As I have a talk today plus must keep burnishing on A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, I'm posting a picture of the oldest known writing in the Appalachians in lieu of having to think about anything more than talk, scouring, and progeny--the items on today's list. When I was in high school in Cullowhee, my friends and I jaunted out to Caney Fork a few times and puzzled over the Archaic-period petroglyphs of Judaculla (or Jutaculla) rock. They have suffered from carousers and mountain cows and whimsies of weather, but when I saw them a year or so ago, they were as mysterious and fascinating as before. Evidently there may be more such petroglyphs buried close by, as there are recorded mentions of two other such rocks, now nowhere to be seen. Perhaps those are better off hidden in the earth where they can't be handled by teens or used as a scratching post by itchy Carolina cows.
The Cherokee had their own ways of explaining these strange signs that pre-dated their own time and thrust mystery into the landscape. The obsessed ethnographer and collector of Southern native lore, James Mooney, whose records I made use of in my two children's novels, The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove, wrote that the slant-eyed Judaculla or Tsul 'kalu was a giant living on the Tuckaseegee (I lived there for many years and never saw him.) A famous hunter and weather-worker, Tsul-ka-lu made the many-toed footprint on the rock when he jumped from his mountaintop and landed near the river. His stories are sometimes connected to Bigfoot legends, although what always strikes me is that his courtship tales are parallel to Psyche and Eros and various fairy tales in which a more-than-human lover appears only at night and vanishes after he is finally disclosed and fully seen, usually because his sweetheart's family members insist on the revelation. Alas, he proves to be a kind of monster, as the girl's mother must have feared.
And here's a poem I loved in those long-ago Judaculla-rock days... It says something about men, monsters, and the desire to make the beautiful. Oh, to be a "suitor of excellence!"
Slumber in peace tonight. The gull on his ledge
Dreams in the guts of himself the moon-plucked waves below,
And the sunfish leans on a stone, slept
By the lyric water,
Of deer make dulcet splashes, and to which
The ripped mouse, safe in the owl’s talon, cries
Concordance. Here there is no such harm
And no such darkness
Where, warped in window-glass, it sponsors now
The werewolf’s painful change. Turning his head away
On the sweaty bolster, he tries to remember
The mood of manhood,
Letting it happen, the fierce fur soft to his face,
Hearing with sharper ears the wind’s exciting minors,
The leaves’ panic, and the degradation
Of the heavy streams.
Far from thicket and pad-fall, suitors of excellence
Sigh and turn from their work to construe again the painful
Beauty of heaven, the lucid moon
And the risen hunter,
Making such dreams for men
As told will break their hearts as always, bringing
Monsters into the city, crows on the public statues,
Navies fed to the fish in the dark