…You can’t know WHO you are. Or so says Wendell Berry and others who think about the roots of our identity in the communities and from the landscapes that form our character, values and to a large degree, our destiny.
Ten years ago this summer, the WHERE of my living took precedent over the WHAT of my living. By both accident and by intention, suddenly, here I was–without a professional identity for a time. Who could say how long. And I began to shift my thinking from the ME to the WE; from my future to our future.
Critical to this transition was a change in my understanding about my own belonging. I had what I call my Appalachian Epiphany at a presentation in Floyd by Sharon McCrumb, speaking about her research for a book she was writing. In that study she discovered (the factuality of this is in some dispute I think) that the entire Appalachian chain is underlain by the same geological structure called Serpentine, from the mountains’ southern terminus in central Alabama where I grew up, to the Gaspe Peninsula, under the north Atlantic, rising to erode into Appalachian-feeling highlands above the surface of Scotland and Ireland.
I remember entering a kind of conscious, unblinking trancelike state there in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church where McCrumb was speaking to a packed house.
I saw all the places I had lived, from Birmingham, to Sylva and Morganton, North Carolina, to Wytheville and now FLoyd in Virginia. They were, every one, along or within easy sight of the core of the Southern Mountains.
I was Appalachian, by birth and by belonging–so that I could not stray out of touch with these very mountains. This obvious fact had never entered my thinking until that moment.
The other thing McCrumb mentioned–and it really got my attention–was that she had collaborated with the head of the Appalachian Studies program at Virginia Tech. I had no idea there was such a curriculum anywhere, especially just up the road.
A few days later, I called the head of the App Studies program, and she convinced me to take a class she would be teaching, starting in a month, called “Appalachian Identities.”
I am revisiting this history as part of knowing WHERE I am because of where I’ve been, to perhaps get a grasp of where I’m going.
This is a personal rumination. I vacillate about posting it here, since the vast majority of folks who might have participated in this sojourn since or after June 2002 have long since left the building. Maybe a few new, casual guests will be interested to know the roots of Fragments and of the various writing and discourse that has arisen out of these historical roots. Or maybe not. Move along, and just come for the pictures. This is an all-you-care-to-eat a la carte blog.
But as has been the case for a decade, I don’t know what else to do if I’m to know what I think than to see what I say.