The Fox at Dawn

Troublesome: Hindman 2020
August 8, 2020, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
With the Land:5 drawn with leaves & flowers from the yard, and ink.

We have all of us felt it, all of us lucky ones.

We have felt that thing that happens when you cross over the little bridge spanning the creek. The creek. Troublesome Creek.

It’s a homecoming.

Interruptions INTERruptions IntERRUPTIONS

As soon as I almost (almost) get the thoughts into the corral, I’m texted by my daughter who needs me to come downstairs immediately to zoom in with the therapist who is helping her to dig herself up and out of the eating disorder vortex that has sucked her in during the pandemic lockdown. And so I go and just like that my thoughts, feelings and words gallop off in three different directions.

When you cross Troublesome, those interruptions stay home. They have to go to great lengths to track you down.


With the Land: 1. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

Troublesome Creek runs through Hindman, the seat of Knott County in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It is the home of the Hindman Settlement School, founded in 1902 by May Stone and Katherine Pettit. It was the first rural settlement school in the United states and is one of the few remaining. Its programs have changed over the years, but its mission has not: Honor the past, improve the present, and plan for the future of Central Appalachia. They have dyslexia programs for children, parents and educators, a burgeoning foodways program that is revitalizing agriculture in Appalachia and many cultural heritage programs, one of which is the Appalachian Writers Workshop. For 45 years it has been both incubator and life raft for writers with ties to Appalachia.

The last week in July, we lucky ones get to cross the bridge and spend a week in this place that has been held sacred for generations. Every year I reflect on what it is that transforms a place into sacred ground. It is a collective project undertaken by all who come. Everyone who crosses that bridge is there to teach or learn or to somehow support the work that is being done there. Minds and hearts are bent on exploring, discovering, sharing, expressing, supporting, celebrating. There is tremendous joy in such company. This joy creates a light that shines in the day to reveal hidden paths and glows through the night to heal the soul. It sounds hyperbolic written here, but anyone who has been will tell you that this is so. The busy-ness of our everyday life cannot reach us for a blessed while. Us! What happiness to be an us, to be a we not a me. In this company we do not need to explain or defend ourselves. We do not need to hide.  

With the Land:2. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

This Year of the Plagues or Year of the Great Reckoning, Hindman was online. 

Enormous collective sigh. 

Collective mourning, too, of all that we would lose:

-The rituals of arriving, claiming your bunk, finding your roommates.

-The Welcome lecture that never fails to mention snakes.

-Hugging old friends, catching up in a heartbeat.

-Three delicious meals a day magically appearing just when you need them, eaten in lively togetherness. (Never underestimate how far this goes in setting the muse free)

-Dishwashing duty with old friends and new friends and literary heroes.

-The sparkle of dew on the morning spider webs spanning the footbridge to class.

-Staying up late talking in groups, talking in pairs, singing in circles, at the Gathering Place, on porches, up in the open air chapel on the hillside by the graves of James Still and Elizabeth Watts, passing moonshine in jars until far too late.  

-Negotiating sleep in the bunkbeds, being reminded of what it is to snore.

-The revelation of the participants readings, hearing a poem by your new dishwashing friend that makes you gasp, then cry, then laugh again, leaving you full of wonder.

-Laughing at Robert Gipe’s masterful introductions in the evening readings, performance events unto themselves. 

-More revelations as the instructors read their work. Damn, they can write, words so evocative and well-aimed that they can split a tree in two. 

-Feeling that time has stopped as you sit in your workshop class, finding facets in your own work you didn’t know were there, like that reoccurring dream you have of finding new skylit rooms in your house.

-Hiking the loop up behind the highest cabin, looking for the box turtles that always tell you the same thing: you already have everything you need. Just write.

-Listening to the keynote speaker after an unforgettable Appalachian feast. Such as Nikki Giovanni beginning her talk with “The penis is in trouble y’all”. And the glory of Dorothy Allison’s thunder and lightning, her gentle rain and the sun coming out, her benediction shooting us from the cannon: ‘Now get the fuck out of here and write!’

-Partaking of holy communion in the ritual reading of Jim Wayne Miller’s “The Brier Sermon”, a poem that exhorts us: ‘You must be born again`.

And we are, every year. 

We wondered, I wondered, each of us wondered- would any of this survive the 2020 Pandemic edition?

I had my doubts. For one thing, there would be no journey. There wouldn’t be planning, packing, securing the household for my absence, loading up the car and pulling away. There wouldn’t be the long drive from the flatlands, to rolling farms, to foothills and off the highway into the mountains. I wouldn’t see my cell service come and go, pass the signs for Frozen, Typo, Flat, Mary, Dice, Pigeonroost, Rowdy and Dwarf. I wouldn’t rejoice when I finally get WMMT on the dial, wouldn’t feel my heart quicken when I got to Hazard, frown and shake my head as I passed the Lost Mountain, smile the rest of the way up the Daniel Boone Parkway, still refusing to call it Hal Rogers, positively sing as I take that turn past Yoder’s, down the big hill into Hindman, turning left onto the James Still Highway at the Midee Mart and right again over the bridge spanning Troublesome. And there I am, looking for a parking space and scanning the porch at May Stone- who is already sitting there rocking away, waving as the cars pull in?

Clicking on a Zoom link is a poor substitute.

With the Land:3. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

And yet- it was there after all. The Hindman Heart. I felt it pounding as I clicked on the links. My friends and teachers were there and new folks too.  Their talent and courage and generosity touched me even as I sat curled up in the armchair by the writing window with my cat Dr. Wilson. We had our classes, the daily participants readings, the evening readings. We had nightly Zoom hangouts with conversation and music, the evening beverage of your choice. My young friend Clayton started a Zoom breakfast club that quite frankly was the highlight of the week for me, coming closest to the pleasure of sitting down and sharing a meal together. I hadn’t realized how much I needed company. We even had suggested attire for each day- formal wear one day, western wear the next and so on until we had a bona fide spirit week. Again, I hadn’t realized how much I needed play.

For the first time this year, Zoom felt homey to me, a comfort. This is miraculous, because after teaching online all spring and having my second job online as well, I have come close to flinging my small screen overseer into the fish pond on many occasions. Sure there are ways that the virtual workshop might be improved if, god forbid, it has to be online again next year, but the school did an amazing thing in building a platform that could support the spirit of the workshop in this grand online experiment.  We even managed a reading of The Brier Sermon.

“They say people can go blind gradually.
They say people can go deaf gradually.
Lose the sense of taste little by little.
They forget the shapes of leaves on trees,
forget the sound of the creek running,
the world just blurs, grows silent.
They forget the taste of coffee and all their food.
Now what would it be like if that sight were given back?
If they heard the creek running again, or a crow call?
If suddenly they could taste their food again?
Something is restored to them, a richness.
They’ve found something they didn’t even know they’d lost.
They’re born again to sights and sounds and tastes.

Oh, you must be born again.”

With the Land: 4. Flowers, leaves, ink.

Were we born again? Here I leave the we and go back to just me.

Rebirth? No. But I have been given enough gas to get to the nearest service station. And I am learning how to create the space my own work requires so that I don’t  lose my mind once and for all. Some folks were able to go off and get a hotel room or arrange things so that they had utter privacy as they engaged in the virtual workshop, others continued to work and fulfill family obligations while attending, most tried some sort of compromise between the two. When the children hollered ‘Mom! The dogs got into the garbage and it’s all over the house and they’re throwing up everywhere’, they hollered back down the stairs ‘I’m not here, I’m at Hindman!’  Those people are my heroes. But damn it’s hard to set those boundaries. For me there is tremendous mental resistance and guilt. I’m up against my own fundamental belief that my work is not nearly so important as working the jobs that pay the bills and tending to those I love.

If I don’t fight for the time, I won’t get it. No one else is going to hold that sacred space for me the way Hindman does one week out of the year. I have to hold it sacred myself.

At the beginning of the summer all sorts of little IED’s exploded in my road. Exhausted and depressed from the online school semester, there was the discovery that my daughter had successfully hidden the resurgence of her eating disorder, the failure of a class at college and the subsequent loss of financial aid for the coming year. She was in big trouble, all hands on deck. Weeks were spent wrangling her back into an Intensive Outpatient Program, having to play the villain to get her to eat again, and appealing the financial aid decision based on her learning differences, the pandemic and her mental health. Then there was the pain I felt in not being able to help my mother and her own pandemic isolation because I was spending so much time putting out the fires at my house. I watched my plans for writing retreat further and further down the calendar.

One night in mid-June, I felt particularly low. To distract and amuse myself, I pulled up the Randonautica app,  an oracle adventure designed by quantum physicists. Set an intention, (you don’t enter it, you just think it), keep this in mind as you click on the app requesting a destination that is generated through random quantum calculations that I cannot even begin to understand. I have had remarkable experiences doing this, the interconnectedness of thought and manifestation on full display. My intention: Giving myself permission to write. I got a location that took me to this newish house on Rudy Lane, not far from my mother where I had spent the evening. It was a large house that appeared to be empty. I pulled into the circular drive but felt like I was trespassing, so I pulled out again, drove a little ways off and stopped the car to write my report in the app as being not meaningful. You win some, you lose some. I wrote ‘Just an empty house, maybe I’m missing something’. I decided to ask for a second location, I used my same intention with a great deal more mental intensity “to give myself permission to write, to make the space for it without guilt”. It seemed to take longer than usual to get a destination point. Then there it was- the exact same location I was given before. This had never happened before. I was stunned. Clearly I had missed something.

I did a quick search to confirm that the house was indeed empty- it had been sold only three days before. I went back, parked the car and went to the back of the house where the destination beacon blinked. There was a creek running right behind the house with steep banks shored up in places by caged rock to fight the erosion. The creek was nearly dry, (leap minnow, leap), but evidence was everywhere that it could be wild. It could be, well, troublesome. Of course. That’s where I give myself permission to write. That’s where I give myself permission to think only of myself. It was very green behind that house, thickly shaded by trees on the banks, the light beautiful as it faded. I quite forgot that I was in the middle of Louisville. There was a soggy deck off the back of the house that looked right over the creek. I walked up on it and then saw that there was a wooden footbridge across the creek, where the property expanded into an open field. I crossed the bridge. Permission to write. I need to cross Troublesome Creek here at home.

And that is what I am learning to do. It’s a struggle to override decades of programming. The virtual week at Hindman has given me the fuel to power on. I must cross Troublesome Creek for a time every day, speaking firmly into my own ear- You have nothing to feel guilty about, nothing to fear. Waste and lose no more time, poet. You must be born again.

The palette.

10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is one of theost beautiful, magical manifestations. Ever. Thank you. This. This right here. Is. Glory!

Comment by Matthew

Thank you Matthew!! Miss you!

Comment by Loren Crawford

Beautiful, Loren! Keep writing!!!

Comment by Gita

Thank you Gita! Hope you are safe and sane in these crazy times!

Comment by Loren Crawford

Wow. Thanks for sharing your journey and your struggles and the bridge over Troublesome Creek

Comment by Stef

Thank you for reading!

Comment by Loren Crawford

Loren I read this post last night, remembering your past excitements and reflections about Hindman. So I flew from San Diego, courtesy of Google Earth, past Beer Bottle Crossing and Fisty to the bridge over Troublesome Creek. Looking around at all that rock and green, I recalled the thrilling uncertainties that summer camp provided and the importance of their explorations. Thank you for this bittersweet reflection. I can imagine how you miss being there. Bravo to all the creative folks who pieced its ghost together for summer 2020.

Comment by truerobert

Beautiful True! Thank you!

Comment by Loren Crawford

You are a beautiful soul. Miss you much when I read you. Letter coming. Much love being sent for the lovely gift of your words.

Comment by Bec

Thank you dear Bec! I miss you too- and I love getting your letters. Be safe. Be sane. It’s crazy out there.

Comment by Loren Crawford

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