Friday, March 1, 2024

Make Firm (Cumberland Saga)

The information that there were meth-heads “cooking” in the neighborhood was was disturbing at a visceral level.

Thirty years ago, at the very edge of the community’s memory, “cooking” had been a major activity in the hills-and-hollows of southern Appalachia. There were many Danube Swabian communities, albeit much smaller and younger ones, that had simply disappeared during that time. So many had disappeared, in fact, it was seen as sinister.

The signature of those disappearances was enough to tickle the Swabian’s ancient collective unconscious. In Europe, powerful men with evil intent had always chosen remote enclaves to perform their most heinous acts, isolated hamlets where it was easy to ensure that there were no witnesses...or at least no witnesses who survived.

Since Sally was going to be laid-up for a few days while his face healed, Gregor was detailed with the task of going into the nearby small towns and collecting information.

The wood-cutting crew was diverted from extending the pastures to hardening the entrances into the property. The community’s remoteness and isolation might be a lightning rod for the wrong kinds of people but could also be used as an asset.

The east side of the Cumberland Plateau where Copperhead Cove was located is deeply dissected by steep ravines where streams flowing eastward to the Tennessee River had cut through the erosion-resistant cap-rock and then knifed downward through the softer, lower layers. Tributaries to those streams, in turn, cut ravines that were arranged like bones on a fish with the streams as the fish's spine.

Copperhead Cove was on a diamond-shaped plateau with the ravines of two major streams forming its northeast and southwest boundaries, the Tennessee River side was the southeast boundary and a feeder-stream that flowed into the stream to the northeast formed the northwest boundary.

Roads from the populous and relatively prosperous valley used natural features, switchbacks and road-builders used explosives to smooth the grades to acceptable standards. The public road that supplied Copperhead Cove barely nipped the eastern corner of the diamond-shaped plateau. Dynamite had been used to shave the eastern corner and create the roadbed and the fill from the sub-grade had been used to partially fill the ravine to the west and smooth various undulations.

There were only two places where the road-grade was even close to the natural grade, where it was even possible for a wheeled vehicle to leave the road and travel over-land. The main-drive into Copperhead Cove was situated at the more western location while the more eastern location had fallen into disuse.

Sig split the work-party into two groups. Roger and Blain were tasked with making the unused entrance completely impassible by both vehicle or by foot.

Sig and Lliam worked at clearing a once-active foot-trail that ran from the compound to the entrance to the main drive. It did not parallel the drive but was more direct, not needing to adhere to the same same grade requirements as the drive. That is, the drive had a switchback and two hairpin turns while the footpath wandered but did not turn back on itself.

Sig and Lliam walked the trail a few times before starting work to see if any improvements in the routing could be made. Once they determined that the path was pretty much where it had to be (not surprising since the path predated even the American Indians, having been used by animals for millennias before their arrival) Sig marked it out with bits of orange baling twine. He tied the bits at knee level. The dull orange blended in with the browns and grays. It was visible only if you knew to look for it. Furthermore, walkers on an unfamiliar path tend to either look at the ground where their next step will land or to scan at eye-level. They rarely look higher than eye level or in the mid-range.

Sig knew that the task was more than the two of them could finish in one day. He was marking it out so he could assign Blain or Gregor to finish the work.

Meanwhile, Roger was straw-bossing Blain while they hardened the other entrance.

The woods were thick with new-growth Red Maple. It was not difficult to find a bunch of trees with stems of 5” diameter and remove them without making the cutting obvious. Blain had a lot of experience cutting and dragging timber and knew he could move a 16’ length of trunk of that size.

Roger’s back was still troubling him so he could only direct Blain in the proper way to build a barricade.

Roger opted for a jack-straw affair with the trunks criss-crossing and interweaving. Then older, weathered chunks and slabs of barkwere used to blunt the stark, raw wood of the newly cut tree-trunks. Finally, (and the worst part for Blain) the heaped trunks were covered with thorny briers and canes. Thorny brush was used to harden the ends of the barricade, just-in-case an ambitious trespasser was tempted to edge around it.

When the crews broke for lunch, Blain asked Sig “Why is it necessary to get that old path back into shape? Can’t we just put better locks on the doors and out-wait them if they show up?”

“Houses can be burnt” Sig responded.

Then Sig explained “If I owe a man then God requires that I pay him what I owe to the penny. Even if it pinches me to do it. Even if I have to work extra hours. Even if the work sucks.”

“If the Bible specified the weight of the rocks used to stone a person, then I would be under the obligation to weigh those rocks to ensure I was not making my life easier by using pebbles instead of rocks” he continued.

“If somebody comes here with the intention of taking over these farms and using them for evil intentions, then I have an obligation to stop them. I will stop them and I will stop them HARD!”

“But what about that ‘...turn the other cheek’ thing in the Bible?” Blain asked.

“A slap is an insult, not an injury” Sig said. “God promised us that we would be insulted and despised and seen as foolish and he promised that we would suffer. He also promised to be with us and to make-firm His people and that we would number like the sands of the oceans and the stars in the heavens.”

Blain looked at the small, tired group of men: an elderly man with a bad-back, a young-teen in the middle of a growth-spurt that left him long of limb but not yet muscled to use them to best effect, a man between young and middle-age and a man of middle-age with a lot of miles on him. They hardly numbered “ the stars in the heavens.”

Blain hoped that if push-came-to-shove, God would generous in the “make-firm” department.


  1. The other issue with meth cookers in the area is that they will draw government, especially LE, attention to the area and make it harder for the group to stay under the radar...

  2. Are they aiming to block or improve the foot trail?

    1. Clearing the trail meaning making it possible to flank any invaders.

  3. I hope they don't have a religious objection to pre-emptive self-defense.

  4. Excellent explanation of "turn the cheek" principle ERJ, and one that is often overlooked (usually be people that benefit from the "more peaceful" interpretation).

    This has been bothering me this week about the millieu of The Collapse; they have a state highway that largely travels through every town and a relatively lack of geographic barriers.

  5. A song that I think is rather timely and appropriate for this phase of the Cumberland Saga is below...


    No one now knows too much about these woods,
    If they got lost, they wouldn't know where to go
    Tribe's been gone a long time, small farmers got blowed out,
    Maybe there ain't even that much left to know

    You can strip the trees, foul the streams,
    try to hide in the progressive dreams

    Ease into the comfort that kills

    Before I do that, I'll grab my pack,
    And disappear with Billy from the hills

    Blood flows back and back and back and back,
    Like a river from a secret source
    I feel it wild in me and I pitch my camp
    At the fork where knowledge meets remorse

    Women sing in me that song from the ancient fire,
    I just open my mouth and what comes out gives me chills
    I got my song from a secret place,
    I got my face from Billy from the hills

    A 40-inch barrel on that shotgun,
    Steel traps in a cane pack on his back
    Eighteen years old, surrounded by the Ozarks,
    Ain't one little bit of that boy that's slack

    If you're looking for a helping hand,
    He'll give you one, you know he will
    If you're looking for trouble, uh-uh, turn around,
    You don't want to mess with Billy from the hills

    Some folks dance cool, all angles and swaying hips,
    Sensual as all get out and in
    Me, I'm a hick, and I dance like one,
    I just kind of jump around and grin

    I know a guy, he doesn't dance too much,
    But when he does, he gives everyone a thrill
    You might run away or suck it up and stay,
    When he dances, Billy from the hills

    There's a lantern lit on a Missouri night,
    A old woman writing poems by a stove
    She knows the fox's whereabouts by knoll, by gulch, by yelp,
    As he runs at night through her mother's love

    Her memory to me is like watercress from a spring-fed stream,
    Fresh and aching as a mockingbird's trill
    She lives in me and I try to look until
    I can see for her and her boy, Billy from the hills

    It's a drifting time, people are fascinated by screens,
    No idea what's on the other side
    We stare at doom like an uptight groom,
    And live our lives like a drunken bride

    Tonight I feel something on the wind,
    Deep inside where we will have to die or kill
    Something I know I didn't know I knew,
    I learned from Billy from the hills

    Greg Brown - Billy from the Hills


  6. Nicely done, both from the backstory and the characters.

  7. I expect all the men, boys, and most likely the women too, are handy with rifles. And they know the terrain better than outsiders.
    Southern NH


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