Sunday, May 17, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of Place

For 13 Years, I've Called the Central Appalachian Mountains my Home

These lush mountains provide a home and identity for proud, resourceful, self-reliant Appalachians who express a hospitality that combines both mountain and southern values.  They emphasize family ties, community, and church. 
They use power washers like no other population I've ever met, probably because mold and coal dust tends to coat walls, porches, and other outside structures in this wet climate . . . and because, contrary to the stereotype, they are fastidious housekeepers and take great pride in their homes, yards, and gardens. 

These mountains 
shelter wildlife that includes black bears, panthers, coyotes, deer, timber rattlesnakes, migrating birds and butterflies, raptors, owls, mourning doves, ravens, groundhogs, spring peepers, cranes, and chipmunks.  I've also spotted blue-tailed lizards and voles in my own garden. My Facebook friends are familiar with my sightings.

Just about everyone has a dog.  Many folks have three, including me.  Never heard of Redbones until I got here.  And, Chihuahuas -- go figure -- are a popular breed amongst my neighbors.

Grundy itself is located on The Crooked Road, a tourist promotion tied to local bluegrass venues.  I've spent many summer hours enjoying music played by area artists at The Breaks Amphitheatre, The Carter Fold, Jonesborough's Music on the Square,  the Country Cabin, Ralph Stanley's Hills of Home festival, and other venues within a 2-hour radius.

I've hiked the Geologic Trail at The Breaks Interstate Park. That park is known as the Grand Canyon of the South and offers hiking, horseback riding, swimming, paddle boating, camping, and cabin lodging.  Throughout the summer, it hosts nature talks, a Civil War reenactment, a car show, a molasses cook off, and a crafts show. 

I've learned that the area is actually a river-cut plateau made of brown sandstone, coal, slate, and limestone -- the remnants of a great swamp, beach, and sea.  If you look again at the first photo in this posting, you will see that, in the distance, the tops of the mountains, despite all the deep hollers, are flat as pancakes.  That's ancient plateau.

I've stood under the tallest hemlock in the park -- a survivor of early loggers because of its inaccessible location.  It will die soon, with all its kin, because of an infestation of an invasive insect from Japan.

My house shows the hours I've spent in local antique shops, flea markets, and garden supply stores.

I've discovered that the most important gardening tool is a pickax because the ground is full of stones.

I've watched typically quiet Slate Creek swell with snow melt and spring rains and rush past my house at near flood stage.  I've seen it join the Levisa River as it flows northwest (!) to Pikesville, KY across the riverbed access point where Brenda and I collected hundreds of polished sandstones that we used to build my garden walk.

I've logged many hours driving along the Appalachian Mountains on my way to historic Abingdon, VA, Johnson City, TN, Charlottesville, VA, or D.C.

I've eaten local strawberries sold by a very sweet, very talkative, 77-year old guy, who told me recently he had had a hard childhood.  Later in the season, he sets up his roadside stand to sell sweet corn, tomatoes -- and later still -- apples.  These seasonal purchases represent my modest effort to support local agriculture.

I've drunk bootleg moonshine delivered in a mason jar and tested by igniting a spoonful over a match flame to see if it burns blue -- a sign that it carries no harmful impurities.

I've seen annual motorcycle rallies that included a blessing of the bikes, loud music, pork bar-b-que, and acknowledgment of the sacrifice of local veterans in foreign wars.  So many bikers have zipped past my front fence for so many years during the "poker rally" that the dogs long ago gave up barking at them.

I watched demolition crews take the face off a mountain to create a site for one of a few three-story WalMart located in the U.S.  The folks in Grundy, including myself, welcomed this retailer.  It saved us a 45-minute drive to Richlands or Pikeville to do shopping.

I've attended many funerals and watched my friend's loved ones buried in family cemeteries perched on mountain sides where the headstones are positioned so the rainwater pouring off the mountain won't topple them forward. 

I've learned that they still drape lace over the open casket, perhaps forgetting that in the past it was meant to keep flies off the dead.  I've learned that the closest relatives still keep an exhausting, but loving, overnight vigil with the deceased from the time he or she enters the casket to the time the body is laid to rest. I've heard mournful mountain hymns sung at these funerals by local preachers along with joyful ones expressing a deep belief in the safety and peace of Heaven.

I've watched July 4th, Homecoming, and Christmas parades that halted ALL traffic through town and featured fire trucks and ambulances blaring their sirens, home made floats with their riders throwing hard candy to kids along the route, marching Boy Scouts, flag toting veterans, and beauty queens spanning the age of newborns to college-age sweethearts.

I've seen the peril to an economy that is reliant on the extractive industries of timber and coal.

I've heard the whistle of the train, loaded with coke, leaving the belching fires of the Jewel Smokeless coke plant.  

I've seen kudzu cover entire trees, houses, and a backhoe. I've watched -- in the bed of a truck parked on the main route through town -- a sapling grow into a 20-foot tree.  I've seen a poison ivy vine dominate the wall of neighbor's shuttered house.

I've eaten at a local diner that features traditional foods designed to feed large families on very limited incomes. Those local delicacies include chicken & dumplings, beans and cornbread (also known as soup beans), and sauerkraut and wienies. 

I've spent happy times with students, staff, and faculty at the Appalachian School of Law. This mission-driven school gives first generation college grads the opportunity to get a professional degree and then return to their rural communities to provide access to justice, leadership, and community service.

Something Different

I moved here to experience something different from the agricultural plains of the Midwest, where I grew up.

I moved from St. Louis to a town with 1,000 residents.  I moved from a diverse community -- measured by race, religion, and culture -- to a far more homogenous community, unless you count the confusing (to me) and numerous sects of Baptists -- Regular, Old Regular, Primitive, Evangelical, Southern, and Missionary. 

I moved from an overscheduled life to one centered on teaching, writing, students, friends, and hobbies.

And now, after this long respite, I am ready to try the big city again.  This time, in Doha with nearly 3 million people. No doubt, I'll adapt to that new place.  People will be there to help as people helped me here. 

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