Turn in at the little piece of white fence . . .

For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in a place where the driving directions included the phrase, “Turn off the paved road.” I love that so many places in Appalachia can be reached not by driving down highways or paying attention to street signs, but by following more . . . organic descriptions.

Spreading oaks, winding creeks, rickety barns, big rocks, and even livestock provide directional markers in my neck of the woods. You might be told to “Turn left at the Millers’ Farm,” even though the Millers left twenty years ago, and someone named Johnson lives there now.

Directions can also turn into eloquent commentaries on the land. “Go on down the road a piece, you’ll see some rolling fields off to your left. George Smith farms those fields, keeps as nice a farm as I ever seen. When you top out on a little rise, you’ll see a big old maple on the right–prettiest tree in the county come October. Turn there.”

But my all-time favorite directions were given to a photographer acquaintance of mine. He was traveling the back roads of Western North Carolina photographing pockets of Appalachia that seemed frozen in time. (I highly recommend his books, especially The Face of Appalachia.) He asked for directions to a particular farm and was told to, “Turn at the horse.” He asked what to do if the horse wasn’t there. He was assured that it would be. And over the course of several trips the horse was, indeed, where he was supposed to be every time.

It’s a special part of the world that can use a horse to point the way. And probably, when the horse dies, the directions will run, “Turn where that old horse used to stand.”

Now that’s where I want to live.