A journey into mystery

I would like to add a personal note to the current debate about the proposed “Road to Nowhere” in the Smokies (see “The Road Less Traveled,” March 8 Xpress).

I am a direct descendant of the families who once occupied the towns of Proctor and Hazel Creek. But my paternal grandparents, Pat and Elva Cable, and my great-grandfather Charles Crisp did not leave their beloved home because of the rising waters of Fontana. They left much earlier, in 1926, when the word went out that Champion Paper was hiring. Like many residents of that area, my grandfather had worked for the Ritter Lumber Co. until the mountains were stripped of all their timber. Once the mountains were bare, Ritter Lumber shut down, and many people were desperate for employment. So when my “Papaw” Cable and my great-grandfather Crisp heard about the hiring opportunities in Canton, they moved their families to the small but growing town in search of financial security. Papaw Cable moved his family of four to Fiberville; he worked at Champion until his retirement, and nine of his 11 children followed suit.

But my grandparents never forgot the beautiful place where they were born and raised. Papaw took his children back to Hazel Creek many times — first by car, until the road to Proctor was covered by the rising waters of Fontana Lake; after that, they would go fishing at Fontana and continue to the home place. When he approached Hazel Creek, Papaw often became so emotional that he would break down and cry, remembering his precious childhood and loving parents, Matt and Cordelia Cable, who lie buried in the cemetery above Matt’s Branch.

And just as my Papaw endowed his children with the knowledge of his childhood home, so they too have passed along to the next generation the magic and wonder of the area known as Hazel Creek.

Each summer, my grandfather’s children and grandchildren, along with many other Hazel Creek descendants, meet at the Cable Cove boat slip, from where the National Park Service ferries the visiting families across the lake to the remote and beautiful Matt’s Branch. From the landing, we hike about a half-mile — much of it straight up — to reach the Cable cemetery (the Park Service also provides special transport for the elderly who cannot make the climb). When all of the pilgrims have arrived, flowers are laid on the graves. After that, one of the two or three ministers in the family who’ve made the trip delivers some special message and says a prayer. We end our visit to that special place by singing a hymn. Then, descending to the Matt’s Branch landing, we share a sort of “homecoming meal.” Slowly, the various family members board the ferry and cross the lake. Back in the present, we begin anticipating the next year, when we will once again undertake a sacred journey to our past.

But in fact, the hoops we have to go through to get there make this annual event extra special. The ferry ride alone is one of the highlights of the day. And the hike up to the lovely spot where many of our kin lie buried, followed by the return trip across the lake, make the whole experience something mystical and wonderful.

To imagine cutting a road into the natural splendor of Hazel Creek for the convenience of getting to those remote cemeteries by car is nothing short of repugnant to me. To envision a parking lot built at Matt’s Branch and a paved path cut into that hillside desecrates the spirit of our pilgrimage.

Going back to Hazel Creek is like going back in time; it’s a visit to an honored past. A convenient commercial road would destroy not only the area’s beauty but also its deeper significance.

In my mind, the “North Shore Road” already exists in the lengths that the Park Service goes to: the ferry, the personal attention given to the infirm and the elderly to ensure that they can make it to the gravesites, and the cemetery upkeep.

Together, these things say to me that what we have right now is truly the right kind of road for this purpose. It is indeed the road less traveled, which we all know is the most beautiful and spiritual kind of road to make a journey on.

[Artist Dianne Cable lives and has her studio in Madison County’s Spring Creek community. She teaches in the art department at UNCA.]

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