Storyteller Anne Markham Bailey Speaks for the Bankhead
This summer, Wild South sat down with Anne Bailey, producer and director of Present Tense Podcast, to find out more about her inspiring series, “The Fight for Alabama’s Last Wild Places.” This 13-episode work tells the stories of the original activists who fought to protect the Bankhead National Forest many years ago. Anne is an artist, published writer, and meditation practitioner with a deep connection to the natural world.
Below is a transcript of our interview with Anne. Through this conversation, we learn more about her love for the Bankhead National Forest, and how this love inspires her to fight for its protection.
Tell us a little about yourself. What inspires and motivates you?
“My name is Anne Markham Bailey and I am profoundly interested in this world, this life, the deep questions about why we are here, and what is our purpose. I seek to understand forms, such as family, business, embodiment, and language.
The heart of everything that is — this is what interests me. This is what I see when I look around. I see beyond the boundaries of form. The mundane has no home in this world. Money scares me and wealth does not. I am wealthy beyond measure. My wealth is so vast that words can only hint at the expanse, at best.”
Can you describe your relationship to the Warrior Mountains & Bankhead National Forest?
“Regarding the Warrior Mountains and the Bankhead National Forest, I heard about it and I went there. I’d been painting and drawing and writing and telling stories. I sold my art and got all kinds of storytelling gigs.
I was a mother. My son was an adolescent. When he was a boy I took him to the Bankhead National Forest. Perhaps my most important job as a mother was to immerse his being in undiluted essence, so that he could explore deep truth in himself and in the forest rising, in the continual movement of water, in the age of old growth trees, in the calls of birds in the high leaves and in the unending patterns around him and in him.“
How did you first connect with Wild South?
“Like lots of other people in the 90’s, I stopped at the Warrior Mountains Trading Post, home of Wild Alabama. I met Lamar and invited him to come to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Birmingham, and he did. He talked about our rights to clean water, clean air, and to our native lands, our untouched forests, and the moral imperative for each of us to protect these rights from corporate and government greed that made policies for their own benefit, policies that destroyed the public lands that belong to each of us and to all of us. His words resonated and took hold.”
Was there ever a turning point in your spiritual connection to these mountains?
“In the early 2000’s, I met Bobbie Gillespie, who was 6th generation from the Warrior Mountains, and we developed a powerful relationship. We hiked extensively in the Bankhead National Forest and in the Sipsey Wilderness, and he taught me so much. At the time I had begun training as a Vajrayana student of Tibetan Buddhism, and I noticed many parallels between the Cherokee sacred medicine and ceremony that Gillespie practiced and my own path. Gillespie helped me to feel the heart of the Warrior Mountains, and how we are not separate from this place. In the process, I bonded deeply with the forest.”
How does this deep bond translate to your work as the writer, editor, and producer of Present Tense Podcast?
“In 2017 I decided to make a podcast, in order to tell stories that need to be told. I named the podcast Present Tense, and so I began. I the summer of 2018, after Season One was complete, I reached out to Janice Barrett, who I’d come to respect and admire, and I asked her about recording and telling the stories of the grassroots activists like Lamar Marshall and Bobbie Gillespie and Ruth Manasco, who’d started a movement in the 90’s, building on the Sipsey Wilderness designation movement. She loved the idea. Wild South teamed up with Present Tense and the result is a 13-part series ‘The Fight For Alabama’s Last Wild Places.'”
What did conceptualizing, editing, and producing the podcast interviews mean to you?
“Working with stories is a privilege. There’s always a subjective reaction, of course, but when I prepare to record an audio story, to do an interview, I become a receptacle. That’s why I often edit myself out of the story. I facilitate the medium, which is the recorded spoken word, and in this case it’s the Alabama’s Last Wild Places interviews. I love that process. But as I actually built the episodes in production, I sometimes found myself with a whiny mind. Not all that often but some times.
I also own and run a print shop, and I’m a body awareness and meditation teacher, so there’s a schedule that is rather intense at times for sure. I had a schedule to keep for the series releases, and so I went to the studio, but some times I noticed this whiny mind. Each time, as I settled into the interview and into the process, I shifted into a feeling that I’ve lived my entire life to do this work, to sit in the chair of my office studio in Irondale, with simple equipment, with the voices of heroes in my ears, and I am the midwife, ready to catch these stories of personal empowerment strengthened into group action that came from both logic and wisdom. And these stories, the thirteen episodes of the series plus the bonus episode that Janice did, and the two trailers, they are born, and they are beautiful.“
What guidance do you have for young people who want to make a difference in this world?
“Best advice ever if you want to make a difference in this world, and for every one: Learn to meditate. Train your mind so that you can live your life doing what you are here to do. Find out what that means. Develop an intimate relationship with your own being – with your body, mind, spirit – the community of you. Explore deeply and notice details. Engage the senses. Be here now. Practice often. The best path to change is in nurturing a keen grasp of where you are.“
Alabama Outreach & Education Coordinator