Excited enough, in fact, to create a separate blog dedicated to it’s creation, so check it out here if you get the chance and have the inclination.
writing assignment: choose a title or cover from a book on a shelf and use that as a starting point.
The Hills Remember
The hills re4member my father. He used to talk to them, imagine them, dream with them, pine for them when he was away for too long. He walked them plowed them, loved them.
“I lift mine eyes unto the hills,” he would say every time he returned home, “whence commeth my strength.” It was not a question as the psalmist would have it. It was his declaration. He knew from whence his help, his strength, his all came frometh; those mountains.
During the time of the great second war he wrote home from France and Germany in words that never pretended not to be homesick. He saw horrible things but also beautiful ones as well. “It is all really pretty,” he wrote from the countryside somewhere between France and Germany, “the Land, I mean. But it ain’t none of it as pretty as our mountains!” All he wanted to do was return to these mountains; these rolling hills that never forget.
I stand on the earth, toes gripping, sinking roots down deep. The ancient hills roll out all around me as far as the eye can see. Soon, as the sun sets, the mountains will leap up and catch the fire ball, pulling him down below their horizons.
If my father were alive he would be 90 years old today. But he does not walk these hills any more, at least not with feet of flesh and bone. But the hills do remember him and so do I.
I lift my eyes to the hills from whence commeth my strength.
I am convinced that dragons live here. In the night I imagine I can hear them breathe and move around the grounds; fly above my bed by the window, high in the air, circling. Breeze through the room is their downdraft as they lift off. Lightening is the flash of their power; thunder is the roar of their mystery. For this is a strange and new land, peopled with mysterious creatures made from unknown wisdom.
Round and spinning lightning fast with teeth of pure steel make sport of cedar, devouring a thin strip and spewing a plume of dust in perfect dragon-breath style into the late afternoon gold-light. Sharp and deadly is its high pitched little roar.
Small dragons are still dragons.
There is both precision and wildness in this dragon who consumes a fine, perfect line of wood, cleanly severing into two what was once a member of a whole forest family. Ruthless. Fearless. Powerful. Beautiful.
This is only the little woodshop dragon. A wonder of wonders must be the one in the blacksmith’s fire!
Here, there be dragons.
Somehow or another I’ve managed to miss a bit of a milestone in this blog’s life. Two posts ago, the one called Art Artist Artsy Artisan, was in fact my 200th post. Not too bad if I say so myself!
Granted, in September of 2011 I merged my craft blog (Random Act of Grace) with this one which rocketed up the post total to 174 at that time. I started Life in a Mountain Town on August 8th, 2009 but it was definitely not my first blog. Random act of Grace was started as simply a crafty blog over at (shudder) blogger in 2006. I’ve got two others as well: Mental Scrapbook (May 2010, 262 posts) and The Shepherdess Writes (November 2005, 161 posts). If you add it all up, since 2005 I’ve posted just over 620 times on my personal blogs.
Some of my favorites on Mountain Town have been:
The DMV My first experience with one of the most fantastic things about small town life!
First Random Act of Grace This is the first box I made from an Altoid tin. And it’s still my favorite.
Handy Tips For The New In Town Ok, I’ll admit it’s too snarky, but for some reason I love it.
ICU One of a few posts I did around the death of my mother in September of last year.
No Other Word But Halleluiah And there is no other word.
In other news, I opened my photography show on Friday and it went really really well! I was terribly nervous and so pleased at the turnout and support. Also, here is a great blog post from a friend about art in this area and noticing art around us. Ok, I’ll confess that I’m linking this because she mentions me, but how cool is that anyway? Additionally, it’s a fantastic blog written by a person who is full of joy–and I don’t mean that foolish kind of vapid nonsense joy but real, grounded, genuine joy at being alive–and well worth the read.
Shortly, I hope to post images from the chainmaille class I attended and the pieces I’ve been working on recently as well. In the mean time, I leave the blogging world with this little bit of halleluiah because really, there is no other word.
Summer is one of the best times of the year to make photographs. Everything is exploding and shouting, “Look At Me!” From children on the slip-n-slide in the back yard to men speaking mysterious Y-chromosome code around a gas grill; from ladies in flip-flops and bright toe nails to sunglass clad faces splashed with freckles; from mountains wrapped in melted green crayons of every shade of forest and ever and logan and hunter to grand floral displays arching up to the sun and greeting the bees with welcoming petals. Everywhere, everywhere, the world is showing off her photogenic nature.
Yet if there is one thing that says summer to me more than anything else it is fireflies. My daddy called them lightening bugs and he taught me how to poke holes in the lid of a mason jar, just as people have done since the invention of glass canning jars, so I could keep them alive and bring them in the house to live.
When I was a little girl I envisioned a night light made out of one of those large jars filled with lightening bugs. They would flicker their magic glow on the walls of my room and chase away all the monsters that would come prowling in the night. There was no question in my mind that those tiny bugs who had somehow captured a drop of lightening in their bellies were filled with powerful magic!
But the precious drops of flickering charms never lived long in a jar. I suppose lightening could be contained in their little abdomens but a mason jar was too much like a prison. I could have just as easily kept a box of stars or a bowl of sun.
As a grown up, I have tried several times to photograph the tiny flying sparks of arcane wonder but it never works out like it should. The flashes always end up looking like dust on the prints or they never show up at all. Perhaps they are like fairies that can never be properly photographed. I content myself in the summer with photographing the roaring waves of life from the sun’s first crest over the ridge till his duck behind the other side. On those summer evenings when the lighting dances on tiny black wings in my yard, I put down my camera.
Some things are just too beautiful to photograph.
I’ve often wondered how many people quote Thomas Wolfe in their books. Either the title or some dedication or other such thing. Seems to be a trend. I’ve never been a huge Wolfe fan, though I’ll admit a deep love of both the grave marker and the title of Look Homeward Angel and the John Milton poem he quotes for it. “Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: And O Ye dolphins waft the hapless youth.” (Lycidas 163-164) But, I digress even before I begin.
Wiley Cash’s first novel bears a title that comes from the Wolfe’s pen. “Something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth”—You Can’t Go Home Again.
This is a story told by three different narrators; a young boy, the sheriff and an older woman. Their voices are as familiar to me as my own family perhaps because Cash does an excellent job of capturing the Madison County speech and heart. He does so with all of the characters but particularly with the female narrator, the turn of whose phrases feel like comfortable, well worn paths in the memories of my father’s people.
The narrative centers around the events at a small store-front church in Marshal, NC. The first sign that something is happening there that shouldn’t be is the fact that the windows are covered over with newspaper so no one can see inside. This is what is often called a ‘snake-handling church’, however it is more than this practice that makes it into something quite unlike a church at all. The pastor, Carson Chambliss, is a holy man with a messiah complex as dangerous as a pit of rattlesnakes. At his church there is a fine line between being saved and being lost; healing and death. A fine and blurry line. Along with Pastor Chambliss there are Ben and Julie, their two children Jess and Christopher, their alcoholic and violent grandfather Jimmy, Sheriff Clem Barefield who’s memory of the son he lost some years before returns with force, and the Sunday school teacher and midwife Adelaide. These make up the cast of this southern gothic small mountain town epic.
As things start to go wrong at the church with an unfortunate accidental death of an older parishioner due to a snake bite, Addie decides that the only thing she can do in the face of this dangerous situation is to get the children out of the worship service. She becomes an enemy of Chambliss then, as does anyone who contradicts him and his borderline black magic power disguised as Christian faith. Chambliss and some of his church members seem more like mafia thugs than anything else but his charismatic personality seems to draw people into his spell. Especially a wife distanced from her husband and desperate to find some healing for her son’s disability.
In one way the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ of this novel seem easily distinguishable and underlined in bright, broad strokes, but in another, not so much. Storms and other weather activities provide the obvious backdrop to increased tension and the heightening of conflict. Chambliss, surrounded by snakes and half covered in burns, is clearly the bad guy and there’s not much of anything redeemable about him. Addie is equally clearly the good woman put in a bad place and trying her best to fight the evil the only way she can. So, too, is this true of the Sheriff and the vulnerable brothers, Jess and Christopher, who seem to be basically good despite difficulties and challenges. And yet, there are other characters here that are far more ambiguous. Jimmy Hall, far and away my favorite character, is one of those who we expect to see a certain way in a black and white world but who may not be purely either one.
For the record, I have no idea why Jimmy is my favorite character. There isn’t any good reason for it. He just is. Perhaps it is because there is, amid a whole lot of waste, voilence and regretable choices, something that is redeemable and hopeful. When I read a good story, I sometimes wonder who the story is really about. Good stories are not always truly about the main characters and this book in particular is ambiguous as to who the “main” character or characters actually are in the first place. But maybe it is Jimmy who is looking for a land more kind than home.
I definitely recommend this book. It is not what I would call light summer reading by any means, but it is well worth the time and emotion to read it! I would probably never have noticed it had it not been for the recommendation of someone else, and for that I am grateful. It is a good, solid first novel and I look forward to seeing what Wiley Cash will write in the future.
+As a seperate aside for any pastors or church leaders who might be reading this review: I highly recomend this as a cautionary tale. It is a good example of a pastoral ego out of control and the evil (and I do mean evil) that can be wrought by it. While we would like to think that this is fiction and would never happen in a church we know, especially if our congregations don’t do anything as extreem as incorporating snakes in worship as a test of faith, we are fooling ourselves if we do not recognize the true source of danger here as not a serpent but a human being.
For some people, home is a building or a piece of property. For others it is a city, region or nation. Still others feel that home is a person or family. I’ve never really been able to determine what defines home for me. For several years after leaving Charlotte I could not seem to feel at home anywhere. Even going back to visit the community where I grew up never felt quite right. It always seemed that no matter where I was, it wasn’t home. Like wearing someone else’s jacket. Might be warm enough, might even be comfortable, but there is always a point at which you know it does not belong to you. And you do not belong to it.
When I was a very little girl, I thought my home was in the mountains. For holidays and summer vacations my parents would talk about ‘going home’ as we would drive up and down the mountains on our way to see family. So for a very long time I believed we just lived in Charlotte but my home was in the Appalachians.
Throughout the rootless, gypsy-like life of seminary, I felt homesick but could never really put my finger on what home I longed for. A puzzle piece missing from my heart, but I could not imagine its shape. I thought for certain when I took a call in this little mountain town, I would finally feel at home. While I was and am very happy here, it didn’t feel like home. Eventually, I stopped touching the sore spot in my heart; the place where home belonged.
Tonight, after the simple Good Friday service, I went to one of my favorite restaurants to hear a friend of mine play and sing. She has a voice that can only come from those people whose hearts drink in music the way the rest of us drink in water and wine. She sang many beautiful things tonight, one of which was Rufus Wainwrights’ Halleluiah. Now, technically speaking, it is still Lent and I’m not supposed to say that word till Sunday. But she sang it anyway and I am glad for it.
I sat there with my eyes closed, listening to the song wind and grow. I remembered the scene in the movie, Shriek, that utilized this piece and thought of how many times in my life I’d felt like that ogre. For just a moment I was so sad. I wanted to sing the chorus but couldn’t. I was pretending it was because it is still Lent, but the truth is that the only halleluiah I could muster was a cold and broken one.
But then something unexpected happened. All the people sitting around the stage area began to sing the chorus. It was so beautiful. Voices, lifting and falling together. Not perfect but beautiful in the way that only those times of unplanned gracious magic can grant. And for a moment, I let go of the tired and the hurt and the angry. I let go of the sad and the toughness. It all just melted in the sweet harmony and there was none of it left to hold on to even if I’d wanted to. I thought of my mother, finally freed from her constant struggle to breathe, and myself, freed from the pain of bearing witness. I thought of the hard won peace I had made with friends I thought I had lost. I thought of the place where I was and all the different people that come and go. I thought of friends sitting around me and friends out in other places as well. I reached out with my mind and could feel them all there. Right there. I reached out through the floor below me to the earth and mountain beneath. Ancient and alive. And it, too, was right there. So also was everything else that truly mattered to me.
The voices around me wove it all together. All that and more. Forgiveness and love and time and grace, all stitched up into a whole piece of life.
It was then I realized it. I am home. And there was no other word in the whole world except halleluiah.