowly in an oven for maximum aroma, so I fell immediately in love with the cast iron stove and cookware in the corner of the shack. The gourds on the table were a welcome reminder that autumn is on its way, my favorite time of year, and I became hungry for pie, bread, and corn on the cob. The corncrib did little to assuage my cravings. I believe the only reason I didn’t demolish an entire Thanksgiving dinner that evening was the short visit to the pigs in the sty, which killed all hunger in lieu of a desire to bathe. Also, vegetarianism has been reinforced* (stinky they may be, but also wretchedly adorable).

The one good picture I took.

If you ever have a chance to tour these properties (I spent many a car trip to historical preservation sites—and I’m from Michigan, so they must be everywhere), I could not recommend it highly enough. I could cite the same anti-establishment diatribe about how simple life was then, and how we as a culture are now so spoiled with our cellphones and palm pilots and electronic gadgetry that we obviously don’t really need to survive… but that’s not why I love these places. I love them because history is so effing cool. Because I get off on things like PBS’ Colonial House. Because nothing sounds like more fun than dressing up in a hoop skirt, tailored blouse and tied bonnet, that I sewed myself on my own machine. Because I love the smell of cedar chests, tree mold, horse barns and musty library stacks. Because I’m a dork. Because I was raised by people who also love these things, love history, love the past, love to read.

If any of this sounds familiar, I might see you the next time I visit a location with an abundance of rusty sickles.

The view.

That’s all for Vacation ‘06; hopefully, next year will feature some celebrity names (like Eiffel or Ben).

* Except for chickens, because they taste good. What?


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