“Like my father before me, I’m a workin’ man,
And like my brother before me, who took a rebel stand
He was just 18, proud and brave, but a Yankee put him in his grave
And I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.”
Robbie Robertson channelling Virgil Caine, a mythical Southerner brought to life by Levon Helm’s vocals in The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
Not long after spending an afternoon visiting the Vance monument in downtown Asheville, I heard The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", and was floored by Levon Helm's vocal performance at The Last Waltz. Levon Helm, singing while doing some amazing drumming, absolutely brings this heartbroken character to life. This may be an example of history happening backwards, because I swear I felt that vow "by the mud below my feet" when I sat in front of the Vance monument in downtown Asheville on that crowded Sunday afternoon. Tourists, locals and their dogs walked by, coffee and chocolate buzzed, while my friends and I tuned in to the energy of that space. The late Page Bryant led me to this spot to feel the energy vortex that she found directly in front of the monument. In her vision, it was the energy of that electrical vortex that drew all the power and money into downtown Asheville, and its interesting to see how the city seemed to grow up around it. But when I tried to tune into it, all I could get was the dark emotional currents of "blood and soil", the resentment against the Yankees coming down and telling the locals how to live, upending their way of life, even if they were mostly questioning the sale of slaves in that very spot. I felt it there, active and alive, part of that energy vortex. It was only when I went behind the monument that I was able to tune into the energy of the vortex that Page described, powerful currents coming from deep below and bubbling up, older than this monument and all the upheaval it celebrates. Gordon White from the Rune Soup blog had an interesting idea for how to handle Confederate monuments - instead of tearing them down, or even re-locating them to museums with explanatory signage, his idea was to let them be, let nature reclaim them. The city of Asheville just spent a controversial sum of money to repair the monument to undo the effects of weather and time, but I like Gordon's approach. Showing the effects of time, vegetation and weather, natural forces acting on concrete and stone tell the story much better, putting in context time and its passing.
I thought this had passed through me and dissipated after my vortex visit until I was at the west Asheville library for a MeetUp and saw the exhibit on display. In the way that these deep currents rise back to the surface, the exhibit was on the Vance family estate, with pictures of their homes and land. But one picture captured my attention; it was of the slave quarters as seen from the family home. The accompanying poster described the contribution of slaves to the rapidly growing Asheville economy in the 1800's. A few large family controlled the businesses, which were staffed by slaves owned by these families. According to the poster, by the 1850's, over 50% of the workforce of Asheville were slaves. That meant that less than half of the work force was getting paid anything at all. After reading that, I could barely concentrate on the meeting. I felt the undercurrent of that financial structure all the way into modern times. Asheville is an amazing city, it draws people from all over the world, and many of them come here on vacation and return to buy homes (like I did) and retire (like I plan to). But there is a whisper that is heard but not printed in the tourist brochures. "You can't make any money here. There's no money here (unless you bring it with you). You can't make a living in Asheville." What if this is an echo of that economy that built this city?
I decided to apply my method of getting a past lives perspective to the city center, so I dove in and dug beneath the surface of this situation. I saw the local economy in modern times and the energy of the people making $10 and $11/hour serving the tourist trade. I asked myself what is behind that, and dug deeper to see turn of the last century Asheville as a rich person's playground, when wealthy East Coasters came here for the mountain air cure and built vacation homes. Digging below that, I saw what became the blood and soil contingent, generations of farmers, traders and businessmen who built this city, and their resentment of outsiders telling them what they can or can't do. Digging deeper I saw the locals running their businesses with slave labor, and how that maximized profits and how that money became the engine that drove Asheville's growth. I dug deeper and realized those "locals" took possession of this land (by whatever means) from the native Americans who called this home, mostly Cherokee. Behind that, I saw the Cherokee living on this astonishingly beautiful and powerful land. And behind that was the land itself, that vortex that Page Bryant clued us into. This was the energy that brought the Cherokee to this land, and that was here before them. My realization was that it all comes back to the soil. I wondered, is it who owns this soil, or is it who honors it, nurtures it, and works with it? They are the ones who get to "swear by the mud below (their) feet" Thats the energy that charges the mud and the soil, not the boots that own it.
So how does this reflect in Asheville's prosperity consciousness and how do we raise it? Maybe its that energy beneath our feet that draws people here even when they think they're coming for beer, hiking and fine dining. I know that's what's drawing so many of the energy workers and healers coming here, like me, because they need to be here. I keep thinking of Richard Dreyfus' character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sculpting his inner mountain image in mashed potatoes and shaving cream. I can totally relate; we are responding to a quieter level of obsession, but just as powerful, when we pack our vehicles, drive here and set up shop. We're trying to create something out of what seems like nothing but is actually us plugging into that electrical vortex that we feel even when we don't know its actual location. Maybe our prosperity lies in making a different vow, to swear by the mud below our feet that we're here to honor it, nurture it, protect it?