My wife and I moved to Charlottesville from the mountains west of Asheville, North Carolina, the narrow Tuckasegee River valley tucked between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountain ranges that was the ancestral home of the Cherokee and one of the last strongholds of Appalachian culture. Apart from overflowing with natural beauty, it’s a land full of the ghosts and memories of how things used to be.
People who read this column regularly know I like to talk about 40-year problems, a reference to the fact that so many of the cultural questions posed in the late ’60s and early ’70s—racism, wars of intervention, tradition vs. progress, urban migration—are still the ones we’re wrestling with today.
My mother’s generation remembers the Foxfire books and the back-to-the-land movement, when people packed up from cities and suburbs and headed for the hills and hollers to get back in touch with a more authentic experience, to wrestle with the earth, and to build communities that hearkened back to the days of self-sufficiency and communal value systems.
A little bit up the road from here in the mountains of Central Virginia that spirit led people to Nelson County, where some of the protagonists of this week’s cover story on the Monticello Artisan Trail found their inspiration to master a craft that could earn them a living, but that, more importantly, would feed their souls.
These days, the pressure to commercialize what we love—to sell our stories, our voices, and our art—is intense. As consumers, it’s important to recognize the difference between the disposable, the extractive and the handmade, the conscientious. But I think it’s even more important to recognize that the people who dedicate their lives to learning timeless skills are sources of wisdom and reference points for who we are when you strip all the crap away.