To the Land I Am Bound: A Journey Into Sacred Harp

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To the Land I Am Bound: A Journey Into Sacred Harp

by David L. Carlton
Southern Cultures, Vol. 9, No. 2: Summer 2003

"As I found myself climbing over clay and gravel, negotiating switchbacks and sudden steep upgrades, I found myself thanking God for the weather and myself for my brand new transmission."

One Saturday before the fourth Sunday in August, as such things are reckoned, I arose early in the morning and drove south from my hometown of Nashville, provisioned with coffee and water and accompanied by some choice¬†CDs and an oblong book bound in deep red cloth. The day proved typical of late summer,¬†bright and dry, with rising but bearable heat. Some three hours after my departure from Nashville I turned off a highway in rural northeast Alabama and followed a dirt road across a valley to the foot of Lookout Mountain. At this point, some seventy miles southwest of Chattanooga, the ridge is far less imposing than it is at its more famous northern end, home to the battlefield and Rock City. Nonetheless, as I found myself climbing over clay and gravel, negotiating switchbacks and sudden steep upgrades, I found myself thanking God for the weather and myself for my brand new transmission. As I reached the top and crossed the plateau, passing isolated farmsteads and deep woods, I began to wonder if I was in the right place at the right time. Why would anyone come up here? Did I miss a turn? Reassurance finally came in the form of a wooden sign, pointing left toward Pine Grove Church. Shortly thereafter I spied my destination: a plain cinder-block building with an open pavilion in front, and along the road and in a field opposite the church a swarm of cars, from pickups to Lincolns to minivans, some with plates from Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri. I found a spot to pull over, switched off the engine, and through the deep quiet of the mountaintop heard the surging harmonies of page 388 in my red, oblong book: “She’s the old ship of Zion, hallelu! hallelu! / And her captain, Judah’s Lion, hallelujah.”

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