Reaching Out by Fred Wilbur

Photo of rural countryside
Photo by Frederick Wilbur

Among rural Piedmont foothills, coves of the gentle Blue Ridge Mountains, is where I live. There is no incorporated town in the county; the courthouse town has but a few hundred residents. As internet access reaches into the remotest corners and the local newspaper sees its circulation numbers dwindle, it is fortunate that an online Facebook group has been set-up as a community bulletin board. No substitute for Moose Lodge dances, a church chitterling dinner or a Fourth of July parade, but the group serves to disseminate information, both of a general and a particular nature in open rather than private conversations. People ask for recommendations of reliable plumbers, car repair shops or air conditioner technicians. Others want to know if anyone could use a leftover pile of perfectly good bricks, an adorable kitten (or three), or has a recipe for grandmother’s coveted biscuits. There are requests for affordable housing, for pet sitters, for vendors to participate in a farm/craft market. There are photographs of ‘give-away-for-free, you pick up’ items—anything from walnut logs to furniture to old magazines. There are snapshots of sunsets beyond Three Ridges, storm clouds over Massies Mill, dawn creeping pinkly over Peebles Mountain. There are old black and whites of buildings or landmarks that are no longer landmarks or buildings. All in all, the service is a marvelous thing for our community.

Of course, there are all sorts of groups on Facebook. Most seem to be centered on a specific interest or activity, however. Just name an interest—different aspects of history, collecting everything from Barbies, coins, and comic books, to band fan clubs and there is a group. Just think of an activity—from enjoying travel with an Airstream club, conventions of Star Trek devotees, or conventions of poetry lovers, and you can participate vicariously, at the least.

Our local group is just that, local; not centered on a particular interest or activity, but whatever the community deems relevant (and perhaps not so relevant). The information can be as narrowly focused as a specific request which may address only the person who has an extra whatever, but there can be important public service announcements regarding rock slides, car wrecks blocking the highway, or rarely, a civil disturbance.

I’d like to make several observations about some of the questions and about some of the responses. Though there are many ‘natives’ derived from the earliest settlers of the area, there has been a steady influx of ‘outsiders’ (or “come heres” as some say) over the last fifty years who have arrived from different parts of the state and the country. I don’t have solid figures to illustrate the immigration and emigration for the county. Being a back-to-the-lander of the 1970s, I cannot pass judgment as to whether such population fluctuations are good or bad. Those arriving more recently come for the natural beauty, recreation possibilities and quality of life (with two university towns close by) as I did. Though there may be some resistance to change on the part of some natives, the acceptance of ‘new people’ has been more often the case. The population of the county has been around 15,000 (14,755: 2020 census) for twenty years or more.

Back to the posts on the FB site, I am amused that there are a fair portion of posts that ask about identifying some snake or plant. Usually these are from folks new to rural living. To be fair there are also pre-emptive photos of bears in the back yard, of squirrels doing tricks at bird feeders, or advice to leave fawns where they are seen or pointing out the difference between poison ivy and box elder leaves. This information and many other questions are appropriate and are accommodated by the group. Fortunately, there is a volunteer administrator who admonishes those who cross the rules of civility set forth upon joining.

The responses to information or requests are naturally varied—some receiving only a few helping hints while some garner several dozen responses. As you might well assume there is somewhere in the thread usually a direct answer to the request. Some answers, however are muddled or contradictory and require that comments be taken in aggregate or by tally. Take for instance, a picture of a snake with a begging for identification and whether it is poisonous or not. There will be several guesses, several contradictions, a professional sounding explanation, several reminiscences, someone who wants to kill it, another who makes a snide comment. After all the back and forth, a consensus is reached, and I hope the person asking is satisfied.

For some requests there is nothing quite like networking among a specific group or community. (“What are they digging up at the old gas station on route 151?” or “There’s a wreck just south of Billys Place, find another way.”) What I find most troubling among mostly helpful intentions, is the smart-ass who by being such shows his insecurity, his meanness or his ignorance. The effort to make something humorous often comes off as sarcasm which few enjoy.

I have no doubt that there are many online local bulletin boards serving their members with useful information, sympathy, empathy, and a sense of community. Such arrangements are one of the positive aspects of the pervasive social media life we find ourselves living.

Frederick Wilbur
Frederick Wilbur received his BA from the University of Virginia and an MA from the University of Vermont. He has authored three books on architectural and decorative woodcarving. His two poetry collections are As Pus Floats the Splinter Out and Conjugation of Perhaps. His work has appeared in many print and on-line reviews including Shenandoah, The Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, The Dalhousie Review, Rise Up Review, and Mojave River Review. He was awarded the Stephen Meats Award by Midwest Quarterly (2017).

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