Published: Jun 13, 2007 11:28 AM
Modified: Jun 13, 2007 11:28 AM
What would have happened if Inman had lived?
If you saw the movie, Cold Mountain, or read Charles Fraziers book, you probably asked yourself this question.
Inman was the wounded Confederate soldier who left a military hospital in Raleigh, walked across the state to his mountain home and his beloved Ada, only to have his life cut short by a bullet from the local home guard.
Would Ada and Inman have married and lived happily ever after? Or would the hard mountain life of the late 19th century have pushed them into a life of family discord and abuse?
I thought about these questions recently as I read Cataloochee, a first novel by Wayne Caldwell. The new book is set in the areas around Big and Little Cataloochee Creeks in Haywood County, northwest of Asheville, in what is now Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It follows the lives of several mountain families during the time of the Civil War until they were pushed out of their homes in the late 1920s when their lands were acquired for the new park.
The story begins when the lead character, Ezra Banks, runs away from an abusive father to enlist in the Confederate Army.
Caldwells description of the beginning of the journey reminds me of Fraziers writing in Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons.
On a cold November Saturday just after his fourteenth birthday, Ezra saddled the horse, a gaunt, swaybacked strawberry roan, as his fathers drunken snores shook the back of the house. He tied his stuff-a piece of a shovel, a clasp knife, a wooden spoon, two shirts and a pair of overalls-in a bedroll back of the ratty saddle. His mother trudged to the barn to give him a pone of corn bread and a leather pouch his old man had hidden behind a hearthstone. He felt coins inside. Son, will I ever see you again?
Ezra keeps that leather pouch of coins, and it plays an important part at the end of the story. After serving in the Confederate Army, he becomes an ambitious and successful farmer, marries into a family with landholdings in Cataloochee, and starts his own family.
Ezras early successes are based on a tenacious spirit that borders on ruthlessness. When he renews an early addiction to alcohol, the ruthlessness is unleashed and ultimately leads to tragedy.
Would something similar have happened to Inman?
Maybe, but only Charles Frazier could say for sure.
Readers who enjoyed Fraziers books will almost certainly want to read Cataloochee.
Nobody would argue that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not one of North Carolinas (and Tennessees) greatest treasures.
Thousands and thousands of acres of wilderness have been preserved and protected from being overrun by those of us who would love to have a home in that lovely wilderness, thereby destroying the same wilderness. Instead of being turned into places for humans to live, the park will always be a place to visit and experience a little bit of the way things were before people took over.
This happy result is not the entire story. In Cataloochee, Wayne Caldwell writes about the pain and loss that were felt by families who had lived in the Cataloochee area for generations when they were forced to move to make room for the new park.
Unfortunately, progress for the majority is often accompanied by the sacrifice of others. When we remember thankfully the blessings of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and similar treasures, we should also say a prayer of thanks for the sacrifices that made them possible.
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