While nestled in the womb of the Appalachians directly at the foot of Hogback Mountain, I found the place where light and darkness are one. Without warning, I slipped into it and it enveloped me in its perplexing blanket. Its shadows invited me inside and then allowed me fall hard into its depths. As a small fifteen year old girl, I didn't have the ability to keep walking though it to the end. And though I physically left Zirconia, North Carolina in July 1989, I remained in the shadows, intoxicated for the next ten years of my life.
The town was named for the zircon mines which sustained the small community decades before I was there. Zircons were used as a source for the incandescent light and Thomas Edison himself visited this previously thriving mining town more than once. This place was a paradise and when I think of what my heaven looks like, I can only visualize it as my view from the Mess Hall front porch overlooking the lake and the hills. My heaven is bedecked with Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Crow’s Feet, Sassafras, Devil’s Walking Stick, and hundreds of towering Hickory, Cherry, Hemlock, and Pine Trees. The trees are so close together they seemed more like one rolling green swath of fabric being shaken out by some immortal goddess on top of the mountain. The waves of the fabric swept across my view with every whisper of wind.
The Green River meanders through my Great Reward, babbling over slippery, moss covered rocks and fallen trees rotting into new life. My heaven has fields of daisies and clover, bumble bees, and ant hills. According to Professor Pratt’s Geological History of Western North Carolina, he says it is clear that all the rocks there are amongst the oldest geologic formations on earth. My paradise occupies land that is more ancient than that of the Euphrates, the Nile, or the Jordan River. Flintlock Camps was my Eden.
When I drive along the dirt road to my house, I always remember driving down the bumpy road to camp and the sound of the sparse gravel crunching beneath tires with anticipation of what was in store for me at the end. When it rains in the summer, I roll the windows down and I smell it. I taste it. It tastes like the color green. The melodies of the old camp songs rock my children back and forth until they are there too, in my Eden. To their ears, it is their mother’s voice, but in my head it is a three part harmony with fifty other girls. The loblolly pines and the kneesocked girls in pigtails are always just a spitting distance away from my real life even though I haven’t stood on that sacred ground in over twenty years.