A fold in the Great Smoky Mountains
I’ve pulled the car over to the side of the road again. Back to its adorable un-dented self, by the way, thanks to a week’s work on the part of the guys @ Gerber’s on Dekalb Industrial in Decatur, GA.
Observing again the more conservative (not to mention, self preserving) practice of stopping the car in order to take a photo, I’m here on the edge of a country-road-turned-highway somewhere just over the Georgia line into North Carolina. There’s a town nearby named Franklin and that explains the homes tucked between and up the sides of this particular rising and falling of the Blue Ridge.
Right now as I write, one of these hills is engulfed in smoke. The tall billow is deceptively beautiful in its fullness of white. Accents of gray and an uninterrupted backdrop of blue only emphasize the cloud’s magnificence. I’ve been watching it for almost half an hour. I stopped when I saw flames.
Now there are fire trucks coming from all directions – small, local, volunteer. This work will take a while.
The drought stretching across Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee has been underway for three years, now. As a result these timbered hills have become quite temperamentally combustible.
Global warming, some say. Then it snowed a week ago, closing schools for two days. Climate change? Usual 100-year fluctuations? The best science says yes to the last two with the evidence of extremes trumping the wisdom of historic records when it comes to the preventive reasoning held in words like sustainability, responsible use, green.
Regardless of explanation, regardless of language – a hill is on fire. Homes are threatened. The best efforts of firefighters for miles around are converging.
This is what we do. When crises strike the urgency and salience of positioned ideologies fades. Our attention falls in sync with action, and whatever wisdom we’ve collected over time is brought to bear in our responsiveness.
I’m not sure our country is in a collective crisis on the magnitude of a burning hill, but we may be.
Over the past few days to get impressions on our shared quandary, I’ve spoken with Georgians across wide spectra of experience and worldview.
---Two businessmen in their mid-30’s – Black men raised urban and heavily socialized by the demanding forces of the streets who somehow chose a road out. “The attitude of self-confidence and positive thinking,” they say. “Attitude is contagious. Is yours worth catching?” These men advocate knowing one’s self very well. They also urge learning with and from people we think of as “other.” In their work and lives they are all about success; theirs and everyone else’s.
---The White mayor of a small suburban town – non-partisan in his leadership position, more conservative in his politics – beloved of his community in large part because of his capacity for keeping citizens in dialogue toward addressing the interests and concerns of the community.
---Two auto-body shop employees – White men – One a salesman, one a collision repair specialist. Both men are concerned with the application of incomprehensible sums to saving banks, and more specifically, to the bankers who they’ve understood as having primary responsibility for our economic crisis. Both men also speak of the intelligence of working people – especially when it comes to setting priority for spending when money is tight. “It’s the way we live. We have skills and sensibilities that can help solve this mess. What if listening to America really included listening to us?”
---A brilliant and respected White businesswoman in one of Atlanta’s bedroom communities who speaks with first-hand knowledge and clear conviction about the absolute dependence of social wellbeing on the vital freedom in our country for initiating and sustaining viable businesses. She too emphasizes dialogue for “reducing strife” globally and between people of varied ideological positions in the U.S. She describes her support for Sarah Palin’s candidacy as both symbolically and politically instrumental for advancing the defense of the free market.
---A 17-year-old White woman, senior in a mid-city high school spoke of sustainability in economic, environmental, health and international policies and practices. Really. She offered clarity and sophistication in addressing these ideas without prompting, without rehearsal. She was raised by parents with very progressive ideas and joins them in their values and perspectives. At the same time, there were frequent instances – way more than chance – of her using words and expressing ideas that echoed exactly the sentiments expressed by the conservative businesswoman I’d spoken with just earlier. “Progress is important, but change for change’s sake is a bad idea. Change is only good when it results in stronger, healthier, happier individuals, families and communities.”
This is the way it goes. Maybe it’s because of the circumstantial fires raging across the topography of our country. In the EX:CHANGE dialogue, again and again, the words of the Americans I’m talking with carry far more overlap than dissent.
Over time, we’ll see if and how this shows up in our collected actions – in the public policies that follow on crises to articulate, guide, sustain positive American Change.