BY THOMAS RAIN CROWE
“The story can’t be about the heroism of one person anymore. It has to be about the heroism of communities.” — Barry Lopez
I consider myself to be an independent person, someone who has “followed their bliss” as mythologist Joseph Campbell put it. “Done my own thing,” as we used to say back in the 1960s. And in adulthood, been self-employed. Yet in all the many places I have ever lived, I’ve lived not in isolation but as part of a community.
For the last 35 years I have lived in Jackson County, and in various ways I’ve been part of that community. As a community member, I have been involved with different groups and organizations that have gotten things done that I couldn’t have done alone.
Years ago, I was part of a group of Jackson County residents who pulled together to elect progressive “from here” residents to the Board of Commissioners. In the end, we succeeded in placing a majority of locals on the board to override the developers who’d been dominating it. This new local board went on to create what were said at the time to be the strictest land use regulations in the state.
A few years later, I was part of a small group that founded The Canary Coalition — a nonprofit organization focusing on air and water pollution in Western North Carolina. This group expanded to a couple thousand members, tackling not only regional but statewide issues that affected our region. Again, neither I nor that small initial group could have created the changes that this organization was able to achieve without broader community support.
Around this same time, I was part of a group of local farmers and gardeners who started a small farmers market in downtown Sylva that operated in the summer months and during harvest season. We began by selling produce out of the backs of our pickup trucks and the trunks of our cars in a small parking lot on Back Street. Today, the Jackson County Farmers Market is a large and thriving enterprise that operates almost year-round. That little group could never have done this alone. It took a community to create and build a successful farmers market offering all-local produce.
These are just some of the examples of how people acting as part of a community have achieved positive and even great things here in Jackson County.
As I near the end of my life and confront the predicaments that we humans have unleashed due to our inattention to the natural world and our selfish preoccupation with fulfilling our individual desires, I see that the naturalist writer Barry Lopez was right: The only way we’re going to get back to any kind of sustainable equilibrium or stasis as a race is to build a new, untraveled road into our future.
It must be not a solo journey focused only on personal survival but, rather, one that is undertaken by entire communities, both large and small. As eco-theologian Thomas Berry stated, it will require a universal leap of consciousness — a group effort — if we Homo sapiens are to have any kind of real future here on this garden planet we were given.
In the Gospel of Thomas, there’s a passage that reads: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
For the past several hundred years or more, we humans have been following, to our detriment, a paved path determined by nation states, corporate and authoritarian governments, and the idea of “progress.” We have not been listening to the wisdom voice within, to the moral story within. And that ignoring, that ignorance, is rising up now to destroy us.
Again, Barry Lopez says that we need to reinvent ourselves and our responsibilities to one another, to our families, our communities, our countries and our planet. Lopez goes on to say: “If we’re going to survive and to thrive in whatever landscape the world offers us in the decades ahead, we must learn to speak respectfully to each other, to listen to each other, to take into consideration the fate of each other’s children and wake up to the salvation of a multicultural existence. We have cut ourselves off from the nonhuman world and have called this ‘progress.’ Such numinous encounters in nature are moments of reconnection, part of the human search for reciprocated love.”
Now or never
“Kairos” is an ancient Greek word meaning “the right, critical or opportune moment.” The term is now widely used by social scientists and environmental physicists to address the conditions in which we find ourselves living today. In other words, now is the proper time for action — in this opportune moment when we’re facing the triple threat of COVID-19, climate change and an authoritarian government, and when we are told by everyone in the know that if we’re going to have a sustainable world in which to live, we must make the necessary changes, both to ourselves and to everyone around us.
In other words, we are going to need to, as the Beatles song urged, come together. It’s a song that rings out resoundingly today, with its more-than-pertinent title and urgent message: “Come together, right now.” That is, come together in reciprocated love — and do it today, because we have no time to lose!
Jackson County resident Thomas Rain Crowe is the internationally published author of more than 30 books, including the multiple award-winning nonfiction nature memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods. The founder and publisher of New Native Press, he has edited major literary and cultural journals and anthologies and has served on the boards of several environmental conservation organizations in Western North Carolina.