Friday, February 20, 2015

All That is Necessary

I am a Powell County native.  Currently I am a Powell County resident.  Truth is I am a career boomeranger.  That may sully my reputation in the eyes of some, but I see it as a benefit and not a liability.  I have experience.  I have perspective.  I also maintain a strong—if somewhat unhealthy—love of place.  I love my home.  I’m not myself when I’m not drinking daily from the Red River and watching the sun rise over the Cumberland Plateau to the east and the sun set over the Bluegrass Region to the west.

In the early Nineties I became a rock climber.  Having grown up near the Red River Gorge I was drawn to the surreal and amazing clifflines just down the road.  As a climber I eventually longed to move on to bigger mountains, higher places, and more stunning landscapes. 

After a few years I moved West and found those mountains, but I didn’t love those mountains like I love the dark hollows and sandy ridges of the Red River Valley.  Oh, they were grand.  They towered in my mind and obliterated my sense of importance.  They defied me and broke me down.  And in my essential smallness I saw that the true container in which I could pour my soul and feel contained and fulfilled was the chasm in the earth called the Red River Gorge.

I don’t mean that if I just went and hiked there every day that I would be satisfied as a human being.  I know that in this place are my people.  I know that in this place I am at ease with the world and with myself.  I know this place.  I am liquid shaped by the hard edges of this river valley.

My people are the family and friends that have nurtured me here my whole life even from afar when I was adrift in the world looking for answers and experiences.  My people are those who have come here because they feel a connection to the landscape and natives and have settled in heart or in body in this place. 

I’ve come back here from the wide world when things didn’t make sense anymore and I needed the comfort of people like me.  I’ve come back here when I felt absolutely lost.  I’ve come back to Powell County because I couldn’t bear to be separated from this place or the people I love. 

But living here one can become jaded.  There is little real opportunity for young people within the county.  We have to ship ourselves out daily to provide for ourselves and our families beyond the borders of Powell County and outside the watershed of the Red River.  It should not be this way.  We should be able to live, work, and play in the same community.  The inability to do this is a symptom of greater ails within our society and not just a Powell County phenomenon.  But here it compounds some unique problems we have.

I’m human.  I make mistakes.  Truth is I am easily distracted and get myself over-extended far too quickly with my schemes and dreams.  I won’t apologize for having passion and vision.  I will apologize if I see that I’ve wronged someone or have unintentionally caused anyone grief or harm.  I try not to be stubborn in that regard.  I try not to be selfish and narrowminded in directing my energies.

I believe our community has a wonderful asset that we’ve failed to take advantage of fully or in a responsible way.  While we once boomed as a center of the logging industry, and we boomed again when the Big Sinking oil field grew and the Mountain Parkway first connected us directly to the wide world, we have faltered in our economic and civic health.  We have not fully recognized the wonder of our natural landscape or the draw that it has beyond our local borders, our state, and even this continent.  People come from all over the world to enjoy our home.  We do little to welcome visitors to Powell County.  We do little to share what is wonderful about ourselves and our community with the rest of the world.

We have the Red River Gorge.  We have Natural Bridge.  We have world class rock climbing and a wealth of cultural and historical resources hidden in the forests just down the road.  Our landscape has the distinction of the densest concentration of natural sandstone arches outside of Arches National Park I Moab, Utah.  We draw masses of people each year to marvel and enjoy our backyard and for the most part we hardly offer them a wave as they speed in and out of town on the Parkway.

I do not want to see the natural world around me exploited to destruction or loved to death.  But it makes sense that those people who live in this place should be the ones benefitting from and being stewards of its natural wealth, not those from outside the community.   

Many people won’t like my call to action.  That’s okay.  Those are not the people I’m trying to recruit.  But to those of you who are sick of the status quo, who are sick of wondering when things are going to change, who want to do something for the sake of your family, friends, children, and for yourselves…this is the time.  If not now then when?  If not us then who? 

To butcher a well known quote: all that that is necessary for apathy to triumph is for all of us to do nothing. 

And then there is the old Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Let’s not look back in twenty years and say “If only someone had done something a long time ago…things would be so much better now.”  We know good change takes time.  Let’s not mourn lost opportunities and time wasted.  Let’s get busy building a better community.

If you’re young and you want to make a place for yourself in the world here is as good a place as any.  If you’re old and jaded its not too late to follow your dreams and share your vision and ideas.  Twenty years ago was the best time, but now is the next best time to get started.

Recently my wife and I met a man in Lexington.  He asked where we were from and we told him.  Unbidden he said: “Y’know, I never understood why Stanton never developed into something bigger and better.  There’s all that beautiful land.  You’d think someone would have capitalized on that.”  We shook our heads and said we had no idea why either.

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