The quotation below is from “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood”, by Janisse Ray (1999), an imperfect book but moving and smart and highly recommended nonetheless.
You can’t understand the world today without understanding the American South: it is a keystone. And you can’t understand the South by trivializing and villainizing it. These words from Janisse Ray may strike many, from North and South alike, as strange, but perhaps they carry the seeds of some deeper understanding:
When we consider what is happening to our forests – and to the birds, reptiles and insects that live there – we must also think of ourselves. Culture springs from the actions of people in a landscape, and what we, especially Southerners, are watching is a daily erosion of unique folkways as our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants disappear. Our culture is tied to the longleaf forest that produced us, that has sheltered us, that we occupy. The forest keeps disappearing, disappearing, sold off, stolen.
We don’t mind growing trees in the South; it’s a good place for silviculture, sunny and watery, with a growing season to make a Yankee gardener weep. What we mind is that all our trees are being taken. We want more than 1 per cent natural stands of longleaf. We know a pine plantation is not a forest, and the wholesale conversion to monocultures is unacceptable to us.
We Southerners are a people fighting again for our country, defending the last remaining stands of real forest. Although we love to frolic, the time has come to fight. We must fight.
In new rebellion we stand together, black and white, urbanite and farmer, workers all, in keeping Dixie. We are a patient peopple who for generations have not been ousted from this land and we are willing to fight for the birthright of our children’s children, and their children’s children, to be of a place, in all ways, for all time. What is left is not enough. When we say the South will rise again we can mean that we will allow the cutover forests to return to their former grandeur and pine plantations to grow wild.
The whippoorwill is calling from the edge.