The Means and Modes of Consumption

I love this time of year in the mountains. Admittedly I could make that statement on any given day, but to those of us more suited to tranquility than bustle, the short pause between the holidays and the springtime return of tourists and part time residents is to be savored.

Winter has its charms as well. Stripped of their verdurous integument, the contours of the land are revealed in a testament to the grace and power of the divine hand which sculpted these old hills over years beyond imagination. Ephemeral creatures, we are drawn to the passing beauty of blossom and blade and the seasons of the leaf which make our lives seem longer by comparison, but we are humbled by the scope and scale of the tectonic.

Alas, the seasonal disrobing of the mountainsides reveals fresh scars and the brutality of wounds inflicted by our callousness. In a species so given to the ever evolving taboos imposed by popular opinion, why has it never been unthinkable to cut down a forest enjoyed by many to improve the view of a few? To gouge out the beating heart of a community of living things, destroy a vital symbiosis of clean air and water, and replace it with an inorganic box that houses our gadgets and oozes our toxins? Is it not enough to scrape and maim, flatten and pave? Must we then illuminate our work with the brightest lights we can find, flooding out from the valley to the mountaintop, dimming the moon and the stars?

When confronted by beauty and mystery there is, deeply imbedded in the heritage of western civilization the impulse to shoot it, stuff it and mount it on the wall. Technology has magnified our needfulness. We are the child that, seeking to possess the beauty we behold, crushes the flower in our ignorant grasp.

Yet beauty prevails here, in spite of us, and we still enjoy the charms of small communities and rural living, “It’s not for everyone,” Tracey said to me recently. “If you’re going to move here, you’d better be comfortable with yourself and your spouse!” Especially in the winter months. The days are quiet. The nights are long, and when the view from the picture window grows stale, there is not an abundance of manmade distraction, compared to the city, to fill the void.

Working with adjudicated youth I was taught that when you take someone out of their accustomed environment, even if that environment is dysfunctional, they will try to recreate what is familiar. People move to the country to escape the problems of the city, and then they want the country to become more like what they left behind.

The longing for the familiar notwithstanding, mountains resist change. Here it takes 10,000 years to create an inch of topsoil. The people born here see no need to change the culture and traditions that sustained them through all the years of hardship and privation when they were isolated and forgotten by the rest of the world. You learn to make your own fun here. Country living and small town life is for neighbors and churches, digging in the ground and fishing in the stream, walking the hillsides and hiking the backcountry. As Wendell Berry wrote, “Where we live is also a place where our interest and our effort can be. But they can’t be there by the means and modes of consumption.”

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