Tag Archives: Appalachia

A Day at Flat Lick Falls

Never the most flexible person, at least I had a great sense of balance, thanks to my low center of gravity.  I was sorely tested — tested and found wanting — last weekend when I found myself crammed in a car for a little jaunt up the road to hike to a waterfall tucked away somewhere out of Berea. 

Of course I was up for it, especially after my buddy assured us that the waterfall was really just a short walk from the road, really about “from here to about there.” he said, pointing out to the curb. It’s never just “from here to there,” is it?

After driving along winding roads for half an hour, and after a great lunch at Opal’s, off the square at McKee, we arrived at Flat Lick Falls, in Jackson County.  We parked in a small meadow with ten other cars. We followed the little path disappearing into the woods, and soon we encountered a rocky and root-infested obstacle course.

To give five you an idea, here is the description taken from the website, “American Byways”:

“Flat Lick Falls is quite scenic, nestled within a narrow valley and accessible by a wild trail that involves walking across streams and down steep embankments. At the base of the 30-foot Flat Lick Falls is a small swimming hole.”

Ah, yes, the wild trail.  He forgot to mention that.

flat lick fallsBut the trail was nothing compared to the boulders and rocks we scurried down to reach the stream and waterfall. We arrived to the sounds of rushing water, kids laughing and the image of young men and women taking flying leaps off the ledge of a 30 foot cliff and disappearing from sight. Each jumper made a splash, a big one or a little one, and a cheer went up from the swimmers in the pool below. 

The waterfall rushed and sent an imperceptible mist up to cool the hot day.  We weren’t jumping of course, but there was a rocky path leading down to the swimming hole, and we took off for that.

I went  about 10 feet until it narrowed to barely a foot-width, dropping off to a craggy and certain death.  I had stumbled already a few times just getting to the falls and I spooked myself looking at that tiny ledge, and was aware that I lack the agility to catch myself if I make a misstep and I didn’t fancy spending the rest the next two hours dangling from a basket dropped by a rescue helicopter while my friends photographed it and posted it on Facebook.

My pals picked their way down the rocky path and spent a delightful hour playing in the water, walking under the falls and exploring the creek bed.  I stayed topside and flat lick falls jumperschatted with some men who have been coming to the falls since they were kids.  Older now, they weren’t tempted to jump off the cliff, although they said they did that plenty as boys. 

One guy was solid and sure when his buddies asked him if he were going to jump.

“Of course not,” he said, folding his arms like Buddha.  This didn’t keep him from egging on the others, though, especially the one fellow who spent a half hour mustering the courage to go over the side.  He over-thought it, walking to the edge, shaking his arms, walking back.  He finally threw his t-shirt into the drink so now there was nothing to do but go after it.

Which he did.

When my pals returned they told me that, really, I would have been just fine had I joined them, that even if I had fallen off that little ledge, I would only have dropped about five feet, not all the way down.  They are reassuring that way.

I wanted to have joined them, but more than that I wanted to feel like I might have been able to join them, to feel steady on my feet, strong, agile enough for such an adventure.

Because, as adventures go, it was a small one. I was happy enough on my own, a stream to wade and birdsong, but for the first time I got a glimpse of not being able to do, and I didn’t like it.  Didn’t like it at all. Perhaps I’ll take up yoga, or tai chi.  Something.  I don’t want to be sitting on a safe rock or bench while my friends are about their adventures.

For Mike


“Mike Mullins”

Greta McDonough

If you were listening hard on Sunday,  you heard the sound of a thousand hearts breaking.  Appalachia lost a good friend and native son that night.    Hindman Settlement School lost its guiding light.  Writers lost their patron saint.

And of course, his family lost so much more.

Mike Mullins, executive director of the Hindman Settlement School, died suddenly at the age of 63.  He had been director of the school since 1977 and he directed the ship with a keen eye and a kind hand ever since.

I have written in the space about my experiences at the Hindman Writers Workshop.  I am not sure I have written specifically about Mike.  What you need to know is this.  It was Mike who gave the workshop breath, he had the vision for how the week should go, and he was the gruff but lovable camp director that made sure his vision was fulfilled.

Everyone washed dishes.


He said it was to help keep costs down, and I don’t doubt that.  But it also ensured that no one got too big for their britches.  Not the participants, not the important writers who served as faculty for the week.

At least twice during the week everyone donned their flimsy plastic aprons, bused the tables, manned the sprayer and put away hundreds of plates, glasses and flatware.

We took almost as much pride in being the best dishwashing crew as we did being the best writers in class.  Thank you for that, Mike.

He insisted that the faculty, established and famous writers all, sit with the participants at meals.  There was no staff table.  This meant that we each had a chance to eat cobbler with Lee Smith, or soup beans with Robert Morgan, Silas House, or Gurney Norman.

Mike insisted the faculty mingle informally with the participants.  If he heard that wasn’t happening, he got busy fixing it.

He insisted that returning participants befriend and make welcome all the first-timers.  At orientation he told us plainly that he expected that, and he meant it.  It was summer camp all over again, and we loved this little ritual, smiling while he spoke to us sternly.

Then he warned us about the snakes.

Big ones.


He recounted the places on campus he had seen them, right where we would be stepping, right about this time of night, and we had better be on the lookout.  We loved this little ritual, too.  We waited for it, laughed when he brought it up, but we couldn’t begin a week at Hindman without hearing it.

One orientation  he forgot to mention the snakes and all the old-timers’ heads snapped up, looked around, blinking and disoriented. We teased him about the snake story and he was good-natured about it.  It was one more way in which he took care of his children at the forks of Troublesome Creek for one week every summer.

We aren’t the only ones who feel his loss.  The Daughters of the American Revolution have long supported Hindman Settlement School, and members of almost all chapters know him.  When I shared the news of his passing with friends who are in the DAR, they were as shocked and upset as we were.  He worked with DAR chapters all over the country, and they came to know and love Mike, too.

I thought he belonged to us alone.

Because he was ours, at least for a little bit, in the ways that mattered most.

We speak of our Hindman family, openly and unashamedly.  We call ourselves kin, and so we are.  We are the kin our hearts have chosen.  Mike created the space for that to happen.  We have gathered in. Wept. We have loved each other through his passing as only family can.

Friends have posted so many pictures of Mike these past few days.  Mike, always smiling, his arm around his sweet wife, Frieda, Mike with his children, grand babies in his lap.  A smiling Mike pushed back in his office chair, ready to chat about a new book or just any old thing.

And that was our Mike.  Constant and steady, a happy warrior, a man with a heart big enough for all his family.  A man who stood at the Forks of Troublesome and welcomed his children home.