Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More on the future

One other ad on Metro bothered me yesterday. This time, it was on a train out to Virginia, where my husband and I planned to meet some friends, catch dinner at a local restaurant we all like, maybe take in a movie, and head for ice cream afterwards. The ice cream part is important. What's the good of seeing a movie with friends if you can't all sit around for an hour afterwards, talking about it?

In any case, we hopped onto Metro, and were lucky enough to get seats for the second half of our trip. Right under the ad. At first, I ignored the ad, talking to my husband, but I confess the picture drew my eyes. As I sat there in the loudly rumbling rail car, decorated in shades of orange and brown, there was a lovely sylvan setting - a broad, unpaved track through a forest, with moss-covered rocks, a leafy canopy far above, a little bit of underbrush on either side of the track. You could practically hear the wind and the leaves singing their duet. To one side, in curly script, the picture advertised that these were the Alleghenies, and just underneath, the script changed to something I'd expect to see with a fictional character, maybe named "Sergeant Guts" or something, and invited the viewer to go offroad, taking this no roads experience to the MAX!

My first reaction - I can't even really call it a thought - was horror. One off-road vehicle could do serious damage to that moss. And the forest floor has a pretty delicate ecosystem. Soon, the actual thoughts were flying fast and furious. Here in the East, we have maples, and maples don't do well with exposure to air pollution, or with having their root systems compressed by extra weight, or... And those big tires tear up the top layers of ground cover, exposing more delicate lower layers to erosion. Mountain bikes and horses are hard enough on the leaf mold layers of the forest floor. Why invite people to come with more destructive recreational transports? Why use this kind of language to describe the treasure that you have been granted?

Here in the city, we have loud vehicles. We have plenty of space to run them in, and there is even space not too far away, in which to make them go fast. What we don't have is quiet. Even as I sit here on a holiday morning, I can hear the machine that runs my apartment's air conditioners running. I hear the occasional click or moan from the elevator. I am not yet hearing cars on the road, but I imagine that by this afternoon, I'll hear plenty. After all, we're only a few blocks from the local fireworks display. (I won't be leaving to watch it. My husband and I have discovered, much to our joy, that we can watch from our balcony, or if the smoke starts blowing in our direction, from our living room.) And there's the constant push push push of city life. Gotta be going, gotta be doing, what are you doing in my way? The one thing I've observed in this town that annoys people most about tourists is that tourists don't know the unspoken rule in DC: if you're going to stand still on an escalator, you must do so on the right, so that people can dash by you on the left. In fact, if you're only going to walk up the escalator, could you do that on the right? We want to *run* up the left.

Life rushes by, faster and faster. I've made arrangements next month to head for a slower pace over a weekend. My husband and I will head to West Virginia with some friends. So far, the plans include walking around, maybe doing some swimming, bathing in a spring, having some slow, leisurely meals at our own pace, maybe playing a few rounds of Uno or Flux. Possibly catching a movie at the nearby movie house left from the Depression (mostly because I want to see the inside - apparently, there are couches available.) Note all the possiblys and maybes. We're not on a schedule.

And I wonder what it does to people when they are encouraged to experience nature at the same pace they experience city life. When I was a girl, my dad and my uncles taught me to fish. Cast it like this, see? Now, sit back and wait for mister fish to want that lure. The Good Lord will grant you enough time to wait for a fish. We would go walking in the local forest with my dad pointing to various plants: now, look at this one - see the shape of the leaf? This one is safe to eat. Here, try some. And we'd look closely at the moss-crusted limestone - sometimes finding fossils, sometimes different kinds of moss or lichen. We could tell you the type of every tree in our woods, beech, cherry, ironwood, maple, hickory, sassafrass, and so many of the little plants below, trillium, phlox, mayapple, jack-in-the-pulpit, christmas ferns, poison ivy, poison oak, and several of the fungi. We saw rabbits, deer, beaver, squirrel (country squirrels are much more shy than their city cousins), and badger. Late at night, we could see racoon if we were watchful. We listened to stories about our great grandfather and the panther.

And yes, there was a dirt road we sometimes followed back into the woods when we went to gather blackberries. Our neighbor used that road to have access to her gas wells, and had given us permission to gather the blackberries on her land as well as our own. But while we would stop in spring and look at the tadpoles in the puddle in the middle of that access road (it had a little bit of grass growing on it, and every spring there were tadpoles in that puddle in the rut - that road was used maybe 2 or 3 times a year, and never in spring for cars or trucks - the ground was too wet to support them after the melt and before the land had dried some - in summer, the clay would dry, forming weird crack patterns), it would never have occurred to any of us that it would be fun to drive a car on unpaved byways. Maybe it was that we lived on a dirt road and got our share of being jounced along on bad roads, but I think it was at least partly that when you are racing along that fast, you'll never find the mayapples.


Blogger Little Black Car said...

"The Coming of the Roads" by Billy Edd Wheeler (with whom you may be familiar already if you're Appalachian; he also wrote "Coal Tattoo".

7/05/2006 7:22 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I knew _Coal Tattoo_, but had not heard _The Coming of the Roads_. In a sense, those roads took me out. I can remember as clearly as if it were yesterday the time I was looking for work back home. It was summer, so working as a teacher wasn't really an option, so I went to a work agency and took their tests. After a while, a woman came out with a concerned look on her face, and asked me to follow her.

We began the interview, with me trying to make it clear that I wasn't too proud to work, despite my college degree. I wanted a job, and would take just about anything. Finally, she asked if she could give me another test. Sure, no problem. I'm good at tests. So she gave me one of those quick IQ tests, the kind that are basically meaningless and can be done in less than an hour. I finished in very little time and she sat there grading it.

After a minute of rechecking her work, she asked me back into the back room, where she told me that she didn't have anything that would keep my mind busy. I told her that I didn't care, I just needed work. She said she'd call, but never did. A week later, I got a job as a waitress by not mentioning my degree. If they hadn't been closed just then, I might have applied to the mines. I'd already been through the basketweaving company. If I'd been clever, I ought to have applied to the ceramics factory.

Next to none of the brightest students that graduated with me still live in Appalachia. The one exception I can think of stayed because she had a child. And we're not the first generation to be faced with that choice. I'm very much afraid we won't be the last.

7/05/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I think that happens in a lot of circumstances, really. I know all the young, educated people leave Iowa for bigger, more exciting cities. The kids in my mother's hometown in New Jersey head for New York or Philadelphia. Kids in Texas want to be in Houston or Dallas. A lot of the ones who don't go to school work on the oil outfits in Texas and Louisiana but that can be iffy (not unlike mine work, I imagine).

I couldn't find a job when I got out of college, either, because I live in a suburb where all the jobs are clerks, waitresses, hotel maids, etc., and they don't want college degrees, either. Women my age are either supposed to be married or Mexican minimum-wage earners (harsh, but for real. I'd clean hotel rooms but they would have to pay me like an American). I badgered my way into the vet tech job because I was willing to start as kennel help (all dog poop, all the time). I ended up being a good technician but it paid like unskilled work even after I advanced a bit. I work downtown with all the other "eggheads" now. Yawn.

I probably rather be in that ceramics factory.

One of my mother's graduate-school friends is a counselor in Richwood, West Virginia. She loves the area but says she's finally decided that teenage motherhood isn't so bad if it gives girls a reason to live. Yikes.

7/05/2006 8:56 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

The ceramics factory is great if you don't mind the effects of breathing glass dust, having it "tattoo" your skin, working with poisonous metals, etc. (and actually, I'm serious about that - one of my professors worked in the factory because he made a lot more money there as a slip presser, which work is not the most skilled job there, than he made either as an artist or as a professor.)

I can sympathize with her softening attitude towards teen pregnancy. Telling folks to hold off on children when you can't offer them anything else tends to be less than effective, and depressing, to boot.

7/05/2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I can believe it.

No, I don't mind my hazard-free library job, but I still find myself wondering what the heck I'm going to do with myself when I finally get my MLIS and have to do something with it (people can excuse you for not doing anything with a BA in history, but after that you're not allowed to have a useless master's degree, too). I'm kind if hoping that my willingness to live in less-fashionable states like Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri will serve me well. Besides, I still won't get paid much so I better not be planning to head out to New York or D.C. or San Francisco.

I could really go for northern Arkansas right now. Mountains and Civil War history, and no hurricane season. Mmm-mmm, good. But there are never any jobs in those places. Fayetteville, maybe, if I'm lucky. I like Texas but I think the climate might kill me after a while.

7/05/2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Well, I have a B.A. in history, and my husband has 2, count 'em 2 useless M.A.s Bwah ha ha ha. And is being encouraged by his boss to get an MLS. Which is part of why I dither so badly over the psych degree idea. But we're managing to scrape by in DC. Actually, one of the things my husband looked to see if he could find was a scholarship for people wanting to be librarians in underserved areas. No such luck, but I would imagine that a willingness to live in less exciting locales would be valuable in an MLS. (Though there's tons of MLS-only jobs in DC if you decide you want to come here.)

7/05/2006 10:36 AM  

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