LYRICS FOR

~BYNA~
Life Songs of a Southern Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Indian Descent
for Soprano, Piano, Oboe & Cello



Music by Rudy Davenport

Text from a two-act play, Byna, by Delilah Elsen

Byna is a vibrant, outdoorswoman of Cherokee Indian descent, who lives alone in a cabin in the Nantahala Forest, in the southern Appalachians of Western North Carolina (across the mountain from where Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah takes place).  Prior to the time we meet her, she has spent about 25 years living in this small cabin in the woods with Robert, her husband of 53 years.  They lived as some Cherokee Indians had lived before—in deep appreciation of their environment, but as hunters and fishermen, who needed game for food and made use of and appreciated everything around them.  In the hours before sunrise on this morning, only a few months after Robert has died, Byna reflects on her life.  She speaks to us of her present life but also tells us about things that have been important to her in the past such as her wedding day; her Daddy’s fiddle; her Mother’s quilt; the day Robert died; and a spring day “when childhood seemed t’rise up from the fields.”

I.The Heart of the Mountains

 

II. The Silence Is Loud In The Woods

Listen.  The silence is loud in the woods.

A little further ahead….a patch of fern; just standin’ there by itself….

spread out like a proud Tom Turkey.

And the dirt….it’s black and rich;

just waitin’ t’grab hold of a seed t’give it a home.

Ever’ little wild trillium, ever stump just seems t’be where it oughta be.

Nothing’s ever the same in the woods; nothing’s out of place in the woods.

Not one thing… and not me either.

Listen.  The silence is loud in the woods.

 

III.  My Name Is Byna

Me?  You don’t even know who I am.  My name is Byna.

People thought I’d move back across the mountain after Robert died and left me alone.

People. They don’t understand, they just don’t understand at all.

Robert and me spent the best years of our lives together in these woods.

People. They don’t understand, they just don’t understand at all.

“Aren’t you afraid by yourself?  Wouldn’t you be happier with us?

Isn’t it awful lonely?”

People. They just don’t understand at all.

Robert and me spent the best years of our lives together in these woods.

I don’t feel lonely…. I don’t feel lonely for this is my home.

My name is Byna.

 

IV.  Ready To Start My Day

Ever’ morning’ when I get up, I go out the back door,

out a’ways to the spout, and I wash my face in that cold branch water,

and I stretch my arms up breathin’ in that fresh air. 

I stand and look around…

Then I’m ready...Ready t’start m’day.

I never think about bein’ afraid.

Oh once in a while I get kinda jumpy, but I’ve got Helga, my German Shepherd dog.

She always wants me to go down to the creek and throw a rock for ‘er,

and I’ll go ever’ time.

Off she goes, splashin’ through the creek.

Back she comes, drippin’ ever’where, holdin’ a rock between ‘er teeth.

I wouldn’t tell Helga this,

but she don’t always bring me back the rock I throwed.

Ever’ morning when I get up, I go out the back door,

out a’ways to the spout, and I drink a cup of that cold branch water.

Now I’m ready to start my day.

 

V.  Precious Memories

(Arranged from the gospel song by J.B.F. Wright)

Ever’where I go, I see Robert.  Sittin’ on a log; leanin’ up against a tree.

Yes.  I still see him.

Precious mem’ries, unseen angels, sent from somewhere to my soul;

how they linger, ever near me, and the sacred past unfolds.

Precious mem’ries, how they linger; how they ever flood my soul.

In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.

Precious father, loving mother, fly across the lonely years;

and old home scenes of my childhood, in fond memory appears.

Precious mem’ries, how they linger; how they ever flood my soul.

In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.

Guess that’s why it took so long for me to get out of the house.  Yes, I still see him.

 

VI:  The Hemlock Trees

What’s that?  Up there by the hemlock trees…

The deer… Something seems to call them under the hemlocks.

It looks like the old buck, but he’s turned away.

I always walk quiet in the woods; must be the Indian in me.

My Grandma was a full-blood Cherokee.

When I was just a young girl,

we’d sit out under those hemlocks weaving our baskets

while she told me her stories…

When she was ten-years-old, her Daddy took his family and hid them in the mountains.

That was when the Government got the notion to round up Indians and herd them to Oklahoma.

They took the ones they caught.

The life she knew with her family, her people,

was washed away in a trail of tears!

She’s always with me in the woods.  I feel her walking with me.

My Grandma taught the plants and the paths to me.

But that was all so long ago, when I was just a young girl.

We walked past the hemlocks, holding our basket together.

The deer…  Looks like they’re resting up there under the hemlocks…

with Grandma….

 

VII. The Wachesa Trail 

 

VIII:  Daddy’s Fiddle 

Daddy told me I’d hear his fiddle playin’ for as long as I live...

Remember  what you said, Daddy? 

That brisk fall day we were clearin’ off the field?

“Byna!  Just look at the sun!  It’s gonna leave us and go a’shinin’ on people all around this world.

All of us—got the same slice of time.  Just a slice!

And it’s whippin’ by quicker than a steel knife blade whippin’ through the air.

Ain’t it funny, Byna? When I die none of those people will know I ever lived; just people ‘round here,

and they’ll forget. 

But that don’t bother me, ‘cause I’m leavin’ somethin’. 

Byna! I’m leavin’ my music in this dirt.  I’ve been here, Byna!

And the Earth never forgets our music; never forgets who’s danced on her!”

Daddy told me I’d hear his fiddle playin’ for as long as I live…

 

IX.   Mama’s Quilt

Mama guessed we were gonna marry.

She stayed up at night to make us a quilt.

She would sit by the fireplace, her fingers just a’workin’…

Ah, it was full of color when she gave it to me; and ah, she had tied it up

with a big cloth bow.

The years—how they take away the color, fade the pattern…

I put it in my basket the morning I left…

I’ve kept it all these years.

Mama guessed we were gonna marry.

She stayed up at night to make us a quilt.

Ever’ time I look at it, I can just see her,

the fire lightin’ her face, her hands.

Her fingers just a’workin’…

 

X.  My Wedding Day

My wedding day...

I got up early, before sunrise, and put on my best dress and left.

Robert was waitin’ for me at the end of the road.

I got up on the back of his horse and we rode over Bell Mountain

through the gap to the courthouse.

‘Till death do us part.

I remember so well, ridin’ back through the gap.

The sun was settin’ behind Bell Mountain, and just ever’ once in awhile,

it’d shine between the trees, and catch the red in Robert’s hair.

After we crossed the creek we came to a little clearin’ and there stood a single dogwood tree.

It was full of blooms, just at the edge of the clearin’.

Robert tied the horse next to the creek, and then we spread out our quilt under the dogwood tree.

The flowers were draped down over us like white satin soaked in sweet perfume.

And daylight just sorta slipped away and left us in a rosy blue mist.  Ah…

And Robert was so loving and good to me.  Robert, Robert, Robert.

XI. Nantahala:  Nundayeli

Flowing River in the Land of the Midday Sun

 

XII. One Spring Day

One spring day when childhood just seemed t’rise up from the fields….

My dearest friends, Jenessa, Vinnie...

We spent the whole afternoon together,  trompin’ through the fields, lookin’ for the first spring flow’rs.

Like children from a fairy tale; holdin’ hands and runnn’ through the fields of

buttercups, dandelions. 

Pretendin’ time hadn’t touched our faces, our hands.

We braided the dandelions together and danced all around.

The whole field was like a great big yella sun! 

My dearest friends, Jenessa,Vinnie...

We had our childhood the last time...

One spring day when childhood just seemed t’rise up from the field.

XIII.  The Morning Robert Died

The sky was a soft lilac color the morning Robert died.

Ever’ so still, a real pale light commenced to glow around his head and face.

A hush came down on ev’rything.

 “Go on Robert, I can’t go with you no further.”

The sky was a soft lilac color the morning Robert died.

I turned away and looked up at the mountains and sky.

A hush came down on ev’rything.

 “Go on Robert, I can’t go with you no further.”

The sun was beginnin’ to rise...   The sky was all aglow.

 

XIV.  Looking to the Overhills

The Old Deer

In the mist, I see him standin’ on the hill; standin’ so still.

Just him and the tall spruce against this early mornin’ sky.

The same old buck... He knows the woods as well as I do.

And just like I call his name—he looks straight at me through this lilac mist.

Your eyes…  What do I see in your eyes?  You’re old. The hair around your mouth is gray.

Your eyes…  Yes!  You see all this as well as I do.

Our mountains!  The mountains of all who came before us.  Our mountains!

The spirits of ours--all around us, goin’ back and in and through the folds of these mountains.

The spirits of ours--all around us, goin’ back and in and through the folds of these mountains!

Our mountains.  The mountains of all who came before us.

Our mountains.  The mountains of all who came before us.

Yes!  The trees—our steeples.  The sky—our doors.

The trees—our steeples.  The skies--the doors to our mountains!

The mountains of all who came before us.

The spirits of ours--all around us, goin’ back and in and through the folds of these mountains! 

Our mountains.  Our mountains!





For further info on the BYNA project, or to schedule a performance of this work, contact Delilah Elsen at 910-343-3381or email:   DelilahE@aol.com