America in 1918 is in many ways so far removed from our lives today that it might as well have been another nation, and in a sense it was. But if one strolls through old city neighborhoods or ventures from the interstate onto rural routes and rugged lanes, traces of our shared past still linger.
. . . the weathered stones of an old chapel
. . . a collapsed shanty covered by a sea of kudzu
. . . beams rotting along an unnatural grade of forested hillside.
These remnants, and countless others like them, are signs of the land that came before and of the people who lived, worked, ate, slept, loved and died upon it.
Their lives would have been rough, for in 1918 the world was deep in crisis. Though the German forces entrenched in France had weakened, the Great War still raged. By autumn of that year American men and devoted nurses would face the deadliest fighting since their arrival on European soil.
Nor were the horrors of the era constrained by the front. A swift, insidious killer swept the globe that year, an influenza that turned healthy vigor against its own host. Moreover, vast stretches of virgin forests in the eastern states had been ravaged by unfettered logging, triggering floods and fires in its wake.
Culturally it was a time of contradictions. Women didn’t have the vote. Yet prohibition was near at hand, trumpeted as a triumph of humanity over the dark seeds of addiction. And though echoes of the Civil War had by then begun to fade, the south remained rigidly segregated. Personal impacts of the earlier war rippled too. Aging veterans lived on, as did widows and adult children of the fallen. Even the land still bore visible scars of battle.
Against this brutal backdrop, people went about their lives. Lovers courted, families gathered, children played. And though their hopes and dreams might go unspoken, others wound their way across the land as well. Outsiders of the time made friends, found love, created communities. Their undocumented lives inspired the writing, as explained in Moments in Life, which recounts the origins of the tale.
Ultimately The Fallen Snow is about relationships and people, regular folk caught in tragedies nearly unfathomable today. As has always been the case, not all survived. Yet their spirit lived on through those who knew them. For like the bonds that shape us today, they too were touched and molded by the souls around them.
Volumes have been written about the era of the First World War, both in America and abroad, so it seems futile and even foolish to delve too deep here. Still, it may help to provide a sense, a glimpse into this strange and foreign past. So, in that spirit, here are images of a time and place that once was . . .
The Spanish Flu:
Rural America and the Ravaged Eastern Forests: