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Saturday, February 15, 2014



The snow continues with us. The sun came out today and took the temperature up to forty for awhile, melting the top of the snow just enough for it to freeze after dark to make a coat of ice on top. It's not a bad thing; it will inhibit drifting. I'd heard it was drifting in different places where the roads had been scraped. This ice coating will keep it in place. I'm not even going to try to dig out the car. It's too much. The road grader came by in the night and piled the snow from the road into a wall a couple feet high where my driveway joins the road. I could get out if I wanted to, but I don't want to. The mail won't run for several days. Wind-rain-sleet-or-snow has fallen as far into the forgotten past as to-serve-and-protect, only good now for test questions in high school history class. It is days like yesterday and today that I miss a dog the most. Good days for a walk through the woods along the creek at its most beautiful, the waterfalls covered over with ice and the snow on the ice, water flowing behind the ice mask. A good time to walk down there to get pictures. The snow is easy walking and deep enough to cushion a fall. I went down to the waterfalls on a full moon night with about this much snow in my early years when everything was new. The shadows of the tree branches on the snow make one of the wonders of this world. Moon shadows are black. Walking in such a wonderland with a dog is a sublime experience. Alone, it is boring as watching tv football by myself. I can't go walking without a dog. 
I feel like old man Tom Pruitt at close to the same age I am now the day I went to his door after a gorgeous snow I'd not seen the like of since, told him to come outside and see it. He said, "I seen better." This day was in early October, all the leaves in full color, a few inches of snow so wet it stuck to everything, and no wind. It looked like Candyland. Tom asked me to come in and he told me what he'd seen that was better. A fog settled in the winter night with temperature below freezing. In the morning it was blue sky clear, the sun came up and all the tree branches and twigs were covered in ice and glistening in the early morning sunlight. Everywhere. It was moments like this when I realized that this old hillbilly who appeared to be devoid of an aesthetic sense had one well developed. It was the beginning of my learning the mountain aesthetic. They didn't care about drawings or representations. They had the real, living thing in abundance all around them. I was surprised in the beginning to see how many couples from the area go riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway and around the back roads in the county just to enjoy the scenery. It's something of a tradition here for a couple to go out when the mountains are especially beautiful and ride around on the back roads in a 4-wheel drive pickup. They call it God's country and appreciate it as such. It's a living beauty. They don't talk about it---there's nothing to say. The old-time mountain people lived solitary lives working the farm and hunting. They didn't talk much. I knew one old boy who never said anything standing around with some of the other men before and after church. They'd talk and he'd say, "Aw heck." It's all he ever said, Aw heck. He punctuated everything they said with, Aw heck. In spare time, he made frames for wall clocks with popsicle sticks. Popsicle stick art was his aesthetic. He raised bees, he also trapped coons, tanned the hides and sold them in Wilkesboro. Aw heck used to be a common thing to say, still is among a few people.       
spring lizard creek
I don't need to go walking in the snow anymore. I've done it. I have memories. An older woman I knew in the latter half of the 1980s, Dewitt Hanes, told me, "To have done something in the past is the same as doing it now." I can look into the woods, see what it's like and be satisfied. Driving up Mt Rogers and Whitetop in SW Virginia, I look into the forest on both sides of the road and know what it is like walking in there. It's the same trees, rhododendron and ferns that grow at my place. A creek runs through it with big rocks good for sitting on. I'm not comfortable in the woods anymore without a handgun that has stopping power. We have red wolves, gray wolves, coywolves, coyotes and big black bears. The dogs run in packs and the bears are solitary. I'm happy they are here. I like having them in this beautiful land that is theirs. But I don't see they have a future in the mountains. Oceans rising will send the coastal people to the mountains. The Appalachian chain could be like the Japanese islands in the not too distant future. It would be gradual, several generations of people moving to the mountains. The towns will become cities and the space between them farms again, maybe. The wild animals have that much time left. Americans tend to have little sensitivity to wildlife. But that's not my concern. I am being a conscientious steward of the acreage I have legal control over. I'm not poisoning it. I'm supplying it with nutrients in donkey droppings, keeping it grazed and fertilized at once. In my time, no chemicals have been on it but for blow-over  and run-off from the Christmas tree fields on three sides. I have in my dominion a few acres of meadow and forest, and the old schoolhouse of Air Bellows, my home. It is my graduate school, the most avant-garde advanced education; no faculty, no administration, no curriculum, just follow my own light. I don't need or want more than this.
In my first weeks in the mountains, having no idea where I was except on a map, the owner of the farm I was caretaking asked the county agent from the NC forest service to come and give us some advice on the Christmas trees that had been planted before my arrival. My only memory of the experience was the forestry man telling my employer about killing deer. He justified it by Bible, "God give us dominion over the animals," and he quoted the verse. To his mind, dominion meant the right to kill. To my mind it meant responsibility to take care of. I realized at that moment the entire western world's interpretation of this scripture is and has been the right to kill. To me, that's tyrannical dominion. Columbus's first voyage landed him on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) southeast of Cuba. Before he left, he and his men had killed so many of the local Indians that had befriended them the tribe could not recover and faded into extinction soon after the white men left. That was step one in the genocide of an entire continent, now with fracking killing the continent itself. White man thinking: dominion is right to kill. White man steps ashore and says, I take dominion. When I was little, a neighbor spoke to my mother about letting up on the kid, and mother replied, "He's my kid! I'll kill him if I want to!" Dominion. The last time she told me of the exchange, I almost said, but stopped myself, "You're my mommy. I'll kill you if I want to." She'd have taken it for a smart-mouth thing to say. They talk about what's wrong with me because I've not had to do with family throughout my adult life, moved as far away as land allows. He's a reader. By the time I left parents, they had lost all rights of dominion over me. I took dominion unto myself interpreting it as the responsibility to take care of. I have nurtured myself through adult life to balance the anti-nurturing dominion that twisted my inner being into such knots I've spent my adult life untying them, one at a time, healing. I hang onto dominion over myself jealously. In this lifetime, it's not available to anyone. About the time somebody starts believing they have dominion over me, I'm gone, long gone. No second chance. I get told I'm just sensitive. I answer, You're right. Don't feel sympathy reading this, please. I long ago turned the lemon into lemonade and by now am grateful for the lemon.  
openings to squirrel tunnels in the snow

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