The sun rises slowly at my parents' house. Tucked back into a corner of a hill on the edge of Green Ridge and Brushy Mountain, it takes a while for the morning's light to make its way over ridges and into windows. I stay in the attic when I'm there, where the vaulted ceiling catches those first rays and cradles them over my sleeping self. I love my parents' attic. It's cozy, and collected, and when I'm there, I sleep with the assurance that my Dad and my Mom are right down the stairs, snoring away in their own bedroom. That attic holds me, and the mountains hold that attic.
I hate not living in the mountains, hate it with more passion than I can muster up for almost anything else in life. I miss the Blue Ridge with visceral longing - I can feel it rising in my chest and welling up in my tear ducts. There are not enough words to explain how or why or in what manner those mountains have held me, shaped me, patterned me after their own lifespan.
But I do not live there, and have not lived there for some time, now. It's hard, to go home. I left a long time ago, lived across the state and across the continent. Appalachia works on its people in ways that other places' peoples do not understand. Honor is a thing, there, and family, and tradition. But so are kindness, and hospitality, and welcoming the stranger as if she were your sister. There's a thickness to Appalachia that I cannot explain and I cannot shake. Life feels so strung out and so thin, everywhere else.
It is not always a good thing to be this way. "Thick," "dense," "opaque," "impenetrable" - the connotations certainly apply. We've got racism and ignorance in spades, outdated gender norms, backwards politics and crazy-ass snake handling religion. People in my own family argued against education when I left for college, warning me about letting all that thinking rob me of my Jesus.
But the thickness serves a purpose. Relationships are netted. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows how you know everybody else. Doing things the same way means there are certain practices that are slowly, slowly being perfected: barbecue, for one and bluegrass, for another.
And then there's the strange collusion of thickness and pressure, producing some precise, particular beauty. Like the thin seams of coal hidden in the core of so many of these mountains, all that thickness has potential. It can run steam engines and heat human homes. And should it find itself under extreme pressure, in extreme heat, that thick carbon coal can sometimes become a bright, clear diamond.
I suppose that's what I wish were true: that all the thickness of home is thick for a reason, that there is pressure being applied, that the mountains are bearing down upon us in order to transform us, to perfect us, to change these dense and dusty coal mining people into precious, priceless diamonds.
But I don't really believe that to be true. If I did, I'd return there and live there and subject myself to the refining weight of the Blue Ridge, shoulder the mountain yoke and bear the burden of honest identity. Instead, I am up here in No-Man's Land, running from responsibility and wriggling out of my mountain inheritance. The sun rises quickly, here outside the valley's protection. But it sets just as soon, and its rays are thin without the refraction of the ridges.
I miss the mountains.