Dorothy felt things weren’t quite right, but she also knew they were as good as they were going to get; she’d just have to go with it. The snow had begun to fall several hours earlier, jogging her memories about snowy holidays as a child, how magical they were. She wanted magic back into her life. Today she knew to not worry about her teeth, they were just resting there in her jaw sockets, ageing, within slightly inflamed gums, all she had to do was grit her teeth, and after a while, the minor discomfort subsided, and she forgot them. No big deal. No biggie, as her nephews would say.

Dorothy had a strange way of looking at the Smokies. She thought, if a person had stayed in one place all their lives, they’d be sure to feel totally at home there. But if they do like she’d done—live somewhere else, then recently move into the area, it wouldn’t feel at home for a while. The rains were coming in, but it wasn’t normal rain, it was as if there was some guy over the ridge who controlled the weather, occasionally sending some moisture over the ridge, just to drop it on the Ranch. She could even hear it coming, through the trees.

She’d had the same feeling the year before, when she went visiting up in the Shenandoah Valley—as if the whole place were staged. She was staying in this KOA campground cabin, south of Charlottesville, with her daughter, Cia, and her friends, who were attending a photography conference. The young people were seeing who among them could party the most continuously, while Dorothy was left to explore the area on her own.

One morning she set out from the cabin, toward the pond she’d visited the day before. A beaver’d dropped a foot-diameter tree with huge chew marks on it across the path overnight, so she knew they’d been busy, but Dorothy was astounded to find they’d raised the seventy-five foot long dam a foot and a half overnight. Talk about busy! Sitting on the bank near the dam, she witnessed a blue heron lifting from up the lake; then right across from her a mature bald eagle quickly followed. Within seconds, a large doe, with the smallest possible fawn, leisurely bounded up the opposite bank. After all that, Dorothy expected a Marine Corps orchestra to appear from the bushes and strike up “America the Beautiful”!

That afternoon, Dorothy purchased a bone-in Smithfield ham which was half fat, from the local rip-off supermarket, but after she cut it up, wrapped the pieces in tin foil, and threw them in the campfire that evening, they came out quite tasty indeed.

The next day Dorothy drove over to Monticello, but after parking and walking into the visitor’s center at the bottom of the hill she discovered they charged twenty-five bucks a head, and nobody near the East Coast offers Senior Discounts; so she drove a few miles south, took the first road east, and found a place where she could look back and catch a glimpse of Monticello’s distinctive domed roof. At least she could say she’d seen Monticello—she’d look at the rest of it on-line later.

Upon the conference’s end, driving west through West Virginia with Cia and a friend, Dorothy was shocked at the large areas of mountainous human blight. Her daughter spoke of Summerhill, an idyllic hilltop town outside Athens, Ohio, which was hemmed in by lower, railroad towns full of meth-addicted white youth.

They parked and hiked into Blue Hole, a waterfall/swimming hole, where a tall, near-naked twenty-something guy, so physically perfect as to have turned slightly grotesque, performed hours of gravity-defying leaps and scrambles all over the huge rocks, diving into this pool that he obviously knew every inch of, returning up the rock to a ledge, where sat his fifteen-years-older lover. Any afternoon you go there, there’s a good chance you’ll find this couple, performing a sensual water dance for the ages, for the benefit of all.

Back in Brasstown, down in the Smokies, every time Dorothy stepped outside, it was being re-acquainted with an incredible, beautiful world, with weather so perfect, while being so miniaturized. This was the crinkled-up land, the anything-but-flat place, where the white man had finally taken it all from the Cherokee, sending them crying, dying, off to Oklahoma.