Something spooky in the dark night bringing thoughts of death and demise? In this post we take a scary walk in the woods with William Least Heat-Moon while he looks for...wait for it...a grave! If you want to see where this creepy perambulation takes place, click on the map. And feel free to comment, suggest or otherwise add your thoughts to this and any post you read on this site. If you like it and want to share it, feel free to add our link to your own site or share us through your favorite social network.
"The smell in the pines was sweet, the spring peepers sang, and the trail over the first hill was easy. Whippoorwills ceaselessly cut sharp calls against the early dark, and a screech owl shivered the night. Then the trail disappeared in wiry brush. I began imagining flared nostrils and eyed, coiled things. Trying to step over whatever lay waiting, I took longer strides. Suddenly the woods went silent as if something had muffled it. I kept thinking about turning back, but the sense that the grave was just over the next hill drew me in deeper. Springs trickled to the lake and turned bosky coves to mud and filled the air with a rank, pungent odor. I had to walk around the water, then around the mud - three hundred yards to cross a twenty-foot inlet. Something heavy and running from me mashed off through the brush.
"When I was a boy, my mother would try to show the reality of danger by making up newspaper headlines that described the outcome of foolhardy activity. I could hear her: REMAINS OF LONE HIKER FOUND. She would give details from the story: "...only the canteen was not eaten."
Blue Highways: Part 2, Chapter 3
Franklinville, North Carolina
Walking through the woods as evening comes in brings up many memories for me. If you couple it with searching for a grave, well, is it any wonder that LHM started seeing and hearing things in the dark? While I touched on this a while back, when we were reading about LHM was driving through Tennessee, I would like to explore it some more.
The passage I quote above reminds me of walking in the woods both in my rural home in Northern California and at some property we use for a summer vacation place in a remote valley in the Coast Range about 35 miles from my house. When I was a teenager one of the main ways I could bond with my father, who otherwise was both an alcoholic AND a workaholic, was by going hunting with him. Our epic hunts often started about 3 or 4 a.m. and we walked sometimes 15 miles through the hills and mountains looking for a buck with 2 points or more. Our more sedate hunts often took place in the evenings where we would leave at 3 or 4 p.m. and stay closer to our cabin, arriving back anywhere between 7 and 9 p.m.
I often noticed the difference in the types of darkness that I experienced while on these hunts. The hunts in the early morning were much less creepy than those in the evening. I believe it was simply perception and perspective. In the early morning, the mind is set upon the coming of the new day. I noticed the sky getting lighter and lighter as we traversed miles. The darkness was more still, as if at 4 a.m. even the scary things had gone to sleep. There was almost a magical quality to the air and the light, and as morning came and my eyes slowly adjusted to the increasing light, it seemed like the world was being born anew. Even things that I saw at other times of the day seemed suffused with a wondrous newness.
In the evening, however, it could be downright scary. Again, I think perspective played a part. The light would slowly grow more dim, and as the sun set behind the mountains the shadows got thicker and the air seemed to crowd in closer. As the light faded, things that were non-threatening during the day suddenly became things to fear. Is that a bear standing by the side of the trail up ahead? No, it's a burned out stump that looked like a bear from a distance. Sounds magnified. The noise of the evening insects picked up, and would provide some comfort, until all of a sudden they would completely stop and you wondered whether it was you or something else passing that caused them to go silent. Distances seemed to lengthen, and a stretch of logging road or trail that seemed to pass by at an instant when we started our hunt seemed to take twice as long to traverse coming home. Sometimes, especially as I got older and went out more often alone, I often would finish my hunts almost at a run, taking solace that there were the railroad tracks and around the next bend was our cabin and a warm fire.
I suppose there were dangers. Mountain lions could be a menace, and an angry bear would also be a terrible thing to encounter. But I never encountered either while hunting. And I never worried about any dangers in the daytime when I was bird-dogging for my dad, high upon the hillside, tramping through the brush. But at night, beyond the comforting arc of light where darkness got thick, my fears lay out there waiting. That's all they were, - fears - but they felt real all the same. LHM added the additional spooky element of looking for a grave, and reading further along this passage, one finds that he relates a murder story involving a young woman accidentally beating her baby to death, and the bloody sheet left hanging on a tree. I'm sure he was thinking of ghosts and shades of ancestors past that roamed the dark woods. In any case, his words remind me that most of us share those fears of things in the dark in unfamiliar places.
If you want to know more about Franklinville
There isn't really much to give you. It's a small place.
Next up: Siler City, North Carolina