Long ago, when my cabin was new, several of my fishing friends joined me for a weekend on Kinniconick. It was a rainy day on Saturday, and most of us quit early and sampled the gin. One persistent cuss finally got back and tromped into the cabin in his soggy rain suit and boots, sloshing mud and water on my Mom’s braided rugs and on the beautiful, waxed hemlock floor. I remember saying, “Mister, this isn’t a fish-camp. This is my home.”
Kinniconick has always been my home. When I was a baby it was home, and when I was just a kid it was home. It was my home when I built a cabin on its banks, and waded its riffles and canoed on its waters. I touched the trunks of a hundred big trees on its hillsides. I watched the mist lift in the morning and open to the sky on the ridge across the creek. I listened to the rapids and the night sounds, of whippoorwills and frogs, and breathed the mountain air.
People I loved made it their home. My Dad , my brother-in-law, an uncle, and several close friends worked on the cabin with me, my mother and my sister and her kids were there as we made it our home in the wilderness. Many good friends became a part of it, and all but a few are gone. I go home again whenever I remember them, I go back home to Kinniconick.
Who said, “You can’t go home again”? Home isn’t always the place where you reside. For a young man at sea his ship is a temporary home and the crew is family. Aboard a Destroyer for two years, I was teary-eyed when my hitch was up and I left the USS Parle for the last time, but going “home” from that pier in Key West was a journey to the house where my parents lived, and then home became an apartment in the city where I worked, and later it was another apartment nicer than the first, and on to houses and condos and even a farm. The only true “home” any of us treasures is the memory of a precious time and place.
In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”, Thomas Wolfe was rather cynical on this subject when he wrote:
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…..
back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame….
back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems
of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time…
back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
The journey described by Wolfe is a physical one rather than an emotional trip through the pictures in one’s mind and the ache in one’s heart. Wolfe seems to think that life is lived only in the present and all else is an escape. Long ago I resolved never to go back to Kinniconick in the physical sense because I preferred to remember it as I saw it for the last time. Now I can go home again whenever I dream about the place, awake or sleeping.
Those of you who have read earlier chapters suspect that I have glorified this stream in Kentucky, and perhaps that is true if you live in the present and know nothing of the past. When I left Kinniconick in 1977 it was mostly unchanged since I first visited there as a child in the early 1930s. The valley was inhabited exclusively by farm families. Four farms surrounded Shabo Mekaw and the closest was almost a half-mile away. In that 50 year period, the landscape was altered only by electrification and the paving of gravel roads.
Inevitably, late in the twentieth century change had to come to the secluded valley. Most farms became unprofitable and were divided; a new population built homes on the old farm property; big trees were cut, stands of timber were harvested, and then more erosion occurred upstream; deep holes began to fill and the creek’s character was altered. All of this change was avoidable. In about 1970 I met the junior senator from Kentucky, Marlow Cook. Senator Cook was familiar with Kinniconick and knew many of the old families in and around Vanceburg. When I suggested that Kinney was more than qualified for Wild and Scenic River designation, he agreed, and for a time, I had high hopes the creek would be protected. I’ve always regretted the fact that I did nothing more to promote the idea.
One little corner of the world is named Shabo Mekaw. It is the sixty acre tract on upper Kinney where I built my cabin. It changed hands a couple of times after I sold the place, and it lived through some bad times. But then there came two people who saved it, and they will always be my friends. May Sharmon and Todd live long lives and continue to preserve our mountain home.
So Kinniconick is not the same place that I remember, but in the words of a poet “some things never change”. Here is another, more beautiful passage from Thomas Wolfe in “You Can’t Go Home Again”:
“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.
“The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air…..these things will never change.
“The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry….. these will always be the same.
“All things belonging to the earth will never change…the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth… all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth…these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.”
Photo by Sharmon Davidson