When I first moved to Highland County, my principal suggested that I learn where all of my students lived. He wanted me to understand some of the remote and rugged places that they called home. So, I hopped in my car and started looking for their houses, but I couldn’t find them. One set of directions said to go three miles up Straight Creek until I reached the Forks of the Water. Then I should turn left on the Blue Grass Road and follow it until I reached the road to Laurel Fork. Seemed simple enough, but although all of the roads in the county had names, none of them sported a road sign. The locals and old timers knew which road was Possum Trot and which one was Seldom Seen, but county maps only listed roads by route numbers. When I finally mastered most of the place names and the people attached to them, I felt like I was officially a member of the community. Then, the government required us to post street signs on all the roads so the rescue squads and firemen could come to our rescue, even though they already knew where we lived. Even my quarter mile driveway was marked by a brown sign. And of course there were arguments as folks tried to determine if the street signs should read “hollow”-(definition--empty space), or “holler” (definition--friendly yell.) Hollow won out over the more poetic local vernacular. Many of the place names were changed or replaced.
Last weekend I attended a happy reunion on the tree lined shores of Camp Hanover. Several of us climbed into a tree house high over the tannic brown lake and recalled the language of the magical summers we spent there. We talked of Mystery Lake, the P-fer Teepee, Vesper Dell, the monkey bridge, the Trading Post, the sawdust pile, the snake pit and Fairy Land. We remembered drinking bug juice, initiating the innocents into the Honey Bee Society, listening to John tell stories about “Our Elephant,” and “Old Roanie,” going on dry runs across the lake and kneeling reverently to light a fire. The words were enough to carry us, if only for a moment, back to the firefly nights of sleeping in hogans, making s’mores, and gathering on rainy nights in the Kirkwoods.
But, like the road names in Highland, some of our words have been lost or replaced by a new vernacular which will resonate in the same way in thirty or so years for another bunch of old friends who, like us, will come back to hike the lake and speak the words that evoke such rich memories. And like me, they will be fed.
Evening has come. The board is spread. Thanks be to God who gives us bread. Praise God for bread.