THE LADY OF WHY-NOT

By John Thomas Tuft

Big Chuck worked for a power company in a northern state as an electrical lineman. He made good money, worked hard, loved his wife, minded his P’s and Q’s, got all the exercise that he wanted on the job—pulling cable, climbing poles, wrestling transformers, wielding a chainsaw to clear branches out of the all-important transmission lines—all day long, in all sorts of weather. Bucket trucks helped with getting to lines without so much pole climbing, to be sure, but it was still and always hard work. Trying to get power restored to a town where the lights went out, in the middle of a fierce storm, always left Big Chuck with a feeling of satisfaction. One of the toughest aspects of the job was being on the mutual assistance team. If you’ve ever seen a line of out of state bucket trucks making their way down a highway, headed toward the area of some natural disaster, chances are you have seen Big Chuck and all those like him.

So it was that Big Chuck’s team was called to go to a rural county in North Carolina after a freak storm, a derecho, that blew down enough power lines to plunge the entire county into darkness, spoiling food in freezers, keeping well pumps from providing water, shutting off medical equipment for in home care, and keeping the frigid November temperatures chilling homes and churches and businesses alike. Local officials saw to the distribution of small generators, food, and tanks of potable water, doing their best to help neighbors band together to get through the difficult time. Big Chuck and his crew staged every morning in the middle school parking lot on the edge of the disaster area, sipping hot McDonalds coffee while they checked their tools, hooked up huge spools of cable to their trucks, logged in loads of utility poles and transformers, and got their assignments for the day. A local diner made up big box lunches for the workers and out they went each day into the old hunting lands of the Cherokee, now a mess of downed trees, damaged houses and trailers, tangles of dead wires, and the exquisite weave of local lore.

On around about the third day, Big Chuck drew remote hookup duty. Lines were being restored quickly along the main roads, but the grunt work now was getting power back into the remote hills and hollows. Experienced linemen could get it done by themselves and they could cover more ground more quickly. Unfortunately, when he arrived at the site Big Chuck discovered that a tree had fallen against the feeder pole, and it needed to be cut down and the pole reseated in the ground. He got the chain saw from his truck, climbed into the bucket, and maneuvered it up to the top branches of the tree. At first the blade chewed right through the wood. But suddenly it stuck fast and nearly toppled Big Chuck from the bucket. He worked at it and worked at it, not wanting to stop and delay the flow of power. Finally, the branch fell free and he saw the problem. In the middle of the wood grain, written in a hardened black substance grown into the grain were the words: “I am the Lady of Why Not. I say, Old, tired bridges mean somebody made it across before you.”

Big Chuck did not know what to make of this. He took the saw back to the truck and worked to get it sharpened. Then back up in the bucket to the treetop. He tried to be careful of the cable as he cut the next large branch. Again, the saw got stuck. He worked and worked and when the branch fell free, he read printed in its grain: “Prince of the Moon Eye People. I say, Weave a web of love.” Big Chuck was puzzled, to be certain, but he kept going, aware that each new cut was a journey back in time, for as we know, trees tell their stories in reverse. The next cut revealed the message: “I am Queen of Why Not. I say, Only you can give your life true meaning.” Big Chuck decided that it was time for lunch and got the box from the truck and sat upon one of the cut branches to eat. The locusts buzzed and the grinnies scampered and the blue birds chatted, there in the enchanted land of Why Not.

After his lunch, Big Chuck was back at it. Up in the bucket, he tackled the most dangerous part of the job. He had to lean far out while holding the heavy saw and the effort made his arms ache and his back scream. Finally, he got through the stubborn cut and the branch fell away, freeing the wire. He looked at the face of the cut. There he read: “I am the King of the Moon Eye People. I say, Even if we disappear, you are still here.” Big Chuck stared and stared at these words, oddly comforted by them. He lowered the bucket and climbed out to finish cutting down the tree. This took up most of the rest of the afternoon. Big Chuck was drenched in sweat and sorely fatigued by the time he made the last cut. The large trunk slowly tipped over and landed with a loud thump. Big Chuck brushed the sawdust away from the stump and there it read: “I am Joey of the Land of Why Not. I say, This tree is a bridge…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.