I have been thinking a lot, lately, about the mountains where I grew up. The Appalachians start in Canada and stretch all the way down into the deep south. If you look at a map, you'll see that they encompass almost my entire state.
For most of my childhood the mountains were sources of endless stories, mythical creatures and Indian legends. A lot of these tales I heard from my father who has spent his entire life in the area, knows tons of people from the more rural areas and knows just about every local story from countless hours of chatting over coffee on his business trips. When I was younger he'd take me hiking in the mountains where we'd pass old abandoned houses of settlers, iron furnaces in the middle of the forest, and he'd tell me stories of Indian princesses and massacres.
It's no surprise, then, knowing this, that The Blair Witch Project was positively the scariest thing I had ever seen... granted that most of the local lore from that movie resembled the stories from my childhood. I literally could not go to the bathroom alone after seeing that movie.
But really, the mountains of my home region represent this transitive space, fusing beauty and darkness, well-known trails and unknown spaces, home and mystery all at once.
Sing-songwriter Matt Bauer, a performer I saw a week or so ago at the (awful) Jolie Holland concert, really twang a chord in my heart. His music has that Appalachian sound, and it made sense to find that he grew up in Kentucky. Obviously, Pennsylvania doesn't have the reputation of being so back-home country as Kentucky, but really, in some of the rural places close to where I grew up, you'd be surprised.
Bauer composed an entire album inspired by the unsolved murder of an unidentified girl close to where he grew up. The Island Moved in the Storm sounds so much like home it makes my heart ache with homesickness.
These haunting songs remind me, in particular, of a ghost story my father tells. About a spirit of a young woman he saw running through the woods, one very early morning while sitting under a tree hunting, before sunrise. She was a gray figure that he saw plain as day floating through the trees before him.
My father also has talked about abandoned dogs which formed packs in the woods. People took them to the mountains and leave them there so that they wouldn't be able to find their ways home. (Think pre-SPCA days, we're talking the 70s.) He said many nights camping he would hear them howling in the night, and he'd leave food out for them, but they'd never dare come into his campsite.
I think so much of the spirit of the mountains is like that. Pieces of history and time that have been left behind. They still loom around me, even though I'm thousands of miles away. It's like I'll always walk about with that landscape wrapped around me.
A lot like my husband and his Andes. For our mountains are just "cerros" (hills) he says.
But for me and Matt Bauer, they are so much more.