Waterfall Magic

Are there any waterfalls in Dragonfly Prince? Yes, there are. That’s why we hiked to some waterfalls in the Cumberland Plateau area of Tennessee. We went to four of them in three days. The first was Laurel Falls, which is in the same area as the Stone Door I talked about last week. The falls were beautiful and very deceptive. When next to the water, it doesn’t seem like you’re really walking on a ledge.

Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls

On Sunday afternoon, when we visited the Old Stone Fort, we stepped off the beaten path and scrambled down the side of the rocky rise to enjoy the water. There were people fishing and a family sitting under a low waterfall, their t-shirts and shorts soaked through. They were grinning their heads off! We slipped and slid against the stream of water until we found a place we could climb back up, then we squish-squashed the rest of the way around the mounds, stopped to listen to Zeke play, got in our car, and raced back to shower before evening worship.

The falls on one side of Old Stone Fort. Trust me, they are behind those trees.
The falls on one side of Old Stone Fort. Trust me, they are behind those trees.

We visited two more waterfalls driving from Manchester to Tullahoma. One was Rutledge Falls, which is on residential property. The owners of the land allow sightseers to use a trail along their property to get to the falls. And they are the most beautiful, in my opinion. The water cascades down a picturesque series of box-like strata and envelopes the scattered, large rocks at the base. It was cool under the shade of the trees and blistering hot when standing on the rocks. I didn’t want to leave.

Rutledge Falls - my favorite
Rutledge Falls, my favorite

We were told about Machine Falls by a sister at the Red Hill Church of Christ, the congregation we worshiped with Sunday evening. We followed the path to the falls, but we couldn’t see it. So, we kept going, thinking the path would lead us closer. (We should have walked along the stream bed. The falls were just a few yards away.) Instead, we huffed and puffed up a climbing, zigzagging trail about a foot and a half wide, the edge of which dropped off steeply. The other three waterfalls were easy to get to. With those, there had been rocks and stairs to climb; it was energizing. This one was exhausting.

The path took us above the falls and beside it. We climbed down a narrow rut of a path and walked under a rock outcrop to find we could step right into the falls midlevel. And we just that.

Machine Falls - This is the upper half.
Machine Falls – This is the upper half.

While we were there, a family with two little ones came around the stream (which is how I learned that was the real way to walk to the falls :P). The kids climbed up the side of the falls with their dad, and he took a bag of peanut M&Ms from his pocket and gave a handful to each of them.

“That’s a good idea!” I said. “Waterfalls and M&Ms. They’ll have good memories.”

Grinning, he replied, “We always find M&Ms at the waterfall. It’s what keeps them going…and sugars them up for the way back.”

“Smart,” I said, nodding. “Kind of like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

“Only M&Ms are better,” he added, laughing.

Later, Realm asked me if I wished we’d brought the kids with us.

“I thought about it,” I told him, “but no.” I didn’t want to hear,

“How much farther?”

“Can I play video games if I go?”

or,

“Will you carry me? I can’t walk anymore.”

After seeing our pictures, they’ve decided they want to see some waterfalls, too. Maybe I’ll bring M&Ms to make the trek magical for them. For me, the waterfalls were magical. Blissful. Peaceful. I found myself humming, “Whispering Hope”* under the spell of the whispering falls as we followed the paths to see them. And I often thought of my Heavenly Creator, who formed such beautiful visions…and promises there’s more where that came from!

*If you’d like to hear “Whispering Hope,” try this.

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Stone Doors, Forts, and Flutes

On the Beersheba Springs side of Savage Gulf, there is a huge gap in the ridge of the Cumberland Plateau known as Stone Door. Before they were called Native Americans :), the Indians carved out steps through this breach. It is quite impressive.

I read somewhere—and I can’t find it now—that the Indians who crossed the Stone Door used it as a migratory route every year. This is what piqued my interest. For two years, I searched online for pictures of this Stone Door. I couldn’t find any that comprehensively depicted it, and now I know why. The gap is just twisty enough that you can’t get it all in one shot.

Stone Door at Savage Gulf
Stone Door at Savage Gulf

There are pictures of the gap from the sky. There are pictures at the entrance of the Stone Door and at the bottom. But seeing the whole thing is something you can’t experience through a photo.

Obviously, there are many things you can’t experience about this place from looking at a photo. There’s a cave-like coolness between the walls of stone, only you’re in an open corridor with rock on both sides of you reaching high, high above. There are places where the steps take you beside a flat slab of stone where you can rest; and, if you’re lucky like me, you’ll find a few friendly creepy crawlies that have come to rest there, too.

That ledge under my hand is Creepy-Crawly Central.
That ledge under my hand is Creepy-Crawly Central.

Miles southwest of Beersheba Springs is a place called Old Stone Fort, where the Indians created mounds that surround a 50-acre plot of land situated in the fork of two rivers. It was an excellent place in terms of defense, but there isn’t any evidence that it was used that way. At the opening, the mounds are narrowed and parallel, so that the sun’s position could be utilized at sunrise during the summer solstice. We hiked the one-and-a-quarter-mile diameter of the mounds; and when we came back to the entrance, Zeke from the museum was giving a small talk about some of the pastimes of the Indians. I wasn’t really interested, and would’ve walked on, but he picked up something that looked like a wooden recorder and began to play.

“Oh, let’s listen!” I said, and we walked over. That’s when I recorded this:

After he finished playing, he told a story of a young Indian warrior who excelled in the hunt. He liked a girl in the camp, but she never seemed to notice him. For her, he learned to run the fastest, outrunning all the other warriors. No one could outshine him. But she was not impressed. He was heartbroken and went to the stream to soothe his sorrows with the music of the waters. While he sat there, he heard a strange and beautiful melody he had never heard before. He listened and searched, and, finally, he found the source of the music. The sticks of cane growing in the water had been broken, and the birds had pecked holes along them to get to the bugs that were living inside the wooden tubes. The wind was blowing through their hollow centers, creating the notes he’d been hearing! He learned to make his own flute from the cane and practiced for many days. One morning, he sat outside the girl’s tent and played a song for her. She came out of her tent, for she was impressed. And that was how she came to love him, and how we got the flute!

I just love legends like that! Don’t you?

So, what do stone doors, Indian mounds, and legends have to do with my book? Sorry; that would be giving away too much.

Character Research: Rekindling My Memories

One piece of research for writing the sequel for Dragonfly Prince involves a character who doesn’t actually appear in the book, yet her influence is part of the story. She is based on my great-grandmother, who lived to the glorious age of 98. My great-grandmother was a fascinating woman. There were aspects of her personality that, to this day, I’ve never been able to reconcile. She was a variety of eccentricities with a heart of gold.

On Sunday morning, Realm and I worshiped with members of the Lord’s church in the building my great-grandmother took us to when I visited as a kid. The congregation happened to be having their homecoming, celebrating 123 years. There was another visitor there who said he hadn’t been back in sixty years. He talked about some of the things he remembered as a boy living there. He knew my great-grandfather—well, step great-grandfather.

Listening to him sparked my own memories. I remember arriving at Gaga’s (that’s what we called her–no, not Lady Gaga) at night when I was little. She came out of the house to meet us—she loved people, especially her own flesh and blood. She had a wrinkly, round face framed by a filmy scarf. Beneath the scarf was a head full of curlers. She wore a duster and tiny little slippers. Everything was tiny about her except her eyes and her personality.

turning down memory lane
Turning down the road to Gaga’s house.

The house she lived in she kept like a museum. You see, her second husband had been married before to a woman named Lucy, who died three days before I was born. When Gaga remarried, she came to live in “Lucy’s house.”

I remember entering the house as a kid. It was like going back in time. In the corner of the sitting room was one of those big televisions you see on black and white films—you know, the ones they would depict a smiling family sitting in front of. There were long, plastic mats laid out anywhere there was carpet. It was Lucy’s carpet. Even as a child, I knew to stay on the walkways. I remember losing my balance and stepping on the carpet by accident. Fortunately, Gaga didn’t see it.

down memory lane
The road to Gaga’s house.

I loved going upstairs. There were two big rooms with dormer windows that jutted out of the roof. They let in all the light. Between the two bedrooms was a hall with a big walk-in closet. I could not imagine what that closet was any good for. It had no shelves. It was completely bare except for a big vase-looking thing that Gaga always reminded us was “the slop jar.” I had no idea what that meant, but I would comment that I wished that closet had been a bathroom. It was the perfect size. 🙂 And that way I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs and across the house to the only toilet—which happened to be in front of Gaga’s bedroom, where she was sure to hear you, grab your arm, and start talking before you ever reached the bathroom door.

Gaga could talk. She had a way of saying things like they were well-kept secrets that she was letting you in on. But what she said often didn’t make any sense! It made sense to her; and if you took the time to listen, she would explain what she meant. Then her eyes would twinkle, she’d purse her lips in a special Gaga sort of way, and look at you as though she’d just told you the answer to the most interesting question you hadn’t thought to ask.

gaga's house
Gaga’s house

Today, the house is falling apart, but my memories are still vivid. I can still hear Gaga’s slippered feet shuffling along the plastic. I can still see her wrapped head looking up at us from the bottom of the stairs. I can still feel her warm fingers clutching my arm because she has something to tell me. Something wonderful.

Doing The Research…Naturally

While Realm and I were in Manchester, Tennessee, we drove up to McMinnville to tour the Cumberland Caverns. I’ve toured three cave systems now, and I would like to tour more. Mammoth Caves is definitely on my list, but I was looking for something less commercialized. With that in mind, we drove to a place called Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. I looked it up online, and, at the time, the website mentioned there were caves open to the public. There aren’t that many caves that are open to the public anymore. Many cave mouths we’ve visited have all been fitted with big, steel teeth.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area was no easy place to find. The roads wrapped round and round and up and down, only to land us in front of a wooden sign with a bright yellow update tacked to it. The caves at Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area were closed. *grumble, grumble*

White-Nosed Bats “It’s those snot-nosed bats again,” remarked Realm as we stared at the sign, crestfallen.

I do feel sorry for the bats and the bacteria they’re being exposed to by people traipsing into their caves, but I don’t think blocking off the caves is really a solution for that. The bats in the commercial caves are free to visit and spread bacteria, right?

Our tour to nowhere ended up being a good thing, though. We found a surprise just down the road from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. (Yes, I love typing that name out. It’s a ridiculously long and unnatural name for a natural area.) “Natural Bridge,” announced the sign.

I’ve been to Natural Bridge near Stanton, Kentucky—which is huge. Sewanee Natural Bridge wasn’t big at all. It was super narrow. I noticed that right when I was crossing, at which point my peripheral vision had my brain doing a double take. My knees started knocking. I looked up.

“Can you believe it? I’m freaking over this little bridge!” I exclaimed to Realm, who was already across.

He looked back and said, “Keep your eyes on the step ahead.”

“I need blinders. I’m not even looking off the sides! My brain is just picking up the sidelines!”

“Focus on the next step,” he repeated.
Rilla and Sewanee NBThe area around the bridge is beautiful with lots of rocks to climb and mini-trails to explore. And the walk back across the bridge was much easier.

Now I could go into a long-winded application about how we writers can be distracted or intimidated by things that are just in our peripheral vision, but I won’t. I’d rather talk about how barring up the caves isn’t really about the bats. It’s about keeping zombies from hiding out in them when the Zombie Apocalypse comes. But that’s beside the point, as well.

The most natural question for this post is: Why am I so interested in visiting caves anyway?

The most natural answer is: My protagonist, Casey, with the help of the Dragonfly Prince, must travel through a range of caves to avoid a hunter. I’m interested in the details, like common cave structures and the relative wetness/dryness of different cave systems. It’s research. Naturally.

Welcome, June!

June 1st. Wow. I’ve entered mid-year feeling like summer is finally coming true…even if half the year is over. It’s so sunny and everything is blooming. It’s simply a gorgeous time to be alive.

I bought a strawberry plant at the store. It was marked down. Too bad I’m not a plant person. That will be obvious to those of you who live in the southern U.S. and know strawberry-picking was going on in April. We went to a patch in April, where they let us eat our fill of strawberries and pay for a toppling bucket of them. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten such sweet, fat strawberries. This doesn’t really explain why I bought a dying plant, though. I guess I just felt sorry for the poor little strawberries nobody wanted. I mean, strawberries are my friends. Save the strawberry plants!

strawberry bucket
This picture is not rotated for your viewing annoyance.

June means:

1. No school!! Can I say that again? No school!! Yippeeeeeee!

2. There is a very good possibility that I will be spending a whole week writing. I’m trying not to get too excited about it, but it is very difficult. Seriously, thinking about it renders me speechless. But, oh, can you imagine a whole week of quiet? I can’t. Can you imagine a whole week of writing? I’m trying really, really hard to imagine that.

3. The final chapters of Dragonfly Prince are going to be completed by the end of June. There. That’s my due date…set down…in writing. It is absolutely shameful that this is still dangling on the To Do list. Instead of working on it, I’ve been writing the sequel—which is coming along nicely, but still. Let me just admit it: This is the way writer’s block works for me. I will avoid completing any project right at the last stretch. I see the finish line and start running the other way. I will work on a different story. I will work on ten different stories, and then I will start a new story before I’ll finally grit my teeth and tackle the one that’s only a few pages from finis. It’s like my brain says, “Hey, plot bunnies, Rilla has writer’s block! Time to party!” The crux of it is fear about the unknown of what comes next. *sigh*

4. As I told you at the end of April, my baby sister is getting married. It’s 🙂 and it’s :(. I get to help serve the wedding cake. I didn’t ask her if this meant I actually get to cut the cake. If so, she must love me a great deal. Remember what I told you about me and knives? Add wedding cake to that picture… Yeah.

5. I want to tell you all about my trip researching aspects of Dfly Prince Book 2! Expect more about that next Wednesday.

6. Something I worked on in April might come to fruition this month. It is a script. I’ve written a few in the past few months, actually, and this one was a lot of fun. I’ll be excited to see where the actors go with it. I’ll tell you where to find it, if and when it’s online. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll just pretend I didn’t have a sixth point, shall we?

What are you up to this month?