(An Excerpt from TREK TO
: SEASONS OF STORIES)
several years a legend has sauntered around the rugged country of
the Greensprings in southern
all good legends, it grows as it sloshes through creeks and rivers,
traipses into canyons and wanders deep into the shadows of old growth
forests. Eventually the legend clambers up a steep ridge to the towering
height of a mountain peak. If the legend survives the climb, it finds a
mythic place in the landscape and in the hearts of people who call the
Greensprings their home.
legend tells of an old man who spends his winters in the abandoned fire
lookout on the summit of
. Like an
ancient character in a many-layered story, he is many images woven into
one ... the wise man on the mountain peak, the hermit in the forest
chapel, a monk in his cell studying texts, an elder with a vivid memory
of the old time stories and how things used to be, the old man who
abandoned the weight of the world to search in the wilderness for the
song of his heart....
story says that before he came to
, the man
traveled nearly every day of his life. As an anthropologist and
linguist, he was obsessed with saving native cultures -- myths,
languages, folklore, history, songs -- and he scribbled nearly every
word ever spoken to him. He filled notebook after notebook with
observations, insights and shreds of folklore and language. He stashed
hundreds of boxes of notes in "safe" places to be retrieved at
a later time when something might be done with the raw data. He put what
little money he earned into second-hand clothes, fuel for his rig and
into notebooks and pencils.
years went by, his obsession to collect cultures never slowed. He rarely
enjoyed his travels or noticed much of the world as it breezed by him.
There was too much to be done. Ancient civilizations were being lost,
and quickly. Those moments between native informants were shadowed with
the worries and troubled dreams of a riveted urgency. As years went by,
he forget where the notebooks had been stashed.
time he traveled to a new interview, he was certain that a dozen
informants were dying at that very moment -- perhaps the last speakers
of their native languages -- and he would never be able to record their
stories. They would be lost to the world forever. Once he had a friend
run over his legs with a car to keep him out of the army so he could
continue working. Another time he gave a dying informant morphine to
keep him alive a little longer, long enough to scribble another story
and a few more words from a dying language.
years went by. He grew old. His clothes wore thin. Even on the hottest
days he wore a threadbare jacket to hide his shirt that was split up the
back. His rig labored and chugged with each trip. He tried to keep up
the pace of his youth, but he was tired. The old man slowed down.
fall morning, as he sat exhausted, he looked away from his field notes
and noticed a mountain peak brushed white with a light dusting of new
snow. It was beautiful. The longer he gazed at the mountain the less
tired he felt. He put his field notes on the ground. His felt light,
unburdened. At that moment he replaced his obsession with a new horizon.
He let go of everyone else’s stories and began to think about his own.
stored his field notes in his memory, left behind his rig, and slowly
made his way to the summit of the mountain. He climbed the rickety steps
to the top of the old fire lookout and looked out upon the world. He
tossed away his mental debris and began to contemplate what was left of
his life ... his own place in the great story of the world.
winter neared, the old man gathered firewood, got the stove working,
carried in food and water, fuel for a lantern, and repaired the old cot
and heaped it with blankets. As snowdrifts closed the roads and trails,
he gazed upon the landscape where he had spent his life and everything
winter, during the storytelling season of long nights, his mind traveled
through every story he had ever heard. As though stories were as real as
the landscape, he put himself into each narrative and began to
experience each story as if he were there. As he traveled through
stories he traveled through seasons and watched the landscape evolve as
each story changed.
the spring, he walked down the mountain and discovered the relationship
between stories and walking ... the rhythm and pace of the story, the
measured feet of the poetry of the language, each step shuffling through
story and landscape, the silence between the words and between each
breath of the warm breeze. He spoke new versions of the stories as he
walked. The earth warmed, trees leafed out, spring sunlight pushed away
the shadows of winter. With each word of each story, with his own
presence as the storyteller, the old man recreated his world as spring
remakes winter with the warm-hearted telling of its arrival.
old man walked through shifting storyscapes of spring and summer and
into the fall. He never felt alone. His companions were stories and the
places where they continue to thrive. Before the first snow, he returned
another winter of contemplation and story making.
remembered that he had first come to the mountain with the Takelma elder
Gwishgwashan. It was a November day, ages ago. He was on one of his many
ethnographic field trips. But this time he returned not as a collector
of stories, but as a story himself.
became a legend. Perhaps someday he’ll become a myth. He soon forgot
those fixated field trips of his former life. He forgot his troubled
dreams and worries. He even forgot his name. What he remembers are the
stories which are the summit of his life. As he looks out from the
lookout, he opens his eyes wide and the landscape feels like home.
story says that he has few visitors. He is gone on his walks for most of
the year, and when snow closes the mountain roads, he is cut off from
the rest of the world. He is alone in his snowy lookout, spinning and
re-spinning tales, in the shadows of the long nights and in the warm
glow of lantern-light and firelight. Sometimes someone comes to visit
and finds the old man in his lookout. The old man tells one of his
stories and the visitor takes the story home where it is told again and
again. A few folks have come across the old man on his walks, and
likewise, they are each given a story to take home. The stories are not
lost after all.
This legend is about many
things and so it is destined for a long life. It has been written as it
has been told, season after season. The facts shift from version to
version but the truths of the legend never falter and remain unchanged
as the legend continues to grow. End