A Fragile Paradise

By

It is one of the ironies of Appalachia that beautiful, changing, fall leaves create a scene that is Edenic just before the bitter winter comes. As it is difficult to enjoy a Sunday night when Monday’s work is already filling the next slot in the viewmaster of our lives, so it is hard to forget that winter is stalking us, and we ought to enjoy the glories of fall while it lasts. Autumn, with its auburn and amber, is a fragile paradise. It is always a season on the brink.

The fall of man was, without doubt, the great cataclysm of our history. But the season of fall I find, is more like the preceding Eden. The winter, however, surely is a fall. This is bitter consequence, when men’s hands if not their hearts, go cold. But like common grace still abounding in a fallen world, so does winter have its many charms. Snow descends on strong, submissive trees. Green and brown tokens of bygone seasons peek out from beneath garments of white, like a child’s eyes stand out among layers of a mother’s careful wrapping. The wonder of the winter storm is that it is both beautiful and terrifying, like any woman a man has ever loved.

The children are thrilled by the snow -to them it’s magic. They gaze at the pale descent and rejoice at its rapid accumulation. Our inner-child is glad too, but our inner-adult considers spanking our inner-child (working Freudians everywhere into hysteria) because of snow tires, broken hips, bad roads, and predawn scraping of our windshields with an inadequate MasterCard. The same MasterCard that will soon weigh us down in materialistic debt because we have been fooled into thinking silly things about money and joy. But in Appalachia, like so much of the world influenced but not yet overtaken by the furious love of God, we reflect on important things.

We consider a small child in the next room, the next house up, or another country. We think of a small child born very far away, what seems like a long time ago. We remember that we had forgotten and we try to remember so that we won’t forget. More than gifts, but yes, gifts. Yes, families, but more than families. Decorations, yes, but also a changed heart. Mercy where wrath was deserved. Music into silence, light into darkness.

He came. In answer to that desperate fall, he came. So now there can be goodwill where his favor rests. And because of him, through him, there can be peace. Even on earth. Even, in Appalachia.


20 Comments

  1. Mike

    Beauty in Truth:

    “The wonder of the winter storm is that it is both beautiful and terrifying, like any woman a man has ever loved.”

    I spent the first weekend in November in Western North Carolina and yes it looked like Eden.

  2. Stacy Grubb

    I’ve struggled to enjoy fall nearly all of my life because I do loathe winter so. Well, not winter as a whole, really…just the cold, cold weather that I’m sick of by January when it’s only just getting started and will hang around relentlessly until at least May. Ack. I’ve always *wanted* to love fall. People who love fall *really* love it. And I really could, too, if I could just get the next step out of my head. But I can’t. And yes, Appalachia is magnificent in the fall. And it’s magnificent in the winter just after a new snow before traffic pushes big, muddy, coal-y snow banks all along the sides of the roads. But I do love driving in the snow. Not that I should, since I become way sidetracked staring at the big swoosh the flakes take just before they hit my car hood and swoop up the windshield. My brain glazes over and I forget to blink, much less pay attention to the road. Shiny things do that to me, as well. The beauty of your post affected me in much the same way, which is why I’m babbling incoherently, now.

    Stacy

  3. Josh

    I don’t know about yall, but I love autumn because it is the precurssor to winter. All my life i’ve loved everything about this time of year when the leaves start to change and the nights get colder and longer. I love the way the dark cold air contrasted against a warm bright house makes you really appreciate what home is all about. I love how there’s a feeling of something that can best be compared to expectation. At least that’s my experience of the autumn/winter portion of the year.

    Great thoughts S.D. I’ve really enjoyed your last couple of contributions here. Keep up the good work.

  4. Easton Crow

    Winter Grace

    This is the time so well we love,
    The time of all the year
    When winter calls with chilling breath
    For fireside and good cheer;
    A time for man and beast to stand
    And feel the seasons turn;
    To watch the stars for secret signs
    And God’s true lessons learn.

    The time when the corn is all into the barn
    The old cow’s breath’s a frosty rime
    And the morn along the fallow field
    Doth silver shine.

    And when cold morning’s radiant dawn
    Shines over hill and plain,
    We know anew that little babe is born to us again.
    And man and wife and bird and beast,
    Each one in his own place
    We bow our hearts and thank our God
    For winter rest and grace.

    Jean Ritchie, Appalachian Folk Singer 1960’s

  5. Ben

    Incredible.

    “But in Appalachia, like so much of the world influenced but not yet overtaken by the furious love of God, we reflect on important things.”

    Thank you so much for posting.

  6. Mike

    I’m not much of a poet but I wrote this after driving through a wide place in the road between Cashiers and Cullowhee NC called Nimble will one winter day a few years back. There is certainly a sense of longing when I’m in those hills, especially in the fall and winter.

    I roamed the Hills of Nimblewill
    In the smoky dawn.
    The light crept through the winter breaks
    and cast the shadows long.
    It brought with it a hidden peace
    that rarely found the wood.
    It taught among November’s dread
    that even death was good.

    I walked the ways of Nimblewill
    on tortured earth too still.
    It seemed to speak of rest to me
    nocturnal winks ne’er fill.
    It spoke of hope beyond this time
    a tale few comprehend.
    A tale of lissome, wishful hearts
    longing for a friend.

    I heard the song of Nimblewill
    each note a call to come.
    Each stanza summoned all who would
    but only ghost to some.
    So call out loud dear Nimblewill.
    Cry out to those who hear.
    Though your voice no longer speaks,
    Your message lingers clear.

  7. Tony Heringer

    S.D.

    Thanks for the winter warm up. I concur with your thoughts here and loved the posts it inspired.

  8. Kevin

    Well, I ain’t not poet, but…

    It rains a lot in the spring, I can only take off so many clothes in the summer heat before I get arrested, and carpenter’s glue doesn’t work below fifty degrees, so winter is vocationally challenging for me.

    So, Fall is my favorite season.

  9. Stacy Grubb

    Samuel,

    Normally I would be egging the weather man’s house today, but I’m kinda blaming you for the snowfall we got last night. I think your post opened the door to it. So…you might want to TP-proof the trees in your yard.

    Stacy

  10. s.d. smith

    Thanks again for all the nice words. I didn’t mean to awaken the angry gods of winter, but I’ll prepare for the TPing of my house, Stacy. It was a very pretty drive to church meeting.

    I loved the poem, Mike.

  11. Mike

    Oh to have a little snow. I 47 and have never experienced a white Christmas. I guess there are some disadvantages to living in the deep South.

  12. Kevin

    Did it snow somewhere? West Virginia?

    I’m in New Hampshire, and it hasn’t snowed here at all yet. Tis’ gettin’ colder, and I’ve already grown my winter pelt.

    The ole’ WV is kinda like that. I remember back when I knew everything, my Bible College days, we got three feet in six hours. Remember that one, Mr. SD?

    So when I moved up here, I fully expected a four-footer every two weeks. So far it’s been a might disappointing. It does get schtinkin cold, though, beardcicle cold, my compressor won’t run and working is a life-threatening experience cold.

    But I can say one thing about New England weather: The Maker’s creativity shines in our weather. I’m gonna get up tomorrow, walk outside and welcome my mornin’ with a teary eye, because I live in a painting.

    God is soooooo cool. I never would have thought to make it so cold my nosehairs freeze. That’s creativity.

    Mike: I’ve lived here for four years now, and White Christmas is pretty rare even on the frozen tundra.

    Stacey: Your music is cool. Reminds me of my childhood in the sunny south.

  13. Stacy Grubb

    Kevin,

    While this wasn’t our first snow (we got some flurries a couple of weeks ago), this was the first to stick. I don’t know the official count, but I’d say there was about 2-3 inches in my yard. But then, I’m plum hidjous at math, so I could be so wrong. At any rate, school was canceled here and all around, so there you have it.

    I remember a few times in my childhood when a few feet of snow dumped upon us at the drop of a hat, but I was wondering if you were referring to the one around 96-97ish. I remember that one vividly because it wasn’t forecasted and literally created pandemonium in a matter of minutes. I was around 15 or 16, I think, going to my boyfriend’s (who is now my husband and it feels so weird to call him boyfriend) house. He lived about 10 minutes from me and it was clear when we left my house and the roads were so bad by the time we were about halfway to his that people were wrecking all over the place. I was snowed in at his house for days. For the record, when I say “his” house, I mean his mom’s. We weren’t shacking up.

    Anyway, thank you so much for listening to my tunes :).

    Stacy

  14. Kevin

    Oh yeah, that’s the one. They forcasted 3 inches.

    “The Establishment” confined us to our dorm rooms, I guess to save us from ourselves, like everything else we had to do…. 🙂 Buildings caved in, snowballs were thrown (when they finally let us out).

    You have now shifted the thought here. I chuckled when you clarified concerning “shacking up”. It made me think of how far we’ve come as a people. Christians, I mean. I totally understand why you would need to make that clarification. And maybe you were joking, but the truth is that it probably needed to be said.

    The Christian culture I see most often seems to have lost touch with grace, in least in relation to our brothers. So much of what we do is inhibited by not appearing to do wrong, because that would “offend”. We’re raised that way, I guess.

    We’ve come a long way, and it ain’t necessarily a good thang. The first century “Christian culture” didn’t say anything about a guy sleeping with his mother, and ours reprimands silently before we even act. Some of that is good, but adherence to Christian culture norms is still adherence to culture, it just looks better.

    They were too gracious, and we aren’t enough. I’m still trying to get over my Bible College experience live under the Law of Christ.

    I don’t mean to rant, but it always seems to sound that way. I would have said that same thing, except for the word “boyfriend”.

    That was one humdinger of a snowstorm.

  15. s.d. smith

    I missed that one, Kev. I was on a basketball road trip.

    Or, to put it another way, I was “shacking up” with the entire men’s basketball team in O-HI-O.

    Yeah, I agree with your analysis. It’s hard sometimes to be holy and to be gracious. I think our generation also tends to confuse legalism with “good rules.”

    You can make whatever dumb or smart rules you want to run any human institution, but it’s not legalism just because it’s rules, or even silly rules. It’s legalism when it becomes legal tender in a plan to buy favor with God. At least I think that’s right. I wonder if our generation has a more fundamental issue with submission to God-ordained authority in our lives (we are rebellious) than we do with legalism? Of course, even the rebel is seeking to obtain mercy through his own works. We’re all idolaters at heart.

    If I were to classify what ails me and our culture most deeply I would say that we are idolatrous rebels. We worship things other than God (money, sex, football, independence, status etc.) and we believe we have a “right” to rebel against God-ordained authority, almost as if it’s “a duty to ourselves” kind of thing. Of course, in 1 Samuel 15 rebellion is equated with witchcraft -because it’s basically the same thing. I am supposed to submit here and now under the authority of God carried out through these representatives of his authority (parents, husband, elders, masters, king, etc.) and instead I go outside that power to an alternative power. That’s witchcraft. That’s rebellion. In America we think we’re bound to do that and express our “rights.”

    OK, sorry Kev. I got off your topic and just started rambling.

  16. Natalie

    May I please have permission to share this with my ninth grade students as an example of beautiful descriptive writing?? I was so blessed by it.

  17. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Natalie,

    No problem, just make sure you say “Copyright 2008 S.D. Smith Incorporated, LLC, Equal Opportunity Lender, FDIC Insured, may cause hiccups,” after every five-word grouping. I gotta protect my rights.

    Not really. Of course I am so honored that you would do that. Thank you so much.

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