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.