A Little Story About Nothing
Nothing but a deer trail
Imagine the late 1960’s.
When I was young my family lived in the Bay Area of California in what is now referred to as “Silicon Valley”. My father was quite worried about raising his family there considering we had a first hand, up close look at the San Francisco hippy movement, the Berkeley campus protests and riots, the constant news coverage of the Zodiac Killer, and Oakland heating up from the Black Panthers and the Hell’s Angles. In the Autumn of 1969 my family went camping on the western edge of Death Valley just off of a road called Goler Canyon Road. Upon our return home the news informed us that members of the “Manson Family” who were implicated in the Tate/LaBianca murders had been arrested at the Barker Ranch. That’s near Death Valley, just off of Goler Canyon. We had been camped within a mile or two of the Mansons. Needless to say, my mom was a bit freaked out about this. In 1971 Richard Nixon and his government made a series of moves that convinced my dad that the economy was about to collapse. My dad looked at the community around us and decided it was time to get out of Dodge. By the Spring of 1972 he had sold our house and we were on our way to Appalachia. My dad purchased our old family farm in eastern Kentucky and one of the most important periods of my life began.
One day in the Summer before my 13th birthday, I was wandering the woods of our 160 acre farm, all that was left of the 500 acres Tom Stone had claimed with his land grant, issued for his service in the Virginia Militia during the War of Independence. Near the very western edge of the property, I came across what I imagined to be an “Indian road”. I was very excited. Again, I was 12, almost 13 and had an imagination to match my age. This “road” was entirely hidden from view if you stepped 5 feet into the woods, but standing on it you could clearly tell how it went in each direction. I began hiking up and down it, amazed by something I knew I wasn’t understanding. You could take off running and easily follow the path without anything getting in your way, and yet you could never really tell where it was going for more than a few feet. After running up and down this road all day, I was forced by the failing sun to head home. At the dinner table I gleefully announced my discovery of the “Indian road” and how I was convinced that, as I ran up and down the road, I could tell there were Indian spirits running with me.
Well of course this gave my family a laugh and I was told that I had simply found a deer trail. They are everywhere in the woods. There were no Indian spirits. There was nothing unique or even interesting about my discovery. It was nothing but a deer trail. I was very discouraged and didn’t go back to that part of the property the rest of that year.
The next Spring, as I was out and about doing no particular thing for no particular reason, I found myself back in the general area of the trail. As I thought about the Summer before, I was feeling silly for thinking I had found something important. With in a few moments I realized I was standing on the trail. I had an undeniable feeling that I was not alone. I tried to shake the feeling by telling myself it was just a deer trail and there was nothing interesting about it. But the feeling was overwhelming. It was as if a thousand eyes were watching me. So I began to follow the trail. I followed it off of our property. When I got to a place where a road had crossed it, I picked it up on the other side. Fences cut across it. I came to a house with a big yard and it took me a while but I found where the trail picked up on the other side. I barely made it home before dark that night.
We only lived on the family farm for a few years and after the first time I never tried to tell my family about the Indian road. But I did go back and visit it several times. Each time I had that same feeling. Like a longing to follow it. Like I needed to follow it. When I would run on the road it seemed I could hear the voices of its past in my ears.
The entire experience was illogical and, even though I thought of it many times as I grew older, I always realized it was just the experience of a surfer kid from California dumped into the Appalachian woods. I had found nothing but a deer trail.
A few years back a new bourbon came on the market. I read a review and decided to give it a try. It was a nice bourbon with a very complicated flavor and a very inexpensive price. I learned its name came from an Indian road, called a trace, that used to lead in one form or the other from the Mississippi delta to the Great Lakes. The part that passed by the distillery was called the buffalo trace, thus the name of the bourbon, Buffalo Trace. Upon learning this information and discovering this wonderful bourbon, I hopped on Google Earth to see if I could see the distillery. To my amazement, I could see the trace. With the interruptions of modern life distorting it, I could still make it out on its whole route. I found something else. A branch of this trace cuts east by north east in almost a straight line from Frankfort Kentucky to the old river crossing west of Portsmouth Ohio where a huge Indian town had stood for perhaps thousands of years. The trace runs along the western edge of my old family farm.
For years I had no idea what any of this meant. I have often had the feeling that my life was following a trail just like that Indian road. But lacking any way to explain it or even prove it to myself, all I could ever do was keep these thoughts to myself. Until today.
What does all this mean? Maybe nothing. Its just a tail about a trail.
Thank you for reading this.
I warned you that this was a story about nothing.