Night light

PEOPLE are fond of saying, ``You can't go home again,'' quoting the title of Thomas Wolfe's internationally known novel. Yet, Mr. Wolfe, my husband and I have gone home again, summer after summer. Home to our beloved sycamore trees and rollicking mountain stream in the quiet serenity of your beloved Smoky Mountains. We do not own the property. It is a family campground. Technically, I would say, for the summer, we lease the privilege of owning these giant trees and the frothing, musical little stream known as Conley's Creek.

There are many things about the campground that we enjoy, like coming home to the slower world we knew as children. There is always the charm of fireflies at dusk, reminding me of lines from a poem I wrote years ago: ``Notes of a melody, ages old/ Melody of little children/ Seeking fireflies for lanterns of gold.''

On misty nights, I have watched their magnified lanterns of gold rising from the damp grasses toward the treetops, as our youngest used to say, ``big as a barrel.''

We have a lot of carefree memories associated with our mountain home, which began as an assortment of tents and is now a motor coach.

Our three youngsters are grown now, with families of their own. Yet whenever possible, they too return ``home'' to climb the nature trail of their favorite mountain behind the campground, to swim and fish in the pond, or reminisce about the funny things that have happened here.

One of these incidents took place when we arrived at camp in the late afternoon, too tired to hook up to electricity and running water, yet somehow finding energy to walk halfway up the mountain trail.

My husband and I remained comfortably seated under a huge maple in the deep forest when the children said they would return to camp and take care of things for us.

We lingered longer than intended, looking up through the interlacing tree boughs, watching the splintered sunlight that gilded the forest floor. It was like a fairyland, hushed and beautiful.

I had learned that a pioneer family with 13 children had once lived where there is still a pile of rocks and outline of a chimney close to the nature trail. I wonder what it must have been like in their dirt-floor cabin with supplies being brought up the mountain on a sled.

It was dark before we returned to camp but the children weren't worried. They were giggling. Taking us by the hands, they said they had something they wanted to show us.

``You don't have to hook up to electricity,'' the youngest chortled, ``we fixed it for you!''

They opened the zippered doorway and ushered us into the pop-up tent, which was dark except for sudden, silent explosions of light. We sank down on the beds and laughed until we cried. There were dozens of lightning bugs inside.

I must admit we were awake for a long time watching them until the instigator of the project asked with a giggle, ``How in the world do you turn them off?''

``You turn them off by closing your eyes,'' her father thundered. ``Tomorrow morning you're going to take every one of them out of here!''

He then promised in a lighter tone, ``Someday I'm going to write a book about camping and call it, `Fireflies in my Apache!' Thanks for the title. Now go to sleep!''

Mr. Wolfe, you have often written about time being a river flowing to the sea. It is true that the summers here have flown by, but once again we are returning to our real home here, bounded by sycamores and flowing water.

Often at night I have returned with the children from the community shower house, seeing stars flashing in the velvety black sky or the moon rising over your beloved mountains wreathed in mist.

I wonder, Thomas Wolfe, if you, as a famous writer, have ever known this kind of home. It is not made of walls or things but of nature and people who camp here each summer. It is not far away from your boyhood home in Asheville, which the state has preserved for interested visitors.

I believe you did.

The world was your home and your nostalgic writings are still finding a home in the hearts of your readers.

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