“Many people look to the outdoors to find peace of mind. For Paul Stiffler, better known as Ponytail Paul, the Appalachian Trail and its thru-hikers have been the therapeutic force needed to turn his life around. Paul has taken on a role as “Trail Angel” to help thru-hikers on their 2,186-mile journey and help himself find a new sense of purpose in the process.”
– From Vimeo Description
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
– From “London” by William Blake
Two centuries ago, William Blake lamented the systemic ails of a leviathan called London. This April, I visited that beast. Though I had a blast, I sympathize with Blake’s song of experience. So much of London is chartered and paved; so little is wild and green. As much should be expected of the cultural, political mecca that reached its height of influence by sending subjects abroad to colonize and “improve” foreign lands (i.e., plow it over and eradicate the natives).
Four days into the venture, I struck out in search of wilder-things in this concrete jungle.
“Western climbers have hired Nepal’s Sherpas to do the most dangerous work on Mount Everest. It’s a lucrative way of life in a poor region, but no service industry in the world so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients.”
– From Vimeo Description
“It was good to be back in the wilderness again, where everything seems at peace.” – Richard Proenneke
I guess I had a busy winter, which seems like a weak excuse for taking it easy. With birthdays and holidays, I always find it hard to escape during the off-season. I’ve been outside plenty but I haven’t found myself at peace on an empty trail in some months. Barky, Slob and I set out to remedy that injustice as March became April and winter became spring.
Our destination was a chunk of backcountry called Panthertown Valley in the eastern corridor of Nantahala National Forest. If you’ve never heard of Nantahala, you wouldn’t be faulted. It’s tucked in the far southwestern corner of North Carolina and has some flashy neighbors. To the southeast is Gorges State Park. Immediately south is Georgia’s Black Rock Mountains State Park and Chattahoochee National Forest. To the northeast rises NC’s Pisgah National Forest and Mount Mitchell State Park, the tallest temple of earth in the eastern United States. Immediately to the north stretches the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is God’s country.
“Over the past 250 years, the world’s oceans have absorbed about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide that humans have put into the air by burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide lowers the pH of oceans, turning waters more acidic. The Northwest is home to some of the most corrosive waters on earth… Under rising emissions scenarios, ocean acidity may increase 100 to 150 percent by the end of the century. In response, farmers are using new technologies to monitor the acidity levels of hatchery waters. Young scientists are devoting their careers to understanding risk and resilience.”
– From Desciption on Vimeo
After Old Crow Medicine Show’s triumphant Carry Me Back and the hey-that’s-damn-catchy Remedy (both with ATO Records), I have paced in anticipation, I have salivated, I have hoped and dreamed of the next Old Crow release. And, lo! It cometh!
On April 28, 2017, Old Crow released their first record with Columbia Nashville, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. I had hoped to write a full review of the new album but what’s the point? 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is a live, bluegrass-ish, track-for-track cover of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde. The zeitgeist of Dylan-cred has haunted Old Crow tracks from “Wagon Wheel” to “Sweet Amarillo.” Old Crow’s frontman, Ketch Secor, even shares co-authoring credits with Dylan for “Wagon Wheel,” making it less of a cover and more like a collaboration with a 25-year gap between writings and recordings. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is not “Wagon Wheel” but a forgettable tribute album at best. Do you know what’s more fun than listening to Old Crow’s 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde? Listening to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Old Crow really dialed-it-in on this one. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde is as interesting as Faith Hill covering “Piece of My Heart” or (dare I say?) Darius Rucker covering “Wagon Wheel.”
Instead, carry me back to 2012 and Old Crow’s Carry Me Back…
At long last, Barky has shat in the woods! Archivists take heed for History trembles, prostrate to the deeds of great adventurers.
To put this momentous occasion into perspective, Barky has spent numerous multi-day excursions in the backcountry – trips that include lots of coffee and carb-heavy food. Yet, until April 2017, at the tender age of 30, Barky had never taken a shit of any kind in the woods.
It became a joke. I laughed for want to weep, watching Barky bolt to the nearest toilet as soon as we returned from the woods to our civil comforts. One Christmas, I gifted Barky a roll of toilet paper, an orange-plastic trowel, and a copy of Kathleen Meyer’s seminal masterpiece, How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Coincidentally, that was the very day that I met the woman whom Barky would wed. I am uncertain whether she found the gift humorous or thought that Barky should invest in new friends. Either way, we’re still friends and I feel that my encouragement has added experience to Barky’s life.
Shitting in the woods is a practical and perfectly human skill. Humans have popped backcountry squats for tens of thousands of years before indoor plumbing and the first flush toilet ushered our bumbling species into the modern-era. Pooping is a natural function of the natural world. I shit. Therefore, I am.
To say that the Pine Hill Haints are the greatest artists to ever come out of Alabama would be unfair in that it limits the Haints to Alabama. Their vision can, at times, be hard to swallow. Not quite familiar and not quite foreign, the Haints tap elements of bluegrass, classic and alt country, honky tonk, rockabilly, American and Irish folk, calypso, punk, and grunge. They play in Genre Purgatory. To describe their sound, the Haints themselves have coined the phrase “Alabama Ghost Music” but such a label suggests that there exists some subculture, some ghost-music scene, in the Yellowhammer State. Really, Alabama Ghost Music is a genre of one, the Pine Hill Haints — or maybe a genre of five if you include Rise Up Howlin Werewolf, the Natchez Shakers, the Wednesdays, and Counter Clockwise (though all these bands are overshadowed by and even share musicians with the Haints).
On stage, I’ve heard guitarist/lead-singer Jamie Barrier say that they play “country music,” “sittin’ music,” “dancin’ music.” Their various roots-music influences are easy to hear. I did not tune-in to the grunge flair until Jamie started strumming the chords to Nirvana’s “About A Girl” (“I need an easy friend…”) during a soundcheck before a show in Mobile. I caught myself singing along and forever after listened to the Haints in a whole new way. Closer to the truth, Jamie has also called it “dead music.” The Haints sing the ghosts of Alabama, of the southern condition. Ghost Dance is their masterpiece.
Graduates of the Class of 2017, I am sorry. On behalf of humanity, I apologize for humanity. The sky is falling, the well has run dry, the end is nigh, and you have come too late to party at the emerald-goggled, cluster-fuck kegger that was the modern age. For that, for all of humanity’s irrevocable misdeeds, I apologize. Those who remain are left with one final task as our species slips from its autumnal years to wintry dementia and ultimately to darkness. We must sit and breathe and read.
“I’d just like to talk to you about life in general and what’s happening to that life on this shrinking planet with dwindling resources because, no matter what the nature of the force that created this earth and its inhabitants is, it deserves our deep and abiding respect.” – John Wayne