We packed the family in the car today and headed out into the foothills of Virginia to do some apple picking with friends. It was a brilliant idea for a brilliant Fall day, and the apples are mighty tasty, too.
I never cease to be amazed at the experience of driving like a bat out of DC toward the country, flying along Route 66, until finally dropping down an exit ramp and entering… another world. The pace is slower, the roads narrower, and the colors are more vivid. It truly is a throwback, even to the names of the little roads and lanes, which are named after creeks and families and natural landmarks. Many of which are precious and quaint– in fact, the apple orchard was on ‘Poverty Hollow’, which is a name that’ll make you smirk. At the same time, one wonders what story prompted what must have started as a nickname or local shorthand and eventually became the proper designation of this short road. A place which is gorgeous today, and must have been breathtaking when it was settled. An enigma, indeed.
This plain awareness and even embrace of sorrow and hardship reminds me of the Bluegrass music that used to be so prevalent in this area. Which is a fascinating art form: bright, upbeat music set to largely tragic lyrics of love lost and beloved dead and the bitter struggle of life at the old home place. Long before country music and its cliches (ever hear the one about playing a country record backwards? …you getcher truck back, getcher dog back, getcher wife back…), the immigrants that filled these hills were gathering to sing about the realities of life. Yet in the time since then, such expressions have become quaint and caricatured.
But now, in this midst of this cultural emergence that is happening all around us, there seems to be a return to such topics. People seem to have a new awareness of those who do without, and a new recognition of the bitter sides of life. Folks I know appreciate genuineness, honesty, and openness. Indeed, for many of us, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we celebrate these painful parts of life in an effort to reclaim something that’s been lost. Maybe bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Arcade Fire, with all of their beautiful dystopian songs about pain have more to do with Bluegrass than rock and roll. Maybe in engaging with negative topics, we’re reclaiming something true and beautiful.