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Thursday, May 13, 2010

CATCHING ON OR NOT

new leaves


I saw a coyote today. At the foot of the mountain I made the hairpin turn and appeared coming out of the curve by surprise to a coyote that was standing in the road where the pavement began, where Pruitt Road comes into Air Bellows Gap Road. It stood still a moment as I came into view, then up the bank into the woods and out of sight instantly. This is my second sighting. Haven't heard them yelping at night for a few years around here. I hoped that meant they weren't around here any more. A silly hope. They're here from now on. It was a beautiful dog. They eat cats and small dogs. Several people I know have lost a pet to them. They eat rabbits and grouse, small animals. I'm glad Tapo and Caterpillar stay near the house.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote a beautiful novel, Prodigal Summer, taking place in these mountains northeast of Roanoke in the country. In the book was an appeal to quit killing coyotes as they are harmless. I came out of it a bit sympathetic with the coyotes, though it didn't connect with anything I'd heard about coyotes from people I knew around here. I've heard different accounts of how they got here and believe all of them. What I've learned about coyotes since reading Prodigal Summer tells me Barbara Kingsolver is a suburbanite from some city who moved to the mountains to get away from city, and wants to make the mountains more like the place she left to get away from. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross bought a house and land, Monterrey, VA, the post office. Her place was for taking care of the retarded and people with AIDS. Some of the people that worked for her were gay. Before somebody burned her house down, I saw that she didn't know where she was, thought she was still in the city, just more space between the houses. It was one of those cases where I felt compelled to get with her and attempt to give her some tips on the fact that there is a culture in the mountains very unlike city culture, and not invalid because of it. But, as always, it came to I can't save the world.
I came to the mountains with no preconceived notion of what was here but a few photos in picture books about Appalachian poverty. Poverty was all I knew of the mountains. I didn't even know that, just believed I did, because everybody around me did too. Nobody outside these mountains who hasn't lived in them knows the first thing about life in these mountains. Suburbanites who came to the mountains to get away from city and brought it with them can live here for decades and never catch on there's another culture all the way around them. They don't care. It's a working class culture. Who cares about the working class? Certainly no Republican that I'm aware of. They call us the lower class. When you're climbing a ladder, you only look up. In America, everybod,y with maybe a 2% exception, is climbing a ladder of some sort of idea of success, money or fame or both. I don't mean to imply that's not ok. It's perfect. The only words middle-(management) class people have to say to working class people starts: You know what you oughta do? You know what you needta do? You know what you should do? It gets old in a hurry. Advice. Advice out of nowhere from somebody who doesn't know the first thing about you, neither wants to nor intends to. This is what mountain people know about the suburban middle-class coming in here believing the whole world is television just because you can get television anyplace. They watch television and the mountain people live their lives without you-oughta type interference.
I'm one of them. I came in here the same way. Until I caught on. I like to think it didn't take me a long time to catch on. But I don't believe anything I used to believe about myself anymore, so I can't anticipate one way or another. It actually took at least 20 years. When I hear somebody from Away talking about acquaintance with mountain culture, I think, but don't say, give it at least 20 years. You won't have a clue until at least 20 years. That's about when I felt like I got it. Not got it like completely. But got it like the beginning point. It's another culture. And to my mind, it's a better culture. One I like better all the way around. It's a hard culture, a lot of anger going around. One of my greatest learnings here has been a good sense of diplomacy, which I only notice when I'm among city people. I've an idea the interpersonal diplomacy comes from the fact that just about every pickup you see has a gun in it. Men used to carry guns, ergo the popular image of the hillbilly carrying a rifle. They did. For a lot of reasons. Primarily for hunting. The reason some people carry cameras wherever they go, in case something comes up.
Plus, in a time before the Age of Reason, which is quite recent, only available through higher education for a long time, emotions didn't have much check. By God, if he insulted me, the SOB is gonna pay. One day nobody will ever see him again. Or just shoot him out in the open and do your time. Going by emotion only, some people are worth 8 years in prison to kill. I think everybody knows that you tread gently around a feller with a short fuse carrying a gun in a place where anybody hearing a gunshot will think nothing of it. Somebody got him a rabbit. I have found, back in the years when I used to go to cities every once in awhile to see friends and for something I missed, like movies and museums, I like the diplomacy I learned in the mountains. I see little of it in the cities.
In my first months here, a city friend came by to visit one weekend. He called a mountain boy a son of a bitch, which he thought a term of endearment, like we're buddies. I didn't know a whole lot then, but I did know this, you don't be calling no mountain boy a son of a bitch unless you're ready for a round, in which you run a pretty good chance of getting your ass severely kicked. I took hold of the mountain boy's arm and said this guy is from the city, doesn't know what he's saying, doesn't know who he's talking to. He's ignorant. Too ignorant to set on his ass, because he won't get it. He doesn't mean it the way you take it and he'll never understand. He's had too much school. That saved him from getting knocked from here to Kingdom Come. I felt like he deserved it for making my heart jump like he did, but also felt compelled to intervene, because it was no more than stupid. You can be sure, I gave him a good talking to later. You don't talk that shit around here, boy. Like the time I'm told of when I was 4, I asked a black woman how her skin got so dark. She said when the Lord made her he'd run out of soap. I felt it was that kind of innocence. I still thought he needed his ass kicked, but like I said, he'd have never got it. Like what good is an ass-kickin when they don't have what it takes to get it?
By now, I'm all with coyote eradication. When I saw that one, my first impulse was to want a gun in my hand to shoot it through the windshield. It's an uneasy feeling to go outside at night to look up at the stars or go walking in the woods on a full moon night. Imagination can create a pack of them in the shadows crouched down low with chins on the ground ready for the first one to make the move. Makes me want to carry a .45 with splatter ammo. One doesn't concern me, but dogs in packs are hard to stop without killing them. I even think about keeping a loaded gun by the door to take when I step outside at night. I have heard them singing their yipping chorus sounding like they were all the way around the house, within 100 feet. It's a creepy feeling. If they were domestic dogs I'd like to have one, but they're not.

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