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!