Where the River Stopped

by Lori Lou Freshwater

These mountains are her mountains. These mountains are not those high and sharp jagged things, those new mountains. These mountains are made of thunder, deep bass, low and round, thunder that rolls across the land and echoes in her chest. The Nantahala River runs through these mountains, it runs down and down and cold even on the hottest day. It is the shade that keeps it that way. Large old ghost trees launch themselves from the North Carolina dirt and lurch over this river that runs straight through the heart of a Cherokee Indian girl. This river whispers to her as it rounds itself over the stones smoothed by time and time as far back as the earth's new days, and standing there all she has to do is breathe in order to become the humid smell of moss all around her.

She sits on a rock and drops her feet into the river. The contrast of the warmth on her night-black hair and the coolness of the water splashing up on dry skin nearly gives her a chill even though it is not yet time for the harvest. She sits by the river so she can feel the presence of the spirits. She looks down the river and she does feel the spirits, she even thinks she sees them in the trees, in the water, in the clouds. She sees them where the river comes from, but when she turns to where the river is rushing, to the narrow gorge it begins to contract itself into, there are no spirits, there is nothing but the mountains and the fog that smokes above them.