By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
When the former Kentucky poet laureate and Perry County native, Gurney Norman, wrote his novel Divine Right's Trip, our country was in the midst of many wars. We were fighting an uncertain war in Vietnam. A cultural war was happening within our own country between those who felt the establishment was driving us to collapse and the status quo. The Civil Rights Movement was underway and gaining ground. In our very own Kentucky mountains, the War on Poverty had begun as men and women fought for their right to work for a fair wage and in the safest environments possible. It was a transitional time, much like our home is experiencing now. While we have had good times and bad times since that era, what I am realizing is that the mountain people have never transitioned completely from this upheaval that truly began long before the 60s-70s. This transition was a forced one, much like a woman's contractions in labor can be began, sped up, or slowed down on a whim through outside means, the people in mountain coal country were coerced into an economic and lifestyle model that was unsustainable. It was utterly dangerous, and if we aren't diligent and willing to "go to war", it will happen again and again.
“Yeah,” said Virgil. “It’s mighty hard times around here these days. If it wasn’t for food stamps and the Happy Pappys some folks would starve plum to death, that ain’t no lie. A lot of ‘em are hungry like it is. Of course I’ve seen it when it was worse, and a man’s got to count his blessings I reckon. My daddy mined coal in this country in the nineteen twenties, no union or nothing in here then, and you talk about mean times, them times was mean. Of course they’s not enough union left worth speaking about, but what I mean is, now, you take this Happy Pappy program. Take all this welfare stuff. It ain’t nothing but a sop to keep the people from acting up. That’s all in the world it is, and yet everybody wants to make so much out of it. Everybody give the President so much credit for coming in here and setting it up. All the President was doing was laying out a sop to try to keep the lid on things. And I mean to tell you, buddy, the lid was about to pop around here a year or two ago. It was like a time of war nearly. People were hungry, out of work, losing their hospital cards, getting their pensions cut, little old younguns going around with worms in their bellies, some of ‘em half naked in the wintertime. I mean they wasn’t nothing else to do but go to war. Big gangs of men roving up and down the highways, stopping cars, shooting, getting shot at. They was a tipple burnt ever day for two straight weeks up in your county, two or three railroad bridges went up, people’s cars and house dynamited.” -Gurney Norman, Divine Right’s Trip, 1971
If we consider the history of how these mountains were settled, we recognize the caliber of individual that chose to make them their home. It was of course the adventure filled pioneer, but it was also those considered criminals. It was the person with a fierce desire for independence. Those who wished to hide. It was the down trodden and the beaten up who sought asylum in these hills. The Kentucky mountains as much of Central Appalachia, was inhabited by a people willing to stick with their tribe in order to be fully able to "go it" on their own.
I have to agree with Virgil as he spoke in the quote above. It is hard to see that the War on Poverty has helped our region in any tangible ways. While we might not see many children running naked in the wintertime any longer, we must factor in that times have changed and how poverty looks has changed. Poverty can be hidden these days, and hidden well. This region of Kentucky is experiencing yet another mass exodus of people and minds in search of reasonable, fulfilling work as we have so many times in the past. What worries me most about this transition time is the possibility that as a people we'll let a huge opportunity once again pass us by. This is the opportunity to reclaim our land and economy to manage as our own. It is the opportunity to get back to the willpower and guts that brought our ancestors here in the first place. Independence.
Generations of men, women, and children in my homeland have been worrying and pondering as Virgil does each time this book is read anew. This type of worry began when outside influences came to tell us of our poverty and backward ways. Ideas were planted and weaknesses manipulated. We were fed pipe dreams for the purposes of a dollar. I can't help but feel that our collective unconscious was made a slave in those days and we remain so today. What new industry will come in a make the promises of coal? Natural gas? The prison industry? Will we buy into it only to be used up and left to struggle again when the industry collapses or our government sees fit to move toward another favored industry? Will we continue to accept the welfare system as our means to a livelihood, teaching our children to get the most out of it - not because we are mooches, but because we have to in order to survive? Will we continue to accept servitude over the legacy given us by our very first mountain ancestors?
"We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves." -Thomas Merton
As I have written here before, I believe the answer to our current dilemma is diversification. We begin by working with what we have. That's where we have always began. The answer isn't more government programs. The answer is in our hands. We need to reach out and grab it!
I see so many positive people in our communities working hard toward seeing this opportunity into our new reality. Families and individuals have reclaimed small scale farming as a supplemental or replacement income and are making it viable. Some brave souls are becoming entrepreneurs and sacrificing so much of their time to dedication to their business and community. Ingenious folks are working toward promoting area artists and craftspeople. Others are working toward adventure tourism. Right now, these efforts don't seem to amount to much on the large scale, but it is providing an example of the things that are possible for us. There are more ideas for all of us where those came from.
My Dad has said to me before, "What do these people think we all want to do, sit around the campfire in the dark and sing Kum-Ba-Ya all night with nothing to eat? I hope they know how to build a campfire." Those fighting in this War on Coal haven't presented reasonable solutions to the common mountain folks. As our people have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, fortified by mining jobs, without a need for college, this transition will be difficult. It is a time in which we'll have to reclaim our story as told by us. This is the time to dredge up the past, our mysterious and inspiring past, in order to give us all the umph needed to fight this war. There's nothing else to do but go to war. We have to fight for ourselves. This is a war of the heart and mind. It isn't a need of being saved. This is the reality of sink or swim.
This is the current situation in the hen house. Sitting hens and their guard sister. Women folk getting about the business of doing what they do. They depend on me.
These two girls do too. They wait for me morning and evening for their attention and food.
I'm pretty sure that my efforts saved this girl's life. She requires feedings, walks, grooming, and attention.
And... there's these three. Building pirate ship bunk bed forts in the morning after plates of DQ gravy and biscuits, power outages, changed diapers, band aids, smiles, and tears.
These pictures were all taken today. This is my day. Most every day. A constant giving of life needs and comforts that make living happily for these people and friends possible. It's the hardest work I've ever known and yet it is the most important.
Sometimes I get in such a routine of day in and day out, I forget that my heart and mind are demanding more of me. They are demanding I feel this life and live it with all I have. That I, who is constantly apologizing, live it unapologetically. It isn't any coincidence that the more you learn about yourself and the reality of life, the more life can ache. Falling back on the routine, and going about it as you always have, can be a way to numb that ache.
Get your slop boots on.
Shoulder 50 pound feed bags across the yard and pour two in the big barrel drum.
Get them fed and some good yard greens in their run.
Watering takes 3 gallon jugs filled by squatting over the creek - hands in cool water and minnows with their babies grazing your fingers.
Try to look not melancholic, or full of thoughts, or tired, but never can quite pull it off. Wondering if I will always be that girl who feels, thinks, and worries about her impact on others just a little too much. Hoping one day the fire in my heart will gleam in my eyes.
A moment down the path to my special place. It kind of hurts to breathe. To be alone. To feel alone.
A reward from the kind Mother after a walk with my daughters and our dog through the fields. You are ok. You are supported. Remind yourself. She says.
Check on the garden. The grass desperately needs mowed.
Yoga and breath. Yoga and release. Then, it comes. The fire in my heart chakra and solar plexus. It burns uncomfortably hot. It has a wash of tears behind it, like a flood that wants to drench the flame, but the flame says absolutely NOT! I'm here. I'm... here. I'm HERE!
That's the moment that you realize the routine is a cloud. It can completely blur the feeling that comes from wanting to know what all is possible for me. What all I can really offer others who want to be there with me. What example I can be for the women I am raising. Being in the cloud deadens the ache, the burning, the churning stomach. The release is when I know there is so much more to be done. So far to go. It's the moment I want someone with heavy arms to hold me so I can just be and feel, and figure this all out. I'm ready to grow. The energy is there. So much energy. It really is the hardest feeling I have ever had to feel. Deep fears of my entire life made into a truth holding the answer to who I really am. And, I lay in savasana trying not to think my way out of feeling it. Knowing it is there and meaningful, and longing to share itself.
Every day by default is Earth Day here at the Confluence, so we didn't do anything out of the ordinary to celebrate. For me, today has been one of those weirdly productive days. Those are few and far between. School went beautifully - even math! I cooked three meals. Dishes are washed and kitchen is swept. I've done a load of laundry and changed the bed linens. I've fed the chickens and goats. I bathed all three little gals and myself. I submitted a manuscript. And... we dug another lasagna bed.
When you are homesteading (sort of) and the partner isn't home long enough to mow grass on most weeks, you become industrious. The goal is to grow most of our vegetables ourselves. Organic produce is hard to come by in these parts, and that is what we desire. I love growing things and always have. So, I came up with a plan to do it myself with the simple garden tools we had on hand. Lasagna beds cost nothing.
Step One - Be ready to work and don't be a whiner. Oh, and grab your tools.
We found this shovel in the hills. I have no clue what type it is, but it makes the work simple and easy on the back.
Step Two - Get down and dirty... remove the sod layer and set it aside to use later. I remove it in rectangles. You'll end up with this.
Step Three - Make a trench. You can make a deep or shallow one. I have beds where I have done both. The deeper ones will require more filling and I save those for when I have cardboard to use. I'm starting to believe all that isn't necessary though, so this one ended up 5 inches deep all around. I make the trench by loosening the dirt with the hoe and shoveling it out. Put the dirt aside. This is your topsoil and you will use it later.
Step Four - Fill your trench with organic debris. I gathered mine from the forest floor. It's sticks and leaves mostly. The girls wanted to put in some goat poop, so I said "have at it." Deladis added a rotting plum too. Whatever. As long as it will contribute to rich, healthy soil. One of the buckets you see next to the bed is composted chicken manure. We will use that in a later step. Yes, sometimes good food requires playing in poop.
Step Five - Top the debris with the sod. Turn the clumps grass side down to kill out the weeds and grass.
Step Six - Mix your manure and topsoil on top of this and spread evenly. Use the hoe to break up clumps. Surround your bed with some kind of barrier to set it apart from the yard. Voila! You're done.
Let the bed rest a day or so and then plant it. I plant veggies much closer together in these beds than a traditional garden and still get good yield. This bed took about two hours to make. We'll see how well it does. The point is that it is doable for a lone mother with littles around all the time. The girls loved helping. Gweneth thought the wind was going to blow her away, but she hung tight. The goats ate the buds off of all my irises too. It's a give and take. Good luck if you give it a try!
The rains came washing the cold away, making all things new.
When we moved back to the mountains after seven years of being away, our ambitions were high. The plan was to homestead. John was going to paint and play music. We'd travel as a family to festivals to sell his wares and talents. It seemed a simple plan at the time. Implementing it was another thing all together.
Plans have changed now and yet things are slowly progressing toward the original vision. I handle most of the homesteading duties as I tend to homeschooling and homemaking. Our garden is not a huge plot with a bounty to sell at market. It is now several raised beds and lasagna beds in our side yard. It produces enough for our family for two seasons and a bit to can or freeze. The gardening doesn't take me away from the cabin and is manageable for the girls and I.
This week we put in strawberries, a variety of lettuces and salad greens, and spinach. We also joined a program in our region called Grow Appalachia that will support our efforts this season.
Gardening in your pjs is a technique we've mastered.
We also added two new farm friends to our two cats and twenty chickens. Snow White and Sunflower are Kiko/Boer mix nanny goats. They're less than two years old. Their breeds are good for both milk and meat, however, here they will be lawn care and pets. I'd love to have fresh, raw, goat milk, but I also dream of traveling. Asking a friend to milk your goats is a little more than I think we can pull off at this point. Trying to take it a step at a time. Thinking manageable.
Plans evolve. The spring rains wash away the heaviness of the winter and life moves forward into rebirth. The blessing is that we can adapt as our heart leads.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide