Change at a break-neck pace.
In Pasquotank County, they’re getting a wind farm. In Perquimans County, I heard they changed the name of Hog Alley to something-or-other Road, and they even paved it over: “I mean, you wouldn’t know it to look at it.”
Across the river in Bertie County, they still operate a cable ferry between Sans Souci and Woodard, although “they” aren’t who you think they are. “They” in this case is not the ferry authority, but another part of the Department of Transportation that runs inland ferries.
In small communities, or even suburbs without a dense urban plant, “they” are busy people. People whose actions you see but whose faces you don’t. That’s why “they” seldom earn our trust.
That said, I confess to a certain fondness for “them,” provided they leave things behind. Children’s building-block edifices are charming; in a more solemn but no less poignant way are the remains of the dead, left where they did the work that sustained them. Like these houses:
Even the gratuitous hand-work is telling. Like the “V” for the more usual “U” in the Perquimans County High School facade. Someone made that decision about lettering to give an air of Latinate dignity to poor students in an overlooked part of the world. It was put there before someone decided to abandon the world of learning and human children and masonry for that of information, human resources, and trailers.
When most people think of countryside, they think of wilderness because it offers an escape from suburban sprawl. Somewhere in the American landscape there remains a wilderness for us if we could but outrun the tacky sameness that our cities disgorge.
There is, though, another countryside, just as rare, and far more overlooked. It is composed of small-holdings, and it is vanishing. Before the Wild West, there was the West of Thomas Jefferson’s America, which began at the Eastern Continental Divide. The farms founded before industry changed the scale of agriculture were incredibly diverse places. Here is one such:
In practice, each farm was like a little world, producing meat, dairy, plants, and fuel, as well as harboring fish, game, honey, stone and wild fowl.
I was lucky enough to spend the day painting at the Coggins Farm east of Asheville, NC. Not currently productive, the place is currently the center of local controversy over its future. You can read about it here, on the website of an enterprise to reconnect the land to its original developer’s purpose of long-term provision.
It’s a treat to stand where such a variety of work was once done by hand.
The show had a happy and buzzing opening night at the Chowan Arts Council, whose volunteers pulled long hours hanging art and laying out a spread of refreshments. People from four counties, two states and three generations enjoyed themselves, which pleased me. Two people told me how the scene below resembled places they know. Then they told me about the people, alive as well as dead and buried, in their own places.
The last time I counted, Gates County, NC has five stop lights. It might have six now, but I wouldn’t know because I’m happy with that number.
This scene is not far from the Dismal Swamp, featured in my last post and offers a different sense of lush potential. This is a field resting between crops when the trees are green. The ground is not finished–just taking a breather. Look at those leaves, and you can hear the earth boast, “see what I can do.”
Civilization depends upon this sort of readiness. How we meet it is important. When I was a child, fields like this were visited every week or so by the poor, who were paid at the end of the day to tend them. Even then, their jobs were losing out to machines.
Currently, there is a conspicuous absence of people outdoors here. I painted this scene in July, and drove by it again just this November. There were more people visible in November. Even the autumnal head count is down as deer hunting with packs of dogs–a social activity-has given way to sitting alone in a tree stand and waiting for the quarry to walk by. I don’t know what that means, but it merits reflection.
This is The Great Dismal Swamp.
Built in 1755.
I was fortunate to approach this scene in the spring when the new greens offer such contrast with the old house.
Thanks to Emmett and Bobby Winborne who allowed me to paint their birthplace.