24 August 2007

Lamp Induced Wanderings

There was a time, not so long ago, when all a person had for light at night was a few candles, a lamp if he were lucky, and the light from the fire on the hearth. Back in those days, people rose early and retired to bed not long after the sun set in the west - not because they had worked hard all day on the farm, which they most assuredly did - but rather because there is not much one can do in the semi-darkness of lamplight (and most of those things take place in bed anyway - wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?).

These words which you are reading have been transcribed from paper and were written - late at night - by lamplight. For over three hours now I have been sitting in the semi-darkness our ancestors experienced every night of their lives. A storm blew through these hills - a primeval force of wind, rain and lightning - and the electricity that we all take for granted vanished in a flash. [Transcribing note: I understand that thousands of folk in the Chicago area are currently without power due to a similar storm]

As I sit in the lamplight, I stare at the darkened screen of my monitor and - as often happens when the unexpected occurs - I am forced to see things in a different... well, light.

The light, in fact, of a hurricane lamp, which I keep at hand for just such occasions. When one lives out in the boonies, one has a recurring experience of being without power. Especially during a time of drought, when trees are weakened and the wind is more likely to topple one onto a power line.

Darrell King (Rev. Isaiah Sims), Wes Martin (Dan'l Boone) and Mark Woodard (Dr. Geoffrey Stuart) in Horn in the West

Some years ago I lived in Boone, NC and for several summers was a cast member of the outdoor drama Horn in the West. Horn tells the fictionalized story of the first European settlers (meaning, in actuality, invaders) in the mountains along what is now the North Carolina - Tennessee border, and how they joined the cause of Liberty against the tyranny and oppression of the British Crown - in the person of George III.

I wonder, do many people in America today ever think about how solitary the existence of these mountain folk was? And not just the people living in these ancient mountains, but the vast majority of the people on the continent?

Today, we think nothing of getting in our cars and driving to the next town for business (or pleasure). We travel at 65 (or more) miles per hour on the Interstate highways. For example, I have dear friends who live a little more than 40 miles from the Secret Lair (aka '73 Winnebago), and I try to visit them as often as I am able (and have the bucks for gas to get there and back). It takes about 45 minutes to get from here to there.

Back "in the day" it would have been a full day's travel - or more. And yet our forebears, despite the extreme isolation under which most lived, banded together and fought for freedom.

The settlers living in the High Country and the easternmost Cumberland plateau were relatively untouched by the war raging in the flatlands to the east until the British major Patrick Ferguson issued a statement that said, in part, "Therefore, if you do not desist in your opposition to the British arms, I will march my men over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste to your country with fire and sword." Under the leadership of Col. John Sevier, they formed the Overmountain Men(wiki link, but it's accurate), marched across the mountains and were instrumental in the defeat of the British at the battle of King's Mountain ( a bit west of Charlotte).

Today, by contrast, we sit at our computers, log on to “friendly” blogs, and bitch and gripe about the oppressions and repressions of our current government - in the person of our very own George III.

The spirits of the Overmountain Men, and all others who have fought (and died) for the cause of Liberty, are angry at us for our relative complacency. What will it take for us to get off our McAsses and do something?

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