Frequently, talking with my friend Carole we can't help but repeat to each other whenever the rush of feeling arises, how glad we are to be in these mountains away from the world out there of what was called in the 1950s The Rat Race. I've not heard the term in a very long time. Maybe it tells me the rat race is now so much the norm it's not noticed, doesn't have a name anymore, like rubbing our noses when we're proud of ourselves doesn't have a name. The rat race was new in the Fifties. Now it's the norm even at fast food joints. It's even worse since the republicans cut down on all black people and are destroying our country from the ground up for their own fear of dark skinned people. Racism in white people goes deep. I hear in my head my mother when I was 15 listening to Little Richard, "The niggers are taking over." Last time I talked with her, a week ago, "Obama is ruining our country." I said, "We're not going there." She said, "Oh, that's right. Politics and religion." I thought: wake up out of your stupor. But I countered the thought knowing she never will, that she has used fundamentalist dogma for her shell. Perhaps she uses her church and I use my mountains both as shells. Her church keeps everything else out. It amounts to a wall around her that lets nothing in or out. I have done the same with the mountains. The mountains are a protective shield I wrap myself in, a shell. Outside the mountains I feel as vulnerable as a grasshopper in a chicken pen.
In the mountains I have learned the value of respect, of trust, of diplomacy. Respect is not an important aspect of the rat race. In the rat race there is no place for respect. Trust? Not a chance of trust in the rat race unless you've got the goods on somebody and they know it. Diplomacy? The rat race is all about self first, everybody else last. The kind of diplomacy used there is manipulation. In the world of money exchange for profit, our principles are put on hold, we make ourselves pretend to like people we can't stand, we put on the dog to make a sale, the smile with bright, sparkling teeth. I don't like it when I go someplace and everybody looks like tv anchorpersons. It tells me they are all of the same mind: more money and the status that goes with it. An attempt to find somebody at home in one of those outfits would find a head full of worries without end. They would be of the mind that a head without worries is not making money. This is the mind that corporate television educates with propaganda so subtle no one notices. It is not just the mountains that give me the more or less tranquil life I live on Waterfall Road. Not watching television may be more the foundation of what tranquility I can claim than living in the mountains. It's not the mountains. The greatest symbol I've seen in Sparta that it is not the mountains was the day I saw a woman in a white Volvo station wagon squealing tires taking a corner in town, talking on a cell phone. The mountains didn't calm her down.
These values, respect, trust and diplomacy, I suspect continue in the mountains because mountain culture was the last to get taken over by television mind. These values are receding in the mountains too. It was these values that I gained from my experience in mountain culture, with the people I have known. These values I believe have their place specifically in mountain culture through the liquor trade in years past, history. Trust in mountain culture among the men is as absolute as in prison culture. You are either trustworthy absolutely or not at all. Diplomacy I see coming from the time all men carried guns at all times, many of the men with short fuses. When short-fused men carry guns, you watch your mouth. You don't be disrespecting and you don't even want to be perceived in disrespect. I learned diplomacy among my mountain friends such that when I return to a city, I am astounded at how little diplomacy is shown in interpersonal relationships. Respect is absent and trust is unthinkable. I'm told, Why is trust so important? I can't even answer that. First, because it's not a question; it's a statement. I can't even imagine it as a question. Of course, trust is important. The respect I speak of in the mountains amounts to basic human respect. The humanity of self and others matters in the mountains.
All that is changing. I'm just recording how it's looking at this moment. Fifty years ago was very different from now, and very much the same. Fifty years in the future will be very different from now and very much the same. On my visit to Ninemile, Tennessee, where several generations of my ancestors lived, the houses and barns were all gone, the fields had changed. I stood on some ground that was once great great grandfather's land, looked at the mountains all the way around in the Cumberland Plateau, the Sequatchie Valley, memorizing the landscape my ancestors of several generations saw as their home, like I know the landscape around where I live. It's the landscape that I see from my home that I think of as actually my home. It's what I see every day. It felt special to stand on the land my ancestors worked and see their landscape all the way around, the shape of the ground around where I stood. I felt like I understood their culture as similar to mountain culture, and I felt like I really connected with them just by standing on the ground they knew as well as I know the ground where I live, better. The buildings and the trees are different; the cemeteries and the ground are the same. I know great great grandpa drank good white liquor, listened to stringband music, square-danced, was sperm-donor to kids by young girls when he was married. These are some of the details I've learned about him, plus having a really good dog, a Plott hound. I also know about my ancestors from east Tennessee that they lived respect, trust and diplomacy. I would know how to get along with my ancestors easily and get to know them in a hurry. It could be fun to sit at a table with great great grandpa over drams of white liquor and tell each other our stories. I also know they were so rough I'd probably be afraid of them. What I believe the mountains have done best for me was put me in touch with my true self and helped me learn to honor the true self in others.