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Swing and turn… jubilee
Live and learn… jubilee
– Traditional Kentucky Mountain Tune (source George Gibson)
Every morning for the last week I have woke up with these lyrics in my head, running through over and over again. It is my favorite old-time mountain tune and it fits my mood perfectly. I’ve gained a new perspective having been able to step away from the routine for the last week. I know the order of my priorities now, and I am learning to work with myself. I’ve got to be able to swing and turn – to go with the flow – to ride the waves.
It is interesting how things come about in clusters. This past week I’ve discovered how important my every day work around the cabin and with my girls is to my family. I’ve discovered that I love Kundalini yoga. It’s a refreshing practice. The garden has taken off this week as well. The zucchini, squash, and cucumbers have splendid yellow blooms.
The corn that managed to survive the rains and our unthoughtful planting has gotten the first signs of ears. I’m loving the different colored stalks as we planted a multi-colored sweet corn. We are eating lettuce and scallions (that I thought were bulb onions when I planted them… 🙂 ) and they are delicious. There is a whole mess of “new” potatoes that we dug from the ground yesterday as our plants didn’t make it, but I can’t complain at the abundance we have despite the bug problem. Our sunflowers are developing their heads, and I can’t decide whether I will be the one eating the seeds or the chickens. The carrots and cabbage look lovely, and we are looking forward to heirloom tomatoes by the end of the summer. Today, I planted some cantaloupe and watermelon where the potatoes had been.
We should at least double our investment with the garden. We’ve put in about $60. That is excellent for a first year attempt at an organic garden, in my opinion. I have learned several things so far that should make next year better.
- Vacations/Trips as a family should be reserved for fall and winter months.
- Corn should be planted parallel to the hillside.
- Scallions and bulb onions are totally different… Look into that for next year.
- Get as much of the garden planted as possible in one day as early in the spring as is safe from frost. (An almanac might be a handy thing next year.)
There is no other satisfaction that I need to look for other than the blessings of the moment. I have it all at my hands for the taking. Whatever I am doing presently is important as all my jobs are important no matter who is paying attention to what I am doing. As the work of my foremothers was the backbone of their families, the stability in times of chaos, so it is with me. It is all in how I choose to approach triumphs and difficulties. It is all about the reaction. We live and learn, but in the good and the bad, there is jubilee.
Last night, I sat in my living room watching the lightening bugs flicker in the misty twilight filling the hills with flecks of gold through darkened hues of green, brown, gray and black. I watched the spectacle and thought about those who live away from here. Sure, every place has beautiful scenes that the world should see, but I’m partial to the Kentucky mountains because they are home to me. If I had to pick ten things to share with outsiders to help them understand where I come from, these would be them.
What I’d Love to Share with You…
- An evening of just listening… Sitting on an old timer’s porch swing just as it starts to turn off dark, we would listen to their tales of “making do”, playing in the mountains, courting their sweetheart, and working their fingers to the bone because that’s what you do. We’d listen and learn that there is more to life than celebrity, money, what you have and what you can buy, and whether or not you live within a short driving distance of a strip mall with a Super Wal-Mart.
- The view from the mountain in front of my cabin... We’d hike the steep hillside in front of our cabin until we reached the large rocks placed on the mountaintop by movement of earth and time. It would be early fall and we’d be quiet there letting the strong breeze work its way through our bodies with a sweet purity that fills us up with serenity and appreciation. We’d learn that yes, there is something bigger than all of us, that made us a small part of this beautiful creation.
- Bad Branch Falls… I’d love to take you up Pine Mountain by Wiley’s Last Resort and on down to Bad Branch Falls. The small falls is a local respected landmark that is a public park that in many ways still feels like you are the first person to see it. We’d let the falls rinse us clean and play with our children in the little pools of fresh mountain water.
- A morning on George Gibson’s porch listening to his banjo ring… After a “full” breakfast, we’d walk down the holler a piece to visit George Gibson at his cabin. He’d play his banjo for us in the old-time Knott County way (that isn’t Bluegrass which was created by the likes of Bill Monroe in the 40s). I’d have to ask him to play “Jubilee” because it hits you in the chest and makes it unnecessary to breathe. The music breathes for you.
- A dinner of Appalachian soupbeans, cornbread, kraut, fried potatoes and onions, pork tenderloin, and fresh sliced tomato and cucumber… The meal of all meals that makes you wiggle while you eat. All of it will be cooked in cast iron with bacon fat.
- Scare the pants off you with a bobcat hollering in the night… Sounds like a woman screaming for her life. A banshee woman. It’ll scare the bejezus out of you for a few minutes until you realize (only because someone’s told you) it was only a bobcat.
- A mountain church service… You’d have to stay two Sundays because I’d want to share with you both the Old Regular Baptist and Pentecostal traditional services. I’d want you to hear the mournful sounds of the Old Regular’s lining out their hymns (you will cry whether you want to or not) and the soul catching sounds of a Pentecostal band with all the instruments playing in such a way that draws you up out of the depths and makes you dance with joy and praise. Oh, and then dinner on the grounds. 😉
- Experiencing mountain hospitality… You’ll never go hungry or lack for a place to lay your head. We’ll be waved at by those in passing cars. We’ll pull off the side of the road for funeral processions. We’ll always have time for a few words with a neighbor. If the car breaks down, we won’t be long or scared on the side of the road.
- Carcassonne Square Dance… We’ll go to a real mountain square dance called and played by some great folks. We’ll dance ’til our legs give out and then we’ll dance some more.
- Coal Mining… I’d share with you both a mountain top removal (strip mine) site and an underground mine. There is great dualities in this issue. On one side coal is the largest employer in the mountains, but on the other side strip mines are ruining our mountain landscape and causing havoc in the balance of things. I’d want you to understand the sacrifices our people make in bringing you your electricity. I’d want you to understand that when you turn on the light that you are using an non-renewable resource that comes from a real place and is pulled out of the mountains by real people. Our miners deserve respect as do the people living in coal producing mountains. It is my personal belief that most coal companies have placed us in a situation of indentured servitude and they abuse our people and our homeplace. Solutions have to be found so that mountaintop removal becomes unnecessary, and our people can still be gainfully employed.
I believe there is magic in these hills. Sure, we are a clannish bunch, but for those who take the time to listen and pay attention you’ll find a place.
We moved the chicken coop and the run for the first time since we got our little flock. That was more of an ordeal than I had expected. We kept the chickens in the run and moved the coop first. John built it up on tractors, so it is fairly easy to move. Then, we decided to move the run with the chickens in it. They are a wild bunch and very hard to catch, so I haven’t been brave enough to let them have free range yet. I’d like to work to that point though, especially after this experience.
We start moving the run a smidgen at a time, but the chickens were startled into fits. It was almost like they turned into a bunch of possums playing dead. They wouldn’t move along with us. Then, Bobby Lou got her legs hung under the bottom edge of the run, (Don’t worry she wasn’t injured.) and it was all over from there. Bill Henry then went into protection mode and it was total chaos. I thought chickens were supposed to “shoo”, not freeze.
We finally got them to some fresh grass, shade, and a cleaner area. I’d like to think that someday I could turn them out and they would come back to the coop to lay eggs and roost on their own. However, where we are predators are a real possibility. We have skunks, raccoons, possums, foxes, black bears, and big snakes. I’d like to protect our assets from danger. Also, they are a very skiddish flock. I have developed a reasonable relationship with them in that it doesn’t work them up when I come around, because I’m the one cleaning up after them, feeding and watering them, collecting eggs, and giving them treats. Yet, they’d never let me pet them or pick them up without a wrangling. They are spooked by John really bad. I don’t trust that letting them free range is the best thing – at least not right now. I have to have a little more faith in them first.
I believe they are happy chickens with the coop and run. I make sure they have plenty of grass to scratch and graze on. They love clover. Plus, we bought them to save money on eggs. Replacing members of the flock wouldn’t be a cheap thing if predator attacks were a frequent. These girls were $10 each and our roosters were $5.
Managing a sustainable way of life is really a job. I can completely see how that was what consumed the lives of our ancestors day to day. Work outside of the home often wouldn’t have been possible with growing an organic garden, tending animals, and maintaining structures on the property. Our recent incidents of potato bugs, maggots in the compost, and moving the coop have been big work. But, it’s meaningful work and work I enjoy. It is work that makes me proud.
I’ve been assisting singer, songwriter, and dancer Carla Gover with teaching Kids on the Creek this week at the Cowan Mountain Music School. It is an awesome time and a great privilege for me to get to be a part of that and passing on our traditions. Our age range is from 5-11 years of age not including my girls. It’s for sure an adventure. Our theme for the week is “magic”.
So, needless to say, I am scrambling to find the time to write quality blog posts this week, but I did realize that my busy self forgot to draw the winner for my own Give Away on June 5th. Deladis drew out the lucky winner out of 6 entries to win 2 of John’s postcards with prints of his original artwork. That winner was Susie! 🙂 Thanks to everyone who entered.
I also want to mention that my next give away begins now, and the drawing will be held on July 20th. Two winners will receive a copy of Kudzu Magazine featuring my story that won the Gurney Norman Prize for Short Fiction. I have a few extra copies that I’d like to get out to folks who otherwise might not run across one, so if you are interested, please comment on this post or under the heading Give Aways at the top of my main page. The story is about a city cop who ends up having to stay home to take care of his newborn.
Over at the Nourished Kitchen the voting is being held for the winner of the Clean Your Plate recipe contest. My recipe for honey molasses cookies is in the running. All the recipes look great. I’m pretty excited about the honey sweetened strawberry preserves. Yum! Go take a look at that great blog and resource for good wholesome food ideas, and vote for your favorite recipe.
Another thing I’d like to ask of my readers, if you wouldn’t mind to give your answer to the poll I have placed in the left column on my main page, I’d love to hear what kinds of topics interest you and bring you to my blog. I appreciate all my readers so very much. It is amazingly gratifying for a writer, and though this blog is in part for me, it is mostly for you. Otherwise, I’d just keep a journal. 😉 I’d love to know your thoughts.
I was reading a post on Lia Mack’s blog Blissfully Beguiling that got me thinking about why I should even be attempting to make writing my career. I have other things I could do with my life as far as interests and things that might bring in an income go. Things that would be a whole lot easier to be successful at. I could go back to teaching public school (Well, you’d have to pay me quite a bit more. No, a whole lot more, and cut the red tape.). I could apprentice to be a doula or an aspiring homebirth midwife (I watched The Business of Being Born last night. It was a temptress of a film. Makes you want a baby in the belly, and makes you want to witness birth over and over again.) I could become a small business owner of a bookstore, health/natural food, or open my own restaurant (I know. All excellent choices in this economy. But, what is an excellent choice anymore?).
I will never forget when I read the first novel of my favorite author – Clay’s Quilt by Silas House. It moved me beyond what I could have imagined from a work written by someone closer in age to myself then most authors I had been reading. I was taken aback by how similar it felt to my work, yet so great. I was shocked by the similarities so much so that I began to question the relevance of my own work. How could we be writing works so similar in style and context and neither of us having read or been influenced by the other. I thought that it might be time for me to give it up writing. It didn’t matter that I am woman and he is a man. He writes women flawlessly in my opinion. I had become irrelevant.
However, those thoughts lasted only a few days for me. I realized soon that it wasn’t that I had become irrelevant, but despite the fact that I haven’t been recognized or widely published, and I am still working on my first novel, I had become part of a collective. A writing movement – dare I say a literary movement. (Wow! Big words.) We aren’t only similar in our writings, but similar people as well. We are both from the hills of eastern Kentucky, in the throes of coal mining, country music, and the nineteen eighties. Our backgrounds are fueling our writing content. I began searching out more Appalachian writers from my generation and reading their works, and I noticed more similarities. I noticed that though we each have individual voices, topics, and experiences, we are all writing our stories. We are perpetuating our culture, showing the meeting place of two worlds in the past and present. It has become pretty exciting to me.
So, while I could sell great books and promote Appalachian literature, I could promote health and well being, feed folks good food, help mothers achieve positive birth outcomes, or teach oodles of Kentucky children to appreciate literature – what I want to do is share the story of my generation. I want to share the story of my Appalachia. I want to share it with Appalachians, Louisvillians, New Yorkers, the Japanese, Canadians, the man behind the counter at the sub shop, your mother, my former teachers, or anyone looking for a good story. I want to preserve a spot in history for the things passed down to me. I want to pass them on mostly importantly to the people being brought up here in the mountains. I want to be a part of this collective of Appalachian writers who are showing the world the “real” Appalachian. Showing the world that yes, stereotypes come from real places, but it is what you don’t understand about us that makes the difference, our dualities and triumphs. That our experience though so specific is a universal experience. You might be more familiar with us than you think. We are proud to be Appalachian from the mountains where there are no malls or 100 places to have dinner out. We are proud to be coal miners, chicken raisers, garden growers, banjo pickers, and quilters. We are storytellers.
Why am I chosing writing? Because I feel like it is the most important thing for me to be doing right now. That through writing, I can wrap all my interests into one clean package. Why am I chosing now? Because now is all we have. I want to be a mother who shows her children that the time to dream and work toward goals is always now. Yes, I have limitations, but I can work a little everyday toward my goals.
When we lived in Louisville, I longed for some good down home grits filled with butter and sweetened just a little. I searched in restaurants and grocery stores. There were things called grits, but weren’t the grits I was looking for. Like real Appalachian soupbeans and cornbread and chicken-n-dumplings, good hominy grits didn’t exist out there and it was rare to meet someone who knew what the heck you were talking about if you asked. Now, that I am back home I can buy real hominy grits for 80 cents a pound at the Yoder’s Mennonite Bulk Foods Store. This morning we had a cheesy version of grits with salt and a touch of garlic and I relished how easy they were to make and how only a little bit makes a whole lot of this Appalachian traditional food.
White folks were introduced to corn by the Native Americans, which for most of us is common knowledge. For those native peoples depending at least somewhat on agriculture, corn was a base crop and the preparations for it were as varied as the people preparing it. Turning corn into hominy makes it an easily digested food and very nutritious.
It converts some of the niacin (and possibly other B vitamins) into a form more absorbable by the body, improves the availability of the amino acids, and (at least in the lime-treated variant) supplements the calcium content, balancing maize’s comparative excess of phosphorus.
My Cherokee ancestors utilized hominy in many ways, even fermenting some for soups and the like. In my recent trip, I noticed every Cherokee dwelling was equipped with a kanona (corn beater) from the richest to the poorest. I’m looking into the more traditional variations of recipes using hominy and grits, and now that I know why it is a traditional Appalachian staple, I plan to use it to the fullest extent because it is a very cost efficient food. (For many Appalachians, especially those forced to live on very little for one reason or another, corn was a key ingredient to all three meals of the day. There are even tales of families eating nothing but things made from corn.)
* Note that when choosing corn products take great care to choose varieties that are non-GMO.
Traditional Appalachian Grits (As I am Familiar)
3 cups water
3/4 cups grits
butter (best you can find)
molasses, sorghum, or honey
pinch of sea salt
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add grits, stir and simmer for 5 minutes adding salt, butter, and sweetner as desired. Makes 4-8 servings depending on whether it is a main dish or side dish.
I have decided to change the name of my young rooster from Big Sexy to Bill Henry. Observing him over the last month has taught me so much about how the human race falls short because of our “big” brains. I’m naming him after Bill Henrickson. The main man on HBO’s series Big Love about the religiously polygamist family. I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t say I’m a fan, but my sister is. She’s told me about it enough for me to have an idea as to the goings on.
Anyway, Bill Henry (the rooster) is the model of chivalry. He knows how to treat his women in a gentle, mannerly, and respectable way. He spends the day watching the ground and sky to alert them of predators. He follows them to the nest box when they are ready to lay an egg and waits for them to be done, offering added protection while they are vulnerable. When our old man rooster, Roy, comes around to catch a whiff of the ladies, Bill Henry doesn’t blink an eye. He is man enough to know he is top dog, and isn’t intimidated by another male. The icing on the cake, however, is when I throw them the bits of scraps as a treat in the morning. Bill Henry lets the hens (all named after our grandmothers) eat their fill before he comes in a cleans up the leftovers. Now, that is special to me coming from a culture where the men always fill their plates first at any gathering with food… then, the children… then, the women.
I’ve been enlightened by a creature that traditionally I have thought was pretty dumb. I mean stories of chickens abound with our family and friends. One of my favorites being a chicken fell while roosting in a tree, after falling asleep, and impaled itself on a picket fence at my sister’s grandmother’s house. Now, that’s special. Or, the same grandmother drawing a circle in the dirt before wringing a chicken’s neck so that when the headless chicken went to running, it would stay inside the circle and not run all over the yard before it died. But, Bill Henry has really earned my respect as has Roy and my hens. They are great entertainment, and do their job well for us… at the moment. If ever they do not, they will do their job on our plates. 😉 Chickens are a wonderful creature.
Let me know if any of you would like your male folk, friends, or children to come observe Bill Henry. They will learn a great deal on how to treat others. He doesn’t mind onlookers as long as you are quiet and not condescending.
Updated pictures of Bill Henry and the coop to come. We’re having some technical difficulties at the Haywood home at the moment.