Okay, the title is a little alarmist. Culture shock isn’t going to hit for a few days, and even when it does, this is still where I grew up. I still have roots here so it’s…a different kind of shock because I’m moving back to the middle of nowhere.
Now, it’s only fair to mention that I actually have lifelong aspirations of being a hermit. Have you ever seen Fruits Basket? Yeah I think that Shigure Sohma has it figured out.
For those of you who don’t watch good anime:
He lives out in the woods with some distant family and a cute girl, tends to himself, writes for a living, lovingly drives his editor completely goddamn insane, and more or less just loves the fuck out of life. He also turns into a dog if a girl hugs him, but that’s not important. What’s important is you go watch Fruits Basket.
So being back up in the mountains is actually really nice. It’s peaceful. I can walk outside and stand for half an hour and not actually see another person. Maybe one or two on their way to or from the driveway. It’s nice. Especially since I can’t smoke inside anymore. At all.
So the privacy is kind of awesome. It’s also nice to hear nature sounds again instead of the sounds of the city.
But the best thing, as soon as the clouds go away and it gets cold as fuck and crisp…the fucking stars. Oh my god like you wouldn’t goddamn believe. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the black night skies shining with stars like they do up here, especially in winter.
I remember when I was a kid, there were nights we would go out on the Blue Ridge Parkway and go up to one of the overlooks and sit and watch the stars.
And listen to Pink Floyd. Do you have any idea how bad-ass my parents are? Listening to Dark Side of the Moon as you stare up at the seriously most beautiful tapestry of shine of black that you can possibly imagine, the moon so bright and full you can see just fucking fine without lights. And if there’s snow on the ground, it’s so bright and blue you have to look sideways at things because it’s just gleaming. The woods in white and blue monochrome.
But once you get past all of that. It’s cold as fuck, it’s wet as shit. Everything is twenty minutes of 19 degrees the fuck away. It’s already snowed once this year, so there are already roads it’s not super smart to drive on until April or May. The people…
Oh the people. God bless ’em.
If you’ve never spent a lot of time in really rural communities apart from the occasional stop or trip to visit Mt. “What’s it called, you remember they had all those little things you liked so much in that shop at that one place? And that nice man in the overalls selling jam by the side of the road? What was that place called again?” you might have been struck by the general level of friendliness of the people here. That’s true and all, because they want your touristy dollars.
And it takes a long time before you’re really considered to be “from here” if you aren’t actually from here. I was a kid when I moved here, so by the time I was an adult and had come back from college after a couple of years, I was a local. My parents…became really considered and treated like locals…about a year or two before I graduated high school, I guess. And more or less the word “redneck” is appropriate enough that it’s what a lot of people will use to identify themselves.
The world they inhabit is very small. It’s not that they are bad people. They are judgemental, sometimes small-minded, but those are characteristic of all people. But let me tell you this: when hurricanes make it up this far (and they do. Google Hurricanes Francis and Ivan in 2004. I can personally tell you of a hundred-foot chunk of road being swept away because some guy had an illegal bridge for a driveway) and shit gets fucking real. These motherfuckers have got you. Your neighbors, the people you work with, they care. And since their families all live within like fifty miles, there is literally a series of in-built social security systems in place. Many residents are EMTs and volunteer Fire Department. Many are hunters and fishers and gardeners.
When the banks collapsed in 2009 and the economy took a turn for the worse, my friend’s mother had the following to say:
Well. Better plant a couple of extra rows of ‘taters this year.
That’s it. That’s the spirit of the high country in a nutshell in 12 words. Hard times are nothing new up here, our most valuable commodities are rocks and fucking trees. Seriously, my home county’s chief export and industry is Christmas Trees. Tourism is technically an import, and it is a close second because we have four distinct tourist seasons, and my region hosts a significant percentage of the global market in computer-grade quartz and feldspar. But that’s a different thing altogether.
So if things are going to be less-than-optimal, there are far worse places that I could be than back in my hometown for Christmas.