Lonely children often take refuge in their imagination. Without playmates or distractions they may create imaginary friends and convene parliaments of comic book heroes to discuss tactics designed to cleanse the world of evil. I know something about that. For me, in the 40’s, I often spent summer afternoons tracking Nazis and Japanese warriors through the saw-briars and broom sage behind the barn. However, my favorite diversion—one that often became so real, it frightened me badly—was to create a “green tsunami.”
Let’s say it was day in spring when a lush covering of vegetation was beginning to cover the Pinnacle and Black Rock. With my grandfather driving his Esso truck up Glenville mountain, or down to the prison camp in Gateway, I would be alone on our front porch gazing at the Balsam mountains. Granny would be in the garden and there would be nothing on the radio except the Mid-Day Merry-go-round from WNOX. It was then I would decide to unleash the green tsunami.
I would sit at the end of the porch facing the Balsams and give my full attention to the new foliage that had turned the entire range of peaks, coves and hollows into varied shades of green. Then, I would “squench up” my eyes. That meant that I would close my eyes and then cautiously open them to tiny slits. At this point, all I could see was a great, sprawling panorama of greenery … a vague, pulsing expanse of shades ranging from lime, to emerald to turquoise, shifting and surging like … a great ocean wave. What were those tiny objects that were being borne helplessly along … were those houses, churches, bridges? Maybe an entire town!
This was a tidal wave (the word “tsunami” was not yet in my vocabulary) that had traveled some 400 miles from the coast, erasing Charlotte, Greensboro and Asheville, drowning millions and carrying the broken wreckage of factories and universities, shopping centers and malls, all reduced to flotsam and broken debris riding the crest of this awesome tidal ocean.
By this point, I was usually so frightened, I was whimpering, and when I shut my eyes, thereby breaking my contact with the approach of an awesome flood, I turned my head and opened them again to behold the serenity of the front yard, the June apple tree and the sheltering poplars.
Stretching around me was the pastures and houses of Rhodes Cove—all sleeping in the warmth of an early spring day. When I looked back at the Balsams, they had returned to their former state—a protective rampart against imaginary Atlantic tsunamis. My world regained its balance and I knew with certainty that night would come, and after that, the dawn.
I once told my Uncle Albert about the green tsunami. He was the only member of the family that found my fantasy life imaginative and amusing, and would sometimes ask me “How are things on Alpha Centauri today?” Albert was curious, so he took a seat by me on the porch one warm spring day, and after he had learned the art of “squenching” his eyes, we were off. When we returned to the reality of Rhodes Cove, we talked about what would happen if the cataclysm we had just witnessed were real.
“What if a thousand years go by and then some archeologists dig up the wreckage of those craft shops in Cherokee?”
“Do you think that the only people left alive in the world would be the tourist folk on Clingman’s Done and Newfound Gap?”
And so we mused, my favorite uncle and I, until it grew dark and it was time to listen to the rain crows mourn and watch the moon rise above the Balsams… a Yeats time, when “peace comes dropping slow.”
I am 77-years-old now and much has happened since the green tsunamis of my youth. However, in recent years I have come to believe that the imaginary tidal wave is back; however, it has become more complex, and very real. There are sections of the Balsams (and the world around me) that are no longer green, or at least, it is not the natural green of my youth. It is the artificial green of a golf course, or the manicured, tortured green of countless housing projects. Perhaps in an abstract sense it is the green of a greed that strives to mimic the very thing that it destroys, and you don’t have to “squench up” your eyes to see it.
Gary Carden is a storyteller, a playwright, a painter, and an unrepentant Appalachian man with an obsession for books, movies, folklore and good conversation.