Brennan Zerbe - Mud Bog

“Actually, it turns out to be beautifully accurate when you once make the plunge and compel yourself to open your eyes in the limpid depths under its confused surface.”

-Pale Fire

Eroding Hillside

The Mud Bog refers to a specific event, not existential or moral torpor.   For the uninitiated, Mud Bogs are a kind of spectator sport, where an audience gathers to watch vehicles of discrete builds slog through a large viscid morass, flinging shit colored mud wherever they drive, and denuding the ground so that what remains resembles the bare and etiolated earth of an abandoned strip mine.   But on a different scale.

It’s a sport with many varied Appalachian and West Virginian traditions contained within in it, but probably the most important one, as I see it, is the tradition of a complex relationship between the people that live here and the environment they inhabit. A sociocultural disposition alternating between hostility towards the impassive dismissal of life wrought on Appalachians by their natural surroundings or by the exigencies of their working lives, and the need or desire to extract their livelihood from the land.  The mud bog seems to channel unabashed contempt, or at least vague indifference to the land, while at the same time celebrating rural life. Rurality, as such, in opposition to urbanity, but also in opposition to, or dominion over, the vagaries of the natural world.

The park board has been in open and vitriolic dispute about the proposed continuation of the Mud Bog, and why not? It fits squarely outside of, and squarely within, two competing visions of the future of the park. One, is typified by sedate activity, and mostly family oriented events, the other, is amenable to the open din of a modified truck slamming into dirt and disgorging that dirt in every direction as it toils onward, also, probably people drinking, carousing, & c.  I find myself agreeing with both sides for various reasons.

I think this is where it would be helpful to explain how I’ve come to see my goals for the park.  There are essentially two main goals for the park.  One, the explicit reason I am here, is to facilitate the edification of the Dark Skies aspect of the Calhoun County Park, to help in any way with its eventual establishment, through grant seeking, brochures and whatever else.  An unstated aspect of this goal and that of MOVRC and its partners, is that it seeks to attract wealthy tourists to the park for purposes of redistributing their wealth to the actual residents of the county. The other goal I have is to augment in any way possible, the perception of the park as a place for people to congregate, through: farmer’s markets, gun shows, old time shows, fairs, etc, so that the the people living here come to view the park as a resource, their resource.  And so this is why I’m torn on the issue of the Mud Bog, though I don’t take part in the park board’s discussion over it, I feel that either way, it’s a loss either for the park or for the community at large.

The point of talking about the Mud Bog is that it facilely illustrates the difficulties rural towns face when confronting competing needs and interests, specifically,  environmental issues versus the needs of a community.  To think of it this way, it’s important to understand the role that the Mud Bog plays in bringing people together where otherwise they wouldn’t.  It’s one of the few activities left to rural communities which can largely be funded and participated in, usually, in some degree of proximity and with little monetary dislodgment.  The issue is that unless the land is reclaimed afterwards, it will eventually ablate the surrounding ecosystem, eroding the banks of hills, eradicating grass, becoming generally uninhabitable for anything or anyone else.  If the event were judged solely upon the material costs as opposed to financial benefit , it would be a no brainer: the event itself operates at a financial loss for the park as well as a material and environmental loss, so it doesn’t make much sense for it to continue;  however, if the non material, non quantifiable benefits are examined: being one of a hand full of activities likely to attract people in large numbers or the importance of shared, communal experiences, especially, in our supremely individually atomized modernity, then, I believe, its value to the park and to the community is more difficult to ascertain.

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You can extrapolate a lot about the divisions in rural life when money, work, and young people have abandoned or retreated from it. A lack of access to these resources does not always encourage people to band together, and here, more often than not, it seems, these issues over ostensibly petty disagreements foster an atmosphere of contempt, resentment, and disaffection from the community at large.  This has larger implications for political changes, if there were any on the horizon, in that, small towns and communities are often prone to petty squabbling, repression and revanchist tendencies, which is the frustrating truth about rural America and small scale communities, at least, experientially: that life in them, often portrayed as being less complicated, more mundane and straightforward, is often more complicated, more divisive and potentially more acerbic.  In cities or large towns, the anonymity and solitude afford less day to day conflict and less interest in who does what with what resources.