Up close and personal with Appalachian legends
Note: This is the seventh installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Considering the number of times that our family has seen Kathy Mattea in concert, it is a wonder that she does not have a restraining order against us. We behave, but we are enthusiastic. So, you can appreciate my delight at finding out that Ms. Mattea was going to be in Black Mountain this past Saturday at a legendary listening room, the White Horse Black Mountain.
My wife and I had a rare, impromptu opportunity to scoot out for a date, so I was snooping around on the web (it does have its value) and typed in her name. Up came up an event posting with this sign:
Immediately, I realized this wasn’t “simply” a Kathy Mattea concert; in addition, there was going to be Appalachian story-telling. As the marquee said in shorthand, Ms. Mattea was going to be there to converse with Billy Edd Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler, 85, had written songs that Ms. Mattea used on her album “Coal,” released in 2008. Three of the eleven songs were written by Mr. Wheeler – “Red Winged Blackbird,” “Coal Tattoo,” and “The Coming of the Roads.” The lyrics to Wheelers’ songs (and the others) can be found here. You can listen to Ms. Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo.”
Indeed, when that album was released, we saw Ms. Mattea in concert. That is one of the joys of her albums and concerts. They are often thematic, but she doesn’t forget what other songs her fans love. In any event, when I looked at the lineup, I knew we were in for a treat even better than a concert. We were going to hear from Appalachian artistic legends – if I could get tickets.
So, I called and was fortunate enough to score two of the last tickets. Sweet serendipity was in play now, so I was beginning to have a peaceful, anticipatory sense of what awaited us.
My instincts or whatever you care to call them were spot on. Douglas Orr, the president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, moderated a conversation with Mr. Wheeler about his new book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”
Mr. Wheeler attended Warren Wilson on his winding path to Yale and a lifetime of writing hits for Appalachian legends. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wheeler has written hits for Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Kenny Rogers and others.
He now lives in Swannanoa, N.C., but like Ms. Mattea, is a West Virginia native. So, the conversation meandered between the history and music of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Allegheny Plateau that constitutes much of West Virginia. He and Ms. Mattea discussed with compassion and wisdom the complexity of singing about coal mining, alluding to the love/hate relationship that so many mountaineers have with coal. If you’d like more insight on that, read the “Coal” liner notes by Homer Hickam, another West Virginia native who grew up in coal country (Coalwood). He gained fame for his book, “Rocket Boys” about growing up in late 1950s West Virginia. It was made into the movie, “October Sky.”
It was a lovely diversion, much like slowly chugging down a gravel road is from the insanity of interstate driving. In other words, it was a great stop along the Hillbilly Highway. I suspect that if during your travels you happen to run into any of the folks we saw Saturday night, you will understand why I consider being called a hillbilly a compliment and a term of endearment.
Mr. Wheeler was understated – humble – in his responses, but he was also typically blunt, a trait not uncommon to West Virginians. Ms. Mattea, meanwhile also exemplified Mountaineer humility, demonstrating once again why we love her so. She is releasing her newest album, “Pretty Bird” on Sept. 7, though she’ll be previewing it on Mountain State at the closing of the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, W.Va on Aug. 11. She never once mentioned either the album or concert.
It was clear that she cared about one thing – letting the 200-plus folks in attendance know just what Billy Edd Wheeler meant to her and all of Appalachia.
So, all ears were perked as Mr. Wheeler talked about his youth in High Coal (or Highcoal, depending upon who is spelling it). Though now abandoned, it is seen on the map in Boone County, near the junction with Raleigh and Kanawha counties – the heart of the deep, dark coalfields of southern West Virginia. It is near here that the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred a century ago and where Bill Blizzard, Mother Jones and thousands of others risked their lives to unionize the mines.
Between stories, Ms. Mattea and the band Whitewater Bluegrass would play one of Mr. Wheeler’s tunes after he had shared the history of it.
Essentially, it was what was once a typical summer evening in Appalachia. No air conditioning, lots of tall tales, toe-tapping music on the front porch and – at our house anyway – Pabst Blue Ribbon.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
Note: I have no quotes from last Saturday, because I was there to enjoy time with my wife, listen to story-telling and music, and drink beer. At that, I succeeded. However, I’m not good at multi-tasking, so I couldn’t take notes. So, I will eventually write a review of Mr. Wheeler’s book – between PBRs. Or, if you prefer, you can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain.
Encountering a disturbing view of the Christian faith
By Art Sherwood
PATTERSON, N.C. – Last week was a wonderful week, celebrating the 241st birthday of the United States. It is always a good time to ponder enduring statements from our founders, such as “When in the course of human events … ” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”
But as John Adams said, it is not just a time for reflection about freedom and liberty; it is also a time for celebration! So, like lots of folk, we celebrated our nation’s birthday with family, as our daughter visited with three of our grandchildren. Enjoying the beautiful mountains of North Carolina under clear, blue skies included an adventurous trip to Tweetsie Railroad.
That is when our celebration was momentarily interrupted and again left me pondering. This time, it was about something as precious to me as my family and our nation – my Christian faith. As I was standing in line so the children could get their pictures taken with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I struck up a conversation with another grandparent doing what I was doing. After a bit, she noticed the logo on the front of my shirt – “The Christian Left” – and asked me what it was about. I explained that it was a counterforce to the Christian right, who abdicated any claim to Christianity in the last election. I then showed her the back of the shirt, which says, “Love Thy Neighbor.” It goes on to list various groups of people, such as “LGBT Neighbor,” “Imprisoned Neighbor,” “Hindu Neighbor,” and so forth. She then responded, “Love is not enough,” and entered into a rant about how if we don’t do something we will become like them. She protested that she was just an old fashioned Bible-believing woman. About that time, the line opened up and we ended our conversation at that point.
I, too, am an old fashioned, Bible-believing person, which is why I found her response so disturbing.
Love is enough. It is more than enough, it is everything. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus said in an exchange recorded in the Gospel of Mark (12: 28-34 NIV). Jesus was asked “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
That’s it, Jesus says. Love. It is all that is required, and it requires all from us. It is required of all of us who claim the name of Christ.
The account continues, “Well said teacher. … You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
It’s also noteworthy how Jesus responded and how this exchange concluded: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
I however, continue to ask questions – of those who adhere to a very disturbing view of the Christian faith. Indeed, the brief encounter served to validate the point made by my friend Michael Barrick to me last week, when he said that in North Carolina our political divide is a proxy war of theologies – the theology of fear which breeds hate or the theology of hope which is the path to the love of which Jesus speaks. The former is exemplified by the Rev. Franklin Graham; the latter by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.
As a lifelong Sunday School attendee in Baptist churches large and small from Texas to Washington, D.C., I am blown away that someone can say they are Bible-believing Christians on the one hand and say love is not enough on the other. I don’t see how they can ignore the entire New Testament that is all about love. Sadly, the tactics of fear used by so-called Christian politicians and their powerful pastor allies is working. It makes me question: What happened to trust in God? What happened to turn your cares to Jesus?
What happened is a terrible failure of teaching by our spiritual leaders who have abdicated their job to lead us to the love of God. This too seems to be clearly addressed in scripture: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock” (Ezekiel 34: 2b-3).
Based on my short conversation in a line at Tweetsie Railroad – and decades of service to Baptist churches and 10 years (1979 – 1989) as a trustee at Southwestern Theological Seminary – I would have to agree with what we read in Ezekiel. The shepherds are attending to their gods of power, money and sex instead of their flocks.
So, the poor and vulnerable are hurt the most, even though Jesus demonstrated preferential concern for them. I can’t quite figure out what’s being taught in Sunday School these days, but Michael and I have concluded that we are, indeed, witnessing a religious proxy war being played out in the North Carolina General Assembly. At the moment, the “Love is not enough” faction is winning.
We can counter that. Take a moment to listen to “We Should Only Have Time For Love” by Claire Lynch. It’s worth a listen. Its message is timeless. And complete. We should only have time for love for one simple reason – love is enough. But we won’t know that until we try it. So it is up to us to keep proving it.
© Art Sherwood, 2017. Photo by Jacob Meyer.
Cooper and the General Assembly make a mockery of the state motto
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – The bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on March 30 to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” is nothing less than shameful. It is a fake compromise; it is certainly not a repeal, which was what is needed. In this case, a return to the status quo before the Charlotte City Council passed its local ordinance that precipitated the HB2 madness is the only option that will allow cooler heads to prevail and allow us to have an honest debate in this state about this issue.
That means no more rushing bills through with little or no transparency, as the first one was done during special session and this replacement was done last week.
Sadly, the only thing it accomplished is to demonstrate that both political parties are woefully lacking in leadership. That is because this new law changes nothing for now; the GOP-controlled General Assembly ensured that the bill includes a provision that still prevents local municipalities from passing ordinances “regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until Dec. 1, 2020.
Understandably, those seeking repeal of HB2 are beyond disappointed by Governor Roy Cooper; they feel betrayed. And well they should. This so-called compromise is an attack up the LGBTQ community, workers’ rights, and local control. That is not a legacy consistent with Democratic Party values.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party claims to be the party that believes in local control. They even believe in nullification of federal laws with which they disagree. For them to handcuff local municipalities is a cynical betrayal of their fundamental principles – simply for political gain, regardless of the harm it does to the people and state they are elected to represent.
So, once again, both of our major political parties have failed us on this issue that is an absolute embarrassment and betrayal of the legacy of bi-partisanship for which North Carolina was once known.
In short, they’ve betrayed our state motto – Esse Quam Videri, which is Latin for “To be rather than to seem.”
© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.
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NC Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia says priests and bishops should “ … imitate more strongly the example of Jesus …”
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The North Carolina Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has issued a statement of concern regarding the adequacy of local church leadership. Titled “Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smoky Mountain Region,” the statement identifies clericalism – the overemphasis of the power of the priesthood and hierarchy – as a pervasive problem in the region and in the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.
The central office of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia is based in Spencer, W.Va.
The statement is based on negative experiences of lay Catholics in the region in their interactions with parish priests, including inadequate pastoral care of the dying and demeaning attitudes toward Catholics from diverse local cultures. The Chapter opted to share these concerns with the media after more than two years of attempts to address the issues with the bishop of the Charlotte Diocese, who the chapter says has been unwilling to meet with the people.
The Chapter statement calls on the region’s bishops to acknowledge these problems and engage in dialogue with the people to work toward creative solutions, and offers prayers for a “change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice,” that the region’s priests and bishops “would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.” The statement can be read in its entirety below or at http://ccappal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CCA-NCStatement-on-Clericalism.pdf.
Catholic Committee of Appalachia North Carolina State Chapter
Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smokey Mountain Region
To evoke the Holy Faithful People of God is to evoke the objective we are invited to look towards and reflect upon… A father cannot conceive of himself without his children… A pastor
cannot conceive of himself without a flock, whom he is called upon to serve. The pastor is the pastor of a people, and the people need him within…. (Pope Francis, “Letter to Pontifical Commission for Latin America” (March 19, 2016)
Pope Francis tells us that in order to meet the spiritual needs of the community, the people need their pastor “within” that community. While many priests are wonderful shepherds for their people, our experience reveals that this is not always the case, and our connection with other Catholics in the Appalachian region indicates that our experience points to a much larger problem.
Many Catholics in the central and southern Appalachian region feel they are talking to the wind. Their priests, especially the younger ones, do not listen to them. Their bishops do not listen to some of the priests or the people, and many of them seem not to be listening to Pope Francis. We realize the pressures on our clergy caused by the shortage of priests and the increasing spiritual needs of the people, but we feel there are pressing issues that need to be addressed in the short term.
There are flagrant examples of some of the clergy failing to care for their people and failing to see the suffering imposed on them, not only in the liturgy, but in the wider sacramental life of the church and in outreach to the community. A lack of responsibility is evident, even with regard to pastoral care of the dying. In one parish in our region, this happened at least four times in less than two years and two parishioners died without the sacraments. Likewise, funerals have not been scheduled in a timely manner, not allowing adequate input from the family of the deceased in the funeral arrangements. To date there has been no apology or acknowledgement, or even a response from the bishop in the diocese where this occurred.
Many of our younger priests insist upon imposing a uniform Roman culture while ignoring the rich diversity of Appalachian, Latino/a, and Cherokee cultures. We feel this is contrary to the examples of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. One bishop with a sizable Native American population in his diocese has failed to respond to the concerns of parishioners about actions of the priest which have offended Native people and their friends.
Again, many of the younger priests, particularly those fresh out of seminary, have an arrogant, self-righteous and condescending attitude. These “restorationists” seem to be more intent on taking the church back to pre-Vatican II days rather than minister to the people. They seem to be steeped in doctrine and theology, but are unwilling to participate in ecumenical activities, and are lacking in compassion, love and mercy. They are doing the job of the theologian, but not the job of the pastor. This is directly opposed to what Pope Francis and Vatican II are teaching us. Many seem to have the attitude that the Second Vatican Council never happened, taking the church back in time while ignoring the teachings of Pope Francis that have brought a vibrant new energy to the church, reviving the Church’s relevancy for many Catholics.
Many longtime Catholics who recall the days before Vatican II, and who have been faithful to the church over the years, feel they are being treated like children by priests in their thirties. As a result, they are leaving their parishes in search of meaningful liturgies. In rural areas, this is hard to do, given the distances involved in traveling to other parishes. Some Catholics are going to Protestant churches, some seeking alternative intentional communities, and others not attending church at all. This has caused a great sadness on the part of many people who, for many years, were part of parish communities now fractured by clerical ambivalence.
We recognize that we are blessed with some very good priests who give a lot to the people and who minister in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. It is not our intention to vilify the clergy as a whole, but to raise a prophetic voice in the spirit of love for the church in order to address some of the problems we encounter. Better communication and acknowledgement of issues raised by the people would go a long way in addressing the feeling of alienation that many parishioners experience. Addressing structural issues like the priest shortage necessarily take a long time, but some long-standing problems are able to be addressed more immediately, and it is past time to deal with them. Some of these problems, especially those related to the pastoral care of the sick and the dying, could be addressed creatively, for example, by empowering the laity to anoint the sick. As Catholic writer Matthew Kelly has stated, “God never goes back; he always moves forward. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. God could have redeemed them and sent them back to the garden, but he didn’t, for two reasons: God always wants our future to be bigger than our past, and God always moves forward” (Matthew Kelly, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose,” Beacon Publishing, 23).
We pray for our priests and bishops here in North Carolina, throughout Appalachia, and indeed throughout the world, as the issue of clericalism affects the church globally. We pray for a change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice among our clergy, that they would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
About the North Carolina chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
As a network of Catholics committed to practicing the reforms of Vatican II in the region, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has nurtured region-wide relationships of engaged laity working to create a church of the people. These relationships help us to see that the local concerns expressed by our North Carolina State Chapter are in fact shared by Catholics in many dioceses throughout the Appalachian region. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia Board of Directors endorses this statement and joins our N.C. State Chapter in asking bishops throughout the region to respond in a pastoral manner to address the concerns raised herein.
About the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
Since 1970, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has existed to serve Appalachia, her poor and the entire web of creation. Mountaintop removal, labor, private prison development, sustainable lifestyles and communities, poverty, health, clean water, racism and climate change are among those issues which CCA has addressed. CCA has taken responsibility for the organization and ongoing promulgation of two groundbreaking pastoral letters of the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia, “This Land is Home to Me” (1975) and “At Home in the Web of Life” (1995). CCA released a third pastoral letter, “The Telling Takes Us Home,” in 2015. Learn more about the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. Complimentary copies of the pastoral letters are available from The Lenoir Voice.
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If legislators will not honor their oath to uphold the U.S. and N.C. constitutions, we need a deterrence to prevent the total erosion of our rights to an emerging police state
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – As I write this, the Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have had citizens and reporters thrown out of the gallery and arrested, in clear violation of the First Amendment and North Carolina’s Open Meetings law.
And, as Chris Fitzsimon of North Carolina Policy Watch writes today, GOP leadership promises of transparency when they gathered here earlier this week for a special session are, “ … simply put, a lie.”
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where the Republican Party is emboldened enough to disregard the Constitution and the Rule of Law, and use law enforcement as their own personal army. This kind of nonsense understandably led to a revolution a couple of centuries ago.
So, here is something I am sure the Republican leadership will understand since they are such guardians of the U.S. Constitution: with you folks in office, the Second Amendment has never been more important. You have undeniably demonstrated you pose a clear and present danger to our fundamental rights and institutions. In fact, you have done so repeatedly to suppress votes as numerous courts have ruled.
You violate our most basic liberties in broad daylight, under the glare of television lights, in our hallowed buildings to undermine the will of the people as expressed on Election Day. If you are brazen enough to do that, you are certainly not beyond bullying your opposition in ways once considered unimaginable in this country.
The founders of this nation understood that and, in due course, determined that they had to throw off their oppressors. They had learned that life without liberty is no life at all (Ironic, in light of slavery). Still, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
We hope, of course, that we can transition through these rough waters peacefully. Isn’t that what Christ taught? (I only ask because the GOP claims exclusive ownership of the faith). Also, I can’t imagine Jesus throwing out his followers. He was a little more hospitable than that and was pretty big on making sure his message was heard loud and clear, not hidden. Clearly, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. The watchful eye of the people and the press does not presently deter the GOP. Maybe they just don’t get the First Amendment. But we all know they have the Second Amendment memorized.
So, here’s a suggestion to the North Carolina Republican Party: show us you can be trusted with the First Amendment. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
If you can’t be trusted to do that – to honor your oath of office – you can be sure that your constituents will take the Second Amendment quite seriously should your coup-d’etat extend into our homes. And do us a favor. Do not feign outrage at our disgust with you. You – the leaders of the North Carolina Republican Party and your puppeteers – have gone beyond the pale in violating our rights. That’s how revolutions begin – with arrogant leaders disregarding the law and basic human rights. You have done so. It is up to you to admit your error and back us from the brink. Failure to do so will make for a very harrowing 2017 in Raleigh and elsewhere.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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Bernie ignited the spirit of revolution, but it is left to others to strengthen and sustain it
By Michael M. Barrick
When Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, the cameras repeatedly captured images of Bernie supporters in tears. I was sad also, as I have been a solid Bernie supporter since shortly after he announced. I was sad to see what I felt was the best candidate have to concede; I was sad for the young people who had invested so much in his campaign. Mostly I was sad because I knew the revolution he had ignited had been slowed down.
But it is not dead. I had to keep reminding myself of that throughout Bernie’s speech. Unlike the “Bernie or Bust” crowd though, I began to realize that the Democratic Party was still making history and the Republican Party wants to turn back history.
Speaking of history, it is its lessons that also give me hope that the revolution is not dead. One example should encourage all of those who supported Senator Sanders – the Civil Rights movement. It began with the earliest abolitionists of the 18th century and led to the Civil War. It provided us with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Civil Rights movement fought against the KKK, Jim Crow and separate facilities. Its leaders were murdered. Presidents had to call out the National Guard to allow those in the movement to exercise their basic human rights and civil liberties. Still, the movement stayed alive and successfully fought for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2008, the Civil Rights movement saw the culmination of its centuries of work in the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
Yet today, the Black Lives Matter movement remains controversial. This is proof that revolutions, even when they have clear moments of victory, are never over. That is because they are about ideas, not people. Yes, the people implement and embrace the ideas, but it is the power of the ideas that ensures that any revolution or movement will succeed. Great leaders die. Great ideas don’t.
That is an encouraging truth, but also a sobering truth. It requires of the revolution’s participants unwavering commitment and intellectual honesty. In short, for the revolution to be sustained, it must be defined. That is why Senator Sanders ignited the spark. It was already smoldering. The Occupy Wall Street movement was just one ember in the movement. The growth of social and environmental justice groups across the nation and globe are evidence of grassroots movements everywhere to protect the most vulnerable among us and the environment which sustains life.
So, the movement is not dead. But we must not lose focus of what started it – income inequality, crony capitalism, and a corrupt political process.
These problems – too long ignored – have led to compromised and failed governmental and societal institutions. With so many in poverty, with so many struggling with college debt, with others unable to afford college at all, with people working multiple jobs, with multiple generations living under one roof, with black people being targeted by police, with police being targeted by domestic terrorists, with health care being hijacked by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with our reliance upon fossil fuels, with climate change, with crumbling inner cities and infrastructure, with voting rights under attack – with this many problems and more being ignored – we can say for sure that the revolution is not dead.
Has it suffered a setback? It would seem so. But if we wake up to President-elect Trump on Nov. 9, the revolution will be in the crosshairs of the executive branch, and the weapons of war in the hands of a megalomaniac.
So, before you turn your back and “walk out,” stop and think. And remember this – there is not an “app” that you can download to any of your digital devices to make this revolution happen any faster. You must intentionally engage others in your community. Listen. Learn. Strive to understand before being understood. Be nice. Treat others as you want to be treated. Run for office. Read. Think for yourself. Don’t buy into conspiracy theories; that is intellectual laziness. Besides, the “bad guys” aren’t as organized as conspiracy theorists suggest. They just lack scruples.
As an aside, I will note that perhaps the greatest thing about participating in a revolution is the friends you make along the way. I share two photographs below from my own journey. The first, from 2002 at the old state capitol in Raleigh, was taken as we were working to have the North Carolina General Assembly pass a judicial campaign reform law. It did. Among those in the picture are some folks who remain good friends. Others, such as U.S. Senator Robert Morgan, in the front row on the left, have passed along. Indeed, Senator Morgan died earlier this month. But his legacy as an independent thinker and my memories of him live on. In fact, they inspire me to keep fighting until, I too, draw my last breath. The other photo was taken 12 years later in Weston, W.Va. In that photo are several people who became friends because of our common call – ending fracking and related pipeline development in the Mountain State. I was privileged to work with these folks and others to form the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.
While I am back in North Carolina again, I have not given up the fight in West Virginia. My friends deserve better, so we stay in touch and look for ways to help and support one another, even though separated by distance. Presently, I am heading up the campaign for Art Sherwood, a progressive candidate for the North Carolina State Senate. He is determined to move North Carolina forward again after six years of incredibly mean-spirited and regressive GOP leadership. I have already made many good friends in just the two months I’ve been with the campaign.
These people are just a few of the thousands I’ve been privileged to meet over 44 years or so of hell-raising (I participated in my first political campaigns in 1972). I can’t begin to put a value on the relationships. We encourage one another. We sustain one another. So, please don’t abandon the revolution. You’ll not only be cheating society, you’ll be cheating yourself.
There is no question that we need a revolution. The American Dream has fragmented us into tribes. (Ironic, huh?). Our original national motto was “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for, “Out of the many, one.”
The truth is, we are too diverse of a nation to ever be truly one ethnically or racially. We are too set in our ways on religion to ever be of one mind on that, nor should we be. We will always debate the proper role of government. But, if we are to survive as a nation – if we are to thrive as a community of people – then the revolution must continue. But it must do so calmly, patiently, and peacefully.
And, it can only be done in the context of community. Or, it will fail.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016
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Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator
By Michael M. Barrick
My love for the wildness of the natural world was kindled in the most unlikely of places – an urban neighborhood. True, it was a pre-interstate, small-town neighborhood nestled along Elk Creek in Clarksburg, W.Va., a main tributary of the West Fork of the Monongahela River. In addition, our house was one of only seven on a dead-end cobblestone street. Still, our neighbors were close. The one-mile walk back and forth to school was through neighborhoods with houses no further apart than the wing span of a small child. Narrow alleys dissected and intersected with the streets crowded with cars.
In the middle of all this, though, was my sanctuary. Our property included a swath of woods along the creek. High, steep cliffs marked the safe edge of our boundary, though that didn’t deter me and my friends from scurrying up and down them. Two ponds were under the tall canopy of trees; the foot-and-a-half wide path down to it from what we called our “upper-back yard” was overgrown with rhododendron.
It was a natural science laboratory that also served as my sacred spot – my place of meditation. It caused both wonder and wander. It offered insight into the rational and the mystical. Ultimately, it was a site of solitude.
Yet, it was also an essential part of our community. It provided a place for me and my friends to explore new things together, to take risks, to share secrets. We gathered along Elk Creek in a field as a tribe virtually every summer evening to play volleyball. Some of us even tried not to rotate from that creek side, hoping we could jump in the waste-high water, negotiate the rocky creek bed and retrieve an errant ball.
As I grew older, my childish ways gave way to very adult worries. At 18, I would spend hours in those woods pondering my future. Would the body counts from Vietnam mean that, I too, would be drafted? Why were peace-loving people such as Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. murdered? Nobody, of course, had answers to these questions, making those woods a vital sanctuary as I sorted out adult problems in what had been a child’s world. In short, it was one of the few places where I was at peace.
Then, it was destroyed. Sadly, though the creek and woods were sacred to me and many others, they were not to the state of West Virginia. They were in right-of-way for a new highway. So, at 18, my roots were involuntarily ripped up as heartless functionaries for the state attempted to “help us replace” our home. As I watched my folks, in particular my mom, struggle with this loss, a loss resulting simply from our society’s priority to move cars faster, I quickly lost faith in our institutions. I found myself lost; sure, we had a new house, but my sanctuary was destroyed – forever.
So, I moved to the largest city in North Carolina to work as a paramedic. There, the flat land and the lack of mountains only served to remind me of my lost sanctuary. Fortunately, though, an uncle on my mom’s side had settled over a decade before in the Blue Ridge foothills about two hours from Charlotte. Growing up where I had, he too had a love and respect for wild places. So, he bought about 100 acres of pristine woods, far up the Blue Ridge Escarpment. There I was introduced to unspoiled views, with hills, valleys, woods, water basins and wildlife that offer an unending display of the rich Southern Appalachian eco-system. We could safely drink out of any creek, spring or stream. Spring days offered a beautiful new surprise every day. The night was when the critters reminded us that we were only visitors and the starlit, unobstructed sky reminded us of just exactly where we fit in the grand scheme of things.
We are not, I learned, the center of the universe.
It was an awareness that led, in time, to my deeper understanding of the natural world – that it is sacred. It is sacred because it supports the very life which supports us. It is sacred because it is delicate. It is sacred because of what it offers our hearts, minds and souls (if we will accept and recognize it). Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator.
In our modern, western world, these are lessons desperately needed today. As we sit in a room and watch friends and relatives peck away at small phones and computers, oblivious even to the person sitting next to them, we quickly lose sight of our smallness in place and time.
Meanwhile, with our faces glued to the latest electronic devices, our politicians ignore climate change and, unquestioning, push us further away from the wild lands which sustain us. The experience I had 40 years ago of losing my home is repeated daily in the Mountain State and elsewhere in Appalachia – all for “the progress of man.”
Action, then, is required. There is still land to preserve. We must be educated and unified. We must then speak truth to power, and we must prepare our children and grandchildren – for this is a multi-generational battle. First, though, we must realize that not all people will change. Enough, however, can be persuaded.
To persuade them, we must begin by asserting our morally superior position. While that may, at first glance, sound arrogant, it isn’t. Why? Because we have already established that wildlife and wild places are sacred. This assault upon the sacred is a clear and present danger to all terrestrial life. So, we must not concern ourselves with being marginalized or characterized as “tree huggers.” Rather, we should embrace our conservationist heritage. It is this heritage that gave us the national park system.
There are countless ways to do this. Perhaps you could start by attending the Earth Day conferenced scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. With a theme of “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” it will be a gathering of conservationists with one goal in mind – to deliver a unified message that Appalachia and all wild places are sacred and worth preserving. Join us. Embrace the label of conservationist or environmentalist. Live a life consistent with those monikers. Become the expert within your circle of influence. Most importantly, relentlessly spread the gospel of conservation. Will we prevail? In time, we can. We certainly, will not, however, should we shy away because of what others think or say about us. Let us not allow apathy, ignorance or greed guide our future.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project, a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member. Learn about the Earth Day conference here.
By Michael M. Barrick
Before Sarah and I moved back to my native state of West Virginia in the middle of 2013, we lived in another place that we consider “Almost Heaven” – a cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a few miles south of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The cabin and the 57 acres it sits on offered the desperately needed sabbatical I required after a stressful life season.
It offered a time in a place that is the definition of peace. I helped my uncle and others build the cabin on the edge of Cold Creek, at the end of a hollow. I spent many days hiking up to the high peaks in the neighboring Pisgah Forest.
I valued the time alone, but also enjoyed visits by a friend of 40 years. We would sit outside enjoying the sunshine or moonshine – and sometimes both. We allowed the days to linger. We would take the occasional hike. But we never gathered up the gumption to tackle the ridge nearest to the cabin, as it is nearly straight up and full of rhododendron that are as formidable as they are beautiful.
That all changed one day when I was watching our granddaughter, Atleigh. She was a mere four-years-old at the time. The three of us were sitting along the side of the cabin, basking in the sun, listening to the creek. As we sat there, I did what friends often do – I offered a challenge. “Rick,” I said, “you feel like climbing that mountain?”
Before he could say “No,” or I could back out, Atleigh jumped out of her chair, turned to us both and declared, “I’m a climber! Are you?”
Now that was the ultimate challenge. So, without another moment of thought, we were climbing. I barely kept up with her and Rick was falling behind. He hesitated. Atleigh would have nothing of it. “Come on Ricky!” she exclaimed. “You can do it!” Inspired, he persevered. In time we reached the peak.
What awaited us was a panoramic, 360-degree view. To the north was Grandfather’s Mountain. To the south, the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. To the east and west, saddleback ridges. Rick found an old path and disappeared into the woods. Atleigh and I found a rock. She sat on my lap, her long legs hanging over mine, her head rested against my shoulder.
The little fearless climber that I cradled with my arms had taught two old men a valuable lesson – never, ever lose your sense of adventure. If you do, you will deprive yourself of unspeakable joy.
© Michael Barrick, 2014. This essay aired on “Inside Appalachia,” a program of West Virginia Public Radio. “Inside Appalachia” is heard on West Virginia Public Radio at 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday; it can be heard on numerous partner stations throughout Appalachia. Listen to it here..