Sunday, December 26, 2010

And still, we will be here.

Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; May 9, 1864
We were never nomads; our land was patented to Thomas Jones in 1719, and here we are still, and here we will be in 100 years, unless the forces that pull and push this land intercede and leave this farm fallow; this soil unseeded.

The latest and largest battle at the Wilderness has ended; we were miles away, but now witness the aftermath. Wagons and walkers pass each day, all on their way to somewhere away from the Wilderness. Our once thick forests of pine have been burned again, leaving charred stumps and hordes of burning, shrieking skulls.

But soon, they will be quiet, and soon, sprouts will lean against them for support, like seedlings in white ceramic pots, and once again, after this war to end all wars is over, the pines will grow and the skulls shall house the field mouse and the codling moth; and still, we will be here in 100 years; other young Jones boys running through the pines of the Wilderness. We were never nomads.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; Sunday, April 24, 1864

I am dead.

No, you are breathing; this is not a place to die and this is not the time.

That is all of the conversation that I remember as my brothers brought me home last month. Small bits and visions move through my memory, but the ride home was mostly wiped away. A MiniĆ© ball is made of soft lead and can inflect massive damage inside the body; to be hit by two and not die is seemingly impossible. I should be dead, but no bones or vitals were hit, so my brother sewed me up with horse hair and hope. The scars are ragged, but they are healing. Last week, Doctor McGuire took a look at me and said I will have limited movement due to the more worrisome wound, the larger gash behind my left shoulder, where I was thrown into that unyielding oak.

My father’s thoroughbred, Shortcake, is once again rested and ready. The 9th Virginia Cavalry is near the Orange Courthouse, so I must make myself ready to join my brothers in arms, my brothers of blood, and my brothers across the field of fire as we work out the final act in this drama. America could not have expected its founders to create a perfect union; we are still working out the design of this republic.

The pain of each wound pounds with the rhythm of my heartbeat, but that is merely an annoyance. The pain at the center of my heart, the hurt that takes my breath away is the sorrow of leaving Marianna once again. Poe’s raven watcher preferred that ancient Greek elixir, Nepenthe, the drug of forgetfulness, but Marianna is not Lenore; I shall never choose to forget.

Uncle James and Aunt Martha took Marianna to church this morning, leaving me to my own sanctuary, the mulberry tree. Here, beneath the refuge of her benevolent branches, I find myself simply sitting, breathing; watching the wonder of that quiet act, that profound power to breathe or feel another’s warm breath on your cheek. One should not have to visit death to become acquainted with life.

The world beyond the Wilderness is in various stages of chaos and calm, but right here I am in the center of the world. I can feel the whirlwind circling, but am not a part of it now. Tomorrow, I will tuck my scarf into my jacket, pull my slouch hat down to shield my eyes, and ride back into the gale.

The mighty armies could not kill me; the mighty oak could not kill me. Eventually, little by little, or all at once, this body will die, and that is just as it should be, but it will not kill me. I am the breath.

The house pictured above is the Wilderness Corner, Virginia homeplace of the Jones Family. In Federal Civil War era maps it is listed as the residence of the widow Jones, though she was not a widow; her husband, a blacksmith for the Confederate Army, was concealed behind a secret wall panel.

"Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore." from The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe 1845