Editor’s Note

Earlier this spring, we were invaded by squirrels—a gang of wily creatures that leapt their way to our gutter from a towering walnut tree. But their play didn’t stop there. They found a small hole just beneath the overhang of the metal roof and enlarged it with their sharp little incisors. Soon they were running the length of the soffit, tumbling in their revelries on the vinyl sheeting, scratching on the insulation in the middle of the night.

It was pure hell. Our dogs, two little aging dachshunds, were irate. They would erupt in the dead of night, barking at the invaders and slinging their blankets with their teeth. We sat humane live traps for the squirrels, but often they managed to escape. We all lost sleep and patience, until finally, after using a combination of successful live traps and hiring carpenters to repair the hole, peace was restored. Despite the havoc and frustration wreaked by the squirrels, I came to sympathize with them, admiring their persistence in establishing a den of shelter and rest from the chilly March winds and April rainstorms, and evading our best-laid plans to capture them.

I long to be like these critters—inquisitive, fearless, resilient, determined to create a community tucked away from outside cares and worries. Literature can help to do just that, and in these times I’m reminded of the value of remaining curious and open, of reading to explore new worlds, while also using literature to disappear for a few hours from the tumultuous present. I hope you will allow this issue of Appalachian Heritage to serve that function in your own lives.

The stories in this issue will take you into the life of a mountain matriarch struggling with illness in T.M. Williams’s lyrical “Murmuration” and to disputed property boundaries in Michael Gray’s “Neighborly.” You will be transported in the essays to a house near the railroad tracks in Rebecca Schamore’s mournful “Trains,” to a holler in West Virginia where a family is attempting to negotiate momentous change in Janet S. Holloway’s “The Letters”, to a university town in southeastern Ohio where the narrator finds a connection between transportation and national identity in Micah McCrary’s “A Natural American.” And then there are the poems—a moving quartet from William Kelley Woolfitt, a trio steeped in place and identity from Samantha Cole, and a paean to snake canes from Annie Woodford, among other beautiful verse. Scott Honeycutt’s insightful craft essay on renowned poet Charles Wright explores his Appalachian roots in East Tennessee, and Katherine Scott Crawford leads a revealing conversation with bestselling novelist Connie May Fowler about her new memoir A Million Fragile Bones.

While you read, as you nest, be like the dogged squirrel. Escape.

Jason Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words and co-author of Something's Rising, both works of literary journalism. His essays, features, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, The Louisville Review, The Nation, Sojourners, on NPR, and in other publications and venues. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is editor of Appalachian Heritage.

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