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Dot Jackson was born to Appalachian parents in Miami in 1932, and gave up her college studies of music and dance to become a writer. She turned an abiding curiosity into a lifelong career in newspapers, where she covered the mountain regions of the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee, going from murder trials to snake-handling prayer meetings to some of the hardest-fought environmental battles of our times.
As an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer, she wrote about, and often brought to justice, the industrial polluters whose stories garnered Jackson several Pulitzer Prize nominations and a National Conservation Writer of the Year award. She also has collaborated on several acclaimed books of non-fiction.
Jackson, now 73, is co-founder and on-site manager of the developing Birchwood Center for Arts and Folklife in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. She has spent her life exploring the dusty back roads and forgotten hamlets of Appalachia, and still fights to preserve the culture of this threatened region.
Refuge is Dot Jackson's first book-length work of fiction. It spent many years as a yellowing manuscript under the bed - and more recently was stored in a mentor's refrigerator, to protect it from the hazards of life in the intensely rustic setting in which its author thrives.
I thank you that you're here, beloved friend. We need to have a talk. There's something in the wind - I've not ever had such a feeling as has come over me today. I was sitting here sewing on this baby quilt a while ago; you were out fishing, tearing up ducks, whatever - which I thank you also for eating outside. Feathers and bloody mess scattered all over is not what we need this evening, on account of what I am about to tell you.
Which is, well, I don't quite know. A while ago I made this little fire. I go down for wood and I see it is running out, which is the first time that has happened, that it's not stovewood enough I'd say to get us through a week. And when the wind blew so hard a shower of rocks fell down the chimney; I know we ought not to use this fireplace but it got so chilly I was cold to my bones. That wind!
I get the fire going and I sit down here and must have, just a little bit, dozed off to sleep. And that old mournful wind howling down the gap, moaning in the hemlocks, playing the deep strings.
And I hear Isolde singing.
Now, I've heard plenty of strange singing on this place; heard it down the chimney, and out amidst the briers. But this was something else again. Nothing like that other. I've not heard Isolde in I guess thirty years, and now she wakes me with a jolt. Oh, it was glorious. I woke up with the tears just streaming.
First thing I thought, It's my mother. Aw, no - my mother is lying dead for years and years, somewhere in France, beside that last old man she married - the tenor. I never can bring back his name.
Fact is, when I thought about it, my mother never was this good a singer. She tried. She aspired. But beside this she'd sound like a wind-up canary. And now it dawns on me: it's Pet. It's my daughter. Although you would never put us together. Pet is big-boned and blond; big chest. She has this Isolde voice my mother would have died for. And I bet she has (excuse me) pissed it away, in that snobby Episcopal choir. Maybe this was just the ghost of dead possibility.
Whatever else, my dear friend, it is a sign.
You have never seen my daughter but I think that's fixing soon to change. She has been real put out with me for quite some time, as I have probably told you. She thinks it is not civilized the way I live. I am an embarrassment; a family disgrace. The crazy old woman.
Can't say as I blame her. But since I put my dimestore glasses down somewhere I can't see to write worth a toot. If that nice old guy can't get up here with his logging truck, I can't get any mail and can't send any. I know it's been at least a month now. And Pet's off down there in Charleston with her step-ins in a wad.
Odds on, it's her all right, in my dream. I'll give you ten to one she's out there, wroth as the Queen of the Night, rolling this way. Pet and her sweet, fat man are in their big car, heading for a showdown. And this time I may be just too spent to fight her. Plus, she's got reason to act up. Last letter I got I made out that she is fixing to have another baby, at way past 40 and her two girls nearly grown. Didn't sound thrilled. Maybe she does need me. Do you think I'm too absolutely crazy to be of any use?
Which brings up the saddest point: this may be goodbye for us, my dearest, best bird. You can have no notion what your companionship has meant to me. It is not just the fish and rabbits and things that you have brought to keep me alive. It's not just that you've literally saved my life more ways than one. All that was certainly a blessing these last years. That and having something live, something wise and kind as you to talk to. Without you I think I might have lost the power of speech. Maybe the rest of my mind, too.
Now, whether or not I wish it - and I can't say whether truthfully I do or do not, a change is on the wind. If you come home one evening soon and find your window closed, please understand a rumpus is going on, and just go on back into the birch grove, and make your life where my heart will always be.
What I have to think of, from this moment, is what I'm going to say to humankind. How will I explain a lot of things? Down in Charleston I have two granddaughters that I do not know at all. And another baby coming. Folks in high society. What will they make of this old wraith? What on earth do I say to them?
By their lights nothing but softening of the brain would bring someone back up here to live this way. And they don't know the half of it. Am I to tell them why? Am I to tell them what it was I did? Bird, I did a dreadful thing. I came here desperate, and I thought my heart would break for the love of what I found. And then I would not rest until I destroyed it.
And you want to hear the worst? I would do it again. Oh yes, oh yes, I would do it. God forgive my soul, but I don't think I could help it.
Now, how am I going to put this so those girls will not despise me? And it still be every bit the truth? Go on to sleep, beloved. I have to study about this. I have to think.