Those mountains were something else... Sharp dark stone and earth covered with truly ancient forests of trees that probably remembered times before men, or at least heard of such times from immediate relatives. Thousands of crystalline creeks whispered their way through those ancient trees. At the time, Billy and I had no idea that those lands were part of the ancestral Cherokee lands, where the ancestors of the tribe had once lived before the arrival of the white men. It was the elder Blackhair (whose hair, ironically, had been completely white for as long as anyone could remember) who taught us about the history of his people and the land that nurtured them.
He would sometimes accompany us into the mountains and tell us stories of the distant past or of recent times. It was always a special treat when he came with us. And on such occasions, we would choose a nice clearing secluded by trees with a creek nearby to set up camp. We would invariably leave him the honor of first lighting the camp fire. It was a tradition. He'd wink and say in that incredible deep gravelly accented voice of his "I think it's time for the ancient Indian magic for lighting fires." He would wave his hands mystically over the prepared wood and tinder and suddenly... pull his zippo from his pants pocket and light the tinder to our delight. This never failed to make us laugh and the joke never got old, even now just thinking about it makes me grin.
On one such a night, the magically lit fire burned merry and bright and the winking stars peeked through our roof of leaves; instead of telling us an ancient legend as was his wont, Elder Blackhair told us the long sad tale of the Cherokees. This is what he told us that night...
Cheating... This is a picture I took in California recently.