Outdoors Columns

Up Moses Creek: I’ll Fly a Ways

Burt (left), Becky and Henry Kornegay stand with “Santa” during the Tuckasegee Trading Company’s annual hoedown. Marianna Coyle photo Burt (left), Becky and Henry Kornegay stand with “Santa” during the Tuckasegee Trading Company’s annual hoedown. Marianna Coyle photo

It takes something special to draw me out of Moses Creek — there’s so much here to see and do and write about.

But on Dec. 16, maybe sensing the long nights of winter closing in, I got in my son Henry’s pickup and, driving down to where the valley opens up at NC 107, we turned up the Tuckasegee River, passed Aunt Sallie’s granite monument on the right, and made a left into Tuckasegee Trading Company. It was the annual holiday hoedown hosted by storeowners Wanda Herren and Nikki Young, and we had to search for a parking spot. Becky was already there. 

The “venue” was the storeroom in back, where among 50-pound bags of feed and seed Darren Nicholson and two musician sidekicks, Kevin Sluder and Richard Foulk, were putting down toe-tapping licks. John Henry drove steel, sleigh bells jingled, and souls crossed over as the trio played ballads, carols, hymns and old-time tunes to a bluegrass beat.

Santa was there too, the greeter at the door, though the closer I looked, the more I thought I saw behind the mass of white facial hair the features of a distant cousin who lives in Sylva. Was that you, Tom Frazier?

Henry said another Santa once told him that Sylva kids ask for video games and Barbies, but that out Tuckasegee way it’s rifles and fishing rods. Before I could ask our Santa if he hears the same, he spied kids coming, and gave them a hoedown-worthy welcome: “Hoe, hoe, hoe!”  

Becky reminded me that when Henry was a toddler sitting awestruck on Santa’s lap, he managed to squeak out, “I … I … I want axe … and a BB-gun!” 

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The three of us sat on a pallet of dogfood bags. But not for long. The right tempo started, and Becky pulled me up to polka. Limbered up, and then hearing the band lay into Rocky Top, memories of my clogging days of yore swept me out onto the dance floor, where, breathing hard, I double-stepped to the top. Since it wasn’t Tennessee, I sang the chorus this way: “Rocky Top Tuckasee—.”  

Darren climbed too. He played banjo on the balls of his feet, and the faster the music went, the higher he rose on his toes.

I was walking back to our family pallet when I recognized one of the women dancing — and I bet she recognized me — although it’d been years. Call her “Alliseen.” 

The first time we met was on a summer afternoon, and I was in the pond below the house trying to roll my whitewater canoe. Whitewater canoes come with a stiff foam saddle, and, while straddling it, you hold on with your knees and jam the balls of your feet against foot pegs in back—because in rapids that boat is gonna buck. If you tip over, you roll the canoe back upright to avoid a long swim, like kayakers do. Rolling a canoe is hard, and I practiced in the pond.

The afternoon being hot, and Becky and I living in the middle of the woods, I simply stripped and got in the saddle. I didn’t know Alliseen and her friend were riding horses my way up our long wooded drive. They didn’t know about the pond — or roll practice.

I tipped the canoe over and, while upside down underwater, took a few seconds to make sure I was in the correct “set up” position and tight in the saddle. Then, with a hip snap, I rolled up. What a feeling of success! But then — blinking water out of my eyes — what a shock to see two women on horses staring down at me! A naked man had just rolled up in front of them in a canoe! Even the horses were rolling their eyes.

After a moment, Alliseen broke the silence, “Doesn’t this road go through?” 

I barely got out, “No, it stops at the house,” before she said, “Thank you!” and spurred her horse back down the drive, her friend close behind.

After the hoedown, Henry and I were driving home when he said, “There’s a bald eagle!” and pointed over the steering wheel. The bird was flying down the river flaring its white tail as if to say, “This way to Moses Creek.” We followed, and while keeping my eyes on the eagle, a song that Darren played came to mind, “I’ll Fly Away.” But for me the chorus went like this, “Before I die, hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly a ways.”

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