As I opened up today's paper, conjuring visions of a 19th Century Englishman sipping Earl Grey (myself nursing two shots of espresso in a bath of milk), I began my endless search to prove that anything important is going on in my neck of the woods. My local newspaper -- a modest publication by the name of The Ashland Daily Independent
-- generally boasts articles concerning local high school sports games and city council meetings, so faith is often placed in the day's "Dilbert" as I attend neither of the aforementioned activities. Yet, much to my surprise, I stumbled across an article announcing
"MARS Fest Coming This Weekend."
Now, in my town, anything with even the slightest hint of festival goings-on usually has me interested, and one with an acronym like "MARS" ... well, I just had to read it. Upon scanning the first line of the article I discovered that it was to be held "atop Pine Mountain" and we Appalachians generally don't disturb the mountains for just anything. As I read on, I realized that this truly was my kind of shindig.
MARS Fest is located in Wiley's Last Resort, a private nature and wildlife preserve on the top of Kentucky's second highest mountain, and MARS itself stands for Music, Art, Re-Creation and Sustainability -- something I can really get behind. MARS (also named for the mountain's sand mine, one that resembles the 4th planet from the sun) has on its agenda a lengthy showcase of Appalachia's bright musical heritage, hiking and nature walks, social groups that will be discussing preservation in the area, and a personal favorite of mine, an appearance by Kentucky's newest Poet Laureate, Gurney Norman.
I kept reading, vaguely entertaining the idea of driving almost three hours from my home, and felt an odd sense of deja vu wash over me. You see, MARS fest is the second event of such proportion and intent that I have become familiar with since the beginning of the year. In April I attended "An Evening with the Mountain Keepers," an event held at the University of Kentucky which highlighted Kentucky's long, and devastatingly prosperous relationship with coal. That night (sponsored by the UK Writing Program) also demonstrated the ties that Kentucky's authors and artists, as well as the people who thrive on the land, have to the landscape of this region. You can read more about "An Evening with the Mountain Keepers" here
Despite many of the stereotypical depictions of Appalachia, it's events like this that prove that Kentucky is not going to sit idly by while people with larger checkbooks than common sense continue to exploit the resources we are worthless to them without. We may have a vernacular that contains words like "hollers" and "ain't" (a word now included in Merriam-Webster, by the way), and talk a little slower than most, but we are not dispassionate about the idea of home and everything it has given us, no matter how much we take and forget to give back.