“Have you lived here all of your life?”
“No, not yet.”
I’ve lived in Virginia most of my 75 years. Maybe I’m provincial for I am influenced by my environment in Virginia. Virginia does not have high rank in many lists of desirable characteristics, accomplishments, strengths, and desirable human conditions. It’s OK, but that word may be a pseudonym for “provincial.” There are political forces here that influence education and the people around me. There are abundant people in poverty. Tax bases for the State as well as communities are limited. Turn-over rates in employment and thus ideas and innovations are low. Central Appalachia is not a happy place, in song, dance, art, or ideas. It is a place to survive, to keep on keeping on. Lynchburg, in the Piedmont, where I grew up was a black racist and white snobbish place, out-competed by Roanoke, and without a vision. It and its surrounding communities was a provincial small province of Virginia. I had every right to be provincial.
Central Appalachia is not a happy place, in song, dance, art, or ideas. It is a place to survive, to keep on keeping on. Lynchburg, in the Piedmont, where I grew up was a black racist and white snobbish place, out-competed by Roanoke, and without a vision. It and its surrounding communities was a provincial small province of Virginia. I had every right to be provincial.
Television changed some of that. It let the light in. The differences became clear, beyond what could be taught in a few hours of schooling (about 5000 hours is my wager). The differences between what we had and what others had were shown to us on the monitor. Some of us were “dissonant,” troubled by the difference between the present and the possible. Others, poor and powerless, knew well how to survive. There is no entitlement; life just is. It is a waste of time to think about the impossible. People live what they have or are given. Some inherit more than others. That is the way it is.
I went to Oregon in 1952 and saw Douglas fir trees. Each tree, an enormous thing, had more wood in it than any acre of forest I had seen in Virginia. Engineers were hired to move these complex masses out of the forests. Conditions for growth are very different in different parts of the world.
I went to Idaho in 1965. I had come from mountains and I had lectured and pleaded with landowners to try to stop erosion from their slopes. My Virginia hills were millions of years old, well-rounded, eroded away Himalayan-sized mountains. They eroded badly in some areas but in Idaho I saw young mountains from shifting lands and volcanoes and they eroded whole sides of them, carved deep valleys, and left deep house-covering “earthen fans.” Erosion was out of scale; day-log events moving the same amount of earth as year-long processes back home. The effects, amounts, residuals were unimaginable. They had to be seen on site.
I went to China in 1991 and saw what was meant by a “human population explosion” and “tables of human density data.” One night I asked a conductor on a train speeding through the countryside of Northern China, “Do you like your job?”
My translator told me that the man could not comprehend my question. He had a job. That in itself was a good condition. In those years there were no alternatives. Any job is your lot in life. You live what is; what is given.
With Blair Jones, Charles Smart, and others I developed for Virginia a statewide geographic information system before such things were called a GIS. It changed the scale of my thought from a state map on the wall or a fold-up in the glove compartment of the car to map cells or picture elements (pixels) of about 27 acres each. In my computer I “knew” 50-100 factors about each cell in Virginia, all 1,013,902 of them. I was no longer thinking about my back yard, the town, the county … but about the best place for a power corridor … one among the thousands of possibilities between two designated points … and then “what if one of the proposed points (for delivery) was changed?”
I have a pottery chard on my desk from a sand dune in Nigeria, 1990, a dune half covering and engulfing the home of a family. The desert was on the move. Deserts, once forests, were now on the move in China too. I met the person in charge of stopping them. He would fail, for he did not have the time, money, or staff for the necessary action. Areas in the US are now becoming deserts … and climatic warming speeds the process.
Maybe I’m “provincial” because of where I have lived and maybe thoughts are not fashionable or off-centered. I doubt if I’m called “self centered.” I know I’m not as well educated as I would like to be and I’m hardly sophisticated. I’ll not try for the latter and continue work at the former. Or maybe I cannot comprehend the question: Just what does it mean to be provincial today in a globalizing world?