How easily Maryrose Carroll could have begun her new book like this: Once upon a time. …
Once upon a time in a land known to few — even the locals would be hard-pressed to find it on a map — and deep in the Appalachian Mountains roamed beavers and their dams and their stories.
Today, little is left of the beavers or their dams: As Carroll tells us, it’s been a generation since anyone who lives there has seen one or the other.
Now, all that is left are the stories of Beaver Dams, a not-quite-fictional old-time expression for a small community “tucked away between Highway 321, heading out of Boone toward Watauga Lake, and Highway 421, going toward Mountain City, Tenn.”
It is into this pastoral, fairytale setting that Carroll takes us in “Tales From Beaver Dams” (Big Table Books), the first in a planned series of books, part memoir, part history and all love story for a land, its people and its memories.
Into this first brief collection of stories, Carroll has poured both the tales told by insiders and those she has witnessed firsthand during the quarter century she has called the area home. The result is a charming book of vignettes that captures the flavor of the High Country, offering concise doses of Appalachia history destined to be lost were it not for books such as this.
Recently, Mountain Times caught up with Carroll, a poet and author of nonfiction, to ask her a few questions about her most recent book. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.
MT: The first question is the most obvious to anyone who lives or has lived in the High Country. Beaver Dams sounds beautiful, idyllic and close-knit. Mountain communities prize their privacy. Might your neighbors not be a bit peeved at the exposure?
MC: That was a concern I also had. But, I just saw many of my neighbors at the May 8 election where I was an election official. They seemed eager to get the book when it arrives at the Stone Mountain Store. There hasn’t been a lot of attention to life out here in Beaver Dams, has there? One lady, 91, seated in her car for curbside voting, told me she couldn’t wait to get her hands on it. A friend who works at Sharpie’s restaurant on Highway 421 told me she thought it “was wonderful.”
MT: In “Tales From Beaver Dams,” animals and critters earn as much attention as the people you present, perhaps more so. Some of your tales remind me of James Herriot’s writings. Do you see any similarity between the English countryside of that old country vet and the place you live today?
MC: I loved the TV series “All Creatures Great and Small.” Because James Herriot was a veterinarian, he was telling tales based on life, which is what I have also done. It was Mark Twain who said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to probability, and truth ain’t.” I am a reader who enjoys any good read, but I especially brighten up if I know it really happened.
I actually learned an important life lesson from Herriot. It was a story where he meant to euthanize a sick sheep, but his dosage was short of being effective. When he returned three days later, he was amazed to find the sheep had recovered. He concluded that deep sleep had enabled the sheep’s recovery. Whenever I feel sick I go to bed, and so far, for many, many years, I have recovered.
There are similarities, I believe, all around the world among people who live in the country, in England, Wales, Scotland and West Africa where I have visited. Often people living the simplest lives, farmers, show the most gratitude for life, in whatever form it takes. I have heard of Bedouins who used to bring their horses into their tents. My breath is taken away when I see the images of Mongolian horse riders who hunt with eagles. I remember hearing of a time out here in Beaver Dams where a snow was so deep the only way to deliver emergency medicine was by horse riders.
MT: Your tales will certainly resonate with local readers — there are enough names to make more than a few connections — but they will also enchant a wider audience. How difficult was it to write for both worlds?
MC: I know it is a cliche to say it’s one world, but in my experience, it is. This morning I will go out to see if the native fringe tree, Granny Greybeard, is releasing out its intoxicating fragrance. Afterward, I will also surf the Internet. Through that crazy connection of global networks, I can learn amazing things. For instance, the critters I love, horses, always know when to put on or shed their winter coats. I had read that horses, on an evolutionary scale, are related to elephants, and a Netflix show on elephants informed me that they can sense the presence and number of nearby lions or the presence of water through the soles of their feet. So, I imagine horses pick up pertinent information through their hooves protecting them from heat or cold.
MT: Of the tales you tell in this book, which is your favorite?
MC: It has to be the tale of the miracle recovery of my horse after I fed her a bottle of hard apple cider. Both my vet and I thought she was going to die. I was even pondering on what neighbor with a backhoe I could call to dig her grave. A horse is too big to just go out with a shovel and dig!
MT: You make it clear that “Tales From Beaver Dams” is the first in a series. From where will the next collection pick up?
MC: Ah, the next “Tales from Beaver Dams” will feature a woman everyone out here admired, Mama Grace Eggers. Believe me, she was grace personified. She was an older woman when I met her who used to call me ‘young’un’.
She raised many children and was a wonderful quilter. I will never forget the time she was waving a broom, mounted on her riding lawn mower to chase a wandering cow out of her garden. I might have started my series with her except that she had passed on 10 years ago and C. B. Reese was still living at 95. I wanted him to see “his” book. Believe me when I say I have tons of tales to write about here out in Beaver Dams.