The Sewanee Stonemasters

posted by dpm on 01/26/2010

The Sewanee Stonemasters
by Cody Averbeck
No one remembers who coined it, or who was first to use it, but the term "Stonemaster" suddenly materialized in our conversation… Just mentioning the name was to conjure The Stonemaster himself and his lightening struck us right between the eyes… And just as the wave commands of the water, the Stonemaster abruptly took charge of our bodies, which torqued and twitched as though some dark force had leapt from hell directly into our loins…This was about us, and stupendous rocks, since we were rock climbers after all. We'd been force-fed and were now spewing forth the greatest revelation of them all-that nothing held us back. It was like being birthed out the barrel of a cannon.
John Long, A Short History of the Stonemasters
Awake. I sat up in the darkness - peeling my body from one of Sewanee’s finest blue linoleum mattresses. Streaks of sweat were deflected off it like water to wax. My small electric fan hummed cooingly in my ear. What am I doing, I thought. A stranger whom I’d just met hours before slept a cautious bed length away. His breathing seemed to echo through the tight cluster of our white washed cinder block room. We hung posters, two tone Christmas lights, and sequenced beads in order to fight the fear of open places – of each other – and everything new and above us. I laid my head down hard. I wanted to be on the road - I wanted to be in California - I wanted to be free - or at least that’s what I told myself. Maybe I just wanted to matter.
And so I left that room for others. I sat in circles and in rows. I listened to lectures and discussions where confident people spoke passionately and fluidly of their ideas. Yet, sitting there, I felt a distance. As if detached and removed from a world of real interaction and meaning, I drifted towards the sides – towards the corners. And I found myself there on the end. Slumped in shadows, I waited for something meaningful to find me.
And so I turned my head from that flat top world of chiseled sandstone buildings towards the dormant lichen covered stone of the slopes below. Not knowing much of where I was or what I was looking for, I put foot to soft earth and went.
Down the drainage. Down the plateau. Follow the water – find the rock. Skating, slipping, falling, I tripped over my enthusiasm as I hopped between small boulders, as I ducked under dead trees, and as I crashed through bearclaw – through briars – and through webs of grape vine. And all the while, as I plunged my foot through a vacant root hole – as I slid down a rock slab coated in ancient rotting leaves – and as I trusted my weight to an all too young rhododendron – I felt a burgeoning tingling in my fingers and a slight variance in my voice that had been absent in the world above.  
And when I finally crested that hill and saw it there, I would avert my eyes – holding it in my periphery as I deliberately examined all the outlaying knee-high piles of rotten stone. And after having finished my encroaching circle – after having delayed the release like a kid on Christmas morning who saves the biggest one, I finally rushed in with my fingers dancing and my voice cracking. I would haphazardly throw my stuff down as I neared the unclimbed boulder – or the discarded small cliff line – or the undiscovered looming wall. And I would grip every edge and every pebble I could reach. Intimately scanning and memorizing, I would dream those rocks into existence. Stepping back, my head cocked, I would stare up for hours. A few shadows, some dark lines, some thick lichen – all were part of the could be and the what if
And when my palms beat in anticipation at the base – when my tendons and ligaments creaked and screamed on the wall – and when my body rested on the summit, I all the while felt something growing in me. As I looked to the west – to Sewanee’s limitless creeks and hills and caves that showed their expanse through the fading glow, I felt a root grow in me where there was once no ground– a thought where there was only uncertainty – and an electric youth that entered my body and twisted and contorted it and set it on fire and watched it as it stormed off to rip down and topple great rocks. I felt a wholeness build inside of me.
And soon I wasn’t alone. The electric youth – the faceless wraith – the Stonemaster caught others. Chasing them down, cornering them against impassable walls of briars and vines, he would silently hang there – waiting for them to slowly turn. And when they did, when they met him with hollow voices and cold quaking hands, he would leap forward and shake them until their skin flushed – until their blood boiled – until it steamed up from their eyes. And with fire and youth flowing from their fingertips, they would spring out. Barreling down the plateau, they would whoop and holler – letting their brazen voices guide them until we all met in the middle. And there we would throw ourselves at the stone. Eyes and hearts ablaze, our bodies would twist and contract as we pulled, squeezed, and pressed with the grips of our youth.
And then we would return. We would transfer to the academic world above what we felt – what we had become. More than the violent action – more than the twisting and turning – pulling and pressing – the Stonemaster grabbed hold and invigorated our minds. He would set a flame – a thought – and like a brush fire, it would consume us all. Throwing us into the pyre – he would watch as we yelled our ideas – as we stomped and waved and argued into the night. And all the while, he would stand there and smile.
But soon we slowed and peered over our shoulders. So consumed and driven by our paths, our voices suddenly came back to us echoing off some distant edge. So we stopped and turned – expecting him to be there to bring us back to the heart of things. And when he wasn’t – when the only sounds were those of new young voices barreling over each other in the night – when we could see him sneaking there in shadows that weren’t ours – and when we saw fires lit in the distant dark - then, I knew.
These places and these things are cruel. When you leave them, they lock part of you away. At Sewanee, when you leave the gates for the last time, parts of your memories and experiences betray you and stay within the boundaries of that place. Ransoming for your return, they call and call until you have no choice but to come rummage through the past. And when you find but a shabby broken piece of what once was whole, you must remember that, though our experiences and memories may leave our persons, they are recycled and remade into the fabric of this place. For these things – this mountain and the force that stalks it - have no end.
Come and see.  


Check out a video of the area HERE