Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Lake Linville

Mary Owens

“Cut back on the drinking.” Dr. Bates flipped open the thick folder on his lap and scribbled in what looked like Arabic. “And stress,” he added.

“Cut back, right?” Just checking.

I can do that, I thought. I pushed open the heavy glass door and stepped out into a sweltering July afternoon. But one thing at a time. It’ll be stressful to stop drinking; better leave that one for last. I’d work on the stress first. I decided to take a drive down to Rockcastle County and explore Lake Linville, which I’d seen in my travel brochures. I got in the car, fired up the a/c, and switched the radio on.

“…with a heat index of 105 degrees, so stay indoors if you can.” I switched it off and pushed in a CD instead. The Eagles kept me company for the thirty-minute drive south through the rolling mountains of my new home in south-central Kentucky.

I found the lake, and it was gorgeous. Reminded me of Greenwood Lake in New York, not far from where I sold my home last year. With thick woods growing right up to the shore, the lake was enormous and beautiful. It twisted and wandered here and there like a series of lakes, rather than just one. I drove around it for a while enjoying the view and the empty road, then finally decided to pull over to sit in the shade and contemplate. A little dirt path snaked down off the road and had a sprawling tree with plenty of deep shade just beside the water. The entrance looked very steep, so I passed it by, then happily found another way in.

I reclined the car seat and sat there by the water for more than an hour, writing and thinking. It was lovely to sit and watch the ripples moving toward me when the catfish jumped, and feel the cool breeze blowing through the car windows. Wonderful to feel the stress lifting off me. I felt as light as the butterflies along the bank. I hated to move on, but I had other plans for the day, so I finally put my pad away and turned on the car.

Instead of backing up to get out the way I came, I decided to follow the path along the water and get out the way I declined to come in. Probably wouldn't be too bad getting out, I thought. I put the car in gear and rolled along the rough path, dipping into ruts, bouncing over roots, and weaving to avoid tree stumps along the skinny dirt trail. I came to a wide pool of water in the path and took a chance that it wasn’t any deeper than it looked. I didn’t want to have to back up. Luck was with me, as the water covered a rut, and not a well.

Then the path curved sharply and went up the steep hill to the road. I stopped to consider the incline. It looked pretty steep, but there were other tire tracks, indicating that others had made it out alive. I decided to make a run for it and get up and over onto the pavement in one smooth arc. I stomped hard on the gas and felt the car pick up speed as I got close to the top. Dirt flew in every direction, making me wonder if I had misjudged the little hill. The front tires got up onto the pavement. Well, the left front tire did; I heard the right front tire spinning free in the air, making a desperate whirring sound as it fought for ground. Then the car fell back on the frame and made a nasty grinding sound as it hit. I was hanging nearly vertically in the air, looking straight up into sky. I felt like I was clinging to the edge of a cloud, and I wasn’t enjoying it. My heart was pounding,

For a split second I pictured what would happen if I got the car hung up and couldn’t get it free. I’d have to flag down some farmer in a pickup and ask for help. When he stopped laughing he’d probably get all his friends over to have a look so they could all have a good laugh. I threw the car into reverse and jumped to Plan B—get out of there before the car gets stuck. With the traction from the one tire that was on the road, the car pushed back and I started to fly down the hill backwards. It was so steep I couldn’t tell where I was going. I locked onto my memory of driving up, which was, after all, only a few seconds old, and literally reversed myself.

Down the hill I flew, as fast as I could to avoid getting hung up anywhere, desperately trying to outrun Murphy and his driving Laws. I surprised myself by navigating the sharp turn without falling into the lake. Then back through the thin dirt path without blowing out any tires on the tree stumps, and wiggled through the deep, water-filled rut. A moment later I was back to where I was having a peaceful sit in the shade.

I didn’t stop, though I felt like I needed a nap by then. From there I backed up on the grass as close to the lake as I dared, turned around, and managed to pull back up onto the road with a minimum of tires squealing and rocks flying. As I drove back around the lake again, my adrenalin pumping, I could almost hear my hair falling out. While I was writing, a big spider had come into the car and I wasn’t able to catch him to get him out. I waited for the thing to start crawling up my ankle as I drove, but he must have jumped out when he saw me drive up the hill and get the car stuck. Good. One less thing, right? So I guess I got the stress under control. All I needed next was a drink.


Mary Owens is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, plays and personal histories. She studies poetry writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet Sidney Saylor Farr, is a member of the Kentucky State Poetry Society, the Appalachian Writers Association, The Kentucky Women’s Playwright Seminar, and the New Opportunity School for Women Writers. She has been published in The Write Side Up, The Appalachian Women’s Journal, and It’s a Wonderful Town. Her short play “Shoes” had its first public reading in Berea, KY.

© Mary Owens

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012