My girl, my girl, don't lie to me/ Tell me where did you sleep last night/ In the pines, in the pines/ Where the sun don't ever shine/ I did shiver the whole night through

When The Nugget asked me to start a new column, my husband suggested I call it "In the Pines." I laughed and agreed. I'd been involved with a couple events using the phrase, like Writing in the Pines.

I've long loved the song. It's dark and sticky like molasses, like pitch. Maybe you know the classic Leadbelly version, or Nirvana's famous MTV Unplugged set.

Maybe you know the other big branch of this shadowy American tree, the "longest train I ever saw" songs popularized by Bill Monroe and Dolly Parton, filled with lonely "hoooo-hoooo"ing:

I asked my captain for the time of day/ He said he throwed his watch away

My favorite versions are in the Leadbelly tradition. It isn't clear what, exactly, is going on in the pines. Wandering lost? Prostitution?

Tell me where did you get that pretty little dress/ And those shoes that you wear so fine?/ I got my dress from a railroad man/ And my shoes from a driver deep in the mine

Some versions, her husband's been decapitated by a train. Other versions, it's her father.

His head was found in a driving wheel/ But his body never was found

The Ellison clan's version of the song, circa some hundred years ago, tells of a young Georgia girl raped by a soldier. It's his head on the railroad tracks this time.

And the girl? She flees to the comforting anonymity of the pines.

My girl, my girl, where will you go?/ I'm goin' where the cold wind blows

I came to Sisters Country sick all over. The ponderosas provided a place of shadow and solitude. Where darkness and mystery lie? There lies the potential for transformation. There I began to heal, physically and spiritually.

I picture the Georgia girl undergoing a mythopoetic underworld journey in her pines.

Race issues cling to the song's lineage, which includes versions titled "Black Girl." To those issues I bring only my privileged, white-lady consternation about cultural appropriation.

Gender issues? They're here, too. The person being interrogated in this song is always female.

I grew up during the 1970s and '80s, wearing my pink glitter T-shirt that read "Girls Lib." Theoretically, the existence of that shirt means I am a fully liberated woman in an equal society. "Anything you can do, I can do better," as the "Free to Be You and Me" song exulted.

Out here in a little place I like to call Reality, that childhood fantasy doesn't play out. Gender equality is still a new idea, hastily slapped over millennia of keepin' women in our place.

Sometimes I like being in my place. I love cooking meals from scratch and hanging out the laundry, caring for my menfolk, spending time with kids.

Other times, though, I get uppity. I grew up reading the same books and watching the same movies as my guy friends. Most of those authors and filmmakers were white men. So were the President, the CEOs, the experts on TV telling us about important world matters.

I didn't see that as a problem. I didn't yet realize that I'd be held to different standards than my guy friends, offered lower wages, subjected to special dangers and humiliations.

Like my mentors, bosses, bandmates, and editors (again, mostly male), I figured I could party and go out for beers with whomever I liked. It took a few years to learn that a beer - or even a cup of coffee - is the same thing as a gold-plated invitation to a girl's bedroom, in some folks' eyes.

I also learned that if a woman has guy friends and collaborators, people will assume she's rollin' in the hay with 'em. All of 'em. Even if this hypothetical woman has dozens and dozens of male compatriots! Now if that were true, how could she possibly have time to sing in a band, write poetry, and work in journalism?

In such a world, a poor girl with a new dress can expect scrutiny. Any woman in the wrong dress - in any dress at all - should be prepared to answer questions, including, "Weren't you asking for it?"

I'm a rotten guitarist but I sure love to sing. I pulled out my little 12-string the other day and hollered through a few different versions of "In the Pines." This time, I found myself making up a new verse.

In my version, the girl made her own dress. And what she's up to in the pines is nobody's business but her own.