…sounds ominous, but it is.
2016 has been a hard year for what seems like the majority of people around me. It hasn’t been a terrible year for my family as a whole (massive touch wood, since we still have a few more days left), but perhaps I should have listened when David Bowie died and been prepared.
I’ve blogged about how important he was to me creatively and on a personal level as well, so that was not a good start to the year. Then in November I though for sure 2016 was going to kick me in the creative guts once more, when the wildfires hit the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area.
I’ve also blogged about the specialness of that place over the years, as it is where the talented Alex White organises Smoky Writers. Twenty writers, two chefs, moonshine, a beautiful log cabin, and a whole glorious week with nothing to do but soak up the creative environment and write. The Smoky Mountains are simply a stunning place to get in touch with your creative side.
Alex summed it up well when he said ‘this is my Disneyland.’
So right when the Smoky Mountains were at their driest, arsonists struck. Setting a fire on November 23rd, they caused massive and immediate damage to the area. 20,000 acres of the forest were burned, fourteen people died in the flames, and countless more lost homes and businesses.
One of those places was the cabin we had shared this year, and had booked for the next year. It seemed that 2016 was not done kicking people about. This beautiful place where many lived and even more visited was devastated.
I felt just grief thinking of this place, this beautiful place was gone. I thought of the view from the cabin, I thought of the family who owned it, and I thought of the long, winding road that the cabin shared, and that people had fled down while everything burned around them.
If there is a metaphor more suitable for this year, I don’t know one. Still it was hard to know what to do.
And then I realised all I had to do was look around me. In my immediate circle. Alex jumped in to secure us another cabin for 2017. Others set about immediately deciding what we could do. Of course our greatest strength is words, so there will probably be a project springing from the ashes with proceeds to go the community. The family of us Smoky Writers gathered, and found positive things they could offer to the situation. This place might not be where we live but it is our creative home.
Further out, the community of Sevier County began to pick itself up. Its most famous daughter, Dolly Parton, stepped in to help immediately. December 13th she raised 9 million dollars with a telethon, and also started her My People Fund. I’ve always had a soft spot for Dolly since not only is she talented, but she is unabashed about who she is. ‘It’s expensive to look this cheap’- reminds me of Mae West. Our plan is the next Smoky Writers Retreat is to hit Dollywood or the Dixie Stampede.
So we’ll be going back to the Smokys in February, and I am sure we are going to see plenty of devastation, but we will also see tough mountain folk rebuilding their lives. That toughness is the only answer when the world burns.
One foot in front of the other. Together.