Leave it to a Gen-Z kid to learn a profound truth while composing an Instagram caption.
I took three photos in my short walk. The leaves were tossing along the side of the road that leads to my back door, so I stepped out to taste the wind, as it were. Barefoot, I putszed about the back yard and around to the front. I left my mason jar of water on the front porch and stepped down onto the road, snapping two of my three pictures. I had taken in the most interesting parts of the sky already, but there was one direction that was obscured by trees. I picked my way over plants I would ordinarily be unafraid to crush, slipping past the poison ivy and poison oak that line one of the paths into the woods from the road, and walked like a Hobbit into the field beyond.
But as I stood on the road after my second picture, admiring the dimensionality my camera had given to the photo, planning my third picture as a sunset shot come hell or high water, I had a thought.
My homeland has the most excellent sky.
Just a line. Just a term. Homeland.
That’s really what I’ve come to understand about West Virginia. I do not refer to the United States as my homeland. It is barely a nation, certainly not meaningfully so from a cultural standpoint. There are cultures and subcultures and high cultures and pop cultures, memes and street art and poetry bleeding together across state lines and from city to country. They share a few core tenets, but so too do the nations of the European Union. We are less a nation than a political entity. We are held together by the expectations of our parents and the convenience of our children. Our goals are not aligned. Our beliefs vary far beyond the diversity of our ancestors.
And I wonder if humanity will ever be good at permaculture, if diversity will ever work like we want it to on paper. The idea that the faults of one group are ameliorated by the strengths of others is a beautiful one, and one to chase, I suppose.
I may change my parlance from “my state” to “my homeland.” It is more accurate. I don’t care much for the organized force that is The State of West Virginia. I care much more for the six inches of topsoil and the soft, sweet wind that sweeps across the pastures. I care more for the people and the place than for the institution of it all. It may be that as a society (this being one of our central tenets nationwide) we have made the state a larger part of our lives than it ought to be. It is so much more visible now than it was in the past; NASA does Facebook Live videos and the president tweets and politicians have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts.
We should care more for the lives of the people across the street than for the condition of the roads in another state, yet here we are, outraged by the shortcomings of other places without holding ourselves accountable. It is, generally, easier to take others to task than to self-police.
For better or worse, y’all escapes my lips every day. For better or worse, I’m addicted to the scent of sassafras leaves and pale green lichen. I’m tied down to the bones of these mountains; not to blood that lives here, but to the ground itself. I hope I deserve to be here.