Occoneechee

Occoneechee   —by Jinny Batterson

A small state nature preserve
Tucked alongside a busy interstate,
Its long name’s cadences intriguing.

The spring day promises pleasant weather,
A chance to view this year’s final flowerings
Of rhododendrons and mountain laurels.

At first, the trail smells burnt.
One side’s slope has little duff.
Tree trunks and deadfall are charred.

We ask other hikers about the fire.
A controlled burn, they say, set in the
Last month or so–shown on local news.

Further along, the fire’s aftermath gives
Way to ferns, blueberry bushes, saplings.
A hill, a turn–traffic noises recede.

More turns, another rise, our first view
Of the Eno, a local river whose flanks
In places are largely undeveloped.

A steep slope sheds rock shards into
Yesterday’s puddles, awash in laurel blossoms.

From some vantages, just forest and river below.
No visible structures. Nothing but the caramel color
Of the river water to signal human meddling.

Afterwards, I search variant spellings of the name.
The Occaneechi fished and hunted and fought here
Before the coming of Europeans.

Now only a few hundred tribal members are left.
They struggle to reclaim the heritage that
The hills and the rocks and the river remember.

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