Finding Joy in Insignificance

I think that, quite often, we humans like to celebrate significance, and the fact that we ourselves are significant.  We theorize about ideas like the butterfly effect, where every little thing that we do has a serious impact on someone or something in the future.   We share stories of brief encounters with strangers that end up changing lives forever.   George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (Oh, how I love George Bailey) thinks his life has been a waste only to discover all of the lives that he has touched.  In short, we like to think that what we do is important.  And, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It isn’t necessarily an untruthful thing.  But sometimes I think that it would also be good for us to celebrate our insignificance.

One thing that I have grown to like about the mountains is the fact that they are an excellent place to realize the power of insignificance.  This past weekend, my housemate Debbie, Paige (a visiting volunteer), and I decided to try and find Pretty House.  Pretty House is a hike that we had all heard about, but never been to.  None of us knew how to get there, but there were some yellowed directions stuck to a bulletin board in the volunteer house.

So, we ventured out.  The road took us past fallen trees sliding down hills (logging, logging, logging), homes with porches stacked full of wood, and the path to the Wind Caves (another interesting adventure to be had, but not on this occasion).  We eventually ended up on a two-track, where we forded one creek that was traveling across the road with our van, only to meet another.  At which point, we decided that (a) we were pretty sure that we had gone too far and (b) we weren’t so sure that we could ford this deeper creek so well, so we’d better turn around anyway.  Turning around was tricky due to the fact that the road was only as wide as a car and was surrounded by woods, but Paige managed it with her sweet driving skills (I knew we brought her along for a good reason!).  Luckily, after turning around, we discovered that we had in fact passed the unmarked Pretty House trail.

I had no idea what Pretty House was before I got there.  I just knew that it was in nature and involved hiking, and that I was therefore game.  Pretty House is actually a really neat rock formation, with a couple of caves for shelter, climbing opportunities, and a pretty nice view.  I really liked it.

And one of the reasons that I really liked it was this:  It was one of those places that makes me realize how insignificant I am.

Realizing your insignificance can be scary.  I remember how much I disliked the mountains when I first came here.  They just seemed kind of ominous and uninviting.  And insignificance is like that.  It’s really scary to sit back and think “Huh.  In the whole scheme of things, I’m really tiny and unimportant.”

But at the same time, it’s really cool…and dare I say it?  Refreshing!

I had one of these significant insignificant moments in the autumn at Cumberland Falls.  It had been rainy and the Falls were at their most uproarious.  I and some housemates also hiked back to Dogslaughter Falls, a long hike that gives ample opportunities for scrambling amongst gigantic rocks and realizing how tiny and unimportant you are.  I really can’t help looking at things like this without thinking “Holy cow pies.  This is amazing.”

It’s so interesting to think about how old these rocks that are oh-so-much-larger-than-me really are, and how many people oh-so-many-years-ago have walked in their shadows, and furthermore, how many people oh-so-many-years-from-now are going to be walking their shadows long after I’m gone.

Yes.  There’s nothing like a huge piece of rock to make your realize your insignificance.

I’m human.  I spend a lot of time thinking about my personal problems and what’s going on with me personally.  Sometimes, my problems seem like a pretty big deal to me.  But, in the whole scheme of things, they really aren’t.  Like, AT ALL.  The world is so much bigger than me and my little world.  And God!  God sees and hears and knows so much more than me.

I am so insignificant!

And that’s kind of, well, awesome.

The Town Where History Lives

It was a chilly, but sunny, afternoon.  The Thanksgiving leftovers were still digesting in our stomachs.  The cow was out again down the road, and we were on our way to visit the Village of Oakwood Acres in Jackson County, Kentucky.

The Village of Oakwood Acres is not like other villages.  It was founded and entirely built by one man.  It has never been inhabited by anyone other than the dream people and the memory people, and they only show themselves to those who look hard enough.

We pulled into the driveway of Oakwood Acres, beckoned on by Travis Sparks, the founder of the village.  He started building this village 21 years ago, and has been adding to it every year.  He is 93 years old, but doesn’t look it.  When the weather is good, he can be seen out here, working on his village for up to forty hours a week.  He greets us with a smile and a handshake.  We met here by appointment, and he is here to give us a tour.

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“Now,” he says with a smile and a tilt of his head, “I always tell people that come to visit:  ‘Don’t think of this village as something that was just built – think of this as a real live community where people live and work.  And for some reason, today they all had to go somewhere in a hurry and left everything right where they had it.'”

I like that.  With that one sentence, he allowed me a glimpse of his dream people.  People sculpted from memories of when he was a kid in the 1920s and 1930s.

The amount of time and effort that has gone into this village is amazing.  There are at least 17 buildings (that I remember) and they are filled with the appropriate antiques for their purpose.  The blacksmith shop is equipped with tools and a large bellows.  The country home is fully furnished and kitchen utensils sit on the counter, right where the dream people left them.  The post office has a wall of boxes waiting to be filled with mail.  The Dr.’s office has a sign above the door proclaiming that you are coming to visit Dr. Quack.

The village even has some animal friends.  Not too far into our tour, a pair of half-grown cats come scampering down the hill from his house that sits on the mountain above the village.  They meander in and out of the buildings, taking the tour with us (and causing a little bit of trouble along the way).

Mr. Sparks has stories and demonstrations to share in every building.  At the barber shop, he shows us what they would use to cut hair; and at the convenience store, he shows us how they would determine the size of the eggs on a little scale.  He tells the story of a country boy who visited a city house.  When he got home, his family asked him what he thought of the city.  “Well,” he said, “it was nice, but it wasn’t very sanitary.  The people went to the bathroom right in the house!”

The country house at Oakwood Acres is, of course, equipped with an outhouse that contains all of the necessities, like an old Sears catalog.  The garages are equipped with old cars and horse wagons.  He points out one stop sign to us with a grin on his face.

“This stop sign here,” he says, “is for the horses.”

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One of our final stops is the chicken coop.

“Now,” he says, “I keep a few chickens here.  They’re less of a nuisance than these two cats.  If I open the door real careful, you’ll be able to peer in and see them.”

I look through a crack as he opens the door, expecting the sight of feathered, brooding chickens.  But this village, of course, is not like other villages.  The opened door reveals a chicken coop fully equipped with everything a chicken would need, and the chickens are sitting there in a pile of straw in their boxes.  But they are made of cloth and stuffing rather than flesh and blood.

This chicken coop is a very fitting end to the tour because it mixes three of my favorite things: country living, history, and humor.  Three things which are abundant in this town where history lives.

We left the Village of Oakwood Acres that day fully satisfied.  It’s not every day that you get to step back in time, but that day –

We did.