The following aired as a WVTF radio essay on June 15th.
“Mom, what do you want to be when you grow up?” My son Josh asked me once when he was a little boy.
I smiled and indulged him with an answer, “Probably a farmer.”
Both Josh and his younger brother Dylan regularly gave thanks to the farmers when we shared what we were grateful for around the dinner table. Although we didn’t come from a farming background, it was considered a noble vocation in our little family, which is why it seems fitting that Josh has grown up to be a farmer of sorts.
He harvests clay from the land. His market crop is the pottery he creates. With his homemade treadle wheel he makes pots and fires them with wood in a hand built kiln.
Born in Texas and raised in the Mountains of Virginia by a mother from Massachusetts and a father who was born in England, there was really no telling what direction Josh might take in life. I’m not surprised that he’s an artist. He’s been making art since he was old enough to hold a crayon, but the farming connection is one I’ve only recently fully recognized.
Living in the country now, outside of Asheville North Carolina, Josh is a good-old-boy with a twist. In his beat-up truck, he hauls clay instead of manure, bricks instead of animal feed. He carries a racquet for racquetball on the rifle rack in the truck cab. He’s currently building a kiln, the way a farmer might build a barn. He lives in a trailer, but it’s an Airstream called “the land yacht” that looks like a spaceship and has a disco ball hanging from the middle.
“The house is gone,” he told me over the phone the other day. He was referring to the old house on his property that he and some friends recently took down and salvaged for parts.
“You had the bonfire? Did you have friends over to help?”
“Yeah, the Volunteer Fire Department, and now I’m a member,” he said.
“You’re a fireman!?” I asked. "Are they going to train you?"
“I know something about fire, mom,” he reminded me.
After we hung up I remembered that when Josh was four years old he wore a yellow thrift shop slicker, rubber boots, and a red plastic fireman’s hat for weeks at a time. I pulled out the article titled “Building Community” that Josh had recently written for The Log Book, a pottery magazine. In it he described how fire was what first sparked his interest in woodfiring pottery. He wrote: I was mesmerized by the fire – the way it moved through the kiln, its long flames pushing their way through the waves with a velocity that bordered on violence, yet contained a sensitivity that left nothing disturbed.
Okay, a fireman makes sense; he works with fire everyday, but it also makes sense for another reason.
Many of us here in the rural county of Floyd are transplants – artists, crafters, musicians, herbalists, organic farmers – who dropped out of the mainstream to live a country lifestyle in community with others of like mind. During the 70’s and 80’s when the influx first began, locals and newcomers were like two distinct and separate communities. Since then, there’s been a more integration.
It was the kids of the Floyd alternative community who first paved the way for a meeting of the cultures. It wasn’t an easy thing to do and many of them felt like outsiders when they finally made the move from home-schooling (or The Blue Mountain School, our parent-run-cooperative) to public school. Josh and his home-schooled peers had a tight knit community of their own. They were proud of their upbringing, but they also knew the sting of being considered different. Eventually they earned the respect of the local community as they excelled in sports, acted in high school plays, dated local kids, worked at high school jobs, and became salutatorians and valedictorians of their classes.
Josh’s roots are diverse, but he’s grounded in the Appalachian Mountains, the bio-region that includes his childhood in Virginia and his current home in North Carolina. I’m not surprised he’s on the volunteer fire department in the rural town where he lives and belongs. Once he gets more settled, he’ll grow a good garden, and maybe even have a goat and some chickens.
~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on May 6, 2007.