On this West Virginia Morning, Willie Carver was Kentucky’s teacher of the year in 2021, but as a gay man, he and some of his students were harassed. So, in 2022, he resigned from Montgomery County High School. Last summer, he released Gay Poems for Red States. The book earned praise and helped turn Carver into a much-followed, outspoken voice on social media. Bill Lynch caught up with Carver.
Ideas don’t happen in vacuums. When I began putting together the rough list of topics for “Lore,” I borrowed heavily from my previous newspaper column, which had me doing all kinds of things for a month at a time.
Some of the “Lore” topics were things I’d meant to try but had never gotten around to doing anything with. Nearly all were woodsy, which is a weak spot for me.
I prefer to experience the great outdoors in bite-sized, easy to digest servings and would rather sleep in my car than camp.
Still, I wanted to push myself. So, my initial list included fire building, wild mushroom foraging and deer hunting.
“What? Am I trying to get on ‘Survivor?’” I thought.
Truth be told, I did apply to get on “Survivor” once. I thought it would be cool. No one from West Virginia (as far as I know) has ever been a contestant, though there have been a few Appalachians.
I don’t know if any of them have ever won, though.
As I was preparing to start “Lore,” I talked it over with news director Eric Douglas. I shared my ideas and he agreed that I’d come up with a curriculum meant for someone studying to be a cave man.
Building fires and finding basic foods in the wild had more to do with basic survival. It didn’t have an Appalachian feel, even though, sure, people do that.
My list was falling short, but as I was listening to an Inside Appalachia Folkways story about Lost Creek Farms, something co-owner Amy Dawson said stuck with me.
“If you live on a farm, you just do food prep all the time –and preservation,” she said.
A great deal of Appalachian culture begins around certain notions of rural life with families living on small farms.
So, I stopped thinking so much about hunter/gatherers and imagined an old couple, living out in a holler somewhere and what their lives might be like. I didn’t see them as poor, but as self-reliant and thrifty. Maybe they grew a garden and got their water out of a well. Maybe they cooked over a wood stove because they lived in their childhood home and the stove their parents used still worked.
Maybe the old man hunted every fall. He probably looked forward to it and enjoyed it, but taking a deer was more than “sport.” It was meat in the freezer over the winter.
I imagined this couple telling their grandkids stories by firelight or teaching them to dance out in the yard because neither the internet nor Netflix had made it out to the end of their road.
What these people might know interested me and so, I began writing down what I’d want them to teach me. It gave me a place to start, and the list of wants grew to include things that had nothing to do with that old couple I imagined.
It’s a pretty good list. Who knows if I’ll get to all of it, but there’s a lot to learn.
H. Byron Ballard is a practicing witch in Asheville, North Carolina and the author of four books about the craft, including her latest, “Small Magics: Practical Secrets from an Appalachian Village Witch.”
Inside Appalachia loves books and writers – and if you’re looking for summer book recommendations, we’ve got a bunch. This is our summer reading episode, featuring some of our favorite notable author interviews from over the past several months.