For those of us who love history and historical things, change can seem anything but encouraging. I am not a fan of change – in fact, I downright dislike it. Yet in the same breath I will tell you that I love both Spring and Fall and both of these are seasons of change. One of my favorite, historic places has recently undergone a great, and seemingly devastating change.
Key Town, which you have read about many times in my writings, has fallen to the logger’s saw. It’s not the first time trees were harvested from this little patch of land, and no doubt it will again produce a harvest of hard woods. And I do enjoy the products of logging, everything from Kleenex to photographs and for Pete’s sake, I’m a writer and I do want my books printed on actual paper. Still, it’s hard to look at the land stripped bare in places, at the old roads obliterated by a skidder’s tracks and rutted by heavily loaded trucks without feeling a pang of heartbreak.
I try to avoid places like that because I know it will just hurt my feelings to see it. And then I listen to the rustle of drying leaves blowing in a gentle autumn breeze and the smile it brings to my face reminds me that all change is not bad. In fact, even negative changes make way for something good.
I recently had the opportunity to revisit Key Town. It isn’t as it was in my childhood – and in those years, it was not as it had been in my grandmother’s youth. Thinking about the changes this place has seen turned my thoughts to change in general.
My current writing project is inspired by a woman who lived eighty-nine years, passing away in 1959. She was born just four years after the end of The Civil War (her father was a veteran of that war) and she lived through both world wars (she saw her grandson march off to WWII) as well as the Korean Conflict. Her life began by candlelight and ended with not only electric bulbs but radio, television and the harnessing of nuclear power. Do you think this woman knew about change?
She would have known Key Town very well and I wonder how she would feel walking along the loggers’ roads. I imagine she would mourn the loss of the homes where friends had lived and the memories that were created there. She would think of the families and the hardships and the joys they experienced. And probably, she would rejoice that the timber was harvested rather than wasted. I believe she would embrace much of the change that has taken place not just in tiny Key Town, but across the whole Cumberland Plateau.
As I slowly walked my horse along the new paths in Key Town, I couldn’t help but reflect on the changes that must have taken place here over the years. You will recall the story a few weeks ago about the Indian paintings at Bridge Rock. Those first Americans walked across the mountain leaving only a few arrow heads and paintings to mark the way for those to come behind them. Then, European settlers began to infiltrate Appalachia first with the long hunters then families hacking out tiny homesteads. When the homes of Key Town were built – the homes that my grandparents remembered – the land would have already witnessed many changes. Then, when the roadways passed the little community by and the last homes were abandoned, the forest began to reclaim it. Trees grew, along with blackberry briars and weeds which made passage increasingly difficult. By the time I was out of high school, a thicket of pines had so filled one of the little fields that I could no longer comfortably get my horse through them. Now, in this latest phase of changes, the removal of so many trees allows easy movement through the whole area.
My generation has seen a lot of progress as the computer industry has reached into and affected every aspect of our lives. But those changes pale in comparison to what was seen in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They saw their lives radically changed, but in ways that we now take for granted to a degree that we would be hard pressed to live without them. I know that lots of the innovations of the industrial revolution were initially scoffed at and rejected. But inventors persevered, just as the loggers persevered through hot weather, mud and broken equipment to see the mature trees hauled out of Key Town.
Even as I continue to resist many changes – razing of historic buildings or submerging farms and cemeteries to ensure flood control of other lands – I realize how much I enjoy the roads that now run through what used to be historic neighborhoods and the power generated by hydro-electric plants. In a similar fashion, the bright red of dogwood leaves and golden yellow on maples which I am enjoying today will quickly give way to barren limbs and the stark greys of winter. But only by facing that bleak landscape do we catch a glimpse of glittering snowflakes, evergreens contrasting against a blanket of snow and finally crocuses peeking through brown leaves and melting ice.
This new look at progress and change cannot dull the pain of lost pieces of history. Still I have my memories – and along with a number of other folks, I am striving to preserve those memories and stories and to share them with you. It makes me feel that the most beautiful things we have from yesterday are the stories that we tell today. I am so thankful for the family and neighbors who have told the old stories again and again until they are written in my heart. It’s that wealth of tales which allows me to create the fictional characters in historical novels who will remind us of so many who went before, and it is my hope that those characters will reach out to readers for years to come and reveal to them the beauty of our home and our heritage on the mountain.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28