It's been a long time since I've posted to this blog. The big news is that I have a new home. Well, not so new actually...I moved nearly six months ago to that little mountain town I mentioned. The area is vast and remote. If you check a 'flat Earth' map, just beyond where the ocean drops off the edge and the caption reads "There be dragons", that's where I moved. It's a joke I like to tell to describe my new home to friends.
There is a bit of irony in it...and a lot of truth.
The area of Southwestern Virginia/West Virginia is divided by the rest of the region by the Appalachian Mountains, which essentially isolates it. In 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was formed to study economic development. Appalachia was then-and still is - one of the poorest parts of America. The Commission designated the area as economically distressed and endangered-and rightly so: it continues to grapple with poverty and population loss. This is traditionally coal mining and logging country. In the little town where I live, coal mining dwindled out right about the time I was born in the mid-fifties. Little economic development occurs here now and a majority of the townsfolk make a living at minimum wage jobs. A sign at the edge of my new hometown places the official population at 300; it is, if you count all the cats, dogs and pigeons. The population of the cemetery is higher than the current number of residents. It includes 114 miners and laborers killed during an infamous explosion in a nearby mine. Both are on the National Registry of Historic Places. They filmed a Maxwell House Coffee commercial here once, and a movie 20 years ago. Since then the place has gone to ruin and boasts a mind-boggling number of abandoned buildings. Sic transit gloria mundi.
By now you're probably wondering why I moved here. On the darkest of nights, it's a question I ask myself.
The quickest answer is that I wanted to get out of a bad situation. The best answer is because I could find affordable housing easily so I could reclaim my independence. The life I left feels like time in a vacuum. The place I left felt more like home than where I spent the first 50 years of my life. The friends I left were more family than family, and now that the holidays are approaching, I find myself missing them more and more. Not that I haven't made friends here because I have: it's just that those relationships are so new that they haven't had time to develop the depth and richness of those in North Carolina. I know that will come in the passing months and years, but right now I have moments of intense lonesomeness. I'm not lonely, mind you...I just feel the distance between those I'd come to know and love and myself. I miss their presence and constancy. I miss intellectual discussions on Sunday afternoons over coffee, and sharing a spiritual practice with them. I miss the feeling of coming into my own among peers. When I moved I knew that wouldn't actually end because there are ways of staying in contact through phone calls and the Internet, but I do miss the face time none the less.
The mood is not all melancholy, however. There is still a feeling of civic pride that is easy to get swept up in: Forth of July fireworks, Harvest Festivals unique to the area, parades on Labor Day, Veterans Day and Christmas...Scarecrows and Christmas wreaths hung on the light poles in the main section of town. Everything is within walking distance: the tiny library, Post Office, a nice park with picnic tables, a thrift shop that benefits the Christian Action organization supported by all the churches in the area.
About those churches: you cannot throw a rock in any direction without hitting a church dedicated to a mainstream denomination. The Community Church has become a community center, and the synagogue is closed. I wish it weren't. I love the serenity of the Jewish Sabbath, and it would have been nice to have had a Rabbi in town to have religious debates on Scripture. I've already test driven a couple of the churches in town and had discussions with the pastors. Both are men of the Christian faith-one Episcopalian and the other Methodist. The first attended the same seminary as I did, and was ordained under similar circumstances, so we have an instant history...and he's the spiritual advisor of the local paranormal group. That elicited a big smile from me over the lunch we had one day. The second is a man of unshakable faith. I don't always and entirely agree with his views, but I have to admit....he's one hell of a preacher. I am envious of his ability to preach and pray extemporaneously. Both of these men have hearts as big as all outdoors and would agree to disagree within their chosen faith traditions, and yet they do agree one one thing: they believe this town is in its death throes. I don't want to yet believe this, because if or when I come to this decision on my own, it will be time to leave...and I just got here, damn it. I have an inkling there is a kernel of truth in their sincere assessment that the problem with this town is the attitude of its people. They've both been here long enough to know...but I am still yet an optimist. Perhaps because because I am new and have a different perspective, I can overlook the infighting and apathy and still see the beauty and potential of this place that's so steeped in history. My ability to dream has yet to be taken away, and right now I have faith and believe it can rise again. Maybe not to the level of it's glory days, but to a place of a sustainable existence. It will take a lot of elbow grease...or maybe just a lot of elbows...to turn the page before the book closes forever.