When I left the grid and headed up a steep and curving road into one of the folds of the Blue Ridge, the world was abuzz with tales of white male misconduct. There was a headline case of white privilege used to mask acts of aggression against women. In social media, under the phrase “me too”, my friends, my community’s leaders, my former students, my colleagues— every woman I know— was using that phrase to make a political statement about abuse of power, intimidation and shame, and to stand strong in truth—usually long-buried truth.
The other bookend to my journey— on my descent from the Blue Ridge—was the opening of Bob Trotman’s exhibition at Davidson College, also about toxic white male privilege. It was no less pointed than Goya. Bob is outraged. The work was beautifully and imaginatively crafted and full of bite. This show about white men in suits (as well as one suited woman), was created by a white man who acknowledges the ironies of his position in the society his work is about— just as Goya was a courtier in the court he mocked. I don’t remember ever being present at any other gallery talk with an audience so full of powerful white men. I found that a little startling. May they be the change-agents .
In the days between these two political experiences, in the company of five best friends, I camped. We shared everything from the smallest twig to four story waterfalls, slept in the beginnings of winter’s cold, cooked over oak fires, ate, drank beer, and told stories. My phone had no signal. I slept beside the South Toe River so I could hear its music all night.
My friends all had interesting campers— one designed by the engineer who created the interior of the space shuttle, another custom-made to accommodate living and serious mountain biking, the third cozy and complete. I slept in my mid-sized tent, full of goose feathers that had escaped my sleeping bag, and ratty disorganized piles of clothing. I really must get organized I always tell myself. I take everything I need, and then can’t find it and have to borrow someone else’s. But, feathers aside, I found that the longer I stayed in that place, and walked those trails, the less wounded I felt, the less need I had for anything other than being. There was a first aid kit of bourbon I never felt the need to drink, and chocolates I never ate. I felt satisfied. I felt peace. I wasn’t trying to soothe some internal beast.
There were long soulful conversations with whomever you happened to be hiking beside. In the dark of clear night, beside the fire, a million stars overhead, deep wounds were talked about and as old and trusted friends, we brought what balm we could find to offer to those wounds. Among this group the predominant theme is always love and tolerance. Acceptance of exactly who you are at all times. If you are judged at all, you are judged to be worthy and wonderful. How I came to be blessed by such friendships I will never know. Some act of unfathomable grace. I believe I was soothed and loved back into living as much by these friendships as I was by the strident beauty around me and the eternal assurance that the earth we stand on is vast and powerful, intricate and interwoven, patterend, textured, and colored— the highest possible art form. And the “civilization” I’d left behind a silly, empty, mean-spirited joke.