One thing you learn, growing up in Appalachia: The land and weather aren't as sacred as they are savage. There just aren't enough bored gods and busy gods in the universe to make everything run smoothly when you call the mountains home.
Ask anyone who tries to farm this land. If you can't find that person (which wouldn't surprise me), visit the graveyards and look at the ages of the deceased. Also round up the folks like me, who, although they love the mountains with the white hot passion of 10,000 suns, can't live there because people gotta eat.
And yet you'll find a passel of starry-eyed optimists who seize upon a plot of mountain farmland, give it a pretty name, and commence to building a utopian community on it. This one will do "sustainable agriculture." This one will have bee hives and make mead. This one will grow artisan apples. Oh my, there's nothing more inspiring than a quiet evening in the country, when nobody's around and the whippoorwills are serenading one another from ridge to hollow! A modest living for a few people can surely be had, right?
This is where the utopian vision comes in. The optimist invites his friends to a gathering, often on a Pagan festival day, and the next year the friends bring their friends, because the property with the pretty name is so gorgeous. Within a decade, as the bees die and the apple blossoms take a frost and the groundhogs eat the peppers, the optimist has luckily happened upon a way to self-sustain: the paid festival. Okay, the land gets a little crowded, hectic, and trampled. But it's worth it. The money pours in, and the rest of the year things are so quiet and beautiful for the optimist and his small nucleus of companions.
All might be well in these cases, but it's really hard for the optimist not to become a capitalist. After all, isn't it nice to be able to make a genteel living in such a benign way? What's a festival? It's a chance for people who don't live in the mountains to come to a property, link elbows with like-minded naturists, and have a heart-warming and safe time. Word of mouth brings more and more folks each year, keeping the entrance fee quite affordable. So the optimist invests in sound equipment and heavy duty lawn mowers. He contracts port-a-potties and lines up hay bales in case it's rainy. And then he has festivals.
Here's where it goes one of two ways. In the first way, the optimist has one festival a year, upon which he stakes his whole budget. It's only held once a year, and that makes it very special, and -- again word of mouth -- numbers of attendees just keep climbing. In the other way, the optimist devises many festivals of different sorts and different sizes, flings them out across summer weekends, and waits for the customers to find the event that suits their tastes.
I personally know two such optimists who are finding out now that the land isn't sacred, it's savage. It will punish your ass no matter how lofty your intentions happen to be.
Case number one features the nicest optimist you would ever want to meet. His big once-yearly festival was hit by torrential rain. Cars skidded out of control on the parking hill, and people couldn't stand on their feet in the slippery muck. At a devastating financial loss, he had to close down a day early. There's just no way he can recoup that day of receipts at another event. This was his event. Chances are, next year, the sun will shine and the people will return. In the meantime, it's gonna be one bloody lean year.
The other case features the optimist with multiple festivals. This dreamer has invested more: bigger parcels of land, permanent bathroom facilities, even a dining hall. But as he increased the number and size of events, health problems surfaced. On two recent weekends, hundreds of festival attendees became violently ill with an aggressive and highly contagious stomach flu. And of course the Internet is blowing up over it, which has led at least one person I know to cancel her plans to attend a festival there next weekend. Nor does this person I know expect to get a refund, because you know that bottom line is going to be threatened.
The multiple-festival optimist will also recover and persist, but he's going to take a financial beating for years, and perhaps forever. Word of mouth works both ways. When people have fun, they bring their friends. When they get sick on your land, they tell all their friends who weren't there. It's a hole that's hard to climb out of, and in the meantime the optimist still has to eat and pay the notes on the parcel of land he bought for bigger festivals.
The one unifying factor between these two optimists? They both grew up in the city and lived in the city for a long time before taking up residence in the lovely rural spaces.
So here is Annie's free advice for anyone and everyone who wants to live la dolce vita on some bucolic rural farm: The land is untamed. It is untranslatable. It does not love you back. And the harder you work it, the worse it will treat you.
It's too late to ask my great-grandfathers if I am right about this, because they are all long gone. You'll just have to trust me. Would I lead you wrong? Of course not, I'm straight-up.
The economy has improved, so this free advice is really free. Heed it, though, and you'll always eat.