Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rutherford Trace

I can’t get it out of my head.

Every day I cross the path. And whether I go west or go east, the signs are there to remind me.

Most people, when hearing of the summer of 1776, think of the document signed in the city of brotherly love. I think of the irony. I think of Griffith Rutherford bringing 2500 men and war, havoc and death, to these mountains.

It’s not easy to remove that summer from the safe distance of history, to feel the fear, to smell the smoke and ash carried by the wind, to see the blood mingling with the waters of the Tuckasegee.

A few days ago, I passed through a valley north of Marion, where soldiers gathered for the expedition. I looked for those men, leaving their farms in the Carolina hills to fight a war on terror. Did they crave adventure? Did they have doubts?

And when the ones who returned, returned home, what stories did they tell their children and their grandchildren? What did they say about this place and the people who lived here?

It’s almost a dream. Maybe now, that’s all it is. Maybe that’s what life and death and war become, given time.

A couple of weeks before he was fired by tribal officials, the editor of The Cherokee One Feather newspaper reprinted Columbus Day, by the Cherokee poet and artist Jimmie Durham.

It begins:

In school I was taught the names
Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro and
A dozen other filthy murderers.

Filthy murderers? You wouldn’t want to take a chance on visitors to your casino reading this stuff, would you? Maybe not so good for business, if you believe poetry has any power. But let's get back to Columbus Day:

In school I learned of heroic discoveries
Made by liars and crooks.
The courage
Of millions of sweet and true people
Was not commemorated.

Let us then declare a holiday
For ourselves, and make a parade that begins
With Columbus' victims and continues
Even to our grandchildren who will be named
In their honor.

Because isn't it true that even the summer
Grass here in this land whispers those names,
And every creek has accepted the responsibility
Of singing those names?

And nothing can stop
The wind from howling those names around
The corners of the school.
Why else would the birds sing
So much sweeter here than in other lands?

So, I would suggest, the next time you join that endless parade along the Rutherford Trace, take a moment to listen. Despite the jubilant KA-CHING KA-CHING VR-ROOOMM VR-ROOOMM that proclaims a kind of victory, you can still hear the whispers, you can still hear the howls, you can still hear the sweet songs.

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