Appalachia Oconaluftee/Smokemont

A Sense Of Place In Appalachia

A sense of place in appalachia

A common phrase thrown around when the subject of Appalachia is discussed is ‘sense of place.’ Appalachians like their place. Whether their homes be mansions on a hill or cabins in a holler, they have historically been fiercely attached to them. I’ve shared a Loyal Jones joke with you before, the one about Appalachians having to be chained up in Heaven near the end of the week or else they’d try to go home every weekend.

I’ve asked myself if other inhabitants of this world have such an attachment to their place, but I don’t have the answer to that question because I’ve never lived nowhere other than Appalachia.

There are varying reasons behind our love for home. I’m sure some Appalachian scholar could explain each of them to you in great detail. I like things simple. And in my simple mind I narrow that love of place down to three reasons.

First: There is a feeling, a sense of belonging to the actual terrain of Appalachia. It’s the towering mountains that hover close; the sparkling water that sings a merry song to you; it’s the wind in the trees that whispers secrets; it’s the deep dark hollers that make you feel the presence of those who walked the trails before you. Appalachia is magic. People like me who’ve lived here their entire lives feel the magical pull of belonging to Appalachia but people who move here feel it too.

Second: Generational ties to Appalachia are hard to break. In a 2010 Blind Pig guest post, David Anderson wrote about two of his ancestors. In the post he highlighted the fact that ten generations later the descendants of those ancestors are still abiding in Clay County NC. Take a minute to think about that, ten generations of the same family who walk the same paths; who speak the same words. Ten generations who are bonded with the same landscape and culture of Appalachia never straying far from where their ancestors first settled.

Third: The physical landscape of the Appalachian Mountains has made it an isolated area. Appalachia as a whole was a very remote and hard to get to place and in turn a hard place to make an exit from. It was too hard for people to leave, too hard for them to imagine a life outside the mountains, and it was hard for them to leave in a physical sense as well because their travel was restricted by the rugged terrain. Certainly modern transportation has removed many barriers of Appalachia’s which have traditionally held its inhabitants close. Yet even now, portions of Appalachia could still arguably be called isolated. Murphy, the county seat of Cherokee County NC where I live, is closer to 5 other state’s capitals than to its own. That =s being a long way away from the people who make many of your decisions. My entire life I’ve heard people say Raleigh (our state capital) thinks NC ends at Asheville.

My series on Oconaluftee has born proof that a sense of place was important to the people who called the area home. Generations of families stayed put until their land was taken for the park, even then most of them continued to live somewhere in western NC with many of them choosing to remain in Swain County.

I don’t agree with a lot of things scholars say about Appalachia, but I do agree a sense of place is at the heart of Appalachia and its culture. The thought reminds me of a song Pap and Paul sing-The Hills That I Call Home written by Bob Amos.

A line from the song says: Yet I found no peace within me till the day that I returned For there’s two things you can count on as the troubled world we face Every season has an ending and every person has a place.

Appalachia is my place.


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  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I agree with you.
    I miss my Appalachian home. There’s no ties for me there now. But I still have that longing for the Appalachian ways.

  • Reply
    March 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I can understand this. We moved to the house we were raised in when I was about 10. We grew up there. Our Mother and Grandmother died while we lived there. Our Grandfather died right in the house. That house nurtured many a Redmond, and when our Dad grew too frail to live there alone anymore, our sister and her husband moved in to help and raised their five children there. Then when their children were grown and gone, they moved to a smaller place, and the house went to our niece, and she lived there with her four children. Just recently the house was sold. It was very sad because our Dad loved it so much, and there were so many memories there, but when I prayed on it earnestly, the Lord reminded me of Ecclesiastes 3; there is a time and place for everything, and now our time for that house is over, and now it can be “home” to someone else.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I loved your comments about Appalachia. It is hard to describe the feeling to someone who doesn’t feel it. You did a great job of it along with the other comments from readers. I live in Missouri and have most of my life. We live on my husbands great grandparents farm. But my folks are from North Arkansas and I still feel a longing when I here a true Ozark accent in someones voice or see pictures of the Ozark hills. Thanks, it’s a comfort to hear others feel like you do!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    From Appalachian dirt I was created and to the same I will return. Would I be presumptuous to call myself an Appalachian?

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    February 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    One of your best, most heartfelt posts. Thanks for transporting me to your world.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    February 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    There’s no place like home and Appalchia flows through our veins.. Good post.

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    February 26, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    How very true!My grandparents left in 1910 for a job in NW Fla.They stayed here but made trips back home.Now I try to get back home to the mountains every chance I can.My dream is to be able to move to live in the only place I feel I belong.I feel such a sense of peace when I am back there.

  • Reply
    Ashley R
    February 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    I have moved a lot and been around people from all over America, and I think this is so true of Appalachia. Even all the way in China, I still long for my mountain home. Many Americans overseas struggle with a sense of place, of being rooted in any culture. That is never hard for me. While my heart may now be in American and China, my soul, the deepest part of my identity, my roots are in Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Mrs. V
    February 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve only been here 3 short years & can’t imagine leaving. We were in the city on an 1/8 of an acre w/ identical houses across & besides us.
    I cannot imagine confining my children to such a small world now that I’ve seen them take 2 mile (vertical climbing!)hikes in stride, rappel down the hill barefoot covered w/ poke berry juice, build leaf forts, dig a million red clay holes, avenge themselves on the ornery rooster & make their miniature TVA projects in the branch. It’s the childhood I would have taken, & I have no doubt that they’ll grow up w/ a sense of place as well.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Wow!! Tipper you are so right, Appalachia is a very special place. I totally agree that a sense of place is at the heart of Appalachia and its culture. I’m so proud that Appalachia is my home!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Tipper–I guess that in some senses I could be considered a scholar of Appalachia in that I have a scholar’s training and have written a good bit about the area and read a great deal.
    I’ve got several things to add to your perceptive blog.
    1. You are squarely on track when you say that you don’t agree with a fair amount of what scholars of Appalachia have to say. I would simply note that a goodly number of those academic types don’t have Appalachian roots. They write OF a place but they are not FROM it. The difference, although difficult to express in words, is a real and tangible one. You simply cannot have quite the same feel, understanding and empathy for the region unless that is where your roots lie.
    2. Sense of place is not unique to Appalachia although it is and always has been particularly strong in the region. The Bushmen of the Kalahari in south Africa have a similar love, and the mountain men of that narrow window of time (roughly 1810-1830) seldom wanted to leave the region of the Rockies once exposed to it. That being duly recognized, the pull of Appalachia is undeniably a mighty one.
    3. Another factor, and you dance around it in a beguiling way, is the sheer beauty of at least parts of Appalachia–the mountains, the vistas, the vegetation (unmatched in diversity anywhere in the northern hemisphere), and the special outlook of mountain folks–are all factors which set us apart.
    The subject is a complex and sometimes confusing one, yet I daresay that virtually everyone who was born and raised in the region knows its pull. In the final analysis it is something better understood by experiencing it than by trying to describe it with words.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 11:58 am

    You’ve pretty well covered the
    feeling of belonging somewhere
    and I agree There’s No Place Like

  • Reply
    Barbara Woodall
    February 26, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I’m one of those Appalachians who’d tussle with God about staying confined on golden streets and pluckin’ harps. That’s not heaven to me. Heaven is where ever God is, so HE’s Appalachian too… sure glad cuz I get homesick at home.
    Nice post, nice comments

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Very well put, Tipper. When I was small my family lived in Texas for a few years. My mother hated it and couldn’t wait to get back to the mountains.
    I feelcradledd in the arms of these mountains. This is my home.
    Thanks for your very articulate description of home.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 26, 2013 at 9:29 am

    A great post, Tipper. I think you got it right. I am really looking forward to returning.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I have lived most of my life in Appalachia and I absolutely love to see and be around true mountain people. There is a difference between country people, rednecks and mountain people. There is something special about each of the three groups but mountain people seem, in my mind, to just tie themselves more to this place than other people. They live in direct relationship to their holler or bottom or whatever. I love their sense of time and place and change and life. This place is my home and, as my wife says, these WV mountains hug me every morning and hold me close and protect me.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I love living in Appalachia and have only lived outside of these mountains for a short while when I was young. It would really be hard for me to imagine living somewhere else. Your explanations of why we feel this way are very interesting…and very true. I also think that the Appalachian region is the most beautiful place on earth.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    February 26, 2013 at 8:49 am

    and that sense of place brings a feeling of safety, serenity and belonging…..Where ever I am if there’s woods to walk in I still get a bit of that feeling.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I feel blessed to be able to experience a sense of place both here in our log cabin in Appalachia and at our river house. I love the simplicity of life here at the cabin, our efforts to be self sufficient…keeping our hands and hearts deep in the mountain soil. I love the expanse of our river place, the ability to watch as the river passes by and the fact that it is closer to family than the cabin. When I am here, I am home. When I am on the river I am home too. But our mountain life is always in my heart, no matter where I am.

  • Reply
    Debbie Fields
    February 26, 2013 at 8:24 am

    I so enjoyed reading this post! I am a native Tennessean, now a resident of Kentucky, and have Cherokee ancestors. You are so on the mark here. I have lived in IN and CO for short periods of time but my heart always yearned to be ” home “. The mountains out west have a beauty all their own. Yet for me, the Smokies are THE mountains. Thank you for your writings which help keep our culture alive.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 26, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Appalachia commands this feeling from people from all over. I am a 5th generation Floridian, but the 6th generation came from the mountains of NC. Every time I visit that same sense of peace and homecoming comes over me, especially in the forest areas.

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    February 26, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Adventure or a sense of place. Each of us either decides or the decision is made for us. Either way we are always wondering how the other path would have turned out. I am envious.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 8:07 am

    My family has lived in the same area our entire lives and can trace back to the 1700’s. As I’ve gotten older, this has become more and more my “place”. The roots are strong that keep me here and the memories warm my heart. Content to stay here
    There’s no place like home.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 26, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Tipper, being a born-there, died-in-the-wool Appalachian person, I think you have well-summarized our reasons for loving our hills of home: Sense of belonging, Generational ties, and Isolation (hard to leave the terrain). As one who moved away and misses the place where I was born and reared, I have a nostalgic turn toward it. Here is a little free-verse thought about our beloved mountains:
    The Hills of Home
    The hills of home draw me
    Their crenelated heights a magnet
    Propelling my heart homeward.
    The streams of home beckon me
    Refreshing water singing songs
    In cascades over rocks and rills.
    The fields of home entice me
    Their call to hard labor
    To plow, to plant, to till and harvest.
    The folks of home hold me
    Their love a strong blood-bond
    From patriots of all generations.
    The faith of home sustains me
    Giving courage in darkest night
    Hope with each new day’s dawn.
    The hills of home will enfold me
    The land my ancestors settled
    Where I will finally come to rest.
    by Ethelene Dyer Jones
    We had a saying in Choestoe when our young folks went out to college or to work. My father and aunt reminded me, as many young folks had been reminded before: “As you go, remember where you’re from. Don’t do anything to bring reproach upon this place or your upbringing.” I found that to be very good advice!

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 7:55 am

    My wife grew up on welfare and moved a lot. She doesn’t feel an attachment to any place. Everywhere we’ve been was just a temporary place to her. I grew up in Graham County, NC and Monroe County, TN and always felt a connection to everywhere we’ve been but none as strong as when I drive through the Western NC mountains.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 7:22 am

    I really enjoy the mountains and the valleys. I haven’t formed an opinion about what people say because I am still learning about it. You present a lot of great information.

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    February 26, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Excellent post. My mother grew up moving around and had no “place” that meant the world to her, though a couple places meant more to her than others. My dad grew up on land his father and grandfather farmed and never left it. I grew up the same. It makes a difference.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2013 at 5:04 am

    All these people and posts about the mountains I know I would myself feel the same about the mountains. I have always wanted to be in the high country. Some day I just might make it. It would be like trying to dig a possum out of a creek bank to get me to leave! No way!

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