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Writing the Old Roads

It’s 2:27 AM and I just got home from a little cabin in the Tennessee mountains, where a logger taught me something about art and writing. We were there because we had a lot of work to do on a story, and we needed a secluded place to work. A place with no distractions. No cell service.

Our host grinned, hitched up his jeans and pointed across a 1,000 acre valley. “See that loggin’ road yonder? The one on the opposite ridge?” We peered into the distance and nodded. “I built that one.” He was a big, tough man with a kind face. It was clear that he took pride in his work, and joy, too. He asked us a little about our music and writing, then said, “What I do when I build roads isn’t that much different from what you do. I have to figure out how to get from here to there. I look at a place and imagine a road. Takes a fair bit of creativity.”

Well, that was about as fine an analogy as I could have asked for. And then it got better.

“You’d be amazed at what I find down there in the valley. You find ruins. Old houses and stone walls. Homeplaces that have been out there Lord knows how long. I don’t know what those people were doing so far out, or how they ended up there, but those fields at the bottom of the bowl were farmed once. And most of this forest’s already been logged. You can tell. And back then they did it with mules. So when I’m looking for the best route for my road, for the easiest way to get down the mountain, I just look for the old mule trails. Every single time, the mule trails are the best possible route.”

What does that tell you about stories? Songs? Art?


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