Left: Is there anything more calming and centering than the whispery patter of a light rain in the forest? (photo taken on one of the walking trails surrounding the Blue Ridge Assembly)
Black Mountain, North Carolina, is an amazing little town with a unique history. It is also stunningly beautiful, cozily nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which look like sapphire shadows in the distance. Up close, there are numerous black mountains, one big one in particular (see photo below). The town is named for the Black Mountain range, a subset of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has a very artsy history, with lots of innovative minds associated with the old Black Mountain College:
Black Mountain College was fundamentally different from other colleges and universities of the time. It was owned and operated by the faculty and was committed to democratic governance and to the idea that the arts are central to the experience of learning. All members of the College community participated in its operation, including farm work, construction projects and kitchen duty. Located in the midst of the beautiful North Carolina mountains near Asheville, the secluded environment fostered a strong sense of individuality and creative intensity within the small College community.The Board of Directors even included William Carlos Williams and Albert Einstein.
Legendary even in its own time, Black Mountain College attracted and created maverick spirits, some of whom went on to become well-known and extremely influential individuals in the latter half of the 20th century. A partial list includes people such as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Dorothea Rockburne and many others, famous and not-so-famous, who have impacted the world in a significant way. Even now, decades after its closing in 1957, the powerful influence of Black Mountain College continues to reverberate.
For these reasons, the town vibe is strongly experimental and open. It's perfect that our symposium should be in this special place.
Do yall know how much I love these mountains? I would kill for them. I am thinking I should have my ashes scattered thereabouts. Pardon lapse into morbidity, but the demise of our dear Aunt Laura, whom one expected to live forever, has shaken me. (I imagined her being interviewed by TV in 30 years: OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE GRANDCHILD TELLS ALL, something like that. "Well," she would say, "I think the important thing is to have lots of plants in your house, and to stay busy!"--and with that, she would tell you the names of her sundry robust plants and hoist a half-finished baby-blanket into the camera-frame.)
I found myself wandering the large buildings in the Blue Ridge Assembly, looking at group-portraits and photographic records of various Methodist and Baptist summer camps, stretching back to 1906. Where are all these people now? And then I thought about all the photos taken of me over the years, probably hanging in rooms just like those.
I ended up spooking myself, expecting to see ME in a photo, rather as Jack Nicholson showed up in that band-photo at the end of THE SHINING.
I was in Black Mountain for the annual Medicines from the Earth herbal symposium. I was driven to said event by the redoubtable Erica, who drives like Dale Earnhardt--who, it should be remembered, was known as The Intimidator. For a reason! Careening over and around mountains in an SUV woulda been jolly fun for me as a kid, but now? Aiyee. Admittedly, I was somewhat green around the gills.
Random sociological inquiry: Why do herbalists all look alike? Does anybody know? It's embarrassing, yet fascinating: a panoply of bamboo and hemp shirts, long hair, old-school dreadlocks, Indian skirts, Tevas and Birkenstocks, numerous tattoos and piercings, not to mention the cars covered with lefty bumper stickers. The shock of recognition was an ongoing joke all weekend, as we repeatedly remarked that newcomers "look like they're here for the conference"--and indeed, they were. We were all cut from the same cloth. How does that happen? Is it good or bad? I found it comforting and disorienting, all at once, as I always do.
"No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype."
Left: display by symposium sponsors GAIA HERBS.
Highlights included my favorite presenter, Cascade Anderson Geller, talking about how the medicinal herb Horsetail grass grew out of the ash of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption; an amazing example of how the earth regenerates itself.
The new trend in herbalism/health food (the two tend to morph together these days, now more than ever) is CHIA SEEDS, which everyone wants to know about. They are some pretty righteous seeds, so go out and start eating them immediately. Other interesting subjects include how to go gluten-free and how to go raw. (One of my own goals over the next year is to attempt a 75% raw diet.) It was great to network with other folks about this and other topics of interest to world-class flakes like ourselves.
Below left: the Blue Ridge Assembly. Below right: Black Mountain, NC.
Listening to: Led Zeppelin - Black Mountain Side