Stories from the land (of Oz)

The Yellow Brick Road

The Yellow Brick Road and beyond

When I first learned about an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in the mountains, I couldn’t resist. At the time, I was taking a creative nonfiction class and had essays to write, so I planned my adventure with an eventual essay in mind.

 

Afterwards, sitting at my desk, I sifted through my notes, photos, memories, and thoughts about the experience and drafted a mess to be workshopped by my peers in class. With feedback and advice in hand, I let the work stew for a while until I had some clarity regarding sequencing and organization.

View from the peak

View from the peak

Eventually, I knew exactly what to do: Rather than organizing the essay around me and my adventure there, I needed to organize the essay around the land and the stories it held. From there, reworking the narrative was simple. After sending it out to a few places I had success in October. (Yay!)

So what did I learn? Listen. Write. Share. Allow the story to unfurl. Write some more. Persist.

You can read the essay in the 2015 New Southerner Literary Edition.

 

Balloon frame

Balloon frame

Local Quaker lands and stories

I’ve recently joined a walking group that meets on Wednesdays. We crossed paths on a September morning on the Palmetto Trail and struck up a conversation that led us to discover common friends and a shared interest in nature. Each week this group explores a different place, and one Wednesday in October we explored the New Garden Friends Meeting Cemetery and the woods over at Guilford College. Max Carter, whose mind is an encyclopedia of Quaker history, led the way. He wore his trademark sandals despite the weather, and we spent two fascinating hours under the wide open Quaker-gray sky that dripped rain off and on.

The familiar way he hopped around the cemetery from grave to grave showed his deep connection to the people whose lives played out on the same soil we walked on. We heard stories about Quaker families from Nantucket (such as the Starbuck family) and from other parts of North Carolina, families that moved south from Philadelphia then back north to Indiana to distance themselves from slavery. Non-Quakers, soldiers from both sides of major wars, mass graves, the Revolutionary oak tree, the cornerstones from the tiny schoolhouse—this cemetery offers a wide-angle lens on the long history of social justice advocated by Quakers.

Just across the street from New Garden Friends Meeting is Guilford College, once known as the New Garden Boarding School. The area was settled in the 17th century by Quakers who, according to Max, took care not to settle on land already being used by native people. The 300+ acres of old-growth forest have been a refuge for centuries, home to a variety of plants and animals that are mostly undisturbed. In centuries past, the woods were a safe haven for black people escaping slavery. Local women hung baskets of food from trees for them, and the Underground Railroad led them north to freedom.

Follow the paths through the woods and you’ll find yourself at what locals call the Underground Railroad tree, a tulip poplar with a five-foot girth, estimated to be hundreds of years old. (Here are directions to find the tree yourself.) This is the place where we ended our tour, soaked from the rain, drenched in local history, standing in awe at the power and persistence of this old tree and surrounding forest.

UGRRtree

We followed Max out of the forest and packed into our car. On the way back up to the main section of campus, I caught a glimpse of a white animal off to the side of the road, just in the woods.

My first thought was that its ears were from a deer, but the white, it was maybe a goat? “I just saw something odd …”

“What’d you see?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a goat? I don’t know, it was white, I wonder if it was a deer?”

We backed up the car and looked: a young albino deer was grazing the hill to the side of the road. Flanked by siblings, it was shy but not scared. We must have watched that white deer for nearly five minutes, as it worked its way deeper into the woods. In many cultures, white deer are considered sacred, as harbingers of change and messengers from the divine. So, it felt entirely appropriate that we’d experience this magical ending to our morning, to feel steeped in the refuge offered by Quaker grounds.

albinodeer_MaryLuckhaus.jpg

photo credit: Mary Luckhaus

Due out in November: History Will be Kind: An Anthology of Historical Fiction

history-kind-sml-2My days of writing fiction feel like history, yet I’ve got a story floating around still. My short story “Into the Forest” has been included in The Copperfield Review‘s first anthology. Books are now available to order! And if you’re on Goodreads, go visit our page there.

This gorgeous cover was designed by Robin Ludwig–I love its warmth. Special thanks also to Meredith Allard, the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review and of this anthology.

“Into the Forest” is based on one of my husband’s ancestors. According to family legend, Mourning Medley was a Cherokee woman who, along with her children, was rounded up and taken to the holding pen at Fort Butler. That was one of the places where the United States soldiers took the captive Cherokee people to await the long journey that would later come to be fortbutlerfortbutler2known as the Trail of Tears.

She was later rescued from the staging area by a man named Samuel Medley, but no one has been able to discover any records to find out who he was or why he did it. I had so much fun looking and talking to family in other parts of the country, but we all reached a dead end.

Fort Butler is now a small park in Murphy, North Carolina.

A few years ago, I decided to find it. I asked around town to find the park, but few people there knew what I was looking for. Eventually I found some women outside at a yard sale who were able to point me in the right direction. The park is up on a hill overlooking the town and surrounded by littered woods and poverty. At some point, it seems that someone cared enough to create a monument and set aside this space, but the neglect left me feeling sad and angry. Has history been kind to the Cherokee people?