Archived Mountain Voices

From the composition book…

Saturday morning … sitting alone at the kitchen table … nothing much going on … looking out the window … watching the bend in the creek and the bend in the path that leads up to the bend in the ridge I can’t see but know is there … opening my composition book to a blank space I scribble: “creeks-paths-ridges bend with natural grace.”

Composition books are therapeutic … especially those with inside back covers featuring the multiplication table and conversion tables for length, capacity and weight ... 9-by-7 is always tricky and I never did comprehend liters … my composition book is one of those manufactured by Mead Corporation in Dayton, Ohio … 100 sheets … 9 ¾ x 7 ½ in … wide ruled … the blackish-green and silver model (#09918) designed by Jackson Pollock (just kidding — but the cover does look like it was splatter painted) ... not a journal … not a diary … no dates … no themes … mostly illegible … the sort used by grade school kids … just right … I write (scribble) down whatever comes to mind … something I’ve read or might write about … anything that’s brief ... incomplete sentences & ampersands are encouraged …continuity is discouraged … pages should be decorated with mustard stains & beer bottle rings.   

Composition books are an appropriate venue in which to compose haiku … about which I am very conservative … any deviation from the traditional five-seven-five syllable format will be ridiculed ... here’s a “Mystery Haiku” for you … see if you can guess which critter this one is about:


frozen sky-tailed in the sun


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Take your time … the answer is at the end of the column ... meanwhile here’s maybe the best haiku ever written (on lower Lands Creek) … Daisy Ellison (my 11-year-old granddaughter, who also likes to scribble) & I co-authored it in about eight minutes … I wanted the middle line to read “high above the wind & the rain” but was overruled:

sunshine a-glitter

days & years a-spinning round

starlight a-twinkling

Billie Joe Shaver was just now singing on Outlaw Country (XM radio): “Gonna die with my boots on … gonna go out in style … when I get my wings I’m gonna fly away fly … gonna fly away singing” … or something like that …at the top of a blank page I wrote in my Lilliputian-sized scribble what came to mind:

Billie Joe … the 75-year old problem child

who is not unfamiliar with Texas jails …

claims he’s gonna die & then fly away.

Well now…that’s the good news …

‘cause if Billie Joe’s gonna fly away fly

there’s a good chance so can I.

It’s so nice supposing that

each ending is a new beginning

& that me & Billie Joe

are gonna sprout wings

& fly away singing.

That’s maybe the worst poem ever written (on lower Lands Creek) but it was a pleasant enough diversion from doing nothing ... Billie Joe can’t bitch … he’s in good company ... just above his poem is one of the finest short poems in any language ... it was written 1,600 or so years ago by T’ao Ch’ien:

I built this hut not far from others –

still, I don’t ever hear horse or wagon.

How? Solitude is here in the heart.

Seeking chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge

The southern hills rise quietly before me.

At sunset the mountain air is fine

& the birds always wing home in flocks.

In all this there is something –

but not in these words.

Random notes to myself scattered throughout: pale ales to try (100s) … books to read (Gilchrist’s “Life of William Blake”) … musicians to catch up with (Levon Helm) … words to look up (growler) … people to think about (so many) … can salamanders sing?      

For less than $2 you, too, can own a magic composition book … if it doesn’t save your life it will give you something to do of a Saturday morning when you’re all alone just looking out the kitchen window.

[The “sky-tailed” critter in the “Mystery  Haiku” is a skink.]

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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