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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


landscape with commentary

I found the bumper sticker above somewhere on the edge of Hamptonville. Allan next door had the day off and wanted to go to Hamptonville to get pictures of a few graves for his own family's genealogy and for somebody else's. Geneologists photograph grave stones for other genealogists via internet when they live too far away to see for themselves, a friendly thing to do. It's been so long since I've been off the mountain looking through a windshield down 21 that every place looked new. I've been half a dozen times in Alleghany in Motion vans, but that's looking out side windows at distant landscape because the near landscape zooms by, and concentrating more on conversation with the other riders than the view. Every time it has been with interesting people and some really wonderful people.

The other direction, Virginia, I've only been to Woodlawn to see Bobby Patterson at Heritage Records and Fairview for Ralph Stanley concerts. I like living so close to a place where Ralph Stanley puts on a concert every year. That's about as far as I care to go out of my mountains. Though it was nice driving along highway below the mountains and seeing the mountains in the background. It strikes me odd how the landscape can be so flat, flat as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, then straight up the mountainside. The mountains don't start gradually. They're suddenly there.


Elkville String Band is playing at Mountain Music Jamboree near Glendale Springs this coming Saturday night the 27th. The Jamboree has a website If you like mountain music or are curious about it, this is a good place to hear it. Arvil Scott runs the place and makes it happen. All regional bands. Dancing and eating and big parking lot. A whole lot of people and it's real friendly.


Driving on familiar roads I'd not seen in so many years they've changed beyond recognition, one thing held it all together. We were in the South. Everywhere we went it was the South. I was thinking when one of my Yankee friends visits I'll take em on a drive around Yadkinville, Hamptonville, that area, any highway, a tour of the South. It's Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, northern Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, etc. When I visited friends in Georgia and drove on rural highways from town to town, I'd think, it's the same as everywhere in the South. Not exactly, by any means, but it's the South and the South only.

We're in the Southern mountains. We're in the South, but the South as it appears in the mountains is different from how the South appears in the flatland, or piedmont. Down along the coast it's even different, but it's all the South and it all comes under the red field with blue X and white stars. Political correctness likes to belittle the rebel flag, but I tell you what, it aint a-dyin in the South. That flag unites the entire South. After the South had been my home 45 years, I went outside the South to Kansas and learned people outside the South know next to nothing about it and all they have is contempt for it over slavery. I wondered if the mystique the South held for me through childhood came about because I didn't know anybody who knew anything about the South. I don't have to apologize for slavery. So my great great grandfather had slaves. I can't help it. It was a different time, different way of thinking in every way--Baptist Old Testament thinking, which isn't so very different from today. They didn't have electricity or plumbing. It was very different.

In London in 1971 I was talking with a man who was a History teacher in their equivalent to our highschool. I was renting a room in their house while staying there. I sat with them one evening watching the telly, and there was a BBC documentary on slavery. It was interesting, as those kinds of documentaries are. I forget his name, but he swelled up and told me it's a shame what "you Americans" did to the poor black people in those dreadful ships and slavery and all of it. It was one of those wise cracks that comes out of the blue and catches you completely unprepared to deal with it gracefully. It's what I call a cheap shot. As they say, it went all over me. I'm thinking: this guy teaches? I didn't have time to think about it. I heard myself say that when the slaves were bought in Africa and sold in the New World, it was British buying them, British shipping them, and British selling them to British colonists. When we became "you Americans" we've been at working out the mess youBritish created. Phew. I didn't know where that came from. I had never consciously put it together like that before, but there it was. It was one of those divine moments. It was like somebody else was saying it with my voice. But I accepted. My sentiments exactly. That was the end of it.

Another time, I came close to knocking a man backwards off a a barstool in a pub for talking a bunch of shit about my southern accent and what you southerners did to those poor black people. His life was saved that night by me thinking for a split second what it might be like, an American in a British prison for life. I got up and walked away. All I had to do was straighten out my left arm to the left, connect fist to face, he wouldn't even see it coming, and over backward he goes, a concussion for sure, probably death. He came real close. By then I didn't like it there and was past ready to come home. I didn't want to stay there the rest of my life behind bars with Viking thugs.

Allan went to see this old pre-Civil War cemetery of some of his ancestors. The forest that grew up around the old farmhouse and outbuildings and cemetery was being logged. They'd flagged the cemetery with pink and orange plastic tape surveyors use. It was a small area. All the stones were flat rocks. No markings, no names, no dates. Just rocks. It was beautiful. All the graves were sunken in. One great big tree of a kind we don't have up here on the mountain, the bark was new to me, and I didn't think to ask Allan, it grew right up out of a grave. He found a tip of the gravestone the rest of the tree had grown around completely. Big tree, old too, almost dead of old age. We marvelled that this tree had the entire cemetery for nourishment. The family tree. I think Bell was the name. It's where I found the bumpersticker. I love it that he doesn't wash the truck, but keeps the sticker clean. It's a good one. He wears it with pride, like a guy I know named Jack who wears a Jack Daniels hat, big white letters on dark blue. It's his dress hat he wears to funerals.

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