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.