Editor’s Note: Editor and Publisher Glynn Wilson usually writes a weekly column on Sunday.
by Glynn Wilson
Editor and Publisher
LOCUST FORK RIVER, Blount County, Ala., July 30 – “I am haunted by waters,” author Norman Maclean wrote in the conclusion to his memoir A River Runs Through It.
It is a line that will be familiar to anyone who watched the movie produced by Robert Redford about fly-fishing on the Big Blackfoot River in Montana.
“Poets talk about ‘spots of time,’” Maclean wrote. “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”
Maclean was a great American writer, not just a regional writer, who learned to think and write – to create art – first working for a newspaper, I suspect, then a university.
“All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible,” he said, writing near the end of his life.
|Photo by Glynn Wilson|
|Under the rocks are the words…|
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”
He was talking about his ancestors. And he was onto something.
I too am haunted by waters, if that is the right word. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I am drawn to water. In that I am not alone.
Another great writer, Edward O. Wilson from Alabama, once theorized that humans have a genetic connection to nature. He called this theory “biophilia.” As quantitative evidence to back it up, he cited the percentage of people who live near water in the United States. Something like 70 percent of the people in this country live within 100 miles of an ocean, a lake or a river.
I suspect, however, that large numbers of those people are no longer intellectually or spiritually connected to the water because of a corruption in our institutions and culture, not the kind often lambasted by the right. You can see it in their faces in the rear-view mirrior as the people in this rural area drive their pickup trucks and SUVs right up on your rear bumper, in a hurry to cross the bridges of Blount County – rarely pausing to glance at the river on their way to and from work, church and the Piggly Wiggly.
As I walked along a path down the Locust Fork River on Saturday, taking a break from the city, the suburbs and this computer, I felt a familiarity in the red clay and sand between my toes. Part of this familiarity comes from growing up in this part of the world and spending some time on the creeks and rivers – mostly as a teenager skipping school, drinking beer.
But there is an older form of knowledge at work that may come from some of my Cherokee ancestors who hid from Andrew Jackson’s Army in these woods. There is scant written record of this history, since Jackson’s men destroyed the only printing press to ever produce a newspaper in English and Cherokee. You can see the remnants of that newspaper in the special archives library at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
But if you sit on the big flat rock under the waterfall near what they call “Budweiser Beach,” just a short hike off county road 160, you may feel the past in your bones as well.
The youth of Blount County still sneak down here with their beer, although someone has now purchased the property and is taking a stand for private property rights by running them off the beach.
I didn’t bother to approach the man myself, a white man of course, no doubt a Republican looked upon as a fine Christian. So I didn’t ask him what should be asked: Why he thinks he has a property right to the bank of a public river? I was not in the mood for a confrontation, so I sat on the other side and sipped my Yeungling and soaked up the electrolytes from the waterfall and did some thinking, mostly about the idea of helping others – since the world needs a lot of help about now.
“Help is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly,” Maclean said. “So it is that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed….”
His conclusion? At least, he said, “You can love completely without complete understanding.”
Perhaps you can. I think that is right and necessary, while not necessarily sufficient – at least not in these times.
I just don’t know how you can sit back and love George W. Bush and his cronies and not do more to try and rescue America from the grips of corporate fascism.
It is too late for the Cherokee. They live on only in those of us whose ancestors escaped the Trail of Tears by hiding in the woods by the river and becoming integrated into American society through intermarriage.
If my sometimes pessimistic friend and author Rick Bragg is right, we will live under corporate GOP rule for the rest of our lives. But I cannot accept that or love it or even understand it.
I cannot understand or accept that other newspaper editors and reporters and journalism professors in these parts do not share my concern. I think there is another factor at work and it goes by the name of “fear.”
No one can go through a life without feeling fear, of course. But I’ve always been able to subdue the feeling and push forward and try to make a difference.
That is one reason I decided to start this Web site. I am looking for kindred spirits who also understand intuitively about biophilia, who are not happy with the direction our country is headed in, who want to love but also to help. Surely an individual can make a difference. I have seen it happen many times.
In my own life and times, there is one great example of this embodied in the Locust Fork River. The Birmingham Waterworks Board tried to dam the river about 13 years ago. A public relations firm was paid nearly half a million dollars to try and bend public opinion for a dam.
At that time I was between journalism jobs and was paid $4,000 by a group of property owners, who will remain nameless, to produce a report and come up with a strategy to stop the dam. The odds were lopsided to be sure.
But the episode proves that an individual can help – and make a difference. If you take the time to notice, you will discover there is no dam on the river. And that is something.
© 2005 – 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved. The Locust Fork News-Journal, LocustFork.Net