Cusp of the New Year

Well, here we sit on the brink of yet another new year, and the end of a decade.

2010. How do you say that? Is it “oh-ten” or “ought-ten?” “Twenty-ten?” Guess it doesn’t really matter, everybody’s going to know what you mean. I do wonder if they had this same discussion in 1909…

Wow, 1909. A century ago. In 1909, Robert Peary found the North Pole; the NAACP was formed; Taft was inaugurated President; the Lincoln penny was introduced; and the Army Air Corps was created as the Wright Brothers delivered the first military aircraft to the United States.

Just half a century ago, Alaska became a state; Castro took over Cuba; Barbie makes her debut; Hawaii becomes a state; “Bonanza” premieres on television; and Buddy Holly died.

So we’re approaching 2010, and who knows what’s in store for us?

I’ve got plans, of course. Most of them involve mountains and clear, fast streams. I don’t make new year resolutions, because the surest way for me to not accomplish something is to make a resolution. I do far better working haphazardly, as I always have.

This time of year usually gets me down. Holidays and all, and missing the old folks. The cold makes it worse, but I’m trying to stay upbeat and cheerful. We had a great Christmas dinner, my brother and his girlfriend and me and Suzie. Mom is at rehab therapy for a broken leg, and while her prognosis is good, she’s got a long way to go to become self-sufficient again.

It’s been an interesting year. I didn’t get a whole lot accomplished: Built a few fly rods, a couple bait casting rods, and worked a little on the house. I didn’t fish near as much as I wanted, but then, I never do. I learned to cast my fly rods much better, and after five years, it’s about time.

I spent a lot of time thinking on things. The world, my place in it. With each year that passes, a sense of displacement and unease gets stronger and more coercing. I don’t know why. There’s nothing really wrong with my life, it’s just dandy, but I can’t locate the cause of my discontent.

At the cusp of the new year, it’s good to remember where we came from, all the years strewn out over the road behind. What a long strange trip it’s been, as the Dead sang. Sometimes I think I’d like to publish a best-selling novel and rise to stardom and wealth.

Other times – most of the times, really – I think I’d like nothing better than to go to Hazel Creek in the Smoky Mountains and listen for the bagpipes that Harry Middleton heard there. He thought he saw the player once, but was never quite sure:

When I heard the bagpipes for the first time, I thought nothing of it, dismissed the music as some enchanting combination of wind and rushing water that produced a soothing litany of liquid notes up along the higher reaches of the creek where the valley narrowed and the creek moved through membrane-thin shadows…whoever filled the dawn with music kept it up until well after first light, fitting the morning with a cycle of haunting music, a humble painting of notes and harmonics: images of tone. Like the creek, both the musician and his music were ever changing, mixed cadences of tremor and the unlikely hurdy-gurdy sound of bagpipe jazz.

Make that a resolution of some kind: To go to Hazel Creek, and listen for the bagpipes. It’s a far more illustrious one than anything else I could concoct, like those wafer-thin promises we make ourselves and never keep: Lose weight. Stop smoking. Be nicer to so-and-so. I’d gladly go fat and happy, puffing a cigar and mean as the dickens, if I could go to Hazel Creek to listen for the bagpipes.

That’s mostly what I want to promise myself for ought-ten: Mountains and streams. And ought-eleven. And ought-twelve…

To get to Hazel Creek, you have to take a boat from the North Carolina side of the Appalachians across Lake Fontana. There are no roads leading to Hazel Creek, and that’s part of its charm. Or you could hike it, but it’s a grueling, long hike across Clingman’s Dome that I’m sure I’m not yet physically fit for, if I ever will be. But to go by boat, you have to put a great deal of faith into the boatman, that he’ll come back and get you.

For many decades before Harry, people talked of hearing voices on Hazel Creek. They say they never could really understand the words, but they were there. Harry heard the voices, and many who came after him heard the voices. Those old Appalachian trails, streams and woods are certainly full of such tales, be they real or imagined. Perhaps it’s the creek itself, speaking off its rocks and terraces and falls. Perhaps it’s the people who have loved it, who left a little piece of themselves along its mossy banks.

Regardless, I’d like to go, and will. To hear the bagpipes, and the voices.

There’s a resolution for a lifetime, not just a year!

4 comments to Cusp of the New Year

  • sneakypete

    Don’t wait too long! That’s high lonesome up there, and aging bones and muscles that aren’t well-tended won’t get the job done.
    We must discuss the territory again over appropriate condiments.
    Happy New Year to you and Suzie.

  • The door’s open any time, my friend. Maybe we could go to Hazel sometime…

  • blufloyd

    Wow bagpipes… I hear piano sometimes its loud sometimes not but always on the end of pendulum swing. It always finds me when fishing. I don’t think I’ll go looking for it.

  • Jimmy

    Happy New Year, Roger
    There is a public boat ramp just south of the Hazel Creek branch of Fontana at Cable Cove. About a hour of paddling in a canoe would get you to the mouth of Hazel Creek. I don’t do much fishing any more, but it is a paddle that I have been wanting to do. I might even be able to meet you there sometime with a couple of plywood boats. The pirogue that you saw once in Franklin and another canoe.

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