Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Uwharrie Calling - Chapter 1: Departures

Prologue: The Claim

"Breakfast" said Eno, poking his head inside my room. The pale light of a cold, cloudy dawn shown through the only window of the guest room, the same room where I had slept as a kid. I don't know if I expected to feel some sort of connection with my childhood, but the room and the house felt very distant from my memories. Everything seemed smaller, rougher and colder.

Walking into warm kitchen, the smell of bacon, eggs and strong black coffee washed over me. At least that hadn't changed. Eno was dicing a potato, dropping the chunks into the hot pan where they sizzled in the remains of the bacon grease. Uncle Uwharrie sat at the end of table, staring at me over the rim of his coffee cup as I sat down.

Eno and I had sat at this very table until late the previous night, talking about why I had come back, and what I wanted to do. And catching up. I had only spoken briefly with Eno by phone a few weeks earlier about my planned visit. We hadn't really spoken for more than 20 years before that call. Eno seemed different than the kid I remembered, but we'd both been through a lot, and the space of 20 years can be a universe for some.

I felt bad about not telling Eno the entire truth about the reasons for my return, but I wasn't ready. Reopening some of those old wounds were for me alone.

We were both 17 when I had last seen Eno, two days after our final adventure with our cousin, Harris. It was the day Uncle Uwharrie and I had fought. The day I had left, swearing never to return. I remember Eno watching from the front porch, as I walked through the gate and down the hot, gravel road, away from the house, away from everything. I couldn't read his expression. He face was blank and empty. He didn't wave. Neither did I. We weren't big on goodbyes, never had been.

That was the Summer when Harris' mother had died. Harris was 15, a couple of years younger than Eno and I, but he had always spent most of his Summers with us. Most mornings Harris would ride his old bike the 10 miles from his father's farm, nestled on the side of a ridge, by a bend in the Yadkin River, to Uncle Uwharrie's place, hidden on 110 acres way back in the hills. Eno had a lot to do with that. You could always count on Eno to dream up some sort of adventure on a lazy August afternoon. His crazy obsession with hiking, camping, and exploring meant we were never bored, and never far from some sort of trouble.

It was Eno who had come up with the plan for Harris. Eno's mother had died a decade earlier, but I think he could still feel the pain of that wound. He thought he could help Harris. I trusted Eno on that. Besides, we hadn't done anything truly stupid in over a month. We were due.

Eno had laid out that original 4 day hike twenty some years ago. Starting at Uncle Uwharrie's house, we had planned to trek over the ridges, avoiding roads and farms where possible, on a primitive, rarely traveled route to the Yadkin River,  ending near the farm where Harris lived. By itself, this hike wasn't that unusual for us. We had done plenty of long, hard hikes, sometimes staying gone for 5 days at a stretch. The difference this time was that we were each allowed only one survival item. Eno was crazy, but fun.

Who would have known that our choices for that trip would mean so much to us in the end. And for the rest of our lives.

Eno plopped down a heaping plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns in front of me with a wink.

"You going with us, Pop?" Eno joked to Uncle Uwharrie.

Uncle Uwharrie, who had seemed momentarily lost in his own thoughts, stirred. He gave me a long hard look and said "I reckon so."

Neither Eno nor I had expected that answer. Eno, who had cleared Uncle Uwharrie's plate, froze with it still in his hand, hovering above the sink. I wanted to recreate that trip, or least the route, but this time with real supplies and at an easy pace. I had planned it with only me and Eno in mind.

I knew Uncle Uwharrie had already asked Eno about our plans, and I could tell by his look that he wasn't satisfied with whatever Eno had told him. He would ask me directly, in his own time. For now, I would simply wait for that moment.

"OK. Let's get packed and hit the trail" I said.