Misty and rainy all day. It added gloss to the colors of autumn remaining in the trees. It's not been a good year for color in the mountains. When the first colors to come into the trees were turning, the reds and yellows, a big wind and rain storm blew the loose leaves to the ground. About all that was left was green leaves. Had to wait awhile for the green leaves to turn. They did and then another storm took care of them. By now the mountains are looking like a multi-color quilt again. Slow time getting here. Not a dynamic leaf display this year.
Tonight at 9:20 I am here in these mountains 33 years. Everything has changed quite a lot in that time. I have changed too. I drove much of the day after packing the pickup with the last load of stuff. I remember getting on the interstate where it passes through Charleston, and saw the city go out of sight in the rearview mirror behind the wall of cement that was the highway. Only a church spire left, then nothing. I felt at that moment like I was saying farewell to that phase of my life. It was gone, buried in the Past.
A new life was ahead, 6.5 hours up the highway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Alleghany County. I had no idea where I was going, only mountains. All I knew about mountain people came from Doris Ullman photographs of Appalachian poverty and Walker Evans photographs of same. They prepared me for nothing. In fact, I had to get over what I saw in those pictures right away, because they represented specific people sought for the purpose of a photograph of poverty. There's poverty in the cities too. Even worse than in the mountains. Sure, there's a little illiteracy in the mountains, but again, nothing like in the cities.
I had some spiritual purpose in coming to these mountains. First, to get away from my former influences. A year before, I had discovered with certainty that God indeed Is. My religious upbringing drove me away from God until I realized about 15 years later that the problem I had with religion was the human mind invented it for the control of the many by the few. I still see religion that way. What happened was I saw past religion to God, that God is not at all like what I'd been taught to believe, ruling my life by guilt, fear and the negative: you better not. What I found was God is Love and love has no part in much that is said to be God's will, which often gets taken for punishment.
God doesn't punish us. God loves us. God understands us. Somebody slipping up on his path is the same to God as a baby wetting its diaper. A reasonable mother doesn't punish her baby for wetting a diaper. She lovingly changes the diaper, even though she doesn't like the act itself. I was raised to believe God is always looking for sin to punish. We punish ourselves. God doesn't have to. We way over-punish ourselves according to God's way of seeing. It's something God has to accept in us, because we don't understand an awful lot. We're his beloved babies.
We fight amongst ourselves, scheme against each other, revel in punishing each other, and say we do it for God, while God allows us anything we want, even making other people's lives a misery in God's name. It's our role to learn what is self-destructive and self-nurturing. God's advice to us over and over is to turn our attention away from the self-destructive and embrace the self-nurturing. If you want a good life. It's up to us. We have to learn to make our own decisions, so we get scripture to help us. Then scripture gets used to take our decision-making away. If we can't learn to make decisions that benefit us rather than bounce back and hit us in the face, how can we have a good life, which is what God wants for us.
In my first months in these mountains I read several times and thought about a poem by Wallace Stevens I felt had something to say for me. It's The Poem That Took The Place of a Mountain. The following lines are from the middle of the poem.
It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,
How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among the clouds,
For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion
What I was looking for was to be complete within. I wanted to start over in a culture new to me. I've come to believe that as I discovered the culture I'd landed in, I discovered myself. Though it was strange and new at first, I gradually learned mountain culture was the most familiar, as I'd essentially grown up in a mountain home in flatland cities. This was the culture of my grandmother, the most important person in my early life. While thinking I was going way out into something remote and unfamiliar, like the hunters that come here thinking they're in the boonies, I found myself so close to my inner being that I've come to call Alleghany County the home of my soul. I came to live among the people of my own culture and didn't know it. But God knew.
God said, without words, this will be a good place for you to learn what you need to know. He set me down next to Tom Pruitt and said, learn from this man. He later set me down next to Jr Maxwell and said, learn from this man. Both, in my way of seeing, were complete men. Complete human beings. God gave them to me for spiritual guides to help me find my own completion. In the case of Jr Maxwell, to have earned the trust of a man of these mountains I respect as I respect Jr means a very great deal to me. That's better to me than a crystal trophy.