The smoke from the cabin’s chimney trails skyward through the falling snow.
A thick covering of white rests on the mountains and the trees east of Asheville, North Carolina.
The cabin forms a picture that seems as old as time. Snow falling in the hills, a crackling fire to huddle around, wood smoke in the air.
I’m traveling down through Carolina to see my daughter, who goes to school down here. But I’m also traipsing through time and history.
My ancestors – my mother’s people – crossed these mountains on their way to Indiana. Something about hill country must have spoken to them, because they settled in the knobs between Salem and Scottsburg more than 200 years ago, before Indiana even was a state. They stayed there until near the end of the 20th century.
I drive through a divided land. The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump winds its way to an end likely to be unsatisfactory to Americans on both sides of the chasm. Both left and right have new reasons to snarl at each other.
The deep and angry divisions prompt anxious handwringing in every corner. Liberals, conservatives and even moderates indulge in visions of apocalypse.
That’s not surprising. America always has been a nation of both hope and dread.
We yearn for the promised land offered by dreams of open country and limitless possibility and quake at the thought that possibility that limitless also flings wide the doors to forces dark and tragic.
My ancestor who crossed these mountains was one of three brothers. All three were young – younger than my daughter, a junior in college, and my son, a senior in high school, are now.
They didn’t have a map and the country across which they traveled still was in many ways unknown.
Somehow, they found their way.
The family had come in the years before the American Revolution to the Carolinas from Ireland. They were lowland Scots who had been transported to Ireland to graft a Protestant presence onto that Catholic country.
They fled Ireland to escape the heavy yoke of the crown. They left the Carolinas because they could not abide slavery.
Neither the oppressed nor the oppressor would they be.
Those three boys who climbed mountains and crossed rivers to find a new life did not escape troubles for themselves or their posterity.
Living off the land in the hills of Southern Indiana was hard and demanded grinding toil. Nor, even locked in a remote piece of America, could they escape the reach of history.
Like many Hoosiers of Scotch-Irish descent, I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. Whether they wore blue or gray came down to how they defined oppression and whom they wanted to liberate.
That epic conflict, family legend has it, left wounds between brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and children that did not heal for years, even generations.
Just as it did with America.
Somehow, the family endured.
As I look at the cabin on the hilltop, its chimney wafting gray smoke through the snow’s feathery white, I muse that it is the kind of sight those three brothers could have seen more than two centuries ago.
Some things are eternal.
We live in an often cold world and hunger for warmth. Smoke rises. Snow falls.
They always have.
They always will.
My daughter now attends a college not far from where our ancestors first settled in what were then the American colonies.
Somehow that seems fitting.
You see, we’ve traveled this stretch of country before.
We can do it again.