Saturday, July 5, 2008

Headed West from the Cumberland Gap

"Well, I'm back."

I'm sitting here in the quiet Illinois plains pondering the year past and all that has happened since I last left nearly a year ago. The corn is only about waist high and the lingering smoke from the fireworks last night has long blown away.
Surprising to me, it was very hard to leave CAP. I thought, after all my friends had gone, it would be much easier to journey for the last time out of the mountains. But, as I prepared to leave, leaving became much more difficult. I made my tour of all the areas I had been before to visit all the people I have served and served with. I went down to McCreary Co. to work with the McCreary boys and Kevin. I went to the Berea house to bid them farewell. Then I went out to the Johnson house for the last time. At each location, I received the same general reaction. As I gave hugs for the last time (for a while) we always agreed that, 'this stinks.' As I visited each place I would drive back around sunset through the familiar hills and past familiar hollars. Playing Old Crow Medicine Show and smelling the mountain air, I could finally understand the desire to stay in the mountains. Throughout my time here I have left pieces of my heart here and there. I didn't go back to say goodbye and recollect those pieces, I went to make sure that they would remain there always.
I then visited many of my old participants. My motivation was two-fold; to see them for one last time and to make sure that my work had not completely fallen in. The work was fine and the good-byes emotional. Shirley and Miss Connie, the two perfect storm jobs were particularly hard to say farewell to. They both assured me that I was always welcome back, and in truth it was as if I never left. I expected to see Ross walking around the corner with a saw, Brittney to be dancing around like a maniac or Katharine teaching some lost college student. But all of my friends have gone away, and now it was time for me to do the same.
The last person I saw on my way out was David Frank, still up at camp and one of the last remaining volunteers from this year past. he was wearing some cut off jean shorts, a sleeveless T and a maroon trucker hat. He waved goodbye with our traditional Kentucky wave saying, "Go on home now GITTTTT." It was most appropriate.

The Beaver: The Beaver was never heard from again. However, it has slipped into local legend. Children at camp have frequently reported that they saw a fuzzy creature lurking across the lake on a misty evening with a sling tied around its stomach and ham in its mouth. The beaver will most likely terrorize children for years to come either as a ghost or some kind of mutant beaver that eats children who go out at night against the rules.
Jesse: Jesse got many votes this year and Ross and I feel confident that our cabinet positions are secure. When Jesse left, he refused to tell me where he was going. Watch out for a Timmons near you.
Jackson vs. Johnson: Johnson was always and will always be a nice place to visit. But, I am quite partial to Jackson. We liked it there.
Cap Corps vs. CAP: Cap Corps has more of a spiritual center but CAP gets more done. Both could use more Bamberger. But then, who couldn't.
Facebook: I left facebook because I consider it a vapid and vacuous form of communication. Plus, I think it deludes friendships. So if you want to talk, just call.
Will I be back?: After Lance Armstrong ran the New York marathon, he considered it the hardest physical thing he ever did. When asked if he'd be back he said, "No. But I reserve the chance to change my mind." He ran the marathon the very next year. No promises. I go where the Lord asks.
Socioeconomic: Why are poor people in this area poor? Quite simply, there are no jobs. There is no industry so most people just spend their time focusing on entertainment. Particularly in the younger generations, the focus is not so much on survival and improvement of the quality of life, but more on living how modern media tells them they should live. This has a two-fold effect; 1. greater dependence on welfare and 2. loss of vital Appalachian culture and traditions. People usually respond to this, "Why don't people just move." Good point. People don't move because their family is there/was from there, they have always lived there and/or they have an attachment to the land. The first two are fairly easy to understand but the attachment to the land is a bit harder. However, after driving around for a couple days, saying goodbye, I felt this effect to a large extent. The mountains hold you like a warm embrace. They shelter you, support you. The air, the streams, the woods and the little rivers make you feel like you're at home and call you home when you are away. Now, the real question is, are these reasons enough for subjecting your family to such harsh conditions? Probably not. But for many, these reasons are enough.

As for me, my time is over. As Gandalf says, as he is about to depart at the Gray Havens -

'My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'

I commend all I left into the able hands of those I leave behind. I have a few plans ahead. Don (aka the Donminator) and I will be heading up to Maine to do some volunteering on the Appalachian Trail doing maintenance. Then I have a wedding of two dear friends, John and Debbie, at St. John's. Finally, around mid-August, I will go out to Oregon for a season to work as a manual laborer at a winery called Owen Roe. This is the plan as it exists.

The blog will continue, because I'm sure the adventures ahead will be far too priceless not to blog.

Stay tuned for chapter 2: Andy and Don's big adventure and chapter 3: No money, lots of wine.



Anonymous said...

When Joe Crede found out he was chosen by his peers for the All Star team, he was quite happy about it, and said it was something he would always have and it could not be taken away.

The work done out of generosity for those in need in the mountains is a kindness that can never be taken away. Not from them or from you. Tip of the hat!

Christopher J said...

Thanks for blogging about your thoughts and doings (and adventures) in Kentucky this year! It was a pleasure to read and to know what you were up to.

Here's to the coming chapters!

Katherine said...

handyman...get your and don's address to me somehow so i can send you a postcard to maine!