I was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee. Well, not so much a mountaintop as in a hospital. Still, the point is that I was born in Tennessee and that's what I have to say whenever I cross the border into Canada. My mother was, as I heard it, among the very first in the state in these more modern times to use a natural childbirth method so I entered the world "alternative" and "natural". She and Dad were seniors in college at the time enjoying Bluegrass music and being crazy, young, newly wed, long-haired leftist types. After I came along, they dressed me in denim overalls and took me along to the coffee house to hang out with the musicians and the radicals... and thus began my liberal education. One of my favorite pictures of myself is at my first birthday party, looking up at my parents' good friend, Ed Snodderly, as he played a tune on my tiny toy piano.
We didn't stay in Tennessee long. My folks moved on to Richmond and then Boston and finally back home to New York so my father could finish his grad work. I'm a Southerner by birth but not by heritage or upbringing. Our family has New England and New York history that goes centuries back. That I was conceived and born in Tennessee has been a bit of a family joke. It explains, my parents say, why I've always loved to be barefoot. I think because my personality is very type A, uptight and northeastern, it amuses my free spirit parents to remind me that the neighbors brought soup beans to the house to celebrate my birth.
Yesterday, here in the small New York where my parents grew up (as did many generations before them), my mother and I were standing together listening to a Bluegrass band playing in the gazebo at the Commons, a little park just big enough for a baseball diamond and a little playground. I was feeling that strong sense of place I often do when surrounded by the grand old Victorian homes and oak trees on the streets where my parents met and fell in love. This is truly home. Listening to the music, Mom commented that she missed Tennessee. I asked her what she missed. It was the music, and the mountains and the people she missed. We stood and listened to the bluegrass band sing of death and loss, sorrow and hopefulness in the good old way. It is good music that makes you want to cry and dance at the same time.
I'll never know just how much of my parents' joyfulness in their Tennessee home remains forever with me in my personality. They were poor there but surrounded by friends and full of the confidence of those times that faith in the good can conquer even the greatest sorrows. It does me good to remember that when a critical look at this world's troubles brings me low. I think of my Tennessee nativity as one of my secret superpowers. I'm too hopeful, too confident in the good will of simple, loving, and faithful people to be broken. I'm too familiar with the way the heart can leaven sorrow with humor and good old-fashioned faith. I'm a typical New Yorker in many ways- analytical, depressive, obsessive and rushed. But just when you think you know me, you'll find me dancing to Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
So have a look what the good people in my birth state have been doing on behalf of the mountaintops of Tennessee. It makes me proud right down to my bare toes.
Sierra Club Insider: Tennessee Rocks!
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