|A recent snowfall in Traveler's Joy. Mt. Whitman* rises in the background.|
It seems as if snow falls every winter in Traveler’s Joy*. It rarely lasts, but it’s magical when it does, because the town, which normally presents a bleak face to the world in January and February, is transformed into an enchanting vision of snowy meadows and frosted eaves, silent bowers and hushed porches.
Even the wrecked cars crowded on the junkyards' plains glitter in frozen waves of Chevrolets and Fords, and the trash-strewn yard around the trailer on Tomahawk Road*, the one where two goats on tethers appear to be systematically devouring the ancient siding, is cleanly blanketed in white, the goats having retreated somewhere warmer. (Into the trailer, perhaps?)
At this time of year I look forward to being reacquainted with the sloping spine of Mt. Whitman* on our north-western horizon. This is an optical illusion of sorts, considering that the entire town of Traveler’s Joy nestles into one side of the mountain and is perched above a vast plain that spreads out to the south and west, ending, on clear days, at the distant blue spine of the Smoky Mountains. In summer, Mt. Whitman, like the raised bed of the Norfolk Southern track that bisects the town, is hidden behind a dense green wood that marches to the summit. As the cold sharpens and the leaves of the oaks and pecans peel away, a morning finally comes when the mountain’s shape emerges, glowing, against the rising sun. From our vantage point it is actually two peaks, with a sway-backed valley between. The eastern-most peak slopes gradually down to the squared-off brick sanctuary of the AME Zion church that caps the end of Limestone Street* and overlooks swampy little Doolittle Creek. (With snow on its roof, this church closely resembles a red velvet cake.)
Our summers are as blistering as one expects them to be in South Carolina, but whenever I drive home after a sweaty day at work on the plain below, I am met with the slightest cooling as I climb 900 feet above sea level to the shear-zone formation of metavolcanic rocks interlayered with marble, quartzite, hornblende gneiss and amphibolite in which my home is cradled. This geologic terrane is the remnant of an uplift dating from the Neoproterozoic era, roughly 1,000 to 541 million years ago. At that time the only animals were frond-like organisms, the super-continent Rodinia had not yet broken up, and the planet was gripped by ice ages so severe that any aliens landing at the equator would have surmised that Earth was a giant snowball. I sometimes wonder if that geologic memory stirs the cool breeze from the west that relieves the torrid days of August and September. It's not hard to imagine pre-Paleozoic times when the wind is hurling snow and ice against the windows, and the finches huddle in their snug house on the porch. On the mountain it is winter.