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“Staubs and Ditchwater” by H. Byron Ballard

StaubsDitchwaterI love it when I can read a short book and after I am done, feel like I got a lot out of it, as opposed to plodding through 700 pages and thinking that the writer could have covered the topic in less time and saved some trees. Anyway, Staubs and Ditchwater is one of those short books that I feel is both interesting and packed with great information.

The book is an introduction to Appalachian folk magic, or as Ms. Ballard calls it, Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. It is a combination of instructions and essays, the essays serving as a sort of memoir to provide background on how she learned the traditional folk practices.

What I found to be the most fascinating aspect of this book is that it provides insight into a way of life that is rapidly vanishing in our increasingly homogenized world. Ballard grew up in a place where people had a strong connection to the environment around them. It was also still a time when ideas and traditions were passed down from generation to generation. This world is nearly extinct. Culture is now dished out through the 300+ cable channels that constantly bombard you with propaganda telling you how you should live, what you should eat, what you should wear, and so forth. It truly seems that the days of your grandmother teaching you homeopathic remedies are gone.

This book is very practical and the recipes (or as she calls them receipts) are simple enough that anyone could try them. Personally, I am eager to try a few out myself, and since I live in southern Appalachia, I have the added benefit of being able to draw upon the energy of the environment around me.

Whether you are interested in folk traditions or not, this book is worth a read. If nothing else, it provides an excellent first-hand account of a way of life that is unique to the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

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