RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Thursday, May 11


Those who know me well enough know my meditative escape is to walk the railroad tracks along the James River, specifically the CSX Rivanna subdivision line between Gladstone and Columbia. I’ve been back-and-forth along most every mile of that 63-mile chunk of track multiple times; and about six miles either way of the 69 mile marker between Shores and the Strathmore yard is my definite home on Earth power zone. That is my dirtgod territory, staked by illegitimate arts galore, in the form of scattered railroad haiku spike prayer intentions as well as scribbling chicken scratch Rojonekku markings on resting freight cars with white and red  paint sticks. I have marked that area strongly with the piss from my heart, and though I have no legal claim over any inch of land (or river) there, it is heavy with my metaphysical mark.
Situated within the James River along this stretch are a few batches of tiny islands, including one cluster historically mentioned on maps as Seven Islands. On the south side of the river is Buckingham County, and the north side is Fluvanna County, and I’m not even sure which county the islands belong to (legally speaking), but there’s been no human development on these islands for over a century, and the most you ever see is packs of river kayakers camping there overnight in the summer months. I began to wade across and scatter railroad haiku spikes there just because it was abandoned to humanity (for the most part) and it made sense to me to do that. So I did it, for many months, now and then as the mood struck me. (Some would call this “the mood” inspiration, or a muse, or universal forces at play. Others would say none of that is provable by science so don’t speak of it.)
It was on one of these ventures to scatter railroad haiku spikes that I had my first encounter with the elven people, namely one of their sentry guards named Chubb. There had been times when I thought someone was lurking, or watching me while I tromped around the Seven Islands, but I figured that was just my natural human paranoia and fear, not anything real. But this one particular time, I was in one of my weird moods where I was “feeling” exactly where the universe wanted me to plant one of these railroad haiku spikes, using my human body as a divining rod of sorts, crouched down digging a narrow hole with my forefingers like a scrabbly raccoon, when I heard a voice say, “Why do you keep doing that?” I looked around startled, but didn’t see anybody, so crouched still for a few more seconds then slowly began digging again. I liked to plant the spikes, with the head being the only thing sticking out the ground, pointed in whatever direction I felt was important with that spike, imagining each haiku as a prayer intention, being sown into the Earth. That shit sounds kinda crazy as I type it out, which is why stuff like that I guess is better to just do than actually spell out for people, but then again, that’s not much different than mythology, and it was in doing that exact task – kinda crazy or not – that I again heard a voice say, “Why exactly do you put those things into the ground?”
This time the voice was pretty close, just behind me, and I turned and saw a little bearded dude dressed in burlap Hammer pants and a tank top. He had a pretty thick bushy beard, and little bandana tied around his head. Obviously, it was disconcerting to see something so out of the ordinary, but then again I was the one fucking around on an island in the James River, poking haiku carved into railroad spikes into the ground like they were plants, so I wasn’t exactly in any position to be judging other motherfuckers.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I feel like perhaps that question is better asked of you, sir. This is where I belong. You do not belong to here.” His eyes were very old but face young. I was still squatting in the dirt, but he couldn’t have been more than 30 inches tall, max. “Again sir, I ask you, why are you doing that with those things, and who exactly are you? What is the cause of your affairs here?”
(Looking back, and knowing what I know about elven people now, it strikes me as to the casual interaction of his interrogation. Chubb was a sentry who guarded the elven islands, so essentially he was their culture’s version of a cop; yet he was nothing like any human cop I’d ever dealt with. No judgment, no predisposition to distrust or dislike you – just simple questions waiting for a simple answer.)
“I don’t know. I put little poems onto these things, and then poke them into the ground.”
“Yes, we have seen them. We enjoy poetry much here, though we don’t completely understand yours, as you are obviously burdened by the internal conflict of being a human. We have foun and read some of them though. But why do you stick them into the ground like so? What is the point of a poem if you do not share it with others and instead make it disappear? What if nobody knew?”

“I don’t know. I guess it makes me feel like if it’s meant to survive, it will. Somebody will come find it. Or it’ll just rust away in the ground if need be.”
The little dude looked at me askew. “That’s really complicated thinking, and yet kind of stupid, with all due respect. I do not mean to belittle what you are making a great undertaking of doing, but it is convoluted logic. These are not seeds. They are spikes from the railroad tracks over there.”

I didn’t really know what to say. Again, his demeanor was not antagonistic, so if a cop had said that to me, I would’ve become belligerent. But with this guy it wasn’t like that. He was right for the most part. I was kinda stupid, sticking railroad spikes that I carved haiku on into the dirt. Some of these spikes had taken me a significant afternoon’s worth of time and carving tool investment to do.
“Look sir, I would like to know why you are here, because, well forgive me. I am called Chubb. I am a guard for these islands where I make sure humans don’t wander too deeply or abundantly. You are, obviously, a human, and you are, again obviously, wandering fairly deeply here. Thus, I must know the nature of your affairs. Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. Just scattering these things around.”
“But why here? Why not over there? I have seen you walking those tracks before, and usually that seems to be enough for you. Why do you decide to wade through the waters and enter our islands?”

I wasn’t sure who “our” was at this point, because I’d only seen weekend campers who had been floating the river, and this little guy. “I didn’t know anybody owned it. I thought it was just an island.”
“Who said anyone owns this? And it is an island, a very just island, which is why I need to know your affairs here. As soon as possible, if you please.” The little guy made a shrieking yell. The low lying brush rustled heavily forty feet further onto the island, and a single crow started cawing overhead, high in one of the trees.
“What’s going on over there?”
“Who are you, and what are your affairs here?” the little guy said, rather sternly for the first time. “Tell me now, or else.”
“Or else what?” I laughed, standing up, chip on my shoulder. Chubb gave a quick yelp, and almost immediately I got pelted three or four times along the shoulders and chest.
“Who are you, and what are your affairs here? Next time we aim for your head, human.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, hold on. My name is Raven, and I don’t have any affairs here other than fucking around. I thought it was an empty island and I was just fucking around, putting spikes over here. I didn’t mean to bother anybody.”
Chubb gave another quick call, almost like a birdcall, and the brush rustled backwards. “Sit down, the human they call Raven. Wait here while I send my comrades back.” He turned to walk towards the brush from whence the rustling had come, quickling turning back, “But if you try to do anything complicated, the rocks shall fly again. I am Chubb, Seven Islands sentry, and meister of the rocks. Do not challenge those titles, if you please.” And he walked. I laughed to myself thinking “Chubb Rock” and it would end up being exactly what I called him, and he called me “the human they call Raven” formally but Raven as we became friends.
When Chubb came back, he had some elfweed in a small pipe. (Upon later research, I realized elfweed was jimson weed, or datura, but when I tried to ask Chubb this later one time, he was like, “No, you silly complicated human. It is elfweed. It has always been called elfweed, and that is exactly what it is. Elfweed.”) He smoked without offering that day, but asked me all about why I chose the island, where I lived in relation to there, charting out my existence.
“Is there one of your mileposts where you live, like that 69 over there?”
“No. Those go along the railroad tracks mostly. But we have roads, and I live like three roads over, past Kidd’s Store.”
“In which direction? What quarry are you near?”
“Quarry? I don’t know. I’m not sure there are quarries over there.”
“Don’t be stupid, human Raven. There are quarries everywhere. How else do you find stones? Down river I know your people have been digging at the grey slate stone for centuries now. It’s quite sad what’s been done there really. What could you possibly be doing with all those beautiful slabs of slate? And up river, I know there are many quartz veins that emanate through this area, mostly off-white, but a few places of pure star white, and a few bursts of pink rose quartz, and even in the direction you point of a beautiful amber stone.”
“Oh yeah, I think there used to be an old rodonite mine by Kidd’s Store years ago. I’ve always meant to try and find it but it’s someone else’s property. I remember reading the stones there were golden brown like that.”

“Why does that stop you?”
“Well, you’re not supposed to go wandering through other people’s property,” which seemed like a really stupid thing for me to be saying as I was talking to the tiny sentry of this island which obviously did not belong to me, but I was here anyways, stabbing it with haiku. Chubb didn’t say this himself, but I could tell he had thunk the same string of thoughts.
“So you live in the region of the amber quarry, you think, but cannot be sure because of property limitations.” He took another puff of elfweed, and looked me over. His eyes were easier now, not so cutting. “Tell me of your poetry, the human they call Raven. What is it about?”
It was about five in the evening, early May when this happened, so we sat there and talked various philosophies of poesy until dusk. My explanations felt smart and superior when I started, but as he responded, and spoke of intimate knowledge of the poetry of crows and the poetry of the river ripples and holy fuck, the poetry of the heron. The poetry of the heron talk he gave, I was sitting there wishing I could remember every word, wishing I had recorded it, because it made so much fucking sense. And yet when I went home that night and tried to write it out on paper, it looked stupid. When hearing it, I thought it was the most brilliant thing I’d ever heard, like a mainline into my heart of pure concentrated literary knowledge. But filtered through my limited human English vocabulary, it wasn’t so amazing. I don’t put that on the poetry of the heron knowledge so much as my ability to relay it. Something definitely got lost in translation.
But we talked poetry until almost dark, when I waded back across. As I left, Chubb said, “I will ask of you, the human they call Raven, do not speak to your fellow humans of this place freely. I find you amusing in your pretentious superiority, yet so sweet of heart. But I will not relay that amusement easily to others. Let no one come with you to these islands, or you all shall catch rocks – sharp ugly rocks straight to your eyeballs. But if you come alone, now and then, not often, but now and then, and make yourself be known so as to not startle us who are here on this island, if I am able, I will talk with you. And I hope you will talk with me as well.”

And that is how I first met Chubb Rock and learned of the elven people who lived on the islands in the James River, though I didn’t know anything more than Chubb Rock existed for certain at that point; at least Chubb and a couple others who were really good at throwing stones.

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