We Are All Local - Little Worlds - At Paul and Laurie's


Paul (left) with Jim Hampton, Anderson Branch, Madison County, 2018.


Nia Cook.

Harry Rutten.


I've been going to Paul Gurewitz's house for dinner, parties, volleyball in the old days, 4th of July yearly, weddings, farkell, and just hanging out for over forty years. I've made a lot of pictures while there. But more recently, I've found myself shooting fewer photographs, just wanting to give it a rest and enjoy the company. And after a lifetime of making primarily people pictures, the photographs I am making these days are more likely landscapes.

At Paul's last weekend, a small group came over for pizza and pork, and music and singing. I had brought my camera, more out of habit, than with any intention to use it. So I was a little surprised when the light sucked me in; that soft evening light that happens around here, coupled with the softness of a young person's skin. Where's my camera? 

The light on Mr. Rutten was awful, but he got my attention with a version of The Lowland Sea that he just began singing acapella. I remembered the song from my time with Dellie Norton and her family in Sodom, who called it The Golden Vanity. Like Mr. Rutten they sang without accompaniment and somehow remembered the numerous verses.

And I'm just beginning to know this guy Jim Hampton. But he knew most of the words of my favorite Willie Nelson song, Hands on the Wheel, from the Red Headed Stranger album. It's kind of an obscure song and not many people play it. So, the fact he knew the song and could make a go of it helped turn the evening into another successful Gurewitz event.



We Are All Local - Little Worlds


Bobby Lewis, Doe Branch, Madison County, NC 2018


I wanted a smoke, but had left my pouch of Drum at the house and was at a party where I sensed there wouldn't be too many people to bum from. Standing with my friend who was hosting, my eye settled on an older woman sitting under a tree. I watched as she performed a classic smoker's ritual of reaching into her purse and pulling out a pack of Winstons, I think they were. 

Deborah and I approached her and she introduced me. "This is Bobby, our daughter-in-law's grandmother. She's 90 years old." Ninety years old and a smoker, I thought. This is a person I would like and enjoy talking with. To break the ice, I said, "Well, I gotta say, you look great for ninety, not a day over eighty-eight." She had a great laugh.

So, we sat together for a time - talking and smoking. She told me stories about being in Paris not long after World War II ended and the years she lived in Santa Fe. We laughed a fair amount and teased each other. 

I remember talking with my Father one time a few years before his death. He was talking about feeling lonely and said, "No one wants to talk to old people these days. Young people just ignore them." 

I thought of that conversation with my father as I was speaking with Bobby, staying dry under the tarp, smoking and laughing in the soft light of early evening. And, contrary to what my Father might have believed, I thought this ninety year old woman is the most interesting person here. And she had cigarettes to share. At one point she asked how old I was and I told her seventy. "You look good. You could pass for fifty-three." She won me with that comment.


We Are All Local - Little Worlds


Anna with Child, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018

I've had the good fortune to know Anna Woodruff since the day she was born, almost 38 years ago. And now look at her, almost barefoot, and certainly pregnant. And glowing. I have photographs of Anna as a young child, growing up on Big Pine, and she has that same irrepressible smile and openess in those images from long ago that she has today. I can't wait to meet her and Marco's baby. 

There is a long and storied tradition of giving quilts for births, weddings and friendship in our little Madison County community, one that has been ongoing for forty years. This quilt is not so much a part of that community tradition, but a gesture of love from Anna's sister, Jenny, and her close friend, Olivia Shealy. The design is called Bargello, a quilting term today that originated in Italy in the 17th Century as needlepoint embroidery. This was Jenny and Olivia's first attempt at using this pattern.

Quilts are not only physical coverings, but are also symbolic embraces from the community that made it. An offering of protection. Of warmth. Of comfort. What I love, as a person whose son received one of the first quilts made in the community, is the continuation of the tradition. That quilt from 38 years ago was organized by Anna's mother Libby. 

Marco looked at me, patted Anna's belly, and said, 
"Look what I've done, Rob."

I think of Joni Mitchell.

Olivia, Jenny, Anna, and Anna's partner Marco Buch with Quilt, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018


We Are All Local - Little Worlds


Robert Peebles, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 1983


Another March. Another March Madness.
But this year has special resonance as
It's the 35th Anniversary of NC State winning the championship.
Our friends Robert and Jane are diehard Wolfpack fans,
And their boys are in the tournament again this year.
So, here's to NC State and Lorenzo Charles.
May they be victorious.
And may it happen quickly.
So the rest of us can change the channel.

We Are All Local


French Broad River, Madison County, 1978.


In 1978 my friend John Rountree and I made a canoe trip the length of the French Broad River. We called it The River Trip. We started just outside of Rosman and ended at Lake Douglas in east Tennessee. John had received some monies from the Tennesse Valley Authority and Mars Hill College to do a photographic survey of the French Broad and I was along for the ride. The French Broad was a mess in those days. We passed numerous industrial plants dumping raw effluents, cows wading, defecating, and dying in the river, and remote areas used as community dumpsites. In Madison County in those days many families straight-piped directly into creeks that emptied into the river. 


Barnard Park, French Broad River, Madison County, NC 1989.


This problem of water pollution wasn't isolated to the French Broad. Rather, it was a national issue and most everyone remembers stories of the Cuyahoga River in northern Ohio spontaneously catching fire one summer day from all of the industrial waste. So, in 1972, under Richard Nixon's administration, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. Altogether, this has been a good law for the land that has benefited all of us. In Madison County, over 50,000 people raft the French Broad River annually and trout fishing is now estimated to be a $384 million dollar industry in western North Carolina. The River Arts District in Asheville is now a nationally-known destination for art lovers and beer aficionados. All made possible by the quality of our water.


To the Swimming Hole, Big Pine Creek, Madison County, NC 2011.


So now I read that the new Administration, especially the EPA director, wants to roll back regulation and eliminate the Clean Water Act. They want to make it okay once again for industries to dump their waste into our rivers and streams - places where we take our children and families to picnic, get cool on hot summer days, and fish. 

They say this is about Freedom and jobs. But for me, the reasoning behind this way of thinking is pretty evident - it's about money, more money in the hands of their benefactors, their industry cronies, and their friends. They act like they are populists, working for the good of the common man, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Every common man knows that only a fool would foul his own nest, yet that is exactly what this new administration is preaching, or selling. Our nests get fouled while their nests get feathered.