One reason I love living in Appalachia is it parallels my personality. Every moment there’s some new drama occurring which, thankfully, has little to do with me. The mountains are as moody as a Russian poet and constantly in flux. I go for a walk and behold, the clouds have wrapped the Blacks in cotton, or the gray of early morning fog makes the green hillsides jump out at you. A white deer appears on the sloping meadow across the rocky rift of road as if she were just a deer like all the others. The painted pony prances for you as if he knew you were taking his picture.
Nowhere is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty so appropriate a poem. Over and over, as streams gurgle and chuckle beside the roadbed I repeat the lines, “Glory be to God for dappled things–” and “All things counter, original, spare, strange;/Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?).” Here in the North Carolina mountains, drama and dapple is just a way of life. This simple fact makes me feel at home.
Perhaps I am more aware of my surroundings. Certainly, I am able to take part as the heat is not intolerable and the sun does not burn as brightly as in the Arkansas Ozarks. Most days here are at least partly cloudy and always there are so many trees that I can find shade even at high noon. I spend my life outdoors and that is where I have always felt most comfortable. Four walls confine me as surely as if I were sitting in a prison cell. Even the sometimes bitter winter weather doesn’t prevent me from taking a daily walk. That’s why god made smart wool.
However, moving always sets your writing back. At my age, nearing 60, a move alone can take a person months to assimilate. Add a spouse, 4 dogs, and a business to move as well, and your writing practice can really suffer if you let it. I say that as if I have some choice in the matter. That’s because I do. One must decide to write and, during difficult times, that decision must be made nearly every day.
There will be days, if you’ve been a writer for some time, when your hand simply cannot stay away from the pen. But these days grow few and far between when, say, your partner’s small press has the busiest month in two years the July after you’ve moved. How did they know? Our customers could care less that we are completely discombobulated. They didn’t know we had not found a printer, that we are working out of an old garage which requires a dehumidifier running full time to keep the their booklets flat enough to pack. We’re short on boxes. And where is our current paperwork?
We have no fence and the dogs must be walked. The rental is so small we bump into one another on the way to the bathroom. But it has a glorious porch and the view is stunning. Our neighbors are good country folk working the nearby rock mine and then their gardens when they get home. Nobody shirks and they set a good example for me. Looking around for my pen and notebook, I decide to write. Yet, despite the piebald beauty surrounding me, I cannot find my words anymore than I can find my old notebooks or my writing books.
But there are poems which are already written everywhere. So I read them. Gerard Manley Hopkins has been a favorite lately. As has James Dickey (read Cherrylog Road) and Emily Dickinson with her “Zero at the Bone.” I’ll tell you where to find such unlikely bedfellows all in one place in my next post. Suffice it to say, when you can’t find the words to write, let the poets, who have a long tradition of putting words in our mouths, help. You know who your poets are. Find them. Pull their slender volumes from the shelf and blow the dust off the covers. Read a fistful of poems every day until the images are engraved on your heart and the words stick to your mind; until, finally, you can pen a poem of your own again.