Photo: Emma Delevante
On the eastern side of North America lies some of the oldest hills and hollers on the planet. This is a place of natives, prehistoric structures, mystics, trappers, rebels, witches and a myriad of self-sufficient people who simply did not want to be found. Every inch of space here teems with life. The fog floats across the ground like evaporation from primordial soup, its touch impregnating the land as it rolls through.
This place is magic, and the magic is easy to see from the inside of a dust devil. Some places vibrate before your very eyes, and if you allow them to focus you can almost see the ghosts moving upon the animal trails, which became foot trails, then wagon trails, and eventually roads. Life is old here.
Here I ponder all parallel times. I am at once aware of my feet on the ground. What once was still is. My toes sink into the soil and spread towards water and resources like the roots of a tree. These green covered hills speak to the thin veils that separate, and the lines all but disappear to reveal you are standing in the midst of a pulsing and complex cell. In that space it is not necessary to name. On this holy ground there is no good and no evil, just friction and release, fire and wood, water and earth, space and time.
Many rich men have traveled through the area and marveled at its magic. They exclaimed, “So much money could be made if we were to rid the land of its heathens & recluses!” So they forced the indigenous people from their land, sold the property out from under homesteaders to out of town money and forced its occupants down from their mountains. They put them to work stripping the earth of its elders, the trees. Trees, the likes of which, we are likely to never see again.
Have you seen the trees growing deep in the forest? There is an ancient poplar on the way up to Little Brushy that caught and held my gaze. I spoke of it to my father. He said it, too, spoke to him in his childhood. I wonder if it did the same for his father before him. How many hands have touched its bark and read its braille secrets?
When the trees were gone and the mountains were bald, the land would once again be sold for what was under its skin. For the next 300 years men with money ordered their destruction. They would tunnel, blast and scrape them to smithereens. Once the money dried up, the towns were left like smoking shanties.
While their homes were being stolen and destroyed, the population of these mountains was dehumanized in the zeitgeist. This is a tradition that still holds strong today. My accent and diction portray me as an unlearned hillbilly, a product of incestuous blue skinned simpletons. I have witnessed this place pillaged by poverty and opioids. I have witnessed businessmen and slick talking charlatans promising a better tomorrow, but no promise was ever upheld.
I grew up with shame for who I was and what I came from. It took me a long time to realize how special my home truly was. This is a land of wonder with a new world under every rock and every turn of a creek bed. Music bubbles up out of the ground, and there is a deep rooted history of fighters and individualists.
I feel no shame now, and I refuse to feel it ever again. I stand tall to watch the backs of the ones that went before me and lead the way for the ones that come next. As I walk towards the sun, my shadow stretches further and further into the past.
Remember: if you say “ap-puh-lay-shuh” I will throw an “apple-atcha.”