Small Wonder

Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver Read Free Book Online

Book: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver Read Free Book Online
Authors: Barbara Kingsolver
where all my stories begin.

    One is a log cabin in a deep, wooded hollow at the end of Walker Mountain. This stoic little log house leans noticeably uphill, just as half the tobacco barns do in this rural part of southern Appalachia, where even gravity seems to have fled for better work in the city. Our cabin was built of chestnut logs in the late 1930s, when the American chestnut blight ran roughshod through every forest from Maine to Alabama, felling mammoth trees more extravagantly than thecrosscut saw. Those of us who’ll never get to see the spreading crown of an American chestnut have come to understand this blight as one of the great natural tragedies in our continent’s history. But the pragmatic homesteaders who lived in this hollow at that time simply looked up and saw a godsend. They harnessed their mule and dragged the fallen soldiers down off the mountain to build their home.
    Now it’s mine. Between May and August, my family and I happily settle our lives inside its knobby, listing walls. We pace the floorboards of its porch while rain pummels the tin roof and slides off the steeply pitched eaves in a limpid sheet. I love this rain; my soul hankers for it. Through a curtain of it I watch the tulip poplars grow. When it stops, I listen to the woodblock concerto of dripping leaves and the first indignant Carolina wrens reclaiming their damp territories. Then come the wood thrushes, heartbreakers, with their minor-keyed harmonies as resonant as poetry. A narrow beam of sun files between the steep mountains, and butterflies traverse this column of light, from top to bottom to top again, like fish in a tall aquarium. My daughters hazard the damp grass to go hunt box turtles and crayfish, or climb into the barn loft to inhale the scent of decades-old tobacco. That particular dusty sweetness, among all other odors that exist, invokes the most reliable nostalgia for my own childhood; I’m slightly envious and have half a mind to run after the girls with my own stick for poking into crawdad holes. But mostly I am glad to watch them claim my own best secrets for themselves.
    On a given day I may walk the half mile down our hollow to the mailbox, hail our neighbors, and exchange a farmer’s evaluation of the weather ( terrible; it truly is always either too wet or too dry in these marginal tobacco bottoms). I’ll hear news of a house mysteriously put up for sale, a dog on the loose, or a memorable yard sale. My neighbors use the diphthong-rich vowels of the hill accent that was my own first language. My great-grandfather grewup in the next valley over from this one, but I didn’t even know that I had returned to my ancestral home when I first came to visit. After I met, fell in love with, and married the man who was working this land, and agreed to share his home as he also shares mine in a distant place, I learned that I have close relatives buried all through these hollows. Unaccustomed as I am to encountering others with my unusual surname, I was startled to hear neighbors in this valley say, “Why, used to be you couldn’t hardly walk around here without stepping on a Kingsolver.” Something I can never explain, or even fully understand, pulled me back here.
    Now I am mostly known around these parts by whichever of my relatives the older people still remember (one of them, my grandfather’s uncle, was a physician who, in the early 1900s, attended nearly every birth in this county requiring a doctor’s presence). Or else I’m known as the gal married to that young fella that fixed up the old Smyth cabin. We are suspected of being hard up (the cabin is quite small and rustic for a family of four) or a little deranged; neither alternative prevents our being sociably and heartily welcomed. I am nowhere more at home than here, among spare economies and extravagant yard sales glinting with jewel-toned canning jars.
    But even so, I love to keep to our hollow. Hard up or

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