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Monday, June 15, 2015

GROUNDED


jenny nibbles afternoon grain



                                       Now that my ladder's gone,
          I must lie down where all the ladders start
          in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. 

                                                            ~WB Yeats
                           from Circus Animals Desertion


Saw a news headline today, a flood in the capital of Georgia. I hadn't heard of a flood in Atlanta, then realized it was Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the country between Russia to the north and Turkey to the south, the Black Sea to the west and Azerbaijan to the east. It is one of the poorest countries in the Western world, a consequence of its history and geography. The Tbilisi flood set loose the animals from the zoo, and they needed rounding up. How do you catch zoo animals in a flooded city? I saw a Georgian film last month, In Bloom, a beautifully made film, a peep-hole view into post-Soviet life, a picture of how a couple of families live their everyday lives, two teenage girls in school. It is my only experience of Georgia, other than seeing it on a map. Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia, a city about forty miles by highway from Tbilisi. He gave Georgia a kind of status in Soviet times, though post-Soviet, he's not much of a tourist draw. 

jack nibbles afternoon grain

I read the brief article about the zoo animals in Tbilisi and WB Yeat's poem, Circus Animals Desertion, came to mind, one of my top favorite poems of all time, all places. I googled the title, found the poem and read it. Came to the end and there it was, a purpose in my destiny, the place I set to start my new life in the mountains, the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, my own interior stuff, the bottom of the ladder, on the ground. At the beginning of my new life, I worked a farm with 22 head of beef cows and one bull. Sent the calves to market every fall. Cleared some land with a bush axe of saplings and young trees grown up the first several weeks, working self into shape. Hard labor and solitude. Tom gave me the job to see if I could take it. If I couldn't do it, he'd be rid of me from the start and not have to fool with a simpleton on the farm. I took it for boot camp, focused working the body into shape. I wanted to come down out of mind, self-image, everything false about my motivations and wants. Hypothesized hard labor and standing on the ground the best place to start, living simply on the edge of the woods, farm on three sides, a gravel road and one neighbor on it. 

jack and butterfly

I'd separated self from a host of habit patterns like on a chopping block. It was an extreme move. I knew, making the decision, there would be no turning back. This is it. Figure it out. My prayer had been that I would like to go someplace with a living culture where English is spoken. Appalachian culture came up with an opening. I thought, if this isn't answer to prayer, it's awfully coincidental. It was difficult in the early years, coming from an absence of culture, initially, then a decade in Southern culture, enough to see it going away, being swallowed by the anti-culture, anti-community wave sweeping the land with set determination. Mountain culture continued. It would last at least long enough to provide a taste of a way of life, albeit one on its way out. I have not totally adopted mountain culture for my own, because then I'd be conforming to codes not my own. I came here to find my own codes. I have adopted many of the mountain codes for my own for their practical application to everyday life, like Confucianisms. I never play education one-upmanship with any of the hillbilly people I know. And they know it. It's part of my name. Also, I don't make apologies for my education. I did it because I wanted it for my own self, for my own development. You're not apologizing for quitting after the seventh grade and I'm not apologizing for sticking with it. I had to prove to the people around me I was not looking down on them by not looking down on them. It was easy. I never looked down on any of them from the beginning. 

jenny

I can't talk down to anybody. One of the first things I learned in my first year is I aint got nothin on no hillbilly in the entire Appalachian chain. I found them such intelligent people they humbled me. First maxim I gave self was never attempt to fool anybody of these mountains for any reason. It will not work. It may for a minute or two, but when it stops working, you'll never see a sign of it. They just pay less attention to what you say. Ralph Stanley, speaking of the mountains was also speaking of mountain culture when he said, "They keep you humble, they put you in your place." I had found my place among a people I respected. I learned respect from hillbillies. I asked my friend Jr Maxwell when he was into his late seventies, who he had looked up to along the way. He said he looked up to everybody. It was all he said. It needed no amending. At the moment, I took it for somewhat self-serving, but learned as years went by it was a concise statement of fact. I understood why so many people looked up to Jr. He looked up to them first. He was decidedly the most humble man I'd ever known. He was so deeply humble within himself that he never needed to show it the way people do pretending. It was simply who he was. I threw my ladder away when I left the world of commerce. I have preferred to remain on the ground throughout my stay. I like what Joseph Campbell said about ladders. We spend our lives climbing a ladder and when we reach the top, alas, it was the wrong ladder. I'll stay on the ground, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, and not concern myself with ladders. Ladders deceive. I could not have donkeys on a ladder. 

jack



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