pine swamp, alleghany county, by tj worthington
Since Friday night hearing the Highlanders sing Countryfied, that song has been in my mind almost all the time. I couldn't be a city slicker even if I tried, I like the country way of life. Every time that line comes to me I feel the appreciation of what it means to say I like the country way of life. I was trained to believe all through my early life that country people are backward and none too bright. From the city perspective, it's true; country people don't do well in the city unless they want the city way of life enough to go for it. It's true the other way around. City people in the country are ridiculous. Who can operate a chain saw? Who can plant a garden? Who can use a hammer? Who can build a house? Who can take the car engine apart and put it back together so it runs better than it did before? In the country way of life people share the produce of their gardens with neighbors and friends. In the country way of life you're respected for who you are. In the city way, you're respected for what you are. In the country, what you are has little to no meaning. In the city, who you are is of no consequence. Who you are cannot be sold.
The first thing I love about the country way of life is the trees, the green things that grow everywhere, rhododendron, mountain laurel, mountain azalea, not even the particulars, just the living green world. This year the trees are especially full of leaves, seemingly more than ever. The leaves are big and happy looking. The summer has been seldom above 75, rain about once a week, as we need it, the green world vibrating in the quiet breeze. I love to be among trees, to walk in the woods, or just to look out the window and see trees. Trees are important for my mental health. In the mountains the landscape is always different. Every particular spot in the mountains is different from any other particular spot. The curving roads make good drivers of mountain people. Driving to the grocery store is not a matter of 25 lights, all of them red, each way. Depending on how I go, it's 4 stop signs and one light in 9 miles, a 20 minute drive through beautiful country I know as my own, every place I see familiar, home. I pass houses of people I've known a long time and appreciate fully as the very people I want in my life.
In a way, I regret the influx of urban mind into the mountains, but inevitable it is. Independence lawyer Lorne Campbell and I talked about this subject at length in the last half of the 1980s. He had lived here since he was 19, came here from San Diego, where I was born some time later in the hospital where his sister worked as a nurse. I met her years later when she was in a nursing home. It charmed us that we'd been in the same building at the same time one time before in our lives. Lorne had come to see it that the mountains needed new blood. I took me a long time to see what he meant. I don't know if I can articulate it very well. He knew it better than I, a whole lot better. He committed wholly, 100% to the mountain way of life. He dove in and swam in the current. I'm more the one to sit on the bank and watch the river go by. I'm natured more like Mr Sammler in Saul Bellow's novel, Mr Sammler's Planet. Lorne met life face-on. I meet it kind of sideways, like in a duel. What he meant by the mountains needed new blood had to do with the nature of a community with little to no influences from outside, like standing water stagnates and loses its vitality.
The mountains are getting plenty of new blood in this time. If a shutdown of the economic system locked everybody in place, such that we would stay for the rest of our lives where we are now, not by choice. By random. Then the mountains become isolated again for several hundred years. Maybe from polar meltdown when the ocean rises, the mountains will be a chain of islands like Japan. All the people that happened to be there when the water came in would be the foundation people of the population of those islands thousands of years into the future. Cultures would emerge. It being in the period of a thousand years of peace, the people would not be suspicious of each other, arts would flourish. Mammon would no longer be the god we call Jesus. People would still be as nutty as they are today, just in different ways, less violent, less radical, less hateful. The spirit of God will be glowing in humanity, individually and collectively. It's happening now. When all that is getting cleared out now is gone, we'll have the spirit in abundance. Nobody hanged or burned for being witches or heretics. Very few people in prison and the prisons humane.
As it is, the country way of life is my preference among the alternatives. There might be places "better," but I don't think any are better for me at this time. I don't mean it's sweet and lovely all the time. It's not. But it's real. There is ground to put one's feet on. Ground that has a history. Ground farmers worked and children played on for a few centuries. Before that, several thousand years of Indians walking the deer trails, fishing the native trout, never to extinction, realizing they were in a paradise world, which the Europeans came over and destroyed making it into money. I like living in a piece of the paradise world that is left. I like hearing doves, crows, bluejays, cardinals, wrens, song sparrows, chickadees just outside my door and open windows. I love everything that grows in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Long before I ever knew of the mountains here, I saw pictures of them blue under a pink sky. I thought I would never see those mountains. They seemed far away, almost mythological. And to the south of them, the Smokies, where clouds rise from the hollers. The Carter Family, the Clinch Mountains, WPAQ-AM, seemed as far away as Wordsworth's Lake Country. Now I live in it as home and it is better than I ever might have imagined, had I guessed it in my future.