I made it back from my weekend trip to the mountains near Burnsville, North Carolina. I slammed that SubscribeStar Saturday post out after being up since 5:30 AM, two hundred miles of driving, and a full day of family fun in Asheville, so I skimped on some details, even if I hit the main points I wanted to address.
It was a very rushed trip, with my girlfriend and I departing around 11 AM Sunday to take in some sights before rushing back to prepare for our busy workweeks. We managed to spend a little time in Burnsville, which is named for Captain Otway Burns, a sailor and hero of the War of 1812. A statue of Captain Burns, erected in 1909, stands in the town square, with an inscription that reads, “He Guarded Well Our Seas, Let Our Mountains Honor Him.”
From there, we headed into the mountains, eventually reaching the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination was Mount Mitchell State Park, which provides easy access to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains, and the highest in the eastern continental United States.
Unfortunately, when we reached the park (around 1 PM), it was mysteriously closed, with a sign promising to reopen around 3 PM. There were law enforcement officers present, so there’s no telling what could have happened up there. Despite that closure, we managed to enjoy some scenic pull-offs, including one bordering the Asheville Watershed (I peed on a side trail in the nearby forest, so hopefully the hipsters have good water filtration systems). Otherwise, it was a long, beautiful drive down the other side of the mountain, and back to flat land.
I haven’t been up to the mountains in awhile, but it’s always a joy. My great-grandmother, my Mamaw, lived in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, in Wise County, near Pound, Virginia. The mountains of western North Carolina reminded me very much of going up to see her when my brothers and I were kids. There’s a smell up in the mountains—I think it’s clover—that always reminds us of being at Mamaw’s house.
When my mom was a little girl, she loved spending summers up there, and loathed leaving. I can understand why. The air is so crisp and fresh, and there is a serenity to the mountains.
But mountain living is tough. So are the people that carved out homesteads in those hard mountains. It’s a marvel of human ingenuity and gumption that they managed to clear trees and build muddy roads to remote, lonely places. I was a bit nervous driving without cell service; my ancestors cleared that land—full of bears, cougars, and a thousand other ghastly terrors—with little more than some simple tools and a desire to live free, on their own terms.
There is a great deal of poverty in Appalachia today, but also great pride. The folks up there are of feisty, independent Scotch-Irish extraction. Their ancestors fled oppression and authority in England to build a hardscrabble life in the backwoods. It’s little wonder, then, that they still resist federal authority and do-gooding reformers.
We saw a couple of these guys hauling an incomprehensible load of bric-a-brac aback a rusted out truck. They were burning random debris on the side of the road, grinning from ear to ear. I have no earthly idea what they were trying to accomplish, but they were having a blast.
I can’t help but think that the mountains, like other parts of rural America, will benefit from advances in information technology and the transition to remote work. That said, I hope the local textile and lumber mills—not to mention the coal mines—can stay functioning, so the last of those old Scotch-Irish hillbillies don’t get run out by turtlenecked gentrifiers looking for a summer home. Burnsville is solidly Trump Country (according to US Census Bureau demographic data, it’s 95.5% white, which weeds out a bunch of grievance mongers and Left-leaning ethnicities), and it would be a shame to see it and other rural communities become miniature Ashevilles.
The mountain spirit, though, wouldn’t allow it. There are deep—and well-deserved—wells of pride among the people of the mountains. They built civilization out of the hollers and glens of a treacherous landscape; for that, they deserve our respect.
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