While it is difficult to write objectively yet critically about someone whom you know personally or about a book whose subject matter and/or authors are familiar, sometimes necessity is more than the mother of invention and you have to do things you normally or ethically wouldn’t do. Such is the case for me in writing a review about the recent publication Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards about the life and legacy of the poet-publisher Jonathan William, whom I knew and was a relative neighbor of mine who lived just up the mountain from my home in Tuckasegee, on Scaly Mountain near the town of Highlands.
I fled him down the nights and down the days;
I fled him down the arches of the years;
I fled him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
— “Hounds of Heaven” by Francis Thompson
Dreamers and schemers. Andre Michaux and Daniel Boone. Yankees and Confederates. Hugh Morton. The mile-high swinging bridge. Tweetsie Railroad. Singing on the Mountain. Highland bagpipes and Low-Country vacationers. Hikers and hang gliders. Mildred the Bear. Fraser firs and rhododendron. Peregrine falcons and big-eared bats.
For the past two centuries, local historians and writers in England have produced a large number of municipal and county histories, a project formalized in 1899 with the Victoria County History project, a massive undertaking that, more than 100 years later, is still unfinished. These detailed records have proven invaluable for historians and biographers writing on a grander scale, allowing them to compile data and statistics on topics ranging from deaths attributed to the plague to the impact of railroad revenues and services on country life.
In early January, I sat with two friends in a café discussing the New Year. We were all coming off a rough time and were certain 2018 would usher in happier days. Our optimism was running high until we made our way to the deserted lot where my friends had parked their cars. Both of their vehicles were missing, towed away by a zealous, or more likely unscrupulous, wrecking service.
Since Luke Bauserman is a folklorist, it is safe to say that many of his characters already exist; some have existed since the beginning. Certainly, someone has told us tales of how death and the devil have communicated with mortals before.
There it stood on a sale table, all 11 volumes lined up tight and orderly as cadets on parade, Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization.
The Friends of the Library had slapped a price tag on Volume IV.
“That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
— A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, XL
Sometimes joy and beauty strike like thunderbolts. One minute we are going about our daily routine, minding our own business, and then bam! Tongues of flame leap into our hearts. The eyes of a barista behind the counter of our favorite coffee shop fork a bolt of lightning in our brain. We round an unfamiliar bend in the road, and some incredible vista of a mountain peak blows us away. We visit a gallery, enter a darkened room, and find ourselves so dazzled by a painting that our feet remained glued to the floor for an hour.
For many of us, Christmas preparations require the endurance of a marathoner and the speed of a lab rat on amphetamines. We hoist a tree in the den, decorate our homes, dash off greeting cards to people we last saw two years ago, race through the mall buying presents and stocking stuffers, plan and prepare a Christmas dinner that would buckle a lesser table, and get sloshed at parties while wearing the hat of an elf. The culture pumps holiday Red Bull into our veins: some radio stations are belting out Bing Crosby before Thanksgiving, by the second week of December films like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” jam the television, and every church in town offers a concert.