Illuminating History’s Shadows Through Fiction
Illuminating History’s Shadows Through Fiction

6,000 miles,18 States in 56 Days

Aug 03, 2023


I recently undertook a HUGE road trip to the United States. This was no free-wheel campervan make-it-up travel, but a tightly scheduled, intentional journey into our past and the past in Red Clay, Running Waters. Part sentimental journey, part discovery, confirmation and revelation, across days, miles and boundaries, insights and memories were left in the wake. Now that I am back in New Zealand, I’m chomping at the bit to bring some of those memories and insights into my blogs and social media posts in the weeks to come.

It was a journey of two halves. On the personal side, it was emotional reunions with friends, family, and places that left a bittersweet mark on our hearts, alongside the delight of forming new friendships and finding new common ground. On the professional side, part of the trip was putting myself ‘out there’ for the first time at the HSNA Conference (gulp), then reconnecting with people and places that are part of the Ridge story – places like the lush, rugged New England village of Cornwall, Connecticut, where John, Sarah, Elias and Harriet met; New Echota, the former Cherokee Capital, where so many events in the story took place. New places I had only imagined were part of this itinerary.Red Clay Council Grounds,Spring Place Mission, Running Waters all came surprisingly close to how I envisioned them – something I greeted with great relief (read fewer edits). I stood in these locations envisioning the scenes I wrote or trying to feel what may have occurred in John and Sarah’s drama in that place. Short of holograms or time travel, writing/reading books may be as close as I get.

Returning to Fayetteville, AR, where John and Sarah’s story begins and ends, was like coming home again. It felt empowering to return to my former hometown having written Red Clay, Running Waters. I found much of the Ridge’s story is still unknown, as it was years ago when I first got Inspiration from Old Houses. For many who know the town’s history, a bit about the Antebellum era, or something about the Cherokee, this story still remains in the shadows. Nevertheless, whenever I spoke about the book, enthusiasm and interest was high.

My admiration for the people and places of the past has grown immensely. As I travelled 75 miles an hour in my comfy air-conditioned car, my thoughts were cast to the laborious, tedious journeys people endured, the isolation of remote farms, especially without husbands, the amount of effort required to get fed, clothed and to stay warm. As I struggled to avoid blaring music and advertising wherever I went, I ingested the precious moments of ‘silence’ – the wind, insects, the clopping of an Amish horse and buggy – a too-brief moment without reminders of the times we live in. What must the vast quiet and lack of distractions for those living in the 1800s have been like? Perhaps for a few seconds I could sense the sounds of their world.

This trip has grown and strengthened friendships, both old and new. Delight has come from discovering bonds of common passions with strangers. I was humbled, as well as honored, to spend time with Ridge descendants, which deepened my commitment to their ancestors’ story. Being in their presence brought life to the remarkable accomplishments and enduring legacy left behind by one family that connects us all.

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