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Chapter 2 the ground beneath her hands Summary Here we meet Ada, the second main character, writing a letter. She lives alone and helpless on a farm in the village of Cold Mountain. She had come there six years earlier with her father, Monroe. He was ill and they moved to the mountains for “cool fresh air and exercise”. Monroe assumed the position as preacher at a small mountain church. Though it took some time for him to realize that the mountain people were not ignorant as he expected, he was eventually tolerated and them accepted by the community. He didn’t need to run his property as a real farm because he had money coming from his investments in Charleston. So it was that after Monroe’s death Ada was “frighteningly ill prepared in the craft of subsistence”.
Ada sees that the farm has been neglected but is powerless to remedy the problem. Not knowing how to tend the garden or keep chickens, she finds herself going hungry in the fullness of the growing season. She decides to go in search of eggs. Crawling under a bush where she remembered seeing a hen, Ada is hidden away. Though she finds no eggs, she finds childlike comfort in her shelter. When the hen, followed by a rooster, returns Ada is chased out of her sanctuary in the shrubs.
Scraped and dusty, Ada returns to the house, puts on somewhat clean clothes and sits down near a window to read. She finds the view of the landscape gloomy and misses the sights and sounds of Charleston.
Still hungry, she goes for a walk to visit her father’s grave and stop at the post office. She then takes a “shortcut” toward home to pass by the Swanger place hoping that they, her nearest neighbors, might offer her some dinner. The Swangers are an older couple, very familiar with mountain ways. Their sons are off to the war, which the Swangers are opposed to. Esco Swanger talks of the brutality of a man named Teague and his Home Guard, and the looting done by the Federals. He doesn’t understand the war and sees the devilry of both sides. Esco and Sally Swanger just want their boys “home and out hoeing the bottomland.”
The conversation changed to omens of a bad winter. From caterpillars to mules the forces of nature foretell the evils of the war fouling the mountains. Ada listens intently to Esco’s predictions. He explains that Ada could see her own future if she takes a mirror and looks backwards into a well. Ada tries this and thinks she sees the silhouette of a man walking. The experience dizzies her, but she tells the Swangers that she saw nothing. Sally gives Ada a crock of blackberry preserves and Ada is on her way.
Close to home Ada opens the letter from Monroe’s solicitor that she had picked up at the post office. The letter explains the hard times imposed by the war and their effects on Ada’s income. She could realistically expect nothing. When she reaches her farm she settles into her favorite corner next to a stone wall. She falls asleep reading and does not awaken until the middle of the night. She then eats the entire crock of preserves and walks back to the house.
Ada tries to consider her options. The times are too hard to expect to find a buyer for the farm. It would be humiliating to return to Charleston and be compelled to marry for support. As she sits wondering and confused, a girl approaches from the road.
The girl’s name is Ruby. Sally Swanger sent her. Ada sees that though Ruby is uneducated, she is bright and capable of farm tasks. She is there to help Ada, not as a hired hand, but as an equal, or in her words, “with both us knowing that everybody empties their own night jar.” Her first undertaking is to pull the head off the rooster that had chased Ada out of the bushes earlier and serve up a chicken and biscuit dinner.
Ada’s letter at the beginning of the chapter seems to answer the letter Inman wrote in Chapter 1. Though both letters are unsent, the reader gleans that Inman is coming home to Ada and Ada is waiting for him. Both characters also have the view through a window to ponder. Ada’s perception when gazing out of her window is a sharp contrast to Inman’s window. It is difficult for Ada to like the fields and ridges of Cold Mountain whereas Inman sees in them home and comfort.
Brilliant and cultured in art and academics, but clueless to the ways of nature, Ada strikes a deal with the drifter, Ruby, her opposite, not only out of necessity but because of a feeling of happiness Ada feels with Ruby. Ada resolves that she must find her true self here in the mountains.
In this chapter Frazier brings reality to the setting with more 19 th century literature. Sword and Gown, written by G.A. Lawrence a Southern sympathizer, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, and a “troubling tale by Hawthorne” which we assume to be The Scarlet Letter are on Ada’s reading list and underscore her crushed spirit. In addition, Ada’s father twice quotes lines from Wordsworth that were likely influenced by Bartram’s lyrical prose. These point to the mountains as the fundamental force behind the old life ways that Frazier elegizes in this novel.