In Which The South Tightens Its Grip

Oh my dear holy God.

Tuesday we drove down through Georgia and into Alabama, stopping at Selma, that city of marches and bombings and speeches and history. We slept and then in the morning drove into what I swear is another world altogether.

You might know I’m a fan of Rural Studio, an architecture studio connected with Auburn University. Rural Studio does architecture in Hale County, Alabama, one of the poorest in an already poor state. Their work is beautiful and spiritual and perfect and everything I want my own architecture to be some day. They are the architects who inspire me more than any other. And I’d never seen their stuff in person until yesterday morning, in the middle of rolling hills and a huge sky and what’s called the Black Belt because of the rich soil but might as well be called the Poor Black Belt because of the people who live there. This is a place that stopped when Reconstruction stopped so many years ago. It is what you imagine when you hear of the Poor South. And it is beautiful and perfect and heaven and earth all wrapped up into one blindingly spectacular place. This place is affecting and it is communal, it makes me shout and dance and be silent and still.

A group of us were walking down the road from one Rural Studio to another, maybe half a mile. Two dogs from the town, surely dogs someone owns but in places like this every yard dog is also a community dog, followed us the whole way and when we got to a place where those of us on two feet were on a walkway above the ground the dogs whined and barked, wanting to be up with us.

Later we drove on to Biloxi to meet with a group of college students who are working with other schools to build housing for poor people in that area. They cooked us dinner and we sat out on a deck for the rest of the night talking about our architecture and what should be done and that sort of thing. And I began to feel like I’d known these people much longer than a couple of hours.

And I think that’s the sort of thing the Deep Dark South can do for a person. It can take someone who hasn’t been in a specific town for more than half an hour and make them feel like they belong here and they’ve always belonged here and every yard dog knows them. This Deep Dark South, so full of ghosts and beauty and palpable dampness, can inspire and renew and cause little catches in the throat when a person sees something so beautiful they can hardly believe it exists. It can make a person unable to speak about an experience until a day later.

(Which is why I’m only writing this today, after a good night’s sleep and some serious thought)

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