I am an intruder among the woodsongs.

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A VG Serial: Jory Sherman’s Hills of Eden

Episode 37

There was a time when I had a cabin down in Cedar Creek, Missouri, a place where I went to write books, fish, and think about life. It was not far from our home in Forsyth, but it was another world, a place for solitude and reflection, with Bull Shoals Lake at the end of the dirt road that once led to Protem, an old cemetery where slaves were buried, some abandoned houses left behind when the dam was built in the thirties, farms gone to weed and high grass, places still full of memories should anyone care to look and listen.

I knew Cedar Creek was a special place and did not want to lose it even should I leave it. So, I often went off by myself and wrote down what I saw and felt. Over the years, there have been changes all over these Ozarks hills, and Cedar Creek is no different. Small changes, most of them, but changes that mark the heart. People I once knew have died or moved away; others have taken their places without knowing their predecessors.

But, the places of quiet and mystery still remain in Cedar Creek, in a lot of places in the Ozarks. Deep hollows, grand, sweeping ridges that run down to the lake from working farms, little glens and meadows, hidden springs, small, seasonal creeks that meander through ancient hills and flow into a lake that was once a mighty river, the White, and disappear in the high heat of summer.

One such day, when I was staying there in Cedar Creek, I took to the woods when the words wouldn’t come and cabin fever was upon me like a dark shroud. I wrote down my impressions of that morning when I returned, lighthearted and full of wonder and peace, the shroud lifted from my shoulders, my eyes clear as any Ozarks blue sky morning when the fish are biting and the deer bedded down in secret shade. This is what I did and saw on that long ago day down in Cedar Creek.

It’s as if I were doing it all again at this very moment. I am not living in the past. I am here, and all of it is happening at this very moment. See?

Just before dawn I go into the woods. It is dark and peaceful, like an empty church. My senses are alert, but not yet attuned to the apparent silence. My boots are noisy and the shapes of trees and brush are not yet defined. There are only large black swatches against the backdrop of night shadows. The world here is strange, at first, bleak and empty, alien. I am an intruder.

I find a place to sit, a place where I can be unobtrusive yet have a wide field of vision when the morning sun fills the woods with light. The best places to sit are usually downed trees, old stumps, a sloping bank under a high ridge, or a large, flat rock. Places where my human body will not be outlined in silhouette.

Here, in the hardwoods, well away from roads and houses, is the chosen spot, where the trees are buffers that soak up the sounds I left behind. Below this downed oak, several yards away, is a deer trail, and in the open glade, a place where squirrels can scamper, where the turkeys cross sometimes.

The transition between worlds takes several moments. This is a time to empty the brain of thoughts, to clear the ears of civilized sounds and let them fill with the first stirrings of woodland noises.

Sounds, like the light of dawn, move slowly, almost imperceptibly, on the still air. The woods creak like the floorboards of a house, as if someone was tiptoeing across a room. A twig snaps, either from a footfall or from a change in the temperature, leaves rustle on a branch somewhere, wings flap as an unseen bird flies through the trees.

As vision sharpens, so does the hearing. The trees take shape and the shadows of saplings turn a pale green. The light is cold and featureless at this hour, a pewter smear on the horizon. But the sounds in the woods increase and magnify. A squirrel chitters, a bird trills, and a whippoorwill, in another distant woods, gives a last throaty cry, a farewell to night as much as a welcome to the day.

Now, the woods come alive with sound. Sometimes the noise is almost deafening, at others, you have to listen hard to hear the creatures creep forth, move suspiciously over little pathways toward unknown destinations. But there is a kind of harmony to all of it, with different voices filtering into the main melody, joined by various other fugues until there is but one song made up of many others.

These are the woodsongs I came to hear: the zephyrs moving the tree branches, coursing through the fallen leaves, the barking of a squirrel, the yelp of a turkey, the far away hum of the spring waters splashing over flat stones, the mocking birds and the robins, the cawing crows, the trill of the meadowlark, and the whirring purr of a late-staying hummingbird zipping through the trees.

Insects boil out of the grasses, and a dog barks beyond the woods. A cow bawls somewhere, and a woodpecker screeches before it hammers a tattoo on a hickory trunk. Sounds of morning commerce in the hardwoods. Sounds of life that tell of the spirit that moves through all things.

Woodsongs.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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