Saturday, August 20, 2011

‘Light and set, y’all.

Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.

~J.K. ROWLING

~ * ~

            How would you build a house, if you had never seen one built, but had only seen one fully formed in the contemporary types after it was completely finished?  This includes if you had no one to ask, nowhere to turn for information, beyond that one sort of example.  To learn how to build a new, sound structure, you might consider tearing apart some of your sample, to see how it was done.  In the end, you still might have done some of the construction in a way incorrect or simply different.  Yet without making mistakes, there would be no learning process, no roof, and no shelter against future cold winds.
It is here that I find myself, well over my head in terms of organization and structural design; it feels like a crash course in history, social sciences, human psychology, economics, and plain out and out hard lessons.  The kind that makes gasps come unbidden as epiphanies fall into place akin to the best-laid domino patterns, no less.  In trying to understand why things happened the way they did in a given range of years, I have found myself a time-traveler looking at the passing scenery of a planet suddenly turned alien-possessed and sere.  Research in any depth, it seems, has that kind of effect on the inquiring mind.
            When a person I had spoken with very briefly once recently told a friend, “You’re from Kentucky.  I don’t expect you to understand.”  I laughed long and hard.  Painfully so, in fact.  Oh, but what a tangled web we weave… a tunnel spider would be quite jealous. 
            Yes, Kentucky has a reputation for ignorance.  One deliberately perpetuated post-Civil War (The Brothers’ War) to denigrate and downgrade a population of people who officially didn’t take sides, but which was stripped of land, livestock, and peace by both warring factions nonetheless.  When the officers of war became unemployed, they became mineral rights hunters in the age of the Broad Form Deed… essentially buying out the land from beneath the people in perpetuity.  Inhabited cabins and houses have fallen into mine tunnels as a result, in long years past.  Yet it took long decades to outlaw the Broad Form Deed, because of course, the people on the land had no money – and those with the deeds did. 
            That struggle continues today, the carpetbaggers using devious means to keep stripping a land dry of even its people, generations of whom must go elsewhere to look for decent jobs as even the land they love is ripped into flat refuse as valley fill, with streams and clean water being systematically destroyed.  Honest miners look for other work while machines tear down majestic, historic mountains in the name of light.  There is no easy solution.  While the Civil War years ended in my great-grandparents’ days, a tragic, brutal form of the ‘Brothers’ War’ still remains to haunt the people.
            Among the research, I found a book called THE LAND OF SADDLEBAGS, which was a reference to Kentucky’s early lack of ‘good’ roads.  Roads and streams, I learned, defined ‘civilization’.  As the early Romans knew, and as our modern military folk know, road-building was and is a major part of conquering a land. Migration needs roads of some sort.
            To verify this, follow the old Warrior’s Path, which followed roughly along streams from far north in Canada to the southern tip of Florida.  It was a trader’s path: the lifeblood supplier of rare and often necessary goods on which adjoining economies swung captive.  Other trade routes intersected it in various places, so that goods from as far as Montana or even the Pacific’s shores have been found among grave goods in archeological digs in the region where I now live.  Lacking the burden beasts of European introduction or reintroduction, most of the goods found transportation via canoe or raft – over easily traveled water routes.  Fiber goods (fabrics, rope, etc.), artistic goods, exotic (to an area) foods, weapons components, and much, much more changed hands often in the hands of daring traders who risked life and limb for the joy of the trade and for the sheer adventure of the lifestyle.
            With the influx of the Europeans, with their horses and cattle, things changed drastically.  The slow migration, a kind of rotation of native lands and peoples, was never to be the same.  As the Romans did, so did the invading folk who settled in to stay: they made lives among and often with the native folk, changing culture irreparably in some ways, and keeping the faint imprint of others, becoming bound to the land and each other in a way no one could have planned.
            This is where Kentuckians – indeed Appalachia – came into its being.  This is where the foundations of a people often misunderstood found roots to grow and build their lives.
            From the much-troubled lands of Scotland and Ireland, from Germany and England’s wild reaches, from the native peoples and those storm-wracked by the sea, the westbound migration found its heart and soul.  As I came to write in my in-progress novel manuscript:
“There has always been a song in the hearts of my people, and of my peoples' ancestors. From sea to shining sea and beyond those great salt waters, the song has changed and grown.  The soul of flute and bagpipe twine in the strings of an old fiddle, pain and joy are like birth and death: inseparable, each of them whole only when conjoined.  I would have it no other way.”
And so it is; this is my homeland.  It may not be rich or filled with professors of this or that, however, it has been traditionally a land of survivors, as well as warriors of their own path. 
“I hear my grandmother's voice in my ear, sometimes, like a whisper of leaves, a light, soft pattering of foxes' feet. I smell memories of her ways when cornbread rises golden in the pan, or a pot of strong coffee steams ready.  I can feel her work-toughened hands on mine, knowing and calloused, when I walk among the trees and see their varied bark in the flicker of morning storm-light. Here, I too have come for solace.  I cleanse my soul in these waters the mountains give freely, I come where I know home will always be as I touch the hard soil that gave me roots, that which still keeps the corn, the squash, and the beans growing for the next generation.”
 While the average Kentuckian goes through life unknown by the multitudes of non-Kentuckians, some have won Pulitzers, Oscars, held high political office to fair good cause, have bred and trained and loved the horses that made our land famous, some have won athletic prizes and awards, and far more have taken honors on the battlefields of the world.  All of them had a trade, something to contribute to their local circles and to the greater circle of life worldwide in turn: tiny stones can and do help shape mighty ripples.
             Kentucky was the first west.  Appalachia was and is still (while yet the hills and mountains remain) ‘the far blue mountains’ of which Louis L’Amour, historian and well-known author of Westerns, wrote.  It was the land of the Long Hunters.  And now it is the land of people just like those of anywhere else: people who want a better life for future generations, if not for themselves, just as their ancestors did to a single one.
There are no physical frontiers in Kentucky now.  The old-growth trees were gone generations ago, sold for hope.  The mountains are going fast, for coal… the world loves its sparkling lights like a child too long in the dark will hover near enough a fire to burn itself, and a miner’s beloved family still has to eat and find shelter from the weather.  Yet it is not the barriers of lack of education among our residents alone that cause the greatest grief; it’s the ignorance of those who would perpetuate a massive and endless lie and thus hold political and economic sway over a people whose greatest ‘sin’ is that they love their home.  Frontiers?  I have relatives in Alaska, among other places.  Yet while I would love to visit them, these hills and mountains are my home: “My cathedrals are these mountains; here I will remain forever, heart, soul, and spirit…”.  What price, love?  The last remaining frontiers are of the heart.
             Yes, I am a dreamer.  I do not deny it nor apologize for it. 
The ancestors who gave birth to a humble, stubbornly argumentative folk like mine were dreamers too, weak or strong.  In their collective names must I now raise my tiny monuments to the ‘ignorant’ that have passed on and now lie peaceful in their cool graves among this welcoming, conflict-soaked, and yet struggling soil.  The gods love an ignorant dreamer, after all, for such as they cannot believe in limitations, only in their active, living dreams, and they are willing to pay a price in blood if need be, to protect it.
I raise my hand to salute the builders, the people of every walk of life who holds respect for a land which has known little other than turmoil and strife.  To them I say,  “Welcome home, neighbors.  Have you eaten yet? ‘Light and set, y’all.  Supper’s on, little as it might be.  Make yourself to home.  It ain’t much, but it’ll do, I reckon.”