The Republican Party, once Communism’s greatest antagonist, is now its biggest cheerleader
Still, as Wendell Berry teachers us, there is no reason to hate the Russian people anymore than Russians should hate us for Trump
By Michael M. Barrick
On March 8, 1983, Republican President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, famously called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”
This is the same Republican Party of Donald Trump and his buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer. This is an astonishing turnabout in just one generation. The Republican Party, once Communism’s greatest antagonist, is now its biggest cheerleader.
While many Republican leaders have criticized the president’s performance in Helsinki, they do not follow up their words with action. So, they are enablers. It is noteworthy also that some of Trump’s remaining strongest loyalists are influential evangelical pastors. So, I’m quite disappointed – again – in our institutional and societal leaders. In the face of evil, they are silent. (Those who claim to be Christians might want to look up Ephesians 5:11).
Still, it’s a republic, so we have a voice, protected by the First Amendment. Obviously, this essay is such an example of exercising my right to speak freely. But I have another way, and you’ll find it on the back of my car. It’s a bumper sticker. It’s below.
This message isn’t warmly received where I live and work – the heart of Trump country – from Western North Carolina through southern Virginia to all of West Virginia.
It’s controversial because people – as we know from “A Few Good Men” – just can’t handle the truth. I read. I’ve heard our own Republican Senator Richard Burr – chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – say that the Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Nevertheless, this “love note” left on my windshield while my car was parked at an elementary school in our county, provides insight to how people respond to this truth. Here it is:
There are two important things to learn from the mentality expressed in these words (I won’t call them thoughts). First, note the “Love it or Leave it” mentality from the 1960s. This person is asserting authority over me he that does not have. Why? We have an authoritarian president who he apparently voted for and worships. He craves – and emulates – the authoritarian approach. That’s the first step to Fascism. Secondly, and sadly ironically, this person will follow orders from Trump, even if they violate the Constitution one presumes this writer claims to love.
So, what do we do about this problem of having a president that is chummy with an enemy of freedom and who is doing all that he can to break up NATO and other vital alliances?
Applying the Wisdom of Wendell Berry
We apply the wisdom of Wendell Berry. (And Forrest Gump but hang on a minute).
As Berry wrote in his poem, “To A Siberian Woodsman,” published 50 years ago, we as a people must realize that despite Putin, there is no reason to hate the Russian people – anymore than Russians should hate us for Trump.
Berry, in his poem, introduces two protagonist farmers – an American (Berry) and a Russian. In this exchange, the farmers contemplate upon their common interests and concerns – their love of family, their love of farming, their respect for nature, and their respect for their fellow man. Implicit in the poem is that nationalism is an enemy to all people.
You lean at ease in your warm house at night after supper,
listening to your daughter play the accordion. You smile
with the pleasure of a man confident in his hands, resting
after a day of long labor in the forest, the cry of the saw
in your head, and the vision of coming home to rest.
Your daughter’s face is clear in the joy of hearing
her own music. Her fingers live on the keys
like people familiar with the land they were born in.
Further on, he continues:
And I am here in Kentucky in the place I have made myself
in the world. I sit on my porch above the river that flows muddy
and slow along the feet of the trees. I hear the voices of the wren
and the yellow-throated warbler whose songs pass near the windows
and over the roof. In my house my daughter learns the womanhood
of her mother. My son is at play, pretending to be
the man he believes I am. I am the outbreathing of this ground.
My words are its words as the wren’s song is its song.
He then asks:
Who has invented our enmity? Who has prescribed us
hatred of each other? Who has armed us against each other
with the death of the world? Who has appointed me such anger
that I should desire the burning of your house or the
destruction of your children?
This is but a small sampling. Berry ends by asserting that no government should have the power to require us to participate in the destruction of families, homes, communities and nations.
So yes, it’s disturbing that President Trump is incompetent at best and compromised at worse. Or both. Let us not lose sight of the fact, however, that the Russian people are not our enemies. They’re simply fed a load of crap like we are. It’s up to us – the free people in this equation – to hold our elected officials accountable to seek the truth sincerely and immediately. Anything less is dangerous, even treacherous.
One more thought:
Here is another contrast between President Reagan and President Trump I’d like my Republican friends (it’s a shrinking group with articles like this) to explain: President Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Germany on June 12, 1987. You can contrast it with anything Trump has said about building a wall on the Mexican border.
All of this seems perplexing until one considers the wisdom of another great American philosopher, Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Environmental groups accuse agency of ‘foot-dragging’
MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.
This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.
On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.
That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.
Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?
We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.
We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.
Our collective political hypocrisy knows no bounds
By Michael M. Barrick
Tomorrow, on Independence Day as you enjoy a cook-out with your family, don’t forget that at our nation continues its cruel treatment of fellow human beings by deportation and separation of families in many instances.
In a word, we’re are hypocrites. We do not come close to living up to the ideals of our founders, who established a republic designed to acknowledge and protect the rights of all human beings.
So, tell me again. What is it, exactly, that we are celebrating?
Kay and Patrick Crouch have taught and inspired thousands of students and others in the region; they are also premier promoters of the music of Caldwell County and Southern Appalachia
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: This is the sixth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” It is an abridged version of an article originally published in 2017. Learn more here.
LENOIR, N.C. – Before we ride the Hillbilly Highway out of Caldwell County for now, our first leg of our tour along the Hillbilly Highway would be incomplete without first acknowledging a couple that have worked tirelessly to preserve and pass along Appalachia’s musical heritage – from Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.
Handmade & Heartfelt
When I interviewed Kay and Patrick Crouch in 2017, just a few of weeks before the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, they were relaxed – the kind of relaxed that is rooted in two decades of experience – as they discussed preparations for the concert during a visit to their home studio. (The 20th Annual Showcase was held in 2018, and the 21st is already scheduled for March 9, 2019).
Patrick explained the genesis of the theme for 2017, “Handmade & Heartfelt.” He said, “Some years I have the title in my brain and then get the musicians that fit. This year, however, I had this group of people who I love and admire as people and musicians that I’ve been wanting to get on the show. So, it will feature various styles of music – some is original, but all comes from the heart.”
Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language … .” – Patrick Crouch
The 19th Showcase included eight groups or individuals, including Strictly Clean and Decent, which is Patrick and Kay’s collaboration with Ron Shuffler. The total of musicians performing was about two dozen, in addition to members of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.
Pointing out that 19 years of experience of preparing and hosting the showcase has made it easier for them, Patrick shared, “Now we have a tradition established. I already know what we’re going to do for the 20th.”
Patrick and Kay acknowledged that not every one of the more than 200 musicians that have appeared in the showcase as of this year are Caldwell County residents, but all have roots to the county. “It’s the traditional music that’s the connection,” offered Kay. She continued, “It’s good to connect with folks from outside Caldwell County. The real value is that these folks see what we’re so proud of.”
Patrick shared, “It is unfathomable to think that more than 200 musicians who live in or have ties to Caldwell County have performed. Our goal was 100. After 10 years, we had reached 128. When we started this, this was our stage that we wanted to share. It is incredible to think about how many musicians we have shared that stage with.” Smiling, and looking at Kay, he added, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have such a community of musicians here. It’s going to just keep growing.”
He continued, “Music flows. It flows from the performer. It’s not something you think about. It’s what we do. The sign of an artist is playing whatever they want.”
That’s exactly what happens at the Showcase. Patrick sends out a schedule to the musicians, tells them how much time they have and how many songs they can play, but does not tell them what to play. He explained why. “Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language. The audience knows that. The biggest challenge is for the musicians to limit their selections.” He continued, “I don’t give a lot of direction. Early on, we met a lot. Now it’s better to just let things be as they may.”
Besides the quality of musicians that play at the Showcase, Patrick says another reason for its success is how the community of musicians support it. “Those who don’t play in it still come out. Some come during sound check just to see folks they haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the support of the people of Caldwell County from the beginning.”
Sitting in a room surrounded by CDs, musical memorabilia, instruments and a recording studio, Patrick sat up in his chair and shared, “I stick my chest out when I say I’m from Caldwell County and am talking about our music.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017-2018.
Slow down and seek out a ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady’ spot
Note: This is the fifth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
“Find yourself a piece of grassy ground, / Lay down close your eyes. / Find yourself and maybe lose yourself / While your free spirit flies.”
– From “Cool an’ Green an’ Shady” on John Denver’s 1974 “Back Home Again” album.
GLOBE, N.C. – I always find the song above by John Denver soothing. It is largely because of the subject matter. It was also released the year I graduated high school and left my native West Virginia for Charlotte.
Moving to North Carolina was not on my list of options at first. But then the state of West Virginia decided it needed our home to build a bridge. So gone was our home with its many cool, and green and shady spots in the woods of our lower back yard along Elk Creek. Within a few weeks of moving out of that house, I was on my way to North Carolina to work for the Charlotte Ambulance Service.
Fortunately, when I moved to North Carolina, I was immediately introduced to the mountains of Western North Carolina in Caldwell County by my uncle, who moved here in the early 1960s. He knows every back road, especially those adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.
It was with him that I learned to slow down a bit. Over time, I was slowing him down as we would camp. The silence of the forest, interrupted only by songbirds or the occasional rustle of an unseen but nearby critter, mesmerized me. And it reminded me of my home that no longer existed. I needed it. Badly.
What I have learned over the 44 years since I first left West Virginia – and returned and left, repeat, etc. – is that my favorite places along the Hillbilly Highway are those places that few dare to travel. The trails, paths and old logging roads of the Appalachian forests lead into deep green forests and the mysteries held beyond the next switchback.
But this is also where you will find the places that John Denver called ‘Cool an’ Green an’ Shady.” His lyrics could not be truer for me. “Find yourself and maybe lose yourself /While your free spirit flies,” happens to me every time I venture into the forest. A rock, a stump, the ground, it doesn’t matter. As I sit and listen to the songbirds celebrate the woods, I want to stay among them as did the ancient natives who preceded us, simply sitting against a tree as I dissolve into my essence.
One day, I believe I will.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Getting to it is not an easy drive or hike, but it’s worth it
Note: This is the fourth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
MORTIMER, N.C. – Wilson Creek is misnamed. Part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it starts out small near the top of Grandfather Mountain, but after tumbling thousands of feet through an ever-widening gorge in the Pisgah National Forest, it has the power of a river.
It has been known to wipe out towns and isolate communities for days. Indeed, Wilson Creek has destroyed this and nearby communities twice – in 1916 and 1940. In fact, the second flood forever wiped out the logging industry which drove the region’s commerce so successfully, that despite its isolation in the rugged hills of the northwest section of Caldwell County, it could have become the center of government and commerce in the county.
The 1940 flood, though, took out homes, churches, sawmills, roads and sections of the narrow-gauge railroad that led in and out of this remote, heavily-forested sloped village on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Now, its 27-mile drop to the Johns River is through remote – rather, inaccessible – areas of the thick and dark Appalachian forest. Only the experienced hiker should venture its steep, rock slopes. Swimmers should beware of deceptively deep, but teasingly appealing pools. Kayakers are common sites in any season. Like me, they seem to prefer weekdays in the spring and fall, though the water is generally higher in the spring.
Wilson Creek earned its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in August 2000 after community leaders convinced elected officials at the local and federal level to work together – across party lines – to protect and preserve it. It can be viewed by driving along the narrow and dusty Brown Mountain Beach Road, which runs from Adako Road to Rt. 90 in Mortimer. Here, once on Rt. 90, the traveler will be on the only state road in North Carolina not completely paved. There are parking spots along Brown Mountain Beach Road, but the hike down to the creek is strenuous at time, but certainly worth it, especially where the gorge empties into a large pool where the creek abruptly levels out.
There is plenty to see and lots of kind folk to meet in nearby Edgemont and Collettsville. In Edgemont, at the old train depot, decades after the last trail rails were taken up, one can still see the circle of earth made bare where the Roundabout was. With that as a clue, one can venture into the nearby forest and see evidence of the railroad bed. The old station is large with many benches.
Early in the 20th Century, Edgemont was the last stop listed on train schedules in the local newspaper. Beginning in Newton in Catawba County, the train would stop in Hickory, Granite Falls, Lenoir, Mortimer, Edgemont and other small towns, perhaps with only the train station. It clung harrowingly to the steep cliffs into which the rail path had been carved, though it would have been worth it, just for the view of Wilson Creek.
There is a visitor center on Brown Mountain Beach Road and for the adventurous, one can hike along the headwaters. One can access it – and the Appalachian Trail – from a small parking area below the Linn Cove Viaduct of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I have spent hundreds of hours over the past 44 years sitting on my favorite relatively gently sloping cliff of Wilson Creek. In every season. I’ve hiked it at its headwaters and I’ve sloshed through it near its mouth where it empties into the Johns River. I have meditated and never ceased pondering what is around the next rock, over the next log, or just under my next step as I hike it.
For me, it represents what I love about Appalachia, about traveling along the Hillbilly Highway. It is adventure. It’s fun. It’s risky. It is a place to take visitors, whether to look out a car window or put on hiking boots. It is stunningly beautiful and essential for preserving for future generations.
In short, it is rightfully a National Wild and Scenic River. It is also a must stop along the Hillbilly Highway.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Holding on to one another is essential along the Hillbilly Highway
Note: Though originally published as a stand-alone essay, I am re-posting it as the third installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – On June 20, 1952, Minetta Flint married William Barrick in Morgantown, W.Va. A year later, on June 12, their first child, Michelle, was born to the newlyweds, who were known among their friends by their nicknames – “Mike” and “Sparky.”
Michelle, who eventually earned the nickname “Mickey,” was followed by yours truly just under three years later, on April 22, 1956. Nearly six years later, our family was completed, as our little sister, April, was born on January 10, 1962. All three of us were born in St. Mary’s Hospital across from our garage apartment in Clarksburg, W.Va.
As Catholics, we were a relatively small family. Yet, with our grandmothers, aunts, uncles and great aunts and uncles, we had plenty of family close by and others scattered across West Virginia.
Then, the three of us grew up, moved away and started our own families. Every year we would take our two children to West Virginia and enjoy a freeloading vacation of great food, great company and never enough time to visit all the family and friends we wanted to see. And each Christmas was the family reunion.
But alas, a visit to West Virginia now is nothing more than a visit to four cemeteries in three counties to place flowers at the graves of all those people we used to share meals and laughs with.
There’s nothing unusual about that. However, that doesn’t change the tinges of emotions I feel as I consider those souls who have slipped away – including our little sister April, who died of cancer last August. The Barrick family that started out at 483½ Washington Ave. in Clarksburg 66 years ago is now reduced to Mickey, who turned 65 this week (she doesn’t look it, but life isn’t fair) and me.
She and her husband David were in town visiting this week. She and I are both cancer survivors, against the odds. Why we live, and April does not, we do not know. Nor shall we drive ourselves crazy pondering it. It is what it is. How that huge family we were born into is now down to just the two of us is also something not healthy to spend a whole lot of time pondering. Again, it just is.
Yet, through the loss and sadness, our love for one another has grown beyond description, largely due to Mickey’s unconditional love for her quite curmudgeonly brother. We understand that we are indeed an endangered species. So, we do what Sparky, Mike and April taught us – We hold on to each other for dear life and laugh at life’s challenges and absurdities.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photography by Rick Carter.
The Grandfather of mountains affords mile-high stunning views
Note: This is the second installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
FOSCOE, N.C. – Towering mountains and church steeples are common sites in Appalachia. Not so common are swinging bridges that are a mile high. But there it is on the far left – The Mile-High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. Seen here from N.C. Rt. 105 in Watauga County, the bridge was built in 1952 and renovated in 1999.
Winds of more than 100 miles an hour and temperatures below zero have been recorded there. Not far further up the road, one can see the famous “profile view” that gives the mountain its name – the appearance of a Grandpa – beard and all, reclining. Its peak is the intersection of Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties. Indeed, Caldwell County, where we live, has the greatest rise in elevation among the state’s 100 counties, from roughly 1,000 feet to just under 6,000 feet. Its peak is the banner on The Lenoir Voice.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Pickin’ and playing on the porch as old as this Western North Carolina county
Note: This is the first installment in “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” I’m beginning as about to close as home as I can get – a neighbor of our daughter. Caldwell County is full of fascinating people and wondrous beauty, so many of our first installments will be from here, but I’m working my way up to at least the Mason-Dixon line over the next few weeks and months. Learn more here.
By Michel M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – Since the first European pioneers explored the Yadkin Valley and settled Tucker’s Barn – our modern day Lenoir – music has been central to our heritage.
Above, my buddy Andrew Massey takes a few minutes to pick on his guitar on his back deck. Constantly writing, he played two new tunes. Pickin’ and singing on your porch is nothing new in Lenoir or anywhere in Caldwell County. It’s a way of life. Musicians thrive off of each other and the heritage is continued!
It’s always a joy to enjoy the creative offerings of Andrew and his many friends. Indeed, he is part of Sycamore Bones, a local band that plays regionally and played an electrifying set in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase.
One thing I concluded for certain from listening to Andrew offer his latest creations on an unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny February afternoon – the arts community truly is the shining light of Lenoir. Lenoir, in turn, continues to play a vital role in the preservation of traditional Appalachian music. It is a must stop along the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. If interested, learn more here.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
Visual Artists Competition Reception and Art Around Caldwell Studio Tour this weekend
LENOIR, N.C. – Art lovers could not ask for a better weekend to enjoy the work of dozens of artists from Caldwell County and beyond.Tonight, the Brush and Palette Club is hosting the opening reception for the Caldwell Visual Artists Competition at the Caldwell Arts Council (CAC). The reception is from 5 – 7 p.m. at the CAC; the exhibit runs through July 28.
Tomorrow, art lovers can see the works of over 80 artisans and crafters during this year’s Art Around Caldwell Studio Tour. Two home studios and three art galleries in and near uptown Lenoir will be open from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Pick up a Studio Tour guide at any site, and plan to visit all five locations! They include:
- Waitsel Smith, 1419 Poplar St NW – Waitsel Smith has been practicing art his entire life: as an illustrator, as a furniture designer, and as a fine art painter. Now, he is expanding out into another art field – teaching. This fall he will be opening his home for art classes in oil and acrylic painting, in watercolor, and in drawing. Come see his studios and galleries featuring more than 40 original works for sale, plus giclee prints, note cards and more. There will even be a work in progress for your enjoyment.
- Pat Jordan, 808 Olive Avenue – Pat will have blue-glazed stoneware cups, soup bowls, and hand-knitted shawls and invites you to come and see!
- Folk Keeper Gallery and Frye Art Studio, 902 West Avenue – Folk art, antiques, and collectables galore! This is the working studio of Southern Folk Artists Susan and Charlie Frye. Come see the work of more than 20 folk artists, and maybe see the Fryes at work in their studio and gallery!
- My Happy Place Gallery, 210 Main Street NW – Over 20 local artisans work together in this cooperative gallery producing a large variety of work in many different mediums and styles. At least one artist will be demonstrating their work during this event.
- Caldwell Arts Council, 601 College Avenue SW – Varian Swieter, creator of ‘Get A Grip Stoneware™” will be on site with functional pottery pieces which are fun and a pleasure to use! In addition, more than 40 local artisans will have work on display for the Caldwell Visual Artists Competition.
The Caldwell Arts Councils is located at 601 College Avenue S.W. in Lenoir. Phone is 828-754-2486. On the web.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018