Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I wake up this morning to a crisply, cold mountain morning. The quality of the light is just a wee bit hazy, but the sky is that amazing robin's egg blue that offsets the starkness of the winter landscape here.

I wonder if there is any snow up on Snowbird? Usually, when the temps drop this dramatically at my elevation, the high reaches are all craggy and snowy. The winds sweep down from Le Conte and Snowbird to chill us. If I'm this cold on my aerie, I know it must be really cold down in the holler.

I just read Catherine Marshall's Christy. I'd been putting off reading it since I knew that I was going to be writing about this place and it already had one well-known work written about it. Of course, I'm writing first hand and almost a hundred years later than Marshall. I'm also not fictionalizing. I think what struck me the most was how little the physical environs of the place had changed in a hundred years. There are definitely improvements...the typhoid and other serious illnesses aren't a problem thanks to modern well digging. I've walked back to the old springs that used to supply water here. They are pretty scary. Few are still being used. There is still the off person who has no indoor plumbing or running water. One of my close neighbors is one of them. After reading about the connection to typhoid and the springs, I now worry about Hammer. He's been digging a spring out near his house so he does not have to drive down the road to the artesian spring at the little church on Hall's Top to get water.

The Big Mud Hole was finally paved over last year when they started black topping The Old 15th. When I first moved here a few years ago...that wet spring was still causing problems. I've been up to the site of the Christy mission. I'm always a bit surprised by how small the footprints of the old structures are. So many people living in such small places. Easier to heat.

One thing that struck me about the book was that Marshall didn't shy away from the negative aspects of the people here. I realized that I've been doing that. I suppose I'm just so madly in love with the mountains and the mountain people that it's easier for me to turn a blind eye to that which is less beautiful than I'd like it to be. In a way, my first hand experience here keeps me from looking too closely and that is something I need to work on.

The terrible diseases here have been replaced, unfortunately. The three main scourges here are clinical depression, prescription drug addiction with methamphetamine addiction running a close third. My feeling is that the latter two are efforts to self-medicate the first. I have no science to back this up, but my feeling is that depression is something that is "bred in the bone" to these folk. A modern day Dr. MacNeill would no doubt be researching genetic markers for depression in the people up here.

They have a truly profound fascination with death and dying. The passages in Christy where Fairlight Spencer is watching the shadows overtake the mountain ranges, I see as being a metaphor for this obsession. I know exactly what that looks like. It's really very beautiful as seen from my high perch. The shadow is like a great hand reaching out to snuff out the twilighted candles of the mountains. It really is a perfect metaphor for the approach of death.

The local churches seem to feed this fascination. The stress is upon the afterlife rather than Christ-like behavior. Their beliefs are both narrowly defined and unambitious. One's entrance to paradise is guaranteed by mere belief. I feel strongly that one's actions, deportment and honor toward others (and Christ is as good an example to follow as any but the concept exists in all world religions) is key in being spiritually healthy. After all, if there is no one, or no reason for one to keep living...why bother? We need to be needed.

I talked with a friend about this concept. She smiled and said, "My husband liked to say that 'your faith should have legs'." Exactly. That's exactly what I mean. But, being the dunderhead that I am, I couldn't say it in five simple words.

People like to think the worst of people here. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it but it's almost titillating. There is a sort of gleeful glint in their eye when gossiping about someone who has committed a mortal sin in their eyes.

"Bless their heart. They are going to burn in hell."

As I mentioned in my "Picking out my Handbasket" post...this doesn't mean that they won't be your good friend, even if you are, after all, going to be doomed to hellfire.

Unfortunately, because of the prescription painkiller problem up here, many pain patients go without much needed pain meds. We have a cancer patient or two blow their brains out or commit suicide by some other means each year. Suicide seems to be a generally well accepted method of pain management here...but...

"Bless their heart. They are going to burn in hell."

I have a buddy who is facing an identity crisis right now. He was raised elsewhere but shares the same genes as the rest of the folk here. He's got a double shot of the depression gene and I honestly can't think of a worse place to try to discover one's identity than Grassy Fork. It's a great place to come to if you already have a firm grasp on who and what you are. I dealt with these issues 15 years ago and the pain of doing so is still quite vivid in my memory. His faith is quite strong and is of the ilk of these mountains. I think he is half worried about the burning in hell thing. I suggested he go to MCC or some other more tolerant faith...at least for the time being. But he enjoys the fire and brimstone.

I vividly remember Old Red down at the dump asking me if I thought "boys or girls were 'purtier' ". His sly mountain way of questioning my sexual preference when I first moved here. I honestly wasn't expecting that degree of frank inquiry. My coming here by myself was very suspect to the mountain folk. My easy reply was, "Well, Red. I think all of God's creatures are 'purty" in their own special way." And I do believe that. And with me...purty has nothing at all to do with it. Purty is as purty does, I always say.

Bless my heart. I'm going to burn in hell.

This is place to retreat from the world...not to find your place in it. The world here is nothing like the world out there. This place is very Brigadoonish in that respect. I was ready to leave the world when I came here, and this makes my isolation not merely bearable, but welcome. Many come here to seek peace and I think you have to have that within yourself to truly be happy here.

Of course I would love to have someone to share this with. That's possibly my one regret in this life...my seeming inability for form a life bond outside of friendship with another person. I console myself by knowing that platonic bonds are classically considered the highest form of love. And I consider romantic love to be a form of mental illness anyway. Still.

But I'm at peace that evidently, that isn't what the Big Picture has in mind for me.

And at 45, I've completely squandered whatever "Purty" I may have had at one time.

I think it was Terry Pratchett who said, "There is a reason why religions start in deserts or in high places. The stars are so close at night and make you feel so insignificant that you just have to put something in the way."

Come here and drink the night sky...or stay and go mad from the sheer weight of it.

1 Comment:

  1. Anonymous said...
    you are so right. to find one's self in Grassy Fork is hard enough but to add a gender mess up it is even harder Iam getting happier with myself ..God bless me I'm goning to burn in hell and you are right there with me honey............ SDS..

Post a Comment