Thoughts From the Producer of Present Tense Podcast - Anne Markham Bailey
“The Fight For Alabama’s Last Wild Places” is a 13-part series that I hosted and produced for my podcast Present Tense. My roots in the series are deep and personal. I met Lamar Marshall, the founder of the magazine Bankhead Monitor in the late 1990’s, and a friendship with Lamar and his wife Kathleen developed. Their Warrior Mountains Trading Post was an important hub - for the work of the Bankhead Monitor, for the development of Wild Alabama, for local and regional craftspeople, for forest lovers of every ilk, and as a physical location for community growth. Many people came together at the Warrior Mountains Trading Post in Wren, Alabama. I was one of them. At the Trading Post, I met Bobby Gillespie, sixth generation in a Cherokee-Irish forest family and a Cherokee silversmith. His life was immersed and enmeshed in the Warrior Mountains and the Bankhead National Forest. I met him just after I’d completed a series of solitary weekly forest immersions for an essay titled “In These Wild Hands” exploring the deep and sacred wildness of being. “Do you know of any sacred sites in the forest?” I asked him. “Sacred sites in the forest?” he said. He smiled and looked at me, inquisitive and unhurried. I nodded, looking at the animals and symbols that formed the sterling silver pendants and cuffs in his jewelry case. “I reckon I do,” he replied. “Could you take me?” I asked. “You want to go now?” he said. I nodded. So we went out and got into his truck. He took me to Kinlock Rock Shelter. That day began what was to be a years’ long mentorship. He taught me the names of forest plants and their uses, What it is to be in deep relationship with all of being, to understand the world as a living space in which humans participate with reverence, humility and joy rather than through domination and contempt. We explored space and silence as a threshold for revelation. Bobby Gillespie showed me that wild places are sacred teachers.
Following Bobby’s unexpected death, I felt an urgency to document the voices and stories of the core group of people who fought to protect this rich, complex, living forest teacher, supported by the legal work of attorney Ray Vaughn and WildLaw, “in helping to move the U.S. Forest Service from a management scheme of prioritizing commercial extraction to a paradigm of ecological restoration and conservation.” (I was not able to interview Ray Vaughn for the series.) I had already launched Present Tense podcast as a platform to tell the stories that need to be told, from artists, poets, immigrants, and thinkers. I approached Janice Barrett, Education and Outreach Coordinator of Wild Alabama, about creating a podcast series of interviews with this core group from the Bankhead Movement. Her support on the project was fundamental. She brought everyone together in a way that was crucial. The interview process was a deep privilege for me. As I listened to the stories unfold, I heard a profound resolve to stand up and to protect this place that rises from the connected heart, rooted in the forest as home, as the generous giver of life. The songs of Faron Weeks and the White Horse Singers wrap each interview and invite the listener in and then usher them out, and call us to attend, to listen for the wisdom of the ancestors in the rivers and creeks, in the winds, in the hemlocks, in the cool depths of a rock shelter, in the mystery at the heart of existence.
These interviews point to the history of Wild Alabama’s successful grass roots movement to change US Forest Service policy in the Bankhead National Forest, and to what is possible when a group of people are joined together through a shared valuing of what is precious and irreplaceable, what took millions of years to form, our true home and source. As we listen in this digital sharing circle, we learn that when a group of people with indigenous roots in north Alabama call upon the power of the place itself, for wisdom and energy and guidance, as these folks tell it, things happen, and we are all better for it. May these interviews inspire you to support the work and the vision of Wild Alabama. We are here together. This world needs you. Each of us plays a vital role in life. If you are not sure about your role, you might ask the question out loud. You might call to the grandmothers for understanding and insight. Educate yourself. Give generously.
I’m a writer and Forest Bathing guide. Once a month, Janice Barrett and I guide participants in a Forest Bathing day in the Bankhead National Forest in a series of invitations that support the deep power of the connecting into the forest as home. To learn more about my books and programs, go to www.annemarkhambailey.com