A Walk into the Mountains
By Eugene Mathena
Just this past Saturday, February 27th 2010, I decided that me and my dog would take a long walk out into the cold snowy mountains of Appalachia Virginia. I packed us some supplies in case they were needed and grabbed my 22 pistol plus my 12 Guage shotgun. Bundling up really warm, I'd also dressed my Dog that I was taking with me. His name is Samson. We headed out together on our walk into the mountains. We walked seeing many fasinating sights.
I have to say what I'm getting ready to tell you is the most bizzare experience I believe anyone could ever have. It all started when the two of us arrived at this huge cliff, it was really high and made of Solid stone. I noticed on top of the cliff was a very large tree. I told my dog "I bet that tree has to be at least 700 years old". I had to get a closer look at it. I put my little dog around my neck (like a scarf, he knows how to hang on without falling off) and we climbed and climbed, slipping here and there. We finally beat that cliff and reached the top. As I approached the Old Tree I could see in my mind the History that it has seen over the years, Revolutionary War Soldiers, Civil War soldiers and countless snow's and rain's. I looked up at it, stared and inspected it for a good hour just trying to relive its history in my mind. I began to search for a way off this high cliff when I happened to notice a wall like structure just ajacent behind the old tree. I wondered to myself Who would build a small blockade behind a tree and what were they trying to hide? Curiosity got the best of me and I began taking out some of this "Old Wall" a stone at a time. The stones looked as though they had been taken from a River or Creek bed and brought here. Yet I didn't see any Water around the area anywhere. As I uncovered the stones I found a tunnel that led downward underneath the cliff. I pulled out my flashlight and investigated the tunnel from the outside for at least 15 Minutes. It was dark, cold and musty smelling. I looked at my dog and asked him "Samson, my good friend and companion, what do you want to do?" He looked at me and ran over toward the opening and with his nose he began to root around. I knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go in. The opening of the tunnel was very small and I being a small framed man myself had to wiggle and spin just to get in. Samson made it in with ease. The tunnel looked like something from the pre-historic age inside. The further I went in it widened and I could nearly stand straight up in it. I noticed the tunnel wasn't really all that steep inside, it just leveled off and did a 20 to 30 degree angle downward. "Well Buddy" I said "This is good, but I hope we don't get down in here and get stuck because we will never be found" (No one knew we were going on this walk). So with my flashlight in my left hand and a loaded gun in the other we began walking down into this dark abyss.
We walked down this abyss for nearly an hour. I knew Samson was getting hungry because my stomach was growling also. We stopped in what looked like a round table portion of the Cave, it just rounded out and made a circle, kind of looking like a room. We fixed some bacon and eggs. I had also brought us some beef jerky to nibble on as we walked. After eating, I asked Samson "Well have you had enough or do you want to keep on going?" He looked at me like he was saying "Now you want to find out where this thing leads to as much as I do" so we began walking further. We found some really interesting stones while we were walking. Being an arrowhead collector I found many of those also to add to my collection. It was like a dream come true. I thought to myself How long has it been since anyone has seen this place and how could that old tree and that small blockade keep this place so intact and unnoticed from people?. I knew we were far from home and it didn't seem to end. We had walked for I know miles already and still there was no end in sight. As we were walking I noticed Samson had found something, he began barking and rooting with his nose at something. I walked over to investigate, he had found a large turtle. I had never seen a turtle that looked like this before. I told him to hush and studied the turtle from top to bottom. It had everything a turtle has but it had white criss cross designs on its shell, I had never till now seen such a speciman as this. I wanted to take it with me so I told Samson "We will Confine it, don't let me forget it when we come back this way". I built a wall of small rocks I found from the floor of the cave and put the turtle in it. Samson of course agreed to remind me the little fellow would be in it as we would come back through later. We began walking deeper into this never ending tunnel. We explored further walking for another 15 minutes or so, when I stumbled upon something I thought was rather intriguing. An old leather satchel and it had something in it. I got really excited at the thought of discovering some old money or rare coins. I carefully began opening it only to find some old bones of what looked like could possibly a rat. I thought just my luck I find something old I hope to be treasure and I find a dead rat. The thing had to be a hundred years old or older. I gently set it back in the place I had found it, respecting how many years it had been there untouched then we moved on.
After about 20 more minutes of walking I noticed the pathway through the cave was becoming more narrow and I told Samson "We are going to have to turn back soon we may get trapped if we keep going". We walked further anyway not even heeding to any potential danger. The cave now extremley narrow, I almost had to crawl on my hands and knees to make it thru. I took my flashlight shining it straight ahead to see just how much further this place could possibly go seeing the end. I told Samson "Well little buddy, I see the end, why don't we just get down there just so we can tell everyone about it and at least say we went to the very end". Being very careful not to disturb any of the low hanging stalactite we finally made it to the end. It was so cold down there and my hands were freezing, I knew little Samson had to be cold. When we had reached the end of the pathway, exploring I found yet another small blockade had been made on the very right hand corner of the caves wall. I wondered to myself if it was worth removing a Stone or two just to see what is on the otherside? I then asked Samson "Buddy, what do you want to do?" He looked like he would want to take a peek, so I let him talk me into it. I began with the top stone and as I took it off I saw light shining through and then I took another off." This is amazing" I said excitedly to Samson. I removed only enough stone to get thru the hole and proceeded to crawl in.
When we had gotten through the hole I stood up and noticed the whole other side of the cave opened up into a vast land of trees and beautiful light. It seemed this vast land gave off its own illumminating light. It was beautiful. As we moved forward it felt like the temperature was beginning to rise, my hands were no longer freeezing. Samson spotted an elk eating pine needles over toward our left. I thought to myself wild elk have not been in Virginia since the late 1800's, where am I? The elk just stood there, proud and mighty. Like he was the KING of the Forest. He showed no fear of us. Now me, I was ready to get away from that thing. Last thing I needed was to be killed by a mad elk and leave Samson to go back home alone.
I stood there for a few moments looking at Samson wondering if he had any idea what was going on? I came to the conclusion that the dog knew more than I did. Since we were out of the cave we had more choices on what direction to to go. We could go East, North or West. South was back at the hole at the end of the cave that had led us here. We chose to keep going forward thinking at least we wouldn't get lost going this direction. I still couldn't get over the brightness and splendor of the light coming from all directions. It helped us find our way thru the dense forest that we walked in. As we walked I could hear what sounded like water close by. We kept moving probably about 50 yards or so. Then we found the water we had heard earlier. I noticed how pure the water looked, you almost had to put your finger in it and cause a ripple to see it. It was so sheer that the fish would look at you and stare out like there was no fear of us in them. Samson drank him some of the water after I tasted it first for him to be sure it was okay. My little hairy friend was thirsty.
I wanted to cross the river and get to the otherside to keep exploring. We hadn't ran up onto anything dangerous and there was a really peaceful feeling here. I put Samson around my neck again and began wading through the water. This water was not like any I was used to on the surface, it wasn't slick, no slime. We made it safely to the other side and Samson just laid there around my neck. We sat there on the river bank and nibbled on some more some beef jerky. We began playing, I would run alongside the river bank with Samson chasing me. I would quickly turn around and then chase him. I had packed one of his favorite chew toy in my backpack. I said to him "Guess what I brought little Buddy!". I pulled out his toy and tossed it for him, his ears stood straight up when he saw me throw it. He went and got it and laid it at my feet. We played like this for a good 30 minutes. I even tossed his chew toy into the stream once or twice watching him go into the water and get it. I knew it had to feel good on him. I picked him up and gave him a big ole hug and said "Little buddy, if we never get out of here or if we get lost, I want you to know that there is no better friend in the world to be here with than you". He then licked me on my face.
Going back to the area we were at when we had first crossed the river we sat down next to each other. It was then that I heard what sounded like a twig break behind us. As if someone or something had stepped on it. I turned around very cautiously, Samson began barking like mad. I slowly lifted up my head and eyes just knowing this is it, I'm dead! Something has crept up behind me and is going to kill me, to my relief nothing was there. Yet I knew something had been there and we were being watched by something, but what? and How long? We had to find out. We got up, my gun in hand loaded and ready. I didn't like the feeling of being watched or stalked by who knows what. Removing my backpack and outer coat I left them there by the river bank to make it easier for me to travel. We headed in the direction of the noise we had heard behind us. As we were walking we went through a high patch of weeds and shrubbery. I noticed I was beginning to sting all over my arms and red welps began to appear. I knew that these weeds were stinging weeds and I was paying the price of not bringing a machete with me. I had remembered everything else it seemed. Even if I had remembered to bring my machete, I may have just left it back with the other supplies anyway. We kept walking and the thistles and weeds began to level out. I noticed an abundance of wildlife, birds of every kind were especially abundant, as were squirrells, deer and beautiful flowers which attracted some enormously large bees. The ground also was going from really stony ground to a more of a sandy type of soil. We kept walking and I noticed another deep forest ahead of us. I told Samson "Buddy, let's go in here and see if we can find what was watching us a few hundred yards back, does that sound like a plan to you?". He agreed.
We cautiously entered into the forest, taking it slowly and a step at a time. I just knew I was going run up on a big snake all coiled up in this wilderness, miraclously I hadn't seen one snake this whole time. We walked for about 100 yards and then stopped at a big old fallen tree to take a break. We were both so tired. We ate us a small bite and as we sat there we listened to all the birds and wildlife making sounds in Unisom. Almost like they were in harmony together. Then I heard something that sounded out of harmony with every other noise. A rustling of the leaves. I was amazed Samson had not heard it. I got up and slowly walked toward the odd sound that I had heard. I was awestruck at how big the trees were, I began just to look into the trees thinking the sound may have been a large squirrel. I was just about to pass a huge walnut tree when I glimpsed what looked like the form of a man standing there as if he was trying to hide. I saw him out of the periphial vision of my left eye. I turned around quickly as Samson began to bark. I pointed my gun at him and asked "Who are you? Are you the one that has been watching us since the river?" The man dressed in animal skins just stood there and looked at me. He didn't even blink an eye and said "O si yo".
Samson was barking out of control, I told him to calm down. Gazing at this Native American man, I looked into his eyes and for some reason I wasn't afraid of him. "Mister, my name is Eugene and this is my dog Samson, we're not here for trouble. Nor am I here to hurt anyone. We went for a hike into the mountains and found a cave that led us here. I didn't understand what you just said to me, do you understand me?" Looking at me with a slight smile he said "To hi tsu?" I turned slightly and looked at Samson saying "Little buddy, we just might have some trouble communicating with this guy". The man stepped toward me causing me to flinch because it startled me. I moved back saying "Just stay right there until I can figure out what is going on and how I can get you to understand I am here as a visitor and friend and not an enemy". He stopped, stared into my eyes and said "Friend, I asked how are you?" I was amazed! He understood me this whole time letting me wonder if and how we could talk to one another. He said his name was "Cherut" and that it means "LIBERTY". He said he meant no harm to me or my little furry friend. I explained to him that me and my little dog had been on this trip since early in the morning and we had really had a strange tiresome day. He told me He was very eager to hear my story and invited us to his camp. I asked him If there were more people at his camp or was he alone?" Turning he looked at me smiling, saying "Just wait Eugene" adding "If you don't lower your gun from me you may not make it into our camp". I told him I was just being cautious and lowered my gun down away from from him.
Then me, Cherut and Samson headed off toward his camp together. As we walked Cherut and I talked about this paradise hidden way inside the mountains of Virginia. He told me he was born here and that a group of his people had fled into this sanctuary in about 1776 (In white mans terms of dating time). He said that information about the small group had been handed down thru time in documents his ancesters had left behind. Telling me of a series of attacks that had taken place in 1776 and how this group had fled into the New River area of Virginia to find refuge with some of the other Cherokee settlements. I told him I had read about this in books and that it is known as "THE CHEROKEE WAR" of Virginia. The British Army were trying to recruit the Cherokee to help fight the settlers at the time because of the growing opposition to British control. The Cherokee had declined their offers and wanted to stay neutral in the oncoming war between Britain and the Colonies. I told him that one faction of the Cherokee did join in this war against the Colonies. Their leader was "Dragging Canoe" .This unfortunately led to the slaughter of many of the Cherokee, around 450 to 700 men, women and children.He continued his story of how his people had befriended a schoolteacher and his pupil.Who joined in their cause in seeking refuge away from the war. His ancestors had known of the cave and the place it lead down to. He said his ancestors all entered the cave which brought them to "Harmony". The teacher stayed with them but the pupil went back and promised to seal up all entrances into the cavern.
I told him how I had found the small stonewall behind the large tree. He asked if the wall looked real visible or if others were to be expected? I explained that I had only removed enough stone to wiggle my way in and that everything should be fine. Snow and Ice is everywhere right now no one would want to climb the treacherous cliff anyway. He asked me "Why did you?" and I told him "Because that large tree called out to me and I could see alot of History in it". I could see the Village ahead and I was flabbergasted by it. As Cherut lead me into the Village everyone began to approach me and look at me in bewilderment. I was the first white man the people had seen. Then Cherut began telling them in the Cherokee language that I was the visitor he had told them about. Everything is okay and to consider me a friend. I had found out during our walk to the Village that Cherut had watched as Samson and me found our way into Harmony. He had followed us the whole way. Come to find out Cherut is the leader of this Village and of his people. I noticed Samson had taken a liking to all the youngsters running around in excitement over another dog in their community and they began playing together. I could see that some of the men were bringing an elk that had been killed into the Village for skinning. I asked Chief Cherut what was their way of living or if they had any type of monetary system? He said their system wasn't like the white mans system, that helping their brother and sister was the system of choice in Harmony. As we walked through the Village I tried to soak in all that I could of the Huts (that they called "Wattle's") and the different artifacts that I could see. I noticed what looked like a chapel in the center area of the village and asked The chief if he knew about religion and God? His reply was that his people knew of The Great spirit centuries ago but that the documents the school teacher had passed down to them had enlightened them further.
Leading me to his hut we went inside. When inside he introduced me to his wife saying her name was "Nashota" and that she had a twin sister also in the village. After the introductions had been made we made small talk for awhile . The Chief then invited me to be their guest for the night. I told him that it would be a privilege to stay a night with his people and how I felt like I didn't deserve to be treated with so much honour. He told me that any friend is a good friend and that he could tell that Samson and me had good soul's in us and that he trusted me. After sitting in his hut for about an hour we went outside the people of the village bombarded us. Some just wanted to touch my strange clothes and some were bewildered by my blue eyes. They had never seen polyester and rayon material before and blue eyes weren't very common in Harmony. All the village sat down around a Fire. I noticed the children and Samson were still hanging out with each other and I knew he was safe and in good hands with them.
One of the men stood up being dressed in a beautiful costume of many colors. Llifting his arms he began saying something in his Native Language. I bowed my head in respect to what he said even though I didn't understand what he was saying, I just knew I needed to respect what he was saying. After his chant he lowered his arms and sat back down. Then one of the other men began handing out plates of food filled with many delicious items including: strawberries, greenbeans, corn and a juicy steak. I had the feeling the elk I had seen them bring into the village earlier was the main course. I began to weep, the Chief seeing my tears asked me "Why are you weeping Eugene?" I told him that the man's chanting caused me to weep and that it made me sad that his people had to bunker themselves underground to live in harmony and peace. He wiped my tears away with his bare hand, he looked at me with a stern face and said "This is Harmony. Do you feel or see anything like this where you are from?" I answered"No". His reply to that was "Then don't be sad for us, be sad for your people" and then I understood. There were at least 900 people around the fire that night (I knew it was night by the watch I had on) The illumminating light causes it to never to be actual night in Harmony.
After eating I watched as the youngsters put on a dance that they had prepared. I found it very entertaining. Samson chased some of them while they were doing their dance. This caused many of the people who thought it was funny to begin to laugh. After the ceremony was over, we all stood up. The villager in the colorful costume then stood and raised his arms and said another chant, reaching out he blessed the children. After all ceromonies were over, we left the sight of the fire and retired for bed.
I woke up the next morning around 9:00am. I hurried, got dressed and went outside into the village. I could hear the chidren in the school laughing and having such a good time learning. I looked around noticing some nanny goats being milked by some of the men to my right and to my left I could see the women as they were sewing beautiful costumes and everyday clothing. Some of the men were coming and going; some with fish, some with skins and some with greens and fruit. As the men would pass each other in the village they would greet one another. Some would stop what they were doing and help the man with the heavier load. My heart began to break as I watched the villagers on their daily chores thinking about how my Society is. Of how every person seems to be out for themselves and that courtesy for their fellow man is obsolete. Hate has filled the hearts of so many that there seems to be no concern for their fellow Brothers of Society. I walked alone, around the village for several minutes studying the villagers. I soon realized Samson was back where he belongs; by my side. I knew our time here had come to an end. I found Chief Cherut at a stream behind the village. I told him I would be leaving soon. He agreed to walk me to the hole in the cave. We walked through the dense forest that I had met him in stopping at the tree that was fallen over. I must have looked lost because he asked what I was thinking of? I told him that I just wanted to soak it all in before leaving. He asked what I was soaking in? I told him "HARMONY" He laughed and said "It's a wonderful feeling isn't it?" I told him "Beyond Wonderful". We walked together, remembering my backpack at the river we picked it up. The Chief did as he promised walking us all the way back to the hole at the end of the cave. I made him a vow that I would seal up the wall were the tree is on top of the cliff. Never telling anyone about the location of the entrance. He told me he didn't mind me telling of my visit, he knew I would never tell of the location of the wall. I again vowed to him I would go to my grave knowing where it was and that I would never tell. I entered the hole that had lead me there, turning back I looked at him one last time. I said "Goodbye Good friend". He looked at me as his eyes began to fill with water and said "Donadagohvi". I knew that was a word for parting one anothers company in his Native language.
I turned back and entered completley through the hole. Looking to make sure Samson was with me I began putting the stones back into place. The hole was sealed better than before.Samson and me began walking up the tunnel, first on my hands and knees again and then I was able to stand. We found the turtle I had entrapped in the rocks. I looked at Samson and told him I was going to let it go. After doing so we walked and walked, finally we made it back to the hole at the cliff and large tree. I stoned over the entrance much better and even less noticable than before. I told Samson we had to get home that we had family there worried about us. We went down the cliff and through the mountains till finally we were home. I never will lose what being in "HARMONY" has taught me. I will always carry a piece of "Harmony" with me. I wish everyone could visit that place but I know it's not possible. I'm just glad I was welcome there with open arms. Well that's my story. You can choose to believe it or not. Either way, I know without a shadow of doubt Samson and me went there. Harmony will always be with me, all the remaining days of my life.
Copyright 2010 by Eugene Mathena