Sunday, December 31, 2006


The hoidays, for many, are a season of travel, shopping and socializing. I, for the most part, have managed to avoid all three. Although I did travel to TN to visit my granny for xmas, I have spent minimal time on shopping or socializing. The most socializing I have done has been with my Granny over the Xmas weekend. She and I have been best of friends since I was in college. We're both night owls, and we share the habit of staying up into the early hours of the morning just keeping each other company. Sometimes we talk the whole time, other times we just sit together doing our own things - reading newspapers, doing the crossword, etc. It's really a great way to wind down the day. Besides that time I lived in Scotland, Judy Branch is the farthest I've ever lived from my Granny, and I hate that I don't get to visit her more often.

Besides the one diversion to visit Granny, I've been happily hiding away on Judy Branch. Not that I've been alone. With great neighbors like Bill & Billy Joe and a motley host of critters (dogs, cats, horses, cows and other...), there's plenty of company to be had here. I've been hunkering down and being a homebody in the wake of a season of travel. Tomorrow it all begins, and I am soaking up as much Judy Branch as I can before I light off. I will be equipped with a laptop on this round of travels, so I may actually be able to keep up with my blogging.

Until then...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Empty Nest Syndrome

This winter and spring will bring forth new adventures for this little bird, many that require me to flee my cozy nest for days, weeks and even a month at a time. Those of you who know me even a little know that I have a traveling gypsy soul. I LOVE to go places. But equal to that love for journeys abroad is my love for nesting. Seems like contradictory, but that's just how I am. Full of contradictions.

I am getting geared up for another visit to the Great Northwest in advent of my Appalachian music fellowship starting mid-January. I managed to secure some travel $$$ from work, which means this time I'll be equipped with a traveling device (a car). I plan to head up to Washington for a week and whisk sister Tiffany away from Seattle to explore the Olympic peninsula. Namely, I want to check out Port Townsend, the home of Centrum and the site of the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. It's located in Fort Worden State Park, which is only a short ferry ride from Seattle. January may not be the most ideal time of the year for a visit, but I'm not the type to let cold, gray, rainy days hinder my desire to explore! To the shock of my Scottish friends, I returned (a year or so after attending Uni there) for a month-long visit in January. Short, damp days are still good days to me when I'm in Scotland!

Another reason for my visit is to spend quality time with my Portland friends, attend the Portland Old Time Gathering, and pick up my new banjo: "The Little Birdie Special."

I am incredibly excited to embark on this journey but also a little reluctant. Well, "reluctant" isn't really the word to describe it. What I want is to slow down the next week, perhaps expanding it into two weeks so I can get my nest in order before I dive full-speed into six months of a dizzying dance of balancing three different archival research gigs, a banjo apprenticeship, my job (yes, I am still working, supposedly "part-time"), a trip to Poland and preparations to finance my career after I return from Poland. Yikes. Very exiting, but I fear it will all whoosh by and leave me even more unkempt and disoriented than usual. If I am to keep up with the small, ordinary pleasures that really keep me alive-- gardening, cooking, writing and romance (when the opportunity arises)--then I must develop a more advanced system of multi-tasking than the one I currently use.

My current plan of preparation is to get my spring cleaning done this week. I figure if I can at least de-clutter my nest in winter it will make life much easier when spring rolls around. Plus it gives me a valid excuse for staying home instead of going into work, which I really ought to avoid as much as possible (seeing as I'm still not able to pay myself!). As I work on my nest I will ever so often repeat the following mantra: "Part-time gives Me time, part-time gives ME time...."

Monday, December 18, 2006

being festive is Exhausting

Celebrating the season where I live and with the company I keep can be hazardous to one's health. Although I have not actually come down with severe illness, I'm certain that in my weak condition I am susceptible to all sorts of bugs.

Activists, artists and old time musicians really are artful... at pushing the physical and psychic limits of the mere human soul. They work hard, and they celebrate and play even harder. I got my fill of both, in the form of serving as secretary at two board meetings, attending to a cast of crazy munchkins at three youth theater performances and participating in at least three holiday celebrations, a square dance and a hog killing over the past week. Today, as a special treat, I rewarded myself by crunching numbers all day at work! I think that is what did me in. For me, understanding non-profit budgets is about as easy as reading Russian. Actually, I'd say Russian makes much more sense.

I am comforted to be spending a quiet evening on Judy Branch. Bella seems to have also had an exhausting day. She came in, gobbled down her supper and went straight to bed. My supper was pretty good: leftover mashed turnip/lentil/squash pie. (I'll reveal the recipe in a later entry) Rosie had a rough day too, because she got locked in the study all day. She must have snuck in this morning and I didn't notice when I closed the door before leaving for work. She and Sid Vicious are now out in the woods hunting while I am trying to figure out if it is worth applying to graduate school for a second time (already have a masters...). If so, is it really worth having to take the damn GRE again?! I think I'll just draw a bath, pour a glass of wine and not think about it tonight. I mean, the applications won't be due until January.... Ho, ho ho!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cold Enough to Kill a Hog

This weekend the temperatures dropped into single digits at night. It's the kind of weather for hog killings in the mountains. And that's just what my friends Julie & Shawn did this weekend. Now, I am for the most part vegetarian, because I could never bring myself to kill an animal. Except for fish. So I don't refrain from eating them. (Although I still fill a bit sad about it sometimes. I'm a sentimental wimp.)

Even though I couldn't stomach the actual killing of the poor pigs (there were two), I do appreciate the big social gathering that is a hog killing. I deciding to pitch in by bringing some of the last of the garden goodies to help feed all the folks who gathering to help with the butchering, etc.

I must say that turnips are now giving beets a run for their money in my book. Just like beets, they are simply beautiful to look at. They are the kind of vegetable that is deserving of a still life painting or a portrait. The white bulbous root, braised with a magenta-pink and topped with curled, dark green leaves. The pleasure you get from admiring this plant is almost equal to the pleasure you can get from eating it!

I brought two kinds of turnip greens to the hog killing. Actually, I did a mix of turnip and curly mustard greens. One dish was vegetarian, the other seasoned with andouille sausage from Eunice, Louisiana. The trick to cooking really good, southern-style greens is to really cook them for a long time. Here's what I do (for the veggie-version, just don't use sausage):

*Rinse greens well, roughly chop them and put in a large pot with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat just enough to continue boiling; stir occasionally.
* In a skillet, sauté onion, garlic and andoille until browned. Add to greens.
* Add salt, black pepper, Tony Chachere's seasoning, a dash or two of cayenne pepper and a few dashes of Bragg's Liquid Aminos (your can substitute Tamari or Soy sauce) and let simmer for a hour or more.

In my book, greens taste best when they nearly melt in your mouth. My mom insists (as do I) that you should never disregard the juices when eating greens, because, that's where the best flavor and the nutrients are. It's called pot-likker, and there is no shame in licking the remains of a good pot of greens! A great way to enjoy greens is to eat them with the other half of the plant... turnips! Mashed turnips are sort of like mashed potatoes, but better. And they are perfect for soaking up the juices from your greens, especially when they are partnered with cornbread. Here's the way I like to fix turnips:

*Clean and peel turnip roots. I don't typically peel the entire turnip, but just peel off the stringy root parts. Chop into large cubes.
*Clean, peel and cube one or two small potatoes (yellow or gold). I recommend using one small potato for every four or five medium to large turnips (a large turnip is about the size of a baseball). You want a lot more turnips than potatos.
* Put turnips and potatoes in a saucepan with water, a dash of olive oil and salt and boil until soft
*Peel and chop garlic to your liking (I like a lot)
*Drain turnips/potatoes and mix together with butter (for Vegan, use Earth Balance or a butter substitute), garlic and a little salt to taste. I prefer to use a mixer, but you can do this easily by hand.

If you've never given turnips a chance, try cooking them like this. I think it just may convert you to the cult of turnip-love. I can happily say that I belong to this cult, in addition, of course to being a member of the church of beet-love.

Note to self: Next year, quadruple the amount of beets and turnips in garden. I'm talking early spring and fall crops, both more than twice the amount I grew this year!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Down In the Basement

Tonight it is supposed to get down to about 10 degrees. As Bella and I were inside, warming ourselves by the fire, I couldn't help but feel guilty about how comfortable we were compared to the Judy Branch pack huddled in a big furry bundle on the porch. I know that they have fur, and they've survived many winters outside. But I just couldn't get them out of my mind.

So... I invited them all-Frankie Mophead, Bingo, Lucy, Monkey and Sally- into the basement for a sleepover! It's not as warm as upstairs, but it sure beats sleeping in subzero temperatures on a porch dusted with snow.

The process of getting the dogs into the basement was a bit confusing to everyone (my own critters included), because I carried or led them one at a time through the living room and down the steps to the basement. They were incredibly excited by the whole operation. They soon settled in, tails a-wagging, and formed nests on the various bean bags, mats and pillows I fixed up for them.

Sweet dreams to the Judy Branch Pack.

Larry Sparks = Snow

Every year Larry Sparks comes to play a concert for WMMT in December. And every year, without fail, it snows the day of his arrival. Do you think it's coincidence?! I sure as heck don't. Being a sucker for conspiracy theories, the bizarre and the world of the supernatural, I have several ideas about why this must happen. Perhaps Larry Sparks is Kris Kringle. Or perhaps he controls the weather. I could imagine that Larry has some kind of super-human powers. Can you imagine Larry Sparks as Santa Claus?

Today is the day of the Larry Sparks concert.

There had been talk about snowfall after midnight, but I got up this morning to find that no snow had fallen. I continued on with morning activities, opening the blinds, feeding the critters, making coffee. I should mention that today is also Ms. Faerie Godmother's birthday. She spent the night out on Judy Branch last night, and we enjoyed a cozy night warmed by the fire. We made hot chocolate chocolate chip cookies (with cayenne pepper), drank tea, did some art (card making).

This morning I built up a fire and cooked breakfast for the birthday Queen. By the time we sat down to eat breakfast, the sky had darkened dramatically. I LOVE that about snow. The sky always gives you fair warning that snow is on the way. So does the air. You can taste it when you go outside and feel it in your bones. It starting with flurries a few hours ago. At first it looked like it wasn't going to stick, but then, in a very short spell of time, the ground and tree branches are covered with a light dusting of snow. Now it is snowing, snowing, snowing. Those tiny little flakes that look like they won't add up to much, but always collect more rapidly than big fluffy flakes.

I've kept the fire stoked up most of the day so that Bella, Sid Vicious and Rosie and I can enjoy a day at home watching the snow collect on the trees. I finshed putting together a big thank you package for my super-host & hostess portland friends, and now I'm trying to figure out how to convince myself that I should leave Judy Branch and actually do something today. I'm tempted to just bake more cookies, drink tea and play my banjo by the wood stove....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

watch your step

cats are legendary for their ability to balance on almost any surface and to always land on their feet. but isn't funny that they have very little concept of what constitutes a stable surface for footing? my desk is a continuous entertainment zone when it comes to cat watching. there are all sorts of loosely stacked objects (papers, books, cds) that easily slip under a cat paw, sending both cat and stacked objects flying.

i've been enjoying a sunday morning of talk radio. ever since i moved to kentucky, my main "company" at home has been the radio. if and when i ever leave this place, i think i will miss my favorite radio station,WMMT , nearly as much as i'll miss judy branch.

i have been feeling much more hopeful and alive recently. i'm certain it is because of the temporary relief from the weighty stresses of an uncertain future and unknown potential income. i can rest easy knowing that i'm taken care of for at least a few months. and, as yesterday's old time jam reminded me, i will always be taken care of on the frontiers of music and friendships. i'm excited about diving into new projects and spending more focused time listening to and learning the music that has been such a central part of my life.

luthier friend brooks called to let me know that the little birdie special has begun to come to life! the neck is being built from the wood of an indiana oldtimer's work bench. i am hopeful that the folks sending me to poland will help me buy a touring case for her so that i can carry her with me on my journey. or maybe i'll play it safe and take my first banjo, the art stamper. i suppose i've got time to think on it! in preparation for the poland journey, i am netflixing films by polish filmmakers. last night's feature: Blind Chance, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How Many Hours in a Day?

My dad, along with a few close friends, ever so often tries to remind me that there are only 24 hours in a day.

I go through spurts when I try to fit as many possibilities into one day, hour, week (or any given time period) as possible. It isn't something I premeditate. In fact, it's almost instinctual. Or could it be habitual? All I know is that any logical and self-preserving side of my brain becomes overwhelmed with a sense of urgency that I must do A, B, C, D & ...... NOW. Simultaneously, if at all possible.

I am not sure where this instinct is rooted, or, if it is a habit, how it was formed. I had a lot of friends die before reaching 30 (hell, even 21), and I know that probably planted a "life is short and uncertain; live while you can" panic button deep in my soul. even so... i'm not sure why i put myself through this manic pattern: run, run, run until my body, mind and/or psyche force me to collapse.

today is a prime example of what i often do to myself (note: this is in no way meant to be a reflection of a "typical day" in my life. it is meant to reflect an overall pattern i keep repeating). i started my day when my alarm went off at 3:45 AM. my banjo mentor and friend, lee sexton, was having a cataract removed from his eye, and he needed a lift to the pikeville hospital. his appointment was at 6:45 AM, which meant i had to pick him up at his house at 4:45 to get him there on time. it is now 10:22 PM. i did a lot of other things today besides driving to the hospital and back, including an attempt to help neighbor bill figure out/troubleshoot the screwy lighting in my basement, writing reports/proposals, directing a kids' theater rehearsal and meeting with several different people about several different projects. the details are fuzzy, and i am resisting sleep because of this insane sense of urgency that i need to do this and that and something about getting quotes on banjo cases and/or travel banjos b/c someone might buy me a banjo for my trip to poland....

a part of me wants to keep going going going and following up on all these connections, ideas, etc. and that part of me doesn't seem to realize that there's a tomorrow. i really like this part of me. she's the kind of person you'd want to hitchhike around the world with. my sleepless gypsy. but somehow i've got to teach her the delicate art of pace and space.

the pace i'm thinking of is yoga-esque slow breathing pace. iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnn............ and ooooooouuuuuuuuuut........
the space i'm thinking of is the soft, multi-layered blissful nest that is my bed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blue Bird

When I first moved into my house on Judy Branch, I found a dead blue bird in my wood stove. Who knows how long its little body had been there. Even more disturbing is to think of how long it was trapped inside that ash-filled box before it finally died.

Yesterday, I prevented that fate from falling upon another bird. I woke to hear rustling from the living room and soon discerned the sound was coming from the stove. I was relieved to find that the bird was trapped in the actual stove and not the pipe. Her chances of survivial were much better this way, and I wouldn't have to worry about if it was worth burning out a birds nest to keep warm at night! Cat Rosie was standing on her back legs with her nose and front paws squished up to the glass window. The bird, understandably, looked like it had lost all hope of surviving this. I mean, even if it did manage to miraculously get out through that window, there was a big nasty cat ready to make bird meat out of her! What a horrible morning she must have been having.

I grabbed a dish cloth, shooed the cat away from the stove door, and gently scooped the little bird out and held her close to my breast. She didn't move. Outside I was greeted by an unseasonably warm, sunny morning. I gently placed my dishcloth swaddle on the potting table and unwrapped the little bird. What the gloom and the ashes inside the stove had prevented me from seeing was a brilliant blue breast and honey maple tipped wings. She uprighted herself, rustled her feathers and immediately flew off beyond sight.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

cutting the apron strings

there are some people that you can be "stuck" with 24 hours a day for several days and never tire of each other's company. i rarely put myself in that situation, and i'm always shocked when i discover that i have spent a significant amount of time in another's company without feeling a strong desire for solitude or escape. a recent trip with my parents required 24-7 companionship for four days. within the first few hours i began to feel an intense desire for alone time.

i have always been fortunate to have parents that i respect, love and consider friends.

reality check:
a positive relationship and mature friendship with the parents requires we each have plenty of personal space away from each other.

i am relieved to be back home on judy branch. i got back in time to catch the last dance of the cowan creek mountain music school's fall gathering. all the road-weariness dissipated the moment i entered the community center, greeted by old friends and the sounds of square dancing and old time music. i jumped into the band at the next set, playing julianne johnson for twenty minutes. just the cure i was looking for! when i got home i had an urge to call an old friend who has been living in wyoming for several years. was excited that she will flying into south carolina in a few weeks. we have planned a rendezvous at hot springs. cabin is rented, hot tubs will be there for soaking, and we'll have two days to catch each other up on the last five or six years.

today bella and the judy branch pack and i enjoyed unseasonably warm weather as we walked around the holler and up onto cemetery hill to visit the horses and the spirits of judy branch.

other news is that my friend learned that the coal company is making plans to strip mine all the property on her creek. she’s called out the cavalry and is preparing for a big fight. probably the biggest fight of her life. she's been building herself a house for the past three years or more, and now that is all threatened. not to mention a long family history on that land. she told me that this is a time when you really appreciate all the friends you have. as one of those friends, we'll do whatever we can to stop it. so if i get arrested for civil disobedience, you'll know why. it's ironic, maybe even psychic that i started re-reading edward abbey's classic last week.

Monday, November 20, 2006


the following have brought me to the day's end with a satisfied mind:
throwing/stacking a big old truckload of firewood after a long day's work
a walk and a wrestling match with my somewhat speckled dog, bella (who can jump at least five feet straight up)
an evening out on line fork playing banjo and visiting with lee
the warmth of a wood fire on a chilly night
leftover homemade borscht
news that there is an elephant sanctuary not too far from my home town
knowing that in two days i'll be down in south mississippi visiting with relatives that i haven't seen for nearly a decade and/or have maybe never even met
the promise of a hot bubble bath followed by a bed pre-warmed by two slumbering cats and a dog

Sunday, November 19, 2006

feeding the woodshed

now that i have had a few days back home on judy branch, i have caught up on my sleep and other necessary home life tasks. among those tasks is making use of remaining garden goods, which at present are: mustard greens, turnip greens, cilantro, mescalin mix and beets. i think a few carrots and several broccoli plants may produce before winter sets in, but they are still rather young, so we'll see.

this afternoon i pulled out a recipe i've been wanting to try for months. whole beet borscht. another recipe from laurel's kitchen that uses the entire beet rather than just the root or the leaf. a bonus of this recipe was that i got to use the grating disc on my cuisinart, a "new technology" that i am proud to have mastered! i fed that nifty machine beet roots, potatos and carrots, and within seconds i had several cups of brightly colored, slimy (bloody beets!) vegetable shreds. i still managed to stain my hands and cutting boards, but they are all a much lighter shade of magenta than they would have been if i'd grated the old fashioned way!

i got some fantastic news this week: i got the appalachian music fellowship, which means i'll get to spend the winter listening to archival music recordings and producing a radio series. it also means that i can finally order a fretless banjo, which i did this weekend. brooks , one of my new portland friends, is a talented luthier, so i called and asked him to make me a banjo. when he first returned my call, he left a message saying that i was probably out chopping firewood and that's why i didn't hear my phone. he was almost right. i was out collecting firewood for the night!

which gets me to another another important task achieved this weekend: replinishing the woodshed. this has been a challenging task because it requires a truck. you see, the kentucky mountains are different from tennessee and carolina mountains when it comes to firewood. when i lived in north carolina, there were many people i could call upon to purchase a cord (truckload) of firewood, delivered to my house. here in kentucky, it is near impossible to find firewood for sale, and if you do, it is a DIY system (you come load it up yourself). fortunately, the lack of a firewood market is because everyone usually has a stockpile of firewood from their land, and often they have plenty to spare. for the past two years some friends and fellow WMMT deejays who live near blackey have given me free firewood by the truckload. really good stuff, too. even so, my lack of a truck has delayed the collection of their generous offering for about 2 months. today neighbor bill lent me his truck, which is the biggest truck i have ever driven in my life. i steered it 8 miles down one lane roads (ok, 1/2 mile was on a two lane!) and over a small mountain to civil war gap, near carcassonne. i had to wait until about 5 in the evening so they would be back from doing their radio show. we loaded up the truck in the fading light while light snow began to fall. they invited me in for a cup of coffee and a piece of stack cake before i navigated the 8 miles back home. i'll unload it all tomorrow before i go to work. this evening, i'll enjoy my borscht and cornbread and then practice up on my banjo by the fire.

tomorrow evening i have another banjo lesson with lee, and i hope to pick up another couple of tunes to practice up on over the thanksgiving holidays.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sleepless in Cedar Rapids

Even in Iowa I have become a master of surviving on very little sleep. Coffee and alcohol help (in moderation, of course!)

Although the Cedar Rapids trip was work related, I'm willing to write about it here, because this trip/work transcends my current workplace and is really more related the bigger picture of my "career," if that is what it is to be.

What brought be to Iowa, you may be wondering? It was the National Performance Network(NPN)annual meeting, of which my workplace/organization is a partner.I've been representing my organization at these meetings for the past three years. The NPN is an amazing network of arts presenting organizations and artists from across the U.S. that is intentionally diverse on every level imaginable. When I first started going to the meetings I was totally overwhelmed, but this year I really felt engaged and at the center of what was going on. Imagine a gathering of approximately 200 perfoming artists and arts presenters (mainly grassroots and social change leaning) in one place together for four days. Insane amounts of creativity were bouncing all through Cedar Rapids. So much, in fact, that I was able to battle 3+ weeks' sleep deprivation/exhaustion, jet lag, homesickness, post 30 bday shock and a nasty bloody cold to get into all kinds of great social and professional goodness. Meetings and networking at every hour imaginable. Performances interspersed throughout with full out showcases/performances every night. Following by more improptu arts sharing/jamming/networking.

A list has been started of artists (of every walk of life and from multiple locales) who are incredibly curious and enthusiastic about visiting my little workplace and spending a few days out on Judy Branch. My reply: "Y'all come!"

Even though I went into the meeting with some exhausted, burnt out work dread, I am leaving it reinvigorated, inspired AND, most importantly, with a PLAN. I have reminded by my wonderful colleagues that I belong to a larger, vibrant world/network filled with people I have been forming friendships with for nearly four years. Friends who want to see me grow and prosper and (drum roll...) be HAPPY. What a concept! I'm returning home from Cedar Rapids with great contacts and leads for my transition onto the next great adventure. Many doors have been unlocked, and the next year I'll be working on opening doors through my friendships in this beautiful network. Plus, I was asked to take a leadership position for the Southern Region partners, which, among more good times with colleagues, I'll be attending NPN Board meetings in New Orleans throughout the next year! I always love to spend time in the Gulf, especially if in good company (and the NPN staff are some of the best company to be in).

Between Portland and NPN, I have banked up on positive connections, gathering many keys and have begun to make a plan. The plan: ONE year until the big move. Right now, I think it may be Portland. But I'm keeping my options open. ONE year to make the change. One year to keep my head above water and focus on what's ahead.

I think I deserve a reward: SLEEP!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

beets and birthdays

i have to credit my friend rebecca with my recent beet inspiration. the first time i met her was a rainy january night in portland. she picked me up from the train station, transported me to her home and served me a delicious meal of borscht. little did i know that this meal, less than a year ago, would be only the beginning of a wonderful friendship. i have just returned from my second trip to visit portland since that wet january night. on all occasions, i have been hosted by rebecca and her partner, brian.

it really is strange how friendships begin. i find that geographic location of one's home often has little to do with who i befriend. lately, i have been finding that the majority of people i would call friends live at least 200 miles from judy branch, if not 2,000. given that judy branch is located in a somewhat remote, out of the way place, i suppose it makes sense that a young person such as me would be inclined to travel frequently in order to have a semblance of a social life! since my first trip out to portland, i have really enjoyed my new "left coast" friendships. the houseguests of september included rebecca's partner, brian, who is ultimately responsible for my orientation into this circle of northwestern friendships. together with brian's brother, eric, brian and rebecca run a really great independent print shop called stumptown printers. i think all three are some of the most amazing people i've ever met. last summer, eric gave me a tour of socialist finnish astoria, showing me a place i already really loved in an entirely new light.

i embarked on this most recent westbound trip entirely burnt out and sleep deprived, having slept an average of 3 hours a night for the two weeks leading up to my flight to portland. i journeyed nortwest on halloween, which was actually quite a treat. among all the travelers, many dressed in business attire, i would spot the odd costumed folks. one suit walked by while i was enjoying a layover coffee, and i was delighted to doubletake at the cat's tail hanging out from behind his suit jacket and see a cat nose/whiskers on his face and a red & white top hat adourning his head. i wish people would randomly wear costumes all year round. it sure does break up the monotony!

i arrived in portland to grab a lunch with brian and then meet up with my friend taylor, who is a displaced southerner. we cooked up a big old southern meal, using some andouille that my cajun visitors had gifted me the week before. fried okra, collard greens along with a flavor of the real northwest: alaskan halibut that taylor and his bandmates had caught themselves. taylor is one of my september houseguests (brian's bandmates) that i've really enjoyed getting to know. we followed our delicious meal with 1960s itallian horror films. perfect halloween. throughout the week, tay provided great tours of subversive bookstores and the best used record shops. he also tried to turn me on to drinking manhattans. but i'm just not grown up enough for that!

sister tiffany and her lovely partner larry took a train down to portland to help me celebrate my big 30th birthday last saturday. we all gathered for an impressive meal (b/c it was so damn good AND so damn cheap) at a small restaurant call the farm. after i got done screening the films (the job that got me out there in the first place), we commenced to real celebrations at one of my favorite bars in portland: beulahland. i was really surprised at how many folks (new acquaintances, new friends, etc.) joined us.

all in all it was a great trip, providing little catch up on sleep, r&r. i've been home a little over 24 hours, and now i must get back to packing for the next trip (all work, perhaps some play?) to cedar rapids, iowa. i fly out tomorrow, which means i have to hit the road by 6am. i'm looking forward to checking out the chzech museum and village of cedar rapids in my spare time, if there is any... and sleep, if that is also an option.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time Warp

Nothing makes me feel more alive than sharing music with friends and neighbors, and making new friends as it happens. Having the Powell/Balfa family here for a week brought together the two most prominent cultural influences in my life: mountain south and gulf south. Accordian, fiddle, driving guitar and Cajun French vocals continue to echo in the air around me, interspersed with reeling old time banjo and fiddle tunes. The sounds were plentiful and intoxicating, and I spent most of the week in a state of audial and culinary bliss.

My favorite moments were cooking gumbo in my kitchen and sharing our day's work with my neighbors and friends in the dance hall that Bill and Billy Joe have next door. After spending a few days with Christine and her cousin Courtney Granger, I could hear my accent slip into the way I sometimes speak with my mom and her kin (all from southern Mississippi). I've spent a big part of my life trying to reconcile my hillbilly upbringing with my deep Mississippi family roots. This week, it was as if those two worlds merged into one savory gumbo, nourishing my soul and filling me with a deep love for the people and cultures that have shaped my little world.

We ended the week with a Masquerade Ball last night that I cannot yet attempt to describe. Perhaps in a few days or weeks I'll be able to put it into words, but for now, I have to let it soak in. It seems like a dream, and I am still trying to wake up. I'm sure this feeling is due, in part, to my minimalistic sleep schedule the past few days.

Today I drove to Lexington so Courtney could catch his flight back to Louisiana and I could be interviewed for a position in a group exchange to Poland, Belaruse and the Ukraine. Our forgetfulness about time jumping back an hour (Daylight Savings) allowed us to caravan with dear friends Rayna & Jeff and enjoy a delectable Vietamese meal before parting ways. I think the interview went well, but my judgement may be skewed by a serious lack of sleep... Before I can sleep I must tackle the task of packing for next week's travels to the great Northwest.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Let the Good Times Roll!

My entire weekend (Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday) was Home Craft Days. Although it completely exhausted me, I felt more useful this year than I have the past three. I finally feel confident setting mics for all kinds of musical lineups, and I even got to run the board while sound wizard Doug performed with Lee Sexton. Another wonderful part of my life right now, Lee! He'd been bragging on me to everyone and telling folks that he aims to make a banjo player out of me and that I've really got the knack for it.

The weather turned quite cold yesterday and even colder today with snow flurries harking the arrival of Dirk Powell, Christine Balfa and their two beautiful daughters. Their residency begins tomorrow morning with an 8am school performance. I've almost got everything cleared off my to-do list so that I can focus on being producer and hostess extrodinaire. I finished the final rough draft of my fellowship application and hope to brush it up and get it out the door sometime tomorrow. I'll have to leave house cleaning and finishing up the masks to late nights. You can see the masks we've made so far at the mask gallery. As more musicians arrive from Louisiana and North Carolina later in the week, things are bound to get crazy. I wonder when I'll have time to pack for Portland?

No matter. Everything is falling into place, and I am fully in GO mode, filled with anticipation of the enormous amount of fun, music and dance this week will bring. I just hope my anticipation doesn't keep me from a good night sleep. I'll need all the sleep I can get so I can make the most of the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

in love with particular

have you ever felt that sensation of being in love, but not have it really be aimed toward any certain person? there's a line in a replacements song that speaks to that feeling, and sometimes that feeling just hits me. a swooning lovey-dovey romantic kind of purring inside. a love that is disconnected from any individual person and not really focused on any sort of relationship with anyone. usually it is triggered by certain music, the hint of crispness of autumn air, tinted leaf covered hills highlighted by setting sun. the feeling sweeps through me, replacing the day's troubles and and i feel like floating around the dance floor (a.k.a. my kitchen) with an invisible dance partner. sometimes i do just that.

i've been listening to balfa toujours this evening while i try to tidy the house and prepare for the whirlwind of the next couple of weeks. next week balfa toujours will actually be here to spend a week. but first i need to finish up some work on the music of coal cd project i've been helping out with, write the essay for my fellowship application. All this needs to happen in the next 24 hours so i can throw myself into three solid days of music at the 35th annual home craft days festival. home craft days is, by far, one of my favorite events of the year, and i always clear my calendar so i can volunteer to help with the stage. my job the first year was to sit backstage with janette carter and help her get her finger picks on before she went on stage. any volunteer gig that allows me to befriend one of my Appalachian goddess-heros is all right by me!

lee boy and i have made plans for my next banjo workshop to happen on sunday at the festival, which means that i won't have to miss out on my learning while i'm working the festival.

once home craft days is over, my life will get enormously crazy with dirk powell and balfa toujours coming to town for a week-long residency! cajun and old time music all week long, culminating in a masquerade ball. i can't wait! i won't quit when it's over, because next is a flight to portland to see my recent house guests/foghorn friends for about a week. following that trip is a meeting in cedar rapids, iowa and then it's about thanksgiving time, when i'll go down to south mississippi to spend time with some relatives i've not seen in hundreds of moons. i just hope it all goes by at a pace that allows me to soak in the good parts and savor those few quiet evenings on judy branch.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Good Riddance!

I am looking forward to the day that I can wash my hands of my current work place, which tends to be toxic and juvenile when dealing with certain co-workers. It's like being in high school all over again, and I hated high school.

On a more positive note, my first banjo lesson with Lee went really well. I picked up three new tunes that I am practicing up before I go to see him later this week. Raincrow Breakdown, Prettly Little Miss and Tennessee Breakdown. All in G with lots of dropthumbing.

Tonight I took a break from practicing Lee's tunes and worked on playing rhythm on some Carter Family tunes with Rich. The waltz rhythm is catching me up, because I have to change from the usual bump-ditty to bump-ditty-ditty. Tricky.

As for tonight, I'm looking forward to a hot bath and some down time enjoying the comforts of electricity. Our power was out for almost 24 hours yesterday, and as nice as it was to read by latern, I'm going to enjoy running water (the well pump needs electricity, you see) and reading by my electric bedside light tonight!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Taking the Time

My mother recently commented that I am an old soul. It's not the first time I've heard that. From the time a was a toddler, I idolized my great grandmother, begged to spend summers working in the garden with my grandpa and hung out with my older brother's friends. People used to tease that I was the eldest sibling, even though my brother was three years older.

There's something about people who have lived for a long time that makes me want to stop time and just soak in their reflections on it all. I also love to see the spark of youth in their eyes. They have an aura of youthfulness and appreciation for every moment. They don't take life, or people, for granted. I am drawn to people with these characteristics, which makes for an interesting demographic of friends.

In my work, I have been an organizer, a facilitator and an enabler. I have encouraged younger folks to take the time to learn from their elders and for elders to open themselves up to the world of youngsters. Most of this has been through storytelling and music. Now that I am at the threshold, pausing in the doorway before I depart, I am finding that I never gave myself much time to sit at the feet of these elders I have cherished. I have come to know them as friends and spent many hours just talking, listening and bringing people to hear their stories and songs. I have brought them students and sat beside them while they shared their treasures. Often, I was behind a camera, capturing it all. Looking back, I realize how much I have given to those I brought to the feet of the elders. And how I never even thought to step forward and give myself the time to become one of their students.

That is now about to change. Two nights ago, one of my favorite elders, Lee Sexton, told me that he has set his mind on learning me the old timey drop-thumb banjo tunes that he used to play. Now this is a big deal, because Lee Boy has not been playing his drop-thumb for a couple of years now, due to a nasty run-in between his thumb and a raccoon. But he's determined he's going to show me those old tunes, and I'm determined I'm going to learn them. I must admit, I'm a bit dumb-founded that one of the greatest banjo players I know is seeking me out for a student and re-learning what must now be a painful style so that he can teach me.

I feel I am coming to a new phase in my life. I'm going to put my caretaking hat on the hook for awhile and focus on uncovering opportunities for myself. And I'm going to start by going over to Lee Boy's house tomorrow for my first banjo lesson!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

the gashlycrumb ladybugs

every year about this time, when the lady bugs sense the first frost is on the way, they start trailing into my house. much like i'd imagine the wagon trains headed west. all the family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, and perhaps even the enemies eventually end up inside. and they mean to stay... at least until they die or spring rolls around.

they linger on the ceiling, in the windowsills, on the walls and take strolls across any surface they choose.

most of them die. some get batted down and swallowed by cats. some fry themselves on light bulbs. others drown in a night stand water glass. then there are those that get squashed by paw, foot. or worse: steamrolled by cat, dog or person turning in their sleep. there are those who die the long slow death, their tradmark red polka-dotted shells turning to dull rust and finally a yellowish brown.

lady bugs don't taste good when you swallow one late at night in your water glass. even if you manage to get the sucker out before you take a sip, the water still tastes sour.

edward gory should have done a book about how all the tinny lady bugs come inside our houses to die in our company.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

selfish, selfless?

i've been thinking a lot lately about how it has become the cultural norm to be selfish. at least to a degree. personal happiness and well-being are what we are supposed to seek above all else. what troubles me about this way of thinking is that it isolates us all from each other. what's good for you may not be what's best for the people you love, your neighbors, your whole community. hell, look at the bush family. they are doing quite well for themselves... at the expense of millions, billions of other people. they sure do seem to be enjoying themselves, though.

when i think about the sacrifices that my parents and grandparents made so that i could have a good life... well, it just doesn't add up that every choice i make should be about what makes ME happy. sometimes you've got to put others well-being ahead of your own. how do you know when to make sacrifices and when to step up and demand something for yourself?

i think that for most of my life, i have been an enabler. i like to help and encourage other people to find their happiness. but i often don't take care of my own needs. i'm not really sure that i know how. i love connecting people with each other, growing to love a certain few... but i hate the potential i hold within myself to hurt the people in my life. it terrifies me.

i wonder if happiness is really something a person can seek? shouldn't it just happen?

Friday, October 06, 2006


My last blog entry got a few people worried. I appreciate the concern, of course. And I'm sure I'll not always feel like a squished bug. I am wary of going into the exact reasons why I feel splattered. I try to focus this blog to issues and events concerning Judy Branch. I've been squashed by a combination of stresses from work and a frighteningly hopeless romantic life. And that's about all I'll say here.

I am also heartbroke at the very real possibility that I will soon have to make the choice to leave Judy Branch.

There's a few possibilities in the air that will enable me to leave my current workplace (and source of much of my misery) but still remain on Judy Branch... at least for a few more months. It's a fellowship that would last three months. If I get it, I'll tell more. For now, I'll avoid jinxing my chances!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


so it's happened. life cannot really be compartmentalized. judy branch is a haven, my exile from the stresses and trials of work and the big ugly world. but that world, at some point, is bound to bear down on me. and it is right now.

i feel like a squished bug.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I hit the road on Tuesday and headed up to North Carolina with my friend Rich. We were on a mission to go and visit with Onllwyn Male Voice Choir, a miners choir from the valleys of Southern Wales. We had both been to Wales at different times (Rich in the mid 70s and me in 2001), and I had actually spent quite a bit of time with these men when I was doing graduate research in Ystradgynlais (that's in Wales). On the ride over we marveled at how, distance wise, our homes (in Southeast Kentucky and Southwest Virginia) are quite close to the high country of Western North Carolina, yet so much changes on that short drive. You especially seem to notice it once you hit Abingdon and head over the mountain toward Mountain City and Trade, TN and into Ashe and Watauga Counties of NC. A lot of the differences hail back to industry. Coal versus tourism economies. But the geography is also notably different. I'm not sure that these are differences a non-mountaineer would recognize. To an outsider, we may all be lumped together, and I'm sure that we often are. But for me, a girl who grew up and lived most her life in the Blue Ridge of Eastern TN and Western NC, I am disturbed at how I now approach the Blue Ridge as a place less "real" than the landscape I presently inhabit. I wonder if I will ever be able to go back to these other places that I have loved and lived?

As for the choir, it was a short, but worthwhile road trip in which we were blown away by the voices of forty-seven Welsh men and later enjoyed their company over beverages at the bar (drinking in public once again!).

I took a detour on the route home to spend a day and a night at my Faerie Godmother's farm. For over three years I have gone on imaginary trips to her magical home place near Snowflake, Virginia. I am so glad I finally got there in person, because we had ourselves a real fine time. First playing with her new puppies, then making plans for an art project (creating masks for an upcoming masquerade ball). We even embarked on an outing to the big city (Kingsport) to hunt down supplies and scavenge for junk. First item we picked up was an abandoned mannequin for $2! She's perfect, except for the missing fingers and that dog Bella is terrified of her. We hit a goldmine at a thrift store downtown where I found my masquerade dress. The rest of the evening and following morn were spent surrounded by all sorts of feathers, beads, paints coffee, tea, wine and supplies, creating masks and getting high on each others company. I'm looking forward to a repeat tomorrow night when Ms. Faerie Godmother is going to come spend the night on Judy Branch.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Yesterday I was stirred out of Judy Branch by a call from a friend. He needed to get out of his house and get out of town. We drove down into Virginia, about an hour and half southeast, to Abingdon. I had been through Abingdon several times, but I had never really explored. We walked the streets of the old town in an intermittent drizzle, reveling at the well preserved brick structures, reading the historic markers and enjoying the experience of walking through a downtown where it seemed quite normal for people to do such a thing. I think we both had been feeling a bit of burnout for the town where we work (and he lives). The streets are lined with facades of empty and abandoned buildings. On weekends, there's no life in the town center at all. How nice it was to go just a little ways off and find a town that was alive!

Besides just walking, we also took advantage of opportunities Abingdon offered that our Kentucky hamlets could not. We had a sit down meal at a local pizza place where we were served a vegetarian pizza and two very tall draft beers. Not just any beer. Microbrew from North Carolina! Then we did something most folks who have lived where we do fantasize about doing every weekend. We went to see a movie in a movie theater. Not just any movie, but a somewhat independent film, "Little Miss Sunshine." We capped off our excursion by stopping into Abingdon's oldest bar, The Tavern. It was built in 1779, originally serving as a stagecoach inn and tavern and in its long life serving as a civil war hospital, a house and an assortment of taverns/inns. We once again experienced the novelty of being served a beer in public. And not just any beer. German beer on tap!

Friday, September 22, 2006

the whole beet

i have been blessed with beets this summer, and it looks like this blessing will last into the fall. there are countless reasons to become enamoured with this vegetable. from the wonderful color that seeps out from severed root and stains your skin, to the wine colored veins of the leaves. then there's the indistinguishable flavors of the root, both earthy and sweet at the same time. and the surprisingly spicy undertones of the leaves... every way i have prepared them, from the complicated construction of perestroika to simply boiling the root and stir frying or steaming the greens, they have been utterly delectable. but the other night i prepared beets in a way that has topped all others (excluding borscht). rather than separating the root from the leaf, i tried cooking the entire plant. this works great if you have a handful of small beets. here's what you do:

wash well and remove any inedible parts, leaving them whole and keeping the skin and the leaves. using a heavy pan with a lid that fits securely, heat a couple tablespoons oil, juice from one lemon, some chopped onion, dash dill, dash tarragon, a little bit of garlic (a small clove chopped fine) and some salt. add whole beets and steam over medium heat with lid closed tightly. check after 5minutes, adding a little water if necessary to prevent burning. steam until tender (about 10-15 minutes depending on how many beets). hint: don't be tempted to peel the skin after cooking! trust me, it's edible, tastes good, and the only thing you'll achieve is dying the skin under your fingernails bright pink!

i ate these with homemade garlic mashed potatos, garden peas, kale stir fried in garlic & onion & braggs liquid aminos (you can also use tamari) and broccoli that was stir fried in a sesame orange sauce. it was a great combination of flavors, transforming my garden goods into gourmet fare. while each dish was tasty, the most simply prepared, the beets, left the most notable impression on my palette.

i got the idea from one of my favorite cookboks: Laurel's Kitchen. if the cool, rainy weather sticks around this weekend, i believe i'll try her recipe for whole beet borscht. sounds like a certain success!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Band of Brothers

With my company safely departed, Judy Branch seems quiet these days. Not silence, but the kind of quiet that allows frogs, crickets and distant trains to dominate the night air. The sort of quiet where you can actually hear the percussive beating of a moth's wings or an insect leap onto a broad, damp leaf. If you cut out the intermittent conversations between the Judy Branch pack and neighboring dogs, this place provides the perfect soundtrack for dreaming, reflection, and just being part of the quiet. Sometimes I sit inside and listen from my kitchen table, rocking chair or couch. Other times I contribute the creak of a porch swing, the brush-thumb of a banjo, or, like now, the muted click of a keyboard.

Tonight, I am soaking in the quiet after a turbulent day of withdrawal. For the past few days I have been 100% engaged in living life. I have opened myself to the hearts and minds of people I have come to deeply love, and I have basked in their friendship and affection. I have given myself completely to music and danced for hours without abandon on streets. These days spent in good company of the band (aforementioned house guests) provided me with an essential escape from the poisonous politics of my workplace. In hindsight, I realize that those crazy guys, who now feel like brothers to me, not only gifted me an escape, but reminded me how people should interact with each other every day they are alive. Traveling on the road together as much as they do, you would expect some seriously dysfunctional behavior. Yet they really seem to know how to treat each other and the people that they meet. The times they are stuck together are not only tolerable, but really good. Now that I am out of their fold, I am facing some of the nastiest forms of human interaction and manipulation by day. Even so, my doubt in the goodness of the human spirit is not so intense as it was before. Tonight I am soothed by the symphony on Judy Branch and the recent memories of fine times with friends.

I just wish that Judy Branch dogs Bingo, Monkey, Lucy, Sally and Frankie Mophead would stop it with the solo breaks already!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Strange Company

Six days ago, five house guests arrived at Judy Branch. Much of the heavy yard and house labor I threw myself into the days leading up to their arrival was in anticipation of their arrival. I knew that Judy Branch was plenty big enough to host five grown men, even if they were musicians, but I had no idea how easy they would make it on me! Since they were visiting from the West Coast, I prepared a bunch of good southern cooking for them, mostly from my garden: stewed okra & tomatos, green beans, homemade mac & cheese, black eyed peas, corn bread, bannana pudding. And a couple of more cosmopolitan snacks like coffee cake and my basil hummus.

During their time here they had a couple of gigs to play music, but during the days, I arranged home visits to some of the old time musicians who live nearby. I know my guests were really impressed by the musicians they met, and I was tickeled to see how much joy the old timers got out of swapping tunes with young musicians who appreciate their musical traditions.

It was one of the easiest hostessing experiences I've ever had, and then they turned round and decided to host me. I flew the coop with my guests after two days to accompany them on their journey south through Carter Family country. We stopped by the fold and the graveyard where Sarah, A.P., Janette and Joe are buried. Then I got to be their guest as they worked at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion down in Bristol.

As I am usually somewhat reclusive, I haven't been venturing out of Judy Branch to check out many of the nearby happenings. I really enjoyed spending some time in Bristol and hearing so many wonderful musicians. In fact, I will have to give big thanks to my house guests for getting me out on the town. I danced so much in the streets of Bristol that for the past two days I've been limping painfully with each step.

What strikes me the most is how I managed to spend five solid days and nights in the company of five men and not go insane. I enjoy the company of friends, but after a few hours, I am usually ready to retreat to the quiet of my home. I didn't once have a single urge to flee. That's a first for me. I am now soaking in the quiet of Judy Branch with rain thumping on tin roof. It is nice to be back home.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

work... and work

i dedicated the entire weekend to intensive manual labor at judy branch. and i enjoyed every bit of it, from pulling up thorny pigweed in the garden to washing out the compost bins. there's something immensely satisfying about tending to the homeplace.

sometimes it seems like there's a riotous game of marbles going on in my head. ideas and counter-arguments to those ideas roll around and knock each other about in all sorts of directions until they all lay scattered in a mess or none remain at all. this can make those big life decisions very difficult. i remember growing up in church and the story of doubting thomas. boy, did i ever relate to that guy! fortunately, through many years of experinence and the help of some wise native american and buddhist friends, i have grown about 89% at ease with not knowing anything at all when it comes to those BIG questions. if i manage to remember that i am okay with just not knowing, i can keep my mind somewhat serene with only one or two major moments of panic and doubt (that would be the marble games) each day.

work in the garden and around the house provides me with an escape from the maddening marble games, the big unknowns and my life's other work. problem: there's a big section of johnny grass and pig weed invading my garden. solution: get my garden gloves on, get down on my knees and pull those suckers up by the root. then, when that task is done, great possiblilites lay at my feet. time to hoe that freshly uncovered dirt and plant fall crops! turnips, spinach, greens, mescalin mix, broccoli, kale, chard, carrots, cilantro and more beets! when i rise to my feet after planting and turn around, i see the fruits of my spring planting. the last of the beans (i hope!) need picking. the okra just keeps producing more tender fruit, and the tomatos are about to fall off the vine. basil is still big and bushy, and the dll needs to be used soon before it turns yellow. and those beets are just waiting patiently to become borscht!

there are only a few moments in my garden work that i feel down. sometimes when i'm pulling up weeds, especially if i have to pull up milkweed, i feel like i am no different than those greedy bastards who clear cut virgin timber and rainforests. i certainly must seem like a monster to all the slugs, mushrooms, wooly worms and caterpillars whose shade and food i uproot! mainly it's the milkweed that makes me feel this guilt. so, i make sure to let a good crop of milkweek border my garden, and i even pull up the morning glory vines that try to pull them down. in this way, i can at least be a somewhat sustainable garden forester through selective logging/weeding!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

up in flames

sometimes i think that my empathy meter is defective. i feel far too intensely for others. feeling my own emotions is hard enough to handle, and boy do i feel those! but when i top them with feeling for my friends, i can either skyrocket into a blissful heaven or drill myself dizzy into the depths of despair.

i have been up and down about issues with my current vocation, a topic i strictly choose not to discuss here in this space. all i will say is that i am having to seriously reconsider my career choice, and for the first time in three years i find myself in a hallway full of doors of all shapes and sizes with absolutely no sense of direction. right now they all seem to be oddly shaped, mysterious and a bit spooky, but who knows what will happen when one opens? i sit befuddled in this hallway , driving myself dimwitted over the BIG questions of what do i really want for myself, my life, my love...

all this begins to spin in a spiral when one of my best girl friends calls to say she's splitting up with her husband. or when i go into work to learn that one of my favorite co-workers and friends here got his house burnt down... the fourth time this has happened to him in his life! with all these things happening to the people i love, my feelings of panic and depression over signing up for unemployment seem rather silly. but they don't go away. i just feel more helpless and hopeless!

thank the heavens that i have a place like judy branch for a retreat. i came home today and harvested okra. then i cooked up the most wonderful supper. i started by sautéing red onion, then adding chopped okra, garlic, chopped celery, chopped tomatos, black eyed peas (already cooked, but not mushy), some blanched green beans and a few bay leaves. I added a couple of spoonfuls of homemade salsa, some dried basil and cajun spices. i let it all saute on low while a pone of cornbread baked in the oven. it was light with a citrus-like tanginess from the fresh tomatos. much lighter than the cajun dishes i make in the winter (when i use canned, stewed tomatos).

there's nothing like fresh food to lift your spirits. i just wish i could use it to life my buddy's house out of the ashes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


i celebrated a different sort of union this labor day weekend. twice.

two weddings. two couples who really seem to be a match for each other. four people who give me hope that a person can find a home in another's love. that we are not all alone in this world. and that this can happen when you're 60 or almost 30.

events over the past year have led me to find comfort in cynicism, especially when it comes to love and the human condition. couples i had thought to be the perfect match split up. i met someone with whom i feel a connection and attraction to like i've never felt before, but i'm beginning to believe that it is all just my imagination. i question my intuition and doubt whether anything i feel toward another person is actually reciprocal.

even if for a short while, this weekend gave me a glimmer of hope. i am hopeful for my newly betrothed friends. and after a weekend of dancing to cajun music with a few fine gentlemen, i am hopeful that i still have a few chances left at romance... or at least a few scandalous love affairs!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day

"Up, up mountain toilers and hear what I tell. In a land of plenty there's hunger and hell! We dig and we shovel. We weave and we sweat. But when comes the harvest, it's little we get... O this is the story of you and the rest. And if I'm lying, my name's not Don West ."

The "news" today isn't really news. Many of us have seen and felt it happening for years. Maybe even a lifetime. Minimum wage, benefits and workers' rights are at the lowest they have been in fifty years. The top echelons are seeing record profits, while the working people's wages are nowhere remotely alligned with the increased cost of living. What would old Don West be feeling if he were alive today? How is it that so little has changed in all these years? How is it that we end up back in that same old predicament? Won't we ever learn to not be complacent?

Where is my Don West today? Who is speaking out for our welfare?

"Your welfare ain't on the rich man's mind, oh no! You're welfare ain't on the rich man's mind."
I hope that Hazel Dickens' music will live on and remind people. I hope that they (and we all know who they are!) will never be able to keep us down for long.

I hope that I will find some hope on this labor day weekend....

Friday, September 01, 2006


Last year I learned the value of wearing aprons. This year, I am gaining an appreciation for cooking by recipe. Cookbooks have been, for me, a good read and a source from which to garner inspiration, but not necessarily tools to cook with. I learned how to cook instinctually, throwing things together to form a meal, without refrence to a written word. With my ever increasing bounty of fresh garden veggies, I have turned to my cookbook collection for inspired solutions to my increasingly crowded pantry and refrigerator. Could there be a recipe that calls for a large quantities of dill, a few beets, beans, potatos, and carrots?

Why couldn't I think of this myself? Perestroika!

Never in my life have I seen a recipe that calls for as much dill as it does say beans or beets! I found it in The Native Foods Restaurant cookbook. The prep time is lengthy, and if you don't already have the ingredients on hand, it would be pricey to make. But damn, is it ever so tasty! Peretroika means "rebuilding the system," and I'm guessing it must be Russian. Here's the ingredients:

2 medium gold potatos (boiled, peeled & chopped), 3 medium beets (boiled, peeled, chopped), 2 medium carrots (chopped & blanched), 1 cup chopped fresh green beans (blanched), 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas (blanche if frozen), I cup chopped fresh dill, 1 cup Balsamic Vinaigrette (I'd hold back a little on this, maybe 1/2 cup), salt to taste. Just toss them all together in a bowl, garnish with fresh dill sprigs, chopped bell pepper. the book suggests garnishing with Quick Tofu Egg: (1 tsp sunflower oil, 4 oz tofu any style/texture crumbled, 2 pinches tumeric, dash salt: heat oil and saute ingredients until color is uniform)

As I continue to pick several pounds of beans a day, I will no doubt be turning to my cook books for solutions. Hopefully canning is a solution in the near future. Otherwise, does anybody need some beans... say 20 pounds or so?

Monday, August 28, 2006

feeding people

there's very little that can compare to the pleasure of sharing food with friends, especially when it is food you have sown, nurtured, harvested and prepared. tonight i had the rare pleasure of entertaining impromptu dinner guests. living as far off the beaten path as i do, i've grown accustomed to making plans for company several days in advance. tonight was a rare treat, with three friends arriving at my doorstep, serrendipitously at the same time as the sun was just starting to set.

i had invited each in passing conversation, because last night i made a large pot of the most amazing soup. i should insert here, for your reference, the pattern of my summer evenings: when i come home from work, i change into my garden bibs and tend to my garden tasks until there's not enough light left to work by. then i take what i have harvested into the kitchen and get to work on finding an immediate use for my bounty. sometimes i fix something quick, but as the quantity of my harvests has increased, i have gotten more ambitious. recent evenings (nights, really) have found me in my kitchen cooking up large entrees that spotlight my garden goods. this usually takes me to about 10pm. if i'm still on a kick, i'll work on preserving (freezing, drying, etc.) or researching recipes for my goods (right now it's beets, beans, basil, dill and okra). i end the whole night off with playing a few tunes on the banjo and then falling, exhausted into bed.

now, the amazing soup! i spent part of my sunday researching recipes that included okra or beets, and i discovererd a soup that i had to make on the spot: Cape Verde Vegetable Soup. since one of my dearest friends has recently moved to cape verde, i was especially drawn to the recipe. (Cape Verde is the western most point of the african continent. it's a volcanic island, and i know little about it aside from a box set of traditional music of cape verde that i used to own.) i am a big fan of vegetable soup made with fresh veggies, but i tend to make more of a thick stew with a heavy tomato base. this soup is very light, perfect for eating in warmer weather. i found the recipe in Sundays at Moosewood. I won't list it here, but the soup has cabbage, potato, okra, fresh tomato, onion, garlic, ground dried chiles, thyme, cilantro, and lemon. we had it with fried green tomatos and bruschetta topped with fresh basil, dill, tomato and feta. all the veggies were from my garden except the cabbage and the dried chiles.

i had planned to put my beets, beans, dill and potatos to use by making a batch of perestroika (russian salad) tonight, but given the time (nearly 1 am!), i think i'll quit with the boiled beets, and assemble the rest of the ingredients tomorrow! i will then update you on last week's visit by the russians, a whole bus load!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

inspired rant: communication breakdowns...

recent happenings have gotten me to thinking about how complicated communication really is and how it seems that breakdowns in communication are often more commonplace than we'd like to think. there's so much interference and interpretation between what starts off as a thought in your head and ends up floating through sound waves, paper or cyberspace and into thoughts in somebody else's head.

i am finally home after, once more, going off and away for a week. this time i helped a friend drive a 15 foot moving van to jackson heights, a neighborhood in queens. this particular adventure would be one of the recenet happenings that reminded me of how complicated communication really is, even if you've known someone more than half your life!

this most recent adventure and several other instances in the past few weeks keep bringing my thoughts to rest on the whole communication conundrum. can you ever really know what someone else is trying to say? a recent encounter with a new and unexpected character in my life reminded me that, though it may be rare, you sometimes do run across another person who just seems to understand what you are trying to say and vice versa, even if you tend to speak in inspired rants! at the very moment of exchange, you both know for certain that the other person really gets what you are trying to communicate and that you get what s/he is trying to say as well. but as that moment falls more distant, and miles stretch out between you and said person, you begin to doubt if that "connection" was as real as you thought it was when it happened... who knows?

over the past few years i have come to appreciate, more and more, the saying: "To assume makes an ass out of you and me."

even if you never can really know if you are on the same page with another, i say we should all jump to attention and celebrate those wonderful, unexpected moments in life when your mind, soul and/or heart fuses with another's. on my recent adventure to the big city, i ended up finally connecting, in person, with a woman (my mom's childhood best friend) who i'd always felt as if i was dancing in some kind of strange orbit with. now, i feel that we are alligned, and i can't help but smile and feel my heart lift as i look forward to future encounters and communications with this now familiar, yet still mysterious and wonderful, lady.

the communication breakdown i've been noticing is not only with bi-peds and critters. oh no! apparently my okra did not get what i thought was a loud and clear message. when i was saying my garden goodbyes before this most recent trip, i reassured my unexpected okras that i would be home in less than a week, so please don't over exert yourselves by growing too quickly. can you guess what i came home to? monster okra!!!! i hate to waste any okra at all, because it is one of my all time favorite vegetables, and the key ingredient for so many great dishes. but when they get too big, they just aren't that edible! unless they happen to be red okra, which these are not.

no major damage though. i only had to give up five... sort of. they are still sitting on my kitchen table, because i haven't definitively decided not to eat them. i do wish my garden had consulted with me before jumping into major action, though. i am officially overwhelmed and over my head (literally) in beans, basil, beets, okra, dill and sunflowers. the rest is manageable. today i put away two gallons of beans in my freezer and found a creative way to get rid of some of my basil (how much pesto does a single girl need?). i made the most delicious hummus with ground flax seed and fresh basil:

*1 can garbonzo beans drained*, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoon tahini, 2-4 tablespoon ground flax seed (use a coffee grinder, they are best if you grind them just before you use them), 2-4 tablespoon lemon juice, 2+ garlic cloves, 1/4-1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (or to desired taste), 1 teaspoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos, 1 teaspoon tamari sauce

*save the water from the can o' beans to add to the mixture in case it needs more liquid

blend all ingredients in a food processor. add water from beans to make smooth. i tripled this recipe and froze a yogurt container's worth for a rainy day.

the funniest communication breakdown of my week: before departing judy branch in my friend's moving van (she drove up to judy branch and spend the night en route), i called neighbors bill and billy joe and left a message. i was trying to let them know that the moving van belonged to a friend that i was helping to move to nyc, i'd be back in a week, and please check in on my critters while i'm gone. when i got home, i found the critters well taken care of, but i also learned that billy joe had called both her daughters (one is my landlady, the other my neighbor) and informed them that i had moved to nyc! she nearly gave me a heart attack when she called to let me know a woman was coming to look at my house! it was only for an appraisal... nothing to do with the earlier miscommunication. (sigh!)

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Hope is a funny thing.

Just when you are about to give up completely, a small, unexpected moment sneaks up, making you think twice about filling your pockets with stone and walking into the river.

My okra has appeared. It has blossomed and given fruit. How could I have ever lost hope in okra?

This past week I was at camp. It was one of those moments when the stars lined up to place a group of people in the same place at the same time far removed from everyone else, creating a space in time that can only be appreciated by those who were there.

I am so grateful that I was there. Just before Saturday a week ago, I was out of luck, love and money and damn near out of hope. My week at camp uncovered an unexpected wellspring of love and hope.

Even though I am heartsick and Ophie may never come home, I know that I am capable of giving myself to a bunch of amazing kids and helping them discover the beauty and music within themselves, each other and the world.

And hey, I've got okra in my garden afterall. There may still be hope for those eggplants...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

i thought they were eggplants, but...

for the past couple of weeks i've been in portland, oregon visiting friends. thanks to the friends i was visiting, i have seen a glimpse of how city life can actually include many of the aspects i love about the rural life. for one, they have transformed their backyard into a real garden of eden. the back corner of the yard is guarded by the shade of an old apple tree, and they are workng on building a garden shed beneath it. they have a compost system that is much more organized than my big holey garbage can of worms. it's two open box-like compartments built out of plywood. much easier to turn, shovel or get a rake in! the actual garden consists of several raised beds. in those they had growing tomatos, peppers, herbs, flowers, eggplant, squash, beans, beets, garlic, potatos, lettuce and much more

back home on judy branch...
i think my garden waited for me to go away for a few days so that it could burst into action. both intentionally planted veggies and weeds grew about four times the size they were when i left them. my pole beans are now officially three feet taller than me and still growing. same goes for the corn. the pumpkin patch is looking just beautiful, as is the squash. and the real kicker? what i thought was eggplant all this time.... are tomatos!!! i'm not quite sure how to feel about this. i had been a bit depressed that my tomatos weren't coming up, but incredibly happy that my eggplants were doing so well. i had hoped to come home to find the first emergence of purple fruit. i did come home to find fruit emerging. they are, green, round and dimpled.

beyond the garden, i am trying to spend quality time with the critters to make up for my absence. ophie is still gone, but i haven't been able to let go of my hope she'll return.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

beets and borrowed banjos

it seems like i get only a few days on judy branch before life (i.e. work) pulls me away again. this week it was a three-day working retreat with the ky arts council in the middle of central ky's farmland. evenings at home i'll often spend an hour or so playing banjo, but when i'm away from home, feeling a need to be alone, i'll sit and play for four to six hours easily. i taught myself some new tunes this week and played around on sawmill tuning, finally learning "red rocking chair." now if i could only figure out how to play it the way lily may did...

when i got home today i made a shrine to ophie and conducted a little ceremony with our family that i hope will send "come home ophie" signals into the universe. i lit a candle, sprinkled catnip over participating kitties and shrine, and fed all critters (cat and dog alike) a helping of tuna. to top it off, i placed a tuna offering for ophie in a bowl on the porch railing. i'm feeling pretty blue about her prolonged absence, but i'm still holding on to hope.

the best part of today came in the form of beets (i harvested three beautiful beets this evening!) and the promise of a banjo to borrow when i travel to portland. i was a bit worried about flying with my banjo, and now i can relax and plan on bringing an offering of beets for use of a west coast five-string.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Battle of Morning Glory

For the past few days I have spent an average of five hours in my garden. All of that time has been dedicated to pulling up weeds and tracing the path of morning glory vines so I could pull them up at the root. How quickly that insidious vine invades! After five days of battle, I have successfully cleared my crops of that murderous vine. The beds that still need to be planted will have to wait, and I believe I'll just take the hoe to them. I must confess that I really do enjoy weeding and tending my garden. It slows down my pace of the day and allows me to take time to pull up each and every little unwanted root. I usually work in "the cool of the day," after the sun retreats behind one of the mountains and I can work in the shadow of the hills. If we've had rain, I can hear the creek trickling by. Then there's the sounds of birds and bull frogs, horses and cows and ever so often the distant sound of a not so distant coal train. It's so quiet out here that you can hear the rustle of leaves and grass as a bug lights out or a gentle breeze blows.

Toward dusk, a couple members of the Judy Branch dog pack decided that they were lap dogs. Frankie Mophead was the first to take advantage of my seated position. I didn't mind the company until Lucy, a little beagle, decided that she should also sit in my lap while I weeded. The result was a lively canine version of king of the hill. They both ended up losing when I decided it was time to stand up and call it quits for the day.

It's a motley family I've created for myself here on Judy Branch. Some of the critters I love can turn on others, and it is a difficult thing to reconcile. A few nights ago, the Judy Branch Pack sniffed out cat Ophie in the woods and chased her off onto the mountain. She's not come home yet, and I'm having a hard time dealing with the pack's constant presence on my porch. I can't help but hope that Ophie is in hiding somewhere deep in those woods, just waiting for a quiet, safe moment to come home, and that she won't do that as long as these dogs are headquartered on my porch. I also can't help thinking that she met her demise. I know that either way, it's just nature's way, and I'm trying to be at peace with it. I still hope and wish with all my heart that little Ophie will come home.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

west virginia, by god!

from childhood into my early twenties, i would tell my folks that one day i'd settle down somewhere in the heart of west virginia. my reasoning: west virginia was the one state i knew that was entirely mountainous. i still love that country, and after spending a night in morgantown, i am also in love with its cities. although morgantown is a little more northern than i've ever been comfortable with, i was surprised to find how much i liked it.

at common ground, i was among a few other folks from wv and ky who were "ambassadors" from central appalachia. we spent a lot of time discussing and explaining mountaintop removal to concerned, conscientious folks. i spent one day of my film class showing films about coal sludge spills and floods. i was glad to share these stories with such a captive and caring audience, but i found it emotionally and even physically exhausting. i got so homesick, that even when showing these awful images of coal companies, those images nearly knocked me over with intense yearning to be back home. it's times like these jean ritchie lyrics swell inside me, like the l&n don't stop here anymore:

"Never thought I'd ever live to love that coal dust
Never thought I'd pray to hear those tipples roar"

the best thing i brought back from common ground was learning how to do the charleston from the amazing rhiannon giddens, who we all decided must be channelling an ancestor when she gets to doing that dance.

nearly half my drive home i was bouncing with the bow-legged charleston groove while i drove. my plans for this weekend (after working in the garden, of course) are to put on some old records and charleston myself dizzy on the kitchen dance floor.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Do I really sound like that?

I'm spending a week in Maryland, teaching at Common Ground. Here's a couple of things that really strike me when I'm far away from home:

* I can suddenly hear how my voice sounds when I speak.
* My accent seems to get deeper, and I fall into using a language that is out of place here, but transplants me back home as I speak.

What I'm wondering is:

* Do I really speak with a thicker accent when I'm out of my element and surrounded by people who do not speak like my homefolks OR is it that I'm more conscious of my way of speaking when I'm dropped into a group of people who don't speak the way I do?

Last night I called neigbor Billy Joe under the pretense of checking in on my furry house critters. Really, I was just calling to hear my neigbor's voice and chat for a little about the little things we always talk about: the weather, the animals, the garden, the work that needs doing and how nice it's been to see so many good friends this summer. After giving me an update on Bella's activities (she's been camping out with the Judy Branch pack the past couple of nights), Billy Joe figured the real reason behind my call:

I was feeling homesick for Judy Branch.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Blissful exhaustion

I am recovering from my favorite week of the year: Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, and it has left me delirious, exhausted and somewhat in pain. The pain is mostly from a banjo playing injury I incurred the very first square dance on Monday night. I think it must have been the banjo gods trying to wean me from using my left index finger too much.The blister continues to grow after that forty minute tune, six days ago.... and I have learned how to play with minimum use of said injured finger.

Each year Cowan Music School has become more and more akin to a family reunion. It is a small gathering that grows just a little each year. So many of the people who come to the school feel like cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I love the balance of children with adults and the nurturing spirit that seems to envelop us all. There's no competition to be the greatest musician or to play the fastest or the most like Art Stamper. Everyone is here to play, listen, learn and visit. It is the happiest I ever feel. The only bad part of the week is when it comes to an end.

Last week I learned that Judy Branch has secret healing powers. Early in the week I was suffering with a tension headache. I retreated to Judy Branch to recover, and I got an urge to work in my garden. The very moment I knelt on the ground and put my fingers in the soil, the headache lifted. I wonder if that magic soil would heal my banjo injury.... Perhaps I'll give it a try this evening.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

13 Aprons

I returned from my Grandma's to Judy Branch with a bag full of aprons.

Yes, aprons. Nine aprons to be exact. Each handmade, and each with its own distinct character. I found them in Grandma's hallway closet, and I entertained her at the "hospital" with a fashion show that took her back in time. I chose old jewelry to go with each apron and arrived at the rehab center with all props in hand for a evening's worth of entertainment. (Granny's recovering from a fall that broke her arm, and that's one of the many reasons why I set out to visit her last week.) I modeled each apron, and she told me who they once belonged to and who most likely made them. On several occasions she had to closely inspect the stitch to see if it was left or right-handed. The aprons belonged to and were made by great aunts: Mammie (maker) and Ruth (wearer, whose figure was much like mine apparently), Great Grandmother McCandless (maker), Great Grandma or "Nanny," as I always called her and, of course, Grandma. Nanny embroidered her apron. Together we examined the stitchwork and design, the stains and the holes and recreated a history for each and every apron.

I learned that the women of Grandma's life always tried to give her aprons because they thought she should wear them. But she never would. Unless some of the aprons were hand-me-downs or used by others, I think she may be telling me a little fib. We won't dwell on details, though.

The aprons now belong to me, and for some reason that just makes me incredibly happy.

Just a few years ago, I discovered the great usefulness of aprons and had begun a small collection for myself (total: four). Now, with my inheritance, Judy Branch is well stocked with 13 aprons. What a great excuse to make a mess in the kitchen!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

almost a portland winter...

but it's only a kentucky summer.

a few days ago i left a dry, hot judy branch on a journey to visit my grandma in nashville. i came home through potholes that had become ponds and roadside waterfalls that splashed down rock face onto pavement to become waterways. this was not the first time i attempted to wish myself into a tall pick-up truck on my drive home. even so, i found myself singing silly songs praising rain and pup bella as she soaked herself in the downpour out the side window, tail wagging, as i slowly inched my way through thickly slicked roads, closer and closer home.

i love visiting my grandma. but from the moment i arrived in nashville, i became intensely homesick for the pace and space of life that judy branch provides. i can handle the city traffic just fine, and i am able to enjoy what a city has to offer. i just don't ever wish that kind of environment for myself. it's a shame that so many of the cities in this nation are exclusively car-centric and so consumer driven. it makes no sense to me at all.

i am far from all that now with all the joys that judy branch has to offer on a saturday night: the sounds of steady rain fall mixed with my favorite community radio station WMMT, four loving housemates (all fuzzy and shedding like crazy), fresh veggies to cook for supper and no plans for tomorrow other than to get ready for my favorite week of the entire year... cowan creek mountain music school!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Explaining Okra...

I have a few friends who live across the pond. I'm not talking about neighbors Bill & Billy Joe who do happen to live on the other side of the Judy Branch fish pond. I mean that big Atlantic Ocean pond! After reading my blog, a friend from across the pond had a few questions. It made me realize that even in our increasingly homogenized, globalized world, we each have our own realities and our own language for describing them. Here's what needs clarification:

So what are :- Mojitos (you ate them in miami), what is okra (and what do you do with it).
And is there a burger place & pub nearby?

Mojitos are a tasty carribean drink (common in Cuba and Haiti and surely other places) made with a large amount of fresh crushed mint leaves. It is a cousin of the Brazilian cocktail, Caipirinha. A mojito is traditionally made of five ingredients: mint, rum, powdered sugar, lime juice, and club soda. I sipped on one of these with friends in Miami while eating at a Haitian restaurant located in the heart of one of Miami's Haitian neigborhoods. Being someone who is more of a beer or wine person, I was surprised how yummy and refreshing the mojito was, and I'm determined to learn how to make it once I grow a good crop of fresh mint!

Ah, Okra.... It'a a staple garden food of southeastern US, and an especially popular ingredient in southern, cajun, creole and soul food cuisines. Also common in African and Indian cuisine. Okra is actually originally from Africa. The plant grows to be almost as tall as a corn stalk and produces a beautiful flower from which a long fruit emerges (which is the part you eat). Last year I grew both green and red okra. Some people really despise okra because when cooked the interior of the vegetable has a slimy texture. I love okra in a variety of forms. Cut into bits, deep fried and breaded, it makes for a great salty snack that I have often thought should be available at movie theaters like popcorn. Cut up and stewed in a gumbo or just by itself with tomatoes and herbs, okra makes for a really savory addition to any meal. In my family, okra is the key ingredient to making a perfect vegetable soup. As you simmer your soup, you gently press the okra pieces against the side of the pot, thus creating the perfect consistancy for your broth. More can be discovered about okra at target="_blank"Wikipedia

Although it would be most interesting to visit a pub located in this neighborhood, I'm afraid to say that there is no pub (nor a burger place) anywhere near Judy Branch. You must drive at least 30 minutes to arrive at a place that serves any sort of food, and even further to find yourself in a place you can obtain an alcoholic beverage. Judy Branch is located in a "dry" county, a concept that is nearly impossible to explain to our friends across the Atlantic. What it means is that no alcohol can be legally bought or sold within the county limits. It makes for a thriving blackmarket of bootleg beer, hooch and moonshine, and there are folks who make a good living at these arts around here. And that's one of the reasons our county hasn't been able to pass a referendum to allow alcohol to be sold!

The U.S. has never had a the sort of thriving pub culture of Scotland and Ireland. We have bars, the majority of which are not worth the visit. In Kentucky, we have honky tonks. Now these are worth an occasional visit, but you have to have your wits about you. There's an entire culture built up around honky tonking, and regulars at these joints are very serious about their night life! Loud country music and bar fights are an essential element to most of these places, and if you're not a regular, you stick out like a sore thumb. Not the kind of place you go for a drink and a mellow chat with friends. Hazard and Pikeville are the two nearest towns where you can go out honky tonking. They are each about an hour's drive away. I'm more of a quiet type, so I don't go out to the honky tonks but once a year or so, and it's usually with much encouraging from a big group of friends.

Here's my neighborhood pub: I dust off the Guinness poster on my living room wall and invite friends to come out to Judy Branch for an evening or a weekend of playing music, telling stories and sipping on a few beers. If it's winter, we sit around the fire place. In warmer weather, we sit around a fire pit in the yard or on the porch. Judy Branch serves so many purposes in my life, and depending on the company, it's as close to a pub as you'll get in this part of the world, smoking ban and all!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Star Wars

Out on Judy Branch you can really see the stars. And being a child of the 70s and early 80s, a good long session of star gazing leads my mind to drift to the epic stories that reigned my childhood. Yes, Star Wars. Princess Lei will always be trapped somewhere inside of me, fighting so fiercely (and with attitude) against the evil empire.

When I was in grad school, the most important book I read was John Gaventa's dissertation: Power and Powerlessness: Quiessence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. For me, he was the first person who ever laid out the complexity of the power relationships that cause all the horrible inequalities we see happening around the world today. I still can't get my head around it all, and I have a feeling that this is one of the reason's I'm nestled as far back as I can possibly get in this holler. I need a place to escape to each and every day. And Judy Branch is the ideal place to go.

Besides being raised with the ideals of the small band of rebels of Star Wars, I was raised by a family that somehow instilled in both myself and my brother that we should not sit by while others suffer. I was raised to think and to care and to try to make a difference. My brother took this literally, first as a vigil anti fighting neo-nazis, now as a paramedic. I took to the hollers, trying to figure out how to make my homeland a place that people can still make a living and find a community.

What I've learned: It's not easy trying to make the world a better place, no matter how you go about it. Sometimes the only place I can bear to be is way back here at the head of Judy Branch. Let the deer nibble at my garden, the poison ivy brush against my feet and the racoons raid my compsost bin.... These challenges are welcome compared to the unthinkable beasts of the rest of the world.

When I first read Tolkein, I must have been 8 or 9 years old. I decided right then that there was NO way that I was human. I was of Elvin stock, and that was that. There was no way that I could ever understand the ways of Man. There was no way I could ever be on of THEM. Somehow, I missed the boat.

I still feel that way.

Thunderstorms are approaching Judy Branch. Time to switch off the electric window to the world and read myself to sleep by candle light.