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  • Hunting Mr. Faulkner
  • Robert Ashcom (bio)

This story begins near the village of Ivy—which is six miles west of Charlottesville, Virginia—at the intersection of two rusty barbed-wire fences where, on a spring morning after a rain, I found my pony's tracks in the wet red clay of an ancient cow path. And, although I still couldn't see her up ahead, I knew from the tracks where she must have gone—where she must be hiding.

There were other tracks at the crossing that morning that I couldn't name, but the pony tracks were easy. And, when I found her, I rode out over the rust-colored broom-sage fields in a world so quiet that the swish of the pony's feet through the tall grass was the only sound beyond the distant call of a crow and the incessant murmur of insects and birds going about the ecstasy of spring.

I was a curious soul, drawn to the land the way some people are drawn to the sea. It was soon after World War ii, and the rhythms of the village's seasonal round, like the cycle of tides, had changed little since the days of the Civil War. Andrew Wilson ran the communal hog-killing behind the store every January; and Leedy Waytes, another black man of local distinction, drove his team of work mares named Jewel and Queen around the neighborhoods to do gardening chores for white ladies. On any given morning you would see Leedy's team waiting patiently for him to emerge from the store, mount the old spring-seat wagon, pick up the lines, and go on his way at a pace unimaginable in the present world.

My family lived on a seven-hundred-acre farm called Spring Hill that was now little more than large pastures of broom sage with barbed-wire fences falling into total disrepair. Our cottage was at the bottom of a hill. The big house at the top was the home of Garrard Glenn, an ancient and distinguished law professor, and his wife, Rosa, a fiction writer. Professor [End Page 455] Glenn was from New York originally, but Cousin Rosa, as she was known to much of the village, was from an old Ivy family, and Spring Hill had been her family's home place for generations. And, while the Glenns don't feature in the present account, their presence created the ambience essential to the working out of my relationship with Andrew Wilson, and the umbrella under which we all lived. When Professor Glenn died we moved to Kirklea on the other side of the village, next to the church.

The Glenns at that time were looked after by Andrew Wilson and his wife, Flossie. Flossie took care of the house and did the cooking and churned butter. Andrew milked the cow every morning and evening. In addition to the cow and the grounds and driving Professor Glenn—and various seasonal responsibilities, such as hog-killing—Andrew looked after me. He was under no obligation to do this. There was no arrangement between my parents and Andrew. Our relationship just happened; but as a result he put up with my incessant questions about the land and the creatures which lived on it, both animal and human being. When I remember myself frightened as a little boy, I recall his blunt hand, deep black, enclosing mine, providing me with security—against anything. I also recall his smile, which lights up my mind as I write this. Andrew was my first connection to the land, and as I grow older—in my personal world of ghosts and saints—his presence looms larger and larger.

When I went away to college in New England in the fall of 1958, I knew who William Faulkner was, but I had read only a few pages of his work. The reason for this was that my high-school librarian, Lady B. Walton, while encouraging my early interest in Conrad and Hemingway, heartily discouraged me from reading Faulkner, whom she considered nearly unintelligible and probably obscene.

Our community was still so rural that I was the first person in...


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pp. 455-465
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