I rode across my first-ever state line—in St. Elmo, in the rain.
The neighborhood is named for the novel by hometown hero Augusta Jane Evans, apparently the first American writer to earn more than $100K.
Behind her in silent grandeur towered the huge outline of Lookout Mountain, shrouded at summit in gray mist; while center and base showed dense masses of foliage, dim and purplish in the distance—a stern cowled monk of the Cumberland brotherhood.
I have a more westerly conception of what qualifies a mountain as “huge,” but otherwise this is fair enough.
* * * * *
The first dog was small but caught me completely by surprise, preoccupied with admiring the countryside and, to be honest, myself—for what until that moment I believed was courage in riding alone. This delusion ended abruptly in a frantic sprint up the road, where I had about a mile to twitch away the adrenalin before my next pursuer—a border collie—came streaming out of the tangled underbrush to snarl and feint at my front wheel.
One wet, green valley further on the problem escalated into a German shepherd, at which point I would have stopped somewhere to cry about it had I considered it safe to do so. The organ of the imagination hemorrhages fear: in mine, pit bulls now stalked every red-dirt and gravel driveway. Each alighting bird and flash of reflected light on muddy puddles appeared in the corner of my eye to be the first lunge of some slathering hound; the crinkle of a Clif bar wrapper in my own hand was the hard scrabble of paws on pavement.
I have to consider that it was no beast but my own head that ruined the ride. But that’s me, really: never bitten, still shy.
* * * * *
At Resaca it was raining and cold and had been for several days; absent dysentery, camp conditions may not have been miserable enough to be authentic, but they were certainly miserable enough. While waiting for the main event I ate frybread and browsed the sutlers’ tents: leather goods, pearl buttons, and pamphlets purporting Lincoln’s Fascism and Marxism (whichever you like). I met some sort of grizzled commander who walked me around the Federal camp. “I’m from California, too,” he said. “But I got out of there as soon as I could.”
Confederates in the Attic had readied me for crazies, but for the most part I met perfectly good-humored people who enjoy camping with their friends, riding horses, and shooting guns—which all seems American enough to me. Whatever your politics, you feel the cannon fire in your bones.
The battle done, two bugles traded lines of Taps across the meadow. The last notes hovered over the ground with the cannon smoke—I’m sorry, but they did—and we all did remove our hats, and there was nothing pretend about it.
* * * * *
As I left, teenage boys in camouflage Carhartts were towing stuck cars out of the muddy parking area on their ATVs. They were sending up furious fountains of slop and grass. They were having a hell of a time.