I hoe thawed ground with a vengeance. Winter has left my house empty of dried beans and meat. I am hungry and now that a few buds appear on the sycamore, I watch the road winding down this dark mountain not even the mule can climb without a struggle. Long daylight and nobody comes while my husband traps rabbits, chops firewood, or walks away into the thicket. Abandoned to hoot owls and copperheads, I begin to fear sickness. I wait for pneumonia and lockjaw. Each month I brew squaw tea for pain. In the stream where I scrub my own blood from rags, I see all things flow down from me into the valley. Once I climbed the ridge to the place where the sky comes. Beyond me the mountains continued like God. Is there no place to hide from His silence? A woman must work else she thinks too much. I hoe this earth until I think of nothing but the beans I will string, the sweet corn I will grind into meal. We must eat. I will learn to be grateful for whatever comes to me.
Kathryn Stripling Byer
Mountain Time [excerpt]
Up here in the mountains we know what extinct means. We've seen how our breath on a bitter night fades like a ghost from the window glass. We know the wolf's gone. The panther. We've heard the old stories run down, stutter out into silence. Who knows where we're heading? All roads seem to lead to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs we can't plumb. It's time to be brought up short now with the tale-tellers' Listen: There once lived a woman named Delphia who walked through these hills teaching children to read. She was known as a quilter whose hand never wearied, a mother who raised up two daughters to pass on her words like a strong chain of stitches. Imagine her sitting among us, her quick thimble moving along these lines as if to hear every word striking true as the stab of her needle through calico. While prophets discourse about endings, don't you think she'd tell us the world as we know it keeps calling us back to beginnings? This labor to make our words matter is what any good quilter teaches. A stitch in time, let's say. A blind stitch that clings to the edges of what's left, the ripped scraps and remnants, whatever won't stop taking shape even though the whole crazy quilt's falling to pieces.