Almost Heaven

Grayson County, Virginia

No, it isn’t West Virginia but Southwest Virginia. This is Grayson County whose southern border is the North Carolina line.

The county contains the highest peak in the Commonwealth, Mt. Rogers, and that might be it in the far distance, upper left. What you can’t see here (but I will show you soon) is the New River that completely wraps around this high promentory of land, itself worn smooth like a river stone, plush-carpeted in eastern deciduous greenery.

I’ll have images to show you of the river from high above, from the river-at-my-feet, and of the people who own and care for–and I mean care for–this place on earth.

You’ll hear how this part of the county is becoming a model of earth-care and stewardship that will insure the land remains in a condition both of best use and best preservation.

I went along for this visit on October 13, a journey that seems much more like participating in a story than an assignment.

I’m working on several more posts from SEJ out of my notes and have not even dipped into stories and topics from the bag of pick-up items or videos on CD offered at vendor tables during the five days of conference.

Also, I know there will be audio and video from each conference session. I’m not sure it will be publicly accessible–I hope it will–so I’ll be digging into that resource as I’m able and will be highlighting those for your edification. If you don’t wanna be edified, well, that’s another deal.

I’m heading back to the House of Pain today, putting back on my Physical Therapist hat. I feel like Cinderella. Fetch me the bucket and mop, the Grand Ball and Pumpkin Coach were something else, now back to real life as we know it.

Debriefing SEJ 2008: a Beginning

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You probably know the feeling–the mixed emotions after a week away, relieved to be free of steady-state, always-on attention to names, words and issues, now home, in the quiet let down to be out of the wash of adrenalin, zeal and the buzz of so many good ideas.

Ah, but to flop on your own worn napping couch, to sit once more in your favorite chair that holds the impression of years of your sitting, to sip coffee from your own stained mug. The dog who has missed you so sits at your feet, the kettle gently hisses on the wood stove (since in your absence, winter has come!)

Alas you face this morning the emails, the phone messages to return, bills to pay, fires to put out even while you keep the one behind the glass door of the stove perking along; you will attend to the piles that contain your life and under which somewhere is a once familiar oak desk.

I want to go back through the copious but not-terribly-rigorous notes I took over five days of meetings because I know there are websites and quotes and topics I’d want to share with you.

That I have a lot of notes is not difficult to understand if you realize that we never sat down to eat or to ride a bus but that some planned speaker was informing us of one thing or another or the person to your left and right at dinner were immensely interesting people worthy of their own scribbled notes that you hid on a slip of paper under your napkin.

There was very little dead air at SEJ; and one could not afford the luxury of free time. On the other hand, there were practically no moments–as there are typically many  at long conferences I’ve attended in the past–in which my internal dialogue was muttering “I don’t think I can stand another minute of this waste of my time. I’m not getting any younger!”

Impressions: this was in many ways to me more like being with my “kind” than a family reunion of genes shared by chance alone, than a high school reunion of vaguely-remembered fight songs, than a conference within my day-job peers of goniometer-carrying physical therapists.

The folks at this conference by and large were “like me” in ways that matter a lot to me, being both respecters of the power of words and engaged, earth-aware citizens who looked you in the eye with genuine interest and wanted to know your story. I was not the stranger in a strange land I had expected and dreaded I would be.

I’ll be pulling from the experience toward a consolidated expression of the event in a week or so. Until then, let me recommend this 13 minute youtube video of Wendell Berry (perhaps the only video of the man) giving a January speech against MTR that he read to us at breakfast yesterday morning. I challenge you to watch it all and listen from the heart and gut and not be moved.

Of this I am certain: many writers from across the country who attended the SEJ conference in Roanoke have come for the first time to our southern mountains; many have seen first hand the “garden land that has now become the waste land.” And they have been moved. Thank God for their voices while there is yet time.

Fieldtrip to Polyface Oct 16 2008

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I may have a net connection later today, but for now, this image composite of Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm is all I’ll have time to post–that, and a link to other images at SmugMug, not yet labeled.

The Foodshed Field Trip was an education.

The SEJ conference has been a very good experience–if exhausting. I have bags and folders and files overflowing, to be sorted at some point in November. I’ll share with you at some point.

Have a good weekend, y’all.

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Conference Day One

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I was wrong. I can’t get wireless Internet from Hotel Roanoke meeting rooms, so the live twitter and blog entries I’d imagined won’t happen until perhaps Friday afternoon. Ah well.

The first day of the SEJ conference was as full as I’d expected and much less lonely an event. This is a crowd of folks not afraid to look you in the eye and hold out a hand and say “my names is John (or Jane), what’s yours?”

Today, the field trip to Polyface Farm. I’m responsible for posting a blog post on the trip for the SEJ blog (and pix to a Flickr gallery) so will have that done by Saturday morning.

Most memorable yesterday, a must-check-this-out moment was listening to Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute describe the work he and RMI have been doing on composite materials and design for tomorrow’s fuel efficient automobile (that could have been yesterdays’–their innovations are just now starting to get the attention that will get them built in large numbers.)

Also interesting the panel discussion type segment that involved a WVa attorney who has been front and center in litigation against mountaintop removal coal extraction and a representative from one of the large coal companies. The conversation was frank, at times tense, but respectful and professional. I learned a lot.

This is a crappy post. I’m buzzing around thinking ahead to the day to come. So just peek at the recent image above from near home that has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of this post and move on. Back atcha soon. (Sorry–a Palin-ism.) Wink Wink.

Oh yeah: found out yesterday that the SEJ BR Parkway excursion will end up at Hotel Floyd today, so if you see a bus pull into town mid-afternoon, that might be part of the group from Roanoke. Y’all behave when company’s in town.