Just Remnants

The prophet Isaiah’s idea of the remnant of the just is a moral concept with periodic weight, and I fear its time has come round again. Isaiah saw that when human beings violate the land ethic beyond a certain limit, God destroys the culture, preserving a remnant seed for the next attempt at a just society. Noah and the ark, based on an actual huge flooding of the Black Sea, is a prime example. Though my neighbors here in Yancey County worry more about economic crisis, we are already moving rapidly into an era of climate emergency. How we respond to that—utilizing our particular qualities of geography and character, drawing upon mountain genius and the genius of the mountains—is critical to the fate of the Blue Ridge Province. It’s time to build the ark again.

We are a ways from the coming flood, but climate crisis will bring some challenges peculiar to the Southern mountains. In terms of preserving the bioregion, we are already experiencing huge stresses, one of which I know firsthand, living in a forest where the doomed hemlock is the predominant conifer. And as letter and commentary writers have repeatedly argued in this paper, both we and the land are victims of overdevelopment, especially around Asheville. If a climate showdown is in the works, I’m sure we’d like to know we’re among the elect.

Careful reading of the Good Book shows that this is not our decision, but we can still be just remnants by piecing together a remnant quilt of best practices, by serving as the “tinker.” The great French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used the term “bricoleur”: one who builds culture by assembling found objects (whatever is at hand) in novel ways. This is not the way of divine justice nor of the social engineer, but the way human cultures have always been built.

In July, the Celo Summer Institute is hosting a conference at the Arthur Morgan School in Yancey County, a life-skills center for junior-high-age kids. The institute is the adult version of the school, focusing on deep ecology with a spiritual perspective. The conference, titled Just Remnants, aims to be a mecca for bioregional organizations in the crucial work of gathering and energizing a network of community leaders in the Southern Appalachians. The goal is to encourage bold thinking and the courage to build a sustainable regional society in advance of the inevitable ravages of climate change and systemic economic downturn. We are particularly interested in bringing together bioregional leadership from across Western North Carolina.

Just Remnants will feature several regional leaders, including a talk by Asheville’s own Nobel laureate, Tom Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center, titled :“Global Warming: Focus on Southern Appalachia.” Jackson County activist and “baby Beat” poet Thomas Rain Crowe will give the keynote speech: “Bioregion and Beyond: What I Stand for Is What I Stand On … Organizing and Activism in the New Millennium—a Local History.” Attendees can also learn how to ground deep-ecology principles within their own bodies, exploring “somatic deep ecology” with internationally acclaimed craft artist Paulus Berensohn. And Cherokee Kevin Welch will discuss his work preserving heirloom varieties and lead a wildcrafting ramble.
Participants will have the opportunity to visit remnant old-growth forest with researcher Rob Messick and walk the South Toe with native son/engineer/pastor Forrest Westall, who wrote the state’s Outstanding Resource Waters legislation. Thanks to this law, the South Toe has been the purest of North Carolina’s rivers for two decades. A distributed-energy roundtable will consider how we might produce more of our own power. The assembled group will envision Katuah in 100 years, employing a version of an exercise developed by my teacher, the visionary eco-philosopher/activist Joanna Macy. Sunday morning, a faith panel will lead us in examining how our foundational personal stories might apply to the story of our time: the end of the Cenozoic Era.

And we will celebrate. Thomas Rain Crowe will headline a poetry reading, followed by a contradance with the South Toe’s Band X, a virtually secret collection of musicians playing traditional tunes and featuring Bruce Greene on fiddle.

At the end of the warm, stable Holocene Epoch, we are entering the “long emergency,” an era of global warming, with accelerating species extinction and potentially rapid climate change. We trust deeply that our collective piecework will inspire hope and action in these trying times. We will gather as Earth citizens, listening deeply for that which can sustain us and what emerges from us, through this interval of unknown duration and destination. Come to Celo Thursday through Sunday, July 16-19, and help us weave together a remnant epistle quilt: a manifesto for sustaining the mountain ecosystem we all love.

For more information, go to www.justremnants.org.

[Conference director Robert McGahey was recently arrested for trespassing at Duke Energy’s headquarters to protest the Cliffside coal-fired power plant.]

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