Self-sufficiency in rural Appalachia

In rural Appalachia (the penultimate syllable pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘apple’, not like the ‘a’ in ‘staple’), self-sufficiency is not an essential characteristic of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the divine unmoved around which everything else moves. Nor is it the intrinsic property of Spinoza’s substance, that which is ontologically independent for its existence. For generation after generation in these parts, self-sufficiency has meant the ability to take care of oneself and one’s kin without the aid of foreigners.

Time was when these self-sufficient people knew how to name the same tree across summer and winter; could build gardens and make wheels of cheese; concocted home remedies by using local roots and herbs and, on occasion, sold these to the people in the surrounding cities; spoke a language all their own. ‘Are you peart?,’ one used to ask a neighbor who moved in 39 years ago. Meaning: are you in good health, in good spirits?

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The Wicca hour

It is entirely possible that we have been hallucinating since we first arrived on Monday. We saw a bearded woman in a cart being pulled up a hill by a bearded man in a cloak. We nodded at a leery, shady man in a robe who was watching the bearded couple. We passed by an old man riding a bike uphill on the sidewalk; he swerved like jagged teeth, nearly knocking us over. We met a checkout clerk at the grocery store, a cherubic boy with reddish hair, who scanned items with a cracked voice. We met a checkout clerk at the grocery store, a young woman who told us she lived with her mother and her vision was failing. We saw a robed holy woman on the front lawn, a lawn ornament of sorts, who, as much in her attire as in her demeanor, resembled everyone else. We met a wineshop owner who tried to upsell us with a bottle of wine that was $5 more than the one prior. He later pointed to the sign saying that he never accepted promises for payments, then showed us his IOUs, then gave us a discount that largely nullified the $5 upsell.

It is entirely possible that we have been hallucinating, unheimlich-style, but it could also be some numen. We have returned to the local grocery every day, twice last night. We have eaten food prepared by hand, looked at dandelions eyedropped with rain, waded through wet grass in open fields, guessed at a puzzling roofs and confusing light switches, mocked the birds with made-up dialogue. We have made things up as we’ve gone along.

We are learning to feel close. She is learning how to pump her own gas and uncork a bottle of wine and feel at home, learning more generally how to be self-reliant in and through another. We do not impose or oppose; we flow like the stream outside our cabin. And I am spending my days doing what I like where doing what I like–being for her, being with her–is entirely unlike however I thought my days would go. I cannot rule out the possibility that the philosophical life is a glorious, numinous vision.