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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Childhood settings / Gone fishing

Ingledove has a review in the Spring 2005 issue of Berea College's Appalachian Heritage, a journal with a mandate to publicize and promote writing linked to Appalachia. This is the first time I've had a notice with the central purpose of clarifying the exact setting of a book of mine and of figuring out my relationship to the setting: "Set in the Bryson City, Hazel Creek, area of North Carolina, this is a fantasy tale centering on the creation of Fontana Lake. Although this youth novel deals with an alternative world and Fontana's answer to the Loch Ness, it actually illuminates the real history of the Cherokee and White people of the area. Marly Youmans grew up in Cullowhee and fished with her father on Fontana Lake. She is the author of The Curse of the Raven Mocker, which explores a similar setting and theme."

While the North Carolina mountains feature in a lot of my poems and short stories, I haven't written much about them in my longer fiction. Little Jordan has something of a mountain setting, with hills and streams and jewelweed, but the template for that setting was Tinker Creek and the outskirts of Roanoke (plus the Carolina coast). Much of Catherwood is set in a northern foothills landscape, and it was inspired by living in a Yankee section of the Appalachian spine. The Wolf Pit has a North Carolina circuit rider.

And how did they know that I had ever gone fishing with my father on Fontana?

My very favorite place to fish in childhood was False River Lake in Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana, where I caught an alligator snapping turtle and hauled its enormous head out of the water. I put that one in a story called "Compass of Dreams," published eons ago. The glitter on the water, the tree frogs, the ice-cold Dr. Pepper, the plums by the bamboo, the fishermen running to cut my line: I suppose I was five years old, or perhaps six.

False River is no longer that magical water I recall as a bright, fish-skinned thing: the Atchafalaya Basin Program and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers have launched an effort to restore the lake. Silt and run-off have meant a loss of richness and the dying off of many species.

I suppose it happens in every generation that the world changes until one no longer has any but a tenuous place in it. But it is sad to think of the joy I had there, lost, and the unclean waters.


  1. > I suppose it happens in every generation that the world changes until one no longer has any but a tenuous place in it.

    I was thinking of this just yesterday, at home for Thanksgiving, missing the houses and the people and the celebrations that are no more. I sat looking at a book of old images of my hometown, and was comforted, in a grey way, to remember that the landscape of my past was itself a strange and changed one to so many I thought were bound up in it with me.

    I'm sorry, too, for the loss of your clean waters.

  2. Trish,

    Yes, it often makes going home a melancholy thing--and the only place where those memories live is the place in time that we can't reach. Time is an Eden that locks us out. (Of course, there were snakes.)

    I lived in a number of places growing up, and so have attached my heart to several "lost" regions of the South. A funny thing is that now I am in "exile," of sorts--living in our snowy village of Cooperstown--and yet the town itself has been so continually self-regarding from its foundation that even a stranger is constantly aware of old versions of Cooperstown and buildings, scenes, and people that have been lost. I think it's a bit odd to live in a tiny, self-chronicling place where even someone from far away is infected with the melancholy of the glory that was...

    I suppose it's a peculiar sort of Munchausen's syndrome--a borrowed nostalgia.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.