Hero - Gusten Hess

I normally like my heroes to be a little older, but after some time with Gus Hess last week I'm making an exception.

Gusten Hess, Sprinkle Branch, Madison County, NC, New Years Day, 2014.

Gus is eight years old, the son of Matt and Liza Hess who live off of Sprinkle Branch in the Walnut Creek community. On New Years Day the family hosted their annual clay bird shoot and a number men and their families showed up. It was Gus’s first time shooting skeet and to make it a bit harder he was using a small, single-shot .410 shotgun that throws off a very tight pattern of shot. It has a small margin of error. To make a long story short, Gus missed his first five shots, and looked discouraged. But after receiving pats and high-fives from the older men, and some specific suggestions from his Dad that Guss chose to listen to, he came back to hit four out his next ten. Everyone was glowing with him, as he justifiably beamed. But, that’s not why he’s my hero.

What I most loved was the relationship between Gus and the other adults, most especially his parents. The mutual respect, from boy to adult, and from adult to boy, was obvious. How refreshing to see a young person who not only listens, but also absorbs what he hears - life’s lessons, learning how to be a young man. He had clearly learned lessons about safety with guns. He was patient waiting his turn on the range. Inquiring, exuberant, careful. Fun to be around.

Gus shooting, Sprinkle Branch, Madison County, NC, New Years Day, 2014.

I’ve believed for a long time there is no better place to raise a family than Madison County. It’s a unique spot that teaches independence, responsibility, and respect for others. Families are embraced here. And young people have the chance to interact with adults with mutual fondness and regard. The community is readily open to new people who want to invest their lives in this place. And the land itself, in its bigness and diversity, gives children and adults alike an opportunity for humility, and the lesson we are all part of something much larger than our individual selves. 

Walk 1


Most days, I walk. Often, I’m in the woods – hiking up to our spring to flush silt from the water pipe and springbox, or to clear brush on the trail to the top of the mountain behind our house. Usually though, I walk the unpaved road that fronts our land – down the driveway and to the right, across the one-lane bridge that links Anderson Branch with Paw Paw Road, stopping usually at Robert and Jane’s driveway. There, I do some stretching, Yoga poses, before heading back along the same route.

It’s not a particularly difficult route – long enough and with enough elevation change to benefit my heart and increase my stamina. I feel better when I’m regular about it. I walk when it's hot and when it's cold. I walk in the wet and in the dry. A morning walk clears my head for the day ahead; in the evening, it flushes my brain of the day just past. In winter, I often walk in the dark with a headlamp, or by the light of the moon.

Mostly, my walk has to do with knowing the place where I live and my own sensory responses to it. It’s the same walk, over and over, although it changes endlessly. The light in the trees, so harsh and brittle in the middle of a summer day, becomes soft and textured during a fall rain. The smell, one moment clean and crisp, the next stagnant and decaying from a dead possum in the ditchline. The feel of the road itself on the soles of my feet – soft and muddy after a downpour, slick with ice or snow, dusty in a dry spell, rough when freshly scraped and graveled. The sounds – an occasional vehicle, a distant chainsaw, the sharp crack of a rifle during deer season, an airplane high above are the only man-made punctuations to the sounds that never change – the wind in the trees, the flow of the creek, the birds overhead, the same sounds heard for millennia by people who always walked and intimately knew the place.