Leaving Kansas

Written by Tayria Ward on January 30, 2010

A good friend, a recording artist and musician, RB Morris, is doing a show tonight in Knoxville with some artists coming in from Nashville and I had hoped to go. I’m snowed in on the mountain, and have to accept the reality of this as much as I’d like to be there. RB and I had an e-mail exchange this morning as he was checking in to see what it is looking like up here, where he too owns property. I told him the situation I am having to come to terms with and mentioned that “I’m not in Kansas (read Southern California) anymore.” This does not match my life there in hardly any way at all, and I’m often confronted with that. As another mountain friend articulated yesterday, she tries to tell people what it’s like up here when the weather buries us like this and they really can’t conceive of it. It really is an abstraction until you’re in it. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually there are huge effects that can only be felt, not communicated. I just know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

A friend and shaman used to say as we were launching 5 day immersions into the dreamtime and shamanic work, “We’re leaving Kansas now.” The saying was even used in Avatar, I noticed, so it must be a familiar methaphor to describe having left behind everything that feels like home, moving into an Oz-like experience.

I was born and raised in Kansas. My family moved when I was 12 and I have lived in several places since then. I live in the mountains of Appalachia now among people whose ancestors have lived in these hills and hollers for hundreds of years. They are a rooted people. For many, no amount of money or corporate opportunity could make them want to move away from the places, the people and a life that they love. It is a dominant value system that I have not lived with for this length of time before. I am an anomaly to them, an “outsider” of the kind they usually do not take in to their lives and hearts. But they have taken me in by some grace, and it is a learning experience like no other. After years of immersion in life here and I am only beginning to move this reality out the realm of a just a concept in the mind into a felt sense at a cellular level. I find myself reflecting on issues of home and roots beyond the ways these issues had ever lived in me before. Surely there is some kind of destiny in this, but it remains a mystery at this point.

Jesus’ saying that only in losing your life will you find it comes to mind. Surely I must have needed to leave Kansas (on all of the multi-leveled methaphorical meanings of it) in order to have the hope of finding it. But what is it? I’m just posing the question. Once while I was solidly married, in a solid career, with two small children in what I thought was a stable life I had a dream that said, “My skin is my home.” It felt powerful, but also pretty random at the time. It has meant a lot to me ever since, though I don’t always exactly why beyond obvious interpretations.

I believe with Niestzsche that the dragon upon whom every scale represents a “should” must be slain. I don’t think in terms of how anyone should or should not live their “one wild and precious life.” (Mary Oliver) I say this to dash any interpretation of my meaning that might be made as such. The diversity of life styles is essential. I want to say what I notice in the values I find here, though, that I haven’t noticed elsewhere in environments where everyone seems to be rushing about in scattered and disconnected ways, always going somewhere, and it seems like everybody is from somewhere else. I have always been that person for sure, and most people I met seemed to be similar in that way.

These mountain people are connected. They are connected to each other for generations back; and connected to everything around them. They can tell you, “The well used to be over here, and the road over there, and these plants aren’t native here, and my granny used to give us those for a stomach ache.” Their senses often strike me as more like those of animals in the forest, naturally alert,  not numbed by having to shut out noises that bombard us in urban life. They are generally aware in ways I have not seen before, even (or especially) in all my years of spiritual pursuits and studies. This is a human, earthy awareness. I am a tumbling tumbleweed that rolled in and stopped. Just by being with them, surely not because of their thinking in terms of any “shoulds”, they are gently and respectfully trying to help me put in a root here and a root there, to feel what it feels like with earth and life coming up through my root, and the sky shining down on me planted, feeding this rooted life in the way that sky cannot feed the life of a tumbleweed.

If it were not for this snow, I could be out on the Interstate making my way to Knoxville for the show tonight that I really wanted to see. I’m snowed in. But maybe I was wrong this morning when I said I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Maybe this is Kansas.

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