I have been listening to a lot of country music these days, getting to know the words and the meaning behind the songs. Every time I hear this song, the words so aptly describe the towns and the villages I’ve been working in. Rolling Stone magazine called it “a love letter to Rural America,” but I like to think it offers a compassionate plea to folks who “ain’t seen the blood, sweat and tears it took to live their dream.”
I guess I am one of the lucky ones that continues to see the light, having lived in the mountains of West Virginia and now the Appalachian foothills. I don’t think I understood what it was like to live in these communities, but there is so much I couldn’t understand until I was fully immersed in them.
I added some new photos to my online album that serve as a reminder. There is a feeling of melancholy when I buzz about these old dirt roads. I watch the young children milk the family cows and smile as the britches and blouses blow in the breeze on ragged old clotheslines. I make it a point to let it sink in and convince my city friends to give it a try when they come down for a visit. Maybe it’s the old-time bluegrass during Sunday radio hour, my favorite diner in the middle of nowhere, those brisk hikes through Hocking Hills, or the country ride to the Chesterhill Produce Auction. I never thought I would have a reason, or ever want to live this kind of life.
Last night, I took the twisting and turning roads into McConnelsville to listen to The Wayfarers play at the Twin City Opera House. I had a couple of beers and a burger at the Chatterbox Tavern, where you can’t help but support the guy who is helping to keep the small town square alive. I had the pleasure of spending the last 12 months working and talking with residents in Perry County and the villages of Coolville, New Straitsville and Shawnee. Trying to survive beyond coal and the boom around natural gas is everything here, and there are good groups of people working tirelessly to preserve what is left of these communities. It’s just something you’d never understand till you spend your days knocking on doors or enjoying a hot bowl of bean soup out of a kettle in someone’s front yard.
I am blessed with a certain contentment that I struggle to comprehend. My contract has been extended for a few more months, so I am lucky to have a chance to continue my work, managing rural development grants and bringing new ideas to towns that have been so dependent on coal for decades.
The crisp autumn leaves continue to swirl and blow, a reminder to me that nothing ever stays the same. I am open to places where I am being driven and guided. At the end of October, I left my beautiful tiny house to find a winter home in Athens for a couple of months. I purposely look for places in the country (short-term leases) because I don’t know how long my contract will last or how much work I can find around here. Either way, it gives me an opportunity to discover a different side of life, and make new friends and connections.
As I reflect on my gratitude for the people I meet, I am reminded of a Thanksgiving I spent as an Americorps VISTA in West Virginia, when I first had a taste of this.
Mountain life is a special life. Enough is all I need here.