Appalachia Celebrating Appalachia Videos

Talking About Sense of Place in Appalachia

leaves under trees

In my latest video I talk about the sense of place most Appalachians feel about their homeland. It’s a subject I’ve studied on often over the years.

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.

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.

When we talk about someone moving away we often say they moved off.

off = away from here.

“Jane’s oldest son moved off and made a doctor. He never did come back.”

“Can’t believe you don’t remember when his store burnt down. I guess that was when you lived off.”

I believe the manner in which ‘off’ is used in the sentences above is directly related to the sense of place native Appalachians often have. To quote Loyal Jones “We are oriented around place.” And “Our place is close on our minds.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter where ‘off’ is – it only matters that it’s not here.

I hope you enjoyed the video! Do you feel a strong attachment to the place you live? Or maybe the place you were raised?

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  • Reply
    April 27, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve learned so much about my family history and myself learning about Appalachia. My
    mom was born in a coal miners camp in Eastern Ky. My great grandpa left because of the dangerous and limited work opportunities. Soon after my grandparents and mom, who was two, followed. My whole family who moved up with them lived within a field of each other at that point, and as a kid, that’s where we always went to. That’s home.

    I see now that staying close and sticking to home and the people around you was just what my grandparents knew. It was their way of life going back to Appalachia. Not only family, but friends and neighbor’s were drawn to my home place. People I otherwise never would have known, I met just because they felt so comfortable and welcome with my grandma. I see I was blessed by Appalachia when I didn’t know it through what my grandparents just considered “normal”.

    I think you guys have something with nicknames here too. Everyone needs a nickname. It’s a symbol of having another level of place, and you know you’ve found the nick name that was meant to be when one sticks.

    Also, something about Appalachian culture takes normal up a notch by not expecting too much. Just taking life as it comes while doing the best you can with what you have makes you a more relaxed yet more useful person. There’s so much less trying, but so much more accomplishing in your culture I think.

    I keep saying “I think” because I’m just now seeing the connections passed on in my own life and way….I think. I can’t really express all I’m seeing, but I really believe it’s from Appalachia. I think I serve where I got a lot from.

    You are absolutely right about that region having such a draw for the people of that area. I know they never would have left had they had other job opportunities, they always longed for their Appalachian home on some level, and had their own family not taken root; they would have eventually moved back. Even so, still now I see I was very impacted by Appalachia without realizing it.

    There’s something enduringly simple but profoundly wise about the Appalachian way of life. And it sticks because it works physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I know it sticks because generations removed, I see it took hold in my own life without me even knowing it.

    I’m going to make the food my grandma made and teach my kids the things she brought with her the best I can so we don’t forget where we came from. I ate those fried pies and didn’t realize they had such a tradition. Your videos will help as I can share more context and my memory is jogged to remember things I forgot.

    Your videos have also helped me understand why I never quite feel at home or like I fit in. I think the world tries to make things too complicated for what I was raised with. I have had so much more peace and confidence in myself to just be myself. It’s like an immaturity I didn’t realize in not being whole. I didn’t know I was missing something, till I was not only remained what I forgot, but given context in your videos. It’s like, “oh, so that’s why I …..”

    I know my grandmother had a strength and humility God looked on with favor. I really feel like he has used your videos to point me back to something that I don’t yet know the full impact, but I know it’s in faithfulness to the generations that He has used your videos to remind me there’s something worth keeping and passing on. Just being more accepting and founded in my own place and what I know and love has helped me when I wasn’t realizing it. My whole family is more at peace and less upright since I’ve gained this insight.

    I think it’s a contentment that comes with humility to do what you’re given to do happily, be happy with what you have but not greedy or possessive with it. Seeing it in your videos gives me a bit of a foundation for a lot of things I naturally feel. Not comparing yourself to others seems to be a thread I’m noticing as well. It’s a real humility. People were just so good at being who they were, and so good at letting other people be who they were. It works and brings out the best in people, and I think it goes back to Appalachia. I miss that!! I’m trying to bring that back.

    I was also reminded how many words and phrases I’ve lost, and how I still haven’t found something in “proper” English to really replace them. The entire point of communication, the entire point of hospitality, the entire point of work and leisure – Appalachians just get it I think.

    Anyway, I could go on and on trying to express something that I really can’t, but I feel like I just understand it naturally and now that I’ve recognized it, I am proud (in a good way) of it. I know God gave it to me because I need it.

    Here’s my long-winded point – I’m amazed at how long reaching Appalachian culture and wisdom really is, and I didn’t see it until I heard a bit from you.

    I know in my heart God remembers the prayers, faith, and strength of the ones before me. I believe He gave me something I was neglecting back to me by just reminding me of my place and where it stemmed from with your videos.

    There’s a reason we’re born who we are in the families we’re in. We need something only that line can give to do well in life I believe, and I’m amazed at how perfect God is to know where to place us. I needed to accept my whole self and notice how much has went into who He made me. It’s that way for each of us, but I was blind to how much I forgot and was neglecting.

    Im glad for you they you love your place and Im glad to know God has someone so purely content with the place He gave you. That’s a really pure level of worship in gratitude, snd I’m happy for Him on account of you. Blessings and prayers for you and yours.

    A few thoughts and words I was reminded of watching your videos

    I have heard about “salt pork” but my granny not only used that word but also “jaw bacon”. I’ve always assumed, but am not sure, if they are the same thing.

    If ALL the cows lay down, it’s going to rain.

    Cutting corn bread is bad luck (from an aunt not in my direct line but she also has Appalachia roots so maybe it’s from there?)

    It took me until I was grown to realize that saying something was “sorrier that cuarn” was saying they were no more useful than a dead animal (carrion)

    It’s not Memorial Day, it’s memer all day.

    I had heard that the animals kneel on Christmas night as well and Jan 6 being the actual Christmas.

    I think maybe pork for New Years or Easter, or cabbage for New Years or Easter, or both park and cabbage for one or the other. I can’t remember for sure, but there was some tradition in one of these that I think had to go back to the mountains because it was from my grandma.

    • Reply
      April 27, 2021 at 7:25 pm

      Kathy-thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts. I’m humbled to have been part of what you’re feeling!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 26, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    Where you from?
    Wiggins Creek!
    Where is that?
    It’s a suburb of Needmore!
    Where’s Needmore?
    Southern end of Swain County!
    Where’s Swain County?
    Do you know where The Great Smoky Mountains Park is?
    Tennessee! Isn’t it ?
    Well yes, but half of it is in Swain County, North Carolina.
    Oh I didn’t know that! So you are from the Park?
    No, I am from the part of Swain County nobody knows or seems to care about.
    Well, how do I get there?
    Do you know where the Casino is in Cherokee?
    Yes, I’ve been there several times!
    Well, you go to the Casino and instead of stopping just roll down the window and throw out a handful of money. Keep going another twenty nine miles to the southwest you’ll find the place where my heart is.

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    April 26, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    Lovely post Tipper; I am 2-3 generations removed from the West Virginia hills where my paternal grandmother was born and raised. She left after high school and never returned except the few times she visited us when we lived in Charleston (a coincidence; Dad was posted there in his first job with duPont). But because of that we visited his cousins and aunts and uncles in the mountains SE of Charleston. I loved those places and they call to me still. I was at a music camp in Elkins, W VA in the fall of ’19 and I felt I was “home.”

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    Never saw you play before. And Paul’s voice – someone coulda thought they were hearing Pap on that high lonesome sound.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    I’m the same way about Boyer Creek bottom in Prentiss County Mississippi. My Confederate veteran great grandfather bought his first plot here in 1890. I’m the only one left here. Heirs besides my dad sold off theirs one by one. My engineer older brother sold his part recently & it broke my heart to see it leave the family; brilliant sister settled in east TN decades ago. My favorite memories are late summer afternoon, milking and cleanup done, walking out among the cows, checking over them, with the bats flying overhead. And harvesting silage in the fall. And the green rows of corn in the summer. Not to mention a new calf, or the strutted udders in the morning looking ready to pop. I genuinely feel for anyone who didn’t have the blessing of growing up on a family farm

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    April 26, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    I had been married almost 35 years to my Virginia flatlander husband when my mom died…joining my daddy who had died of black lung 9 years earlier . Til the day they passed, they always referred to my husband as …THAT boy from OFF. My old flatlander and I have done ok…for nearly 49 years now. We have lived all that time hundreds of miles from my beloved coalfields of Virginia. I know every mile because I have traveled them so many times. But last year I bought out the last ugly brother’s share of our homeplace….my boy from OFF helped me buy my mountain home and the graveyard where my parents rest. I can not live there full time, but Someday I will join them in their resting place .. ..but not my husband. He is a good man..a good husband …a good father , but he is not of these mountains. He still can not understand Appalachian speech or mountain ways….he is from OFF…off yonder…but as for me, no other place but Wise County Virginia will ever be my home.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    April 26, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    I believe this is strong tie is a genetic trait. The white settlers of these mountains were in large part Scots from the highlands, a clannish group if ever there was one. The Celtic traits of bonding to place and clan still run deep in our people. Indeed the very mountains of Appalachia are the same mountains of Scotland formed before the breakup of Pangaea. How can we not be bonded to them?

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    Tipper asked a question awhile back about why you chose to live where you do. My answer was it allowed me time to be with my family and friends. I wish everyone could have seen the outpouring of love, kindness, and caring that was showed to me and our boys last week during my wife’s death. It would help explain what I am trying to say. All of us are just plain, simple country people that are always there for each other during times of trouble. This area is home, most of us and our family generations before us grew up here together. Even now people still call or bring something to us or call just to see if they can help. Just a few minutes ago a friend of 60 years drove over 10 miles just to come by and check on me. This is home, no other place could ever be home. There are so many memories of the good times I have enjoyed with these friends in this area.

    I know Tipper was talking about the Appalachia mountains but this is just the way it is in the rural area of Greenville County , SC that I have called home for all of my life. Ed said one time this area is considered part of Appalachia.

    • Reply
      Bonnie Carriker
      April 27, 2021 at 7:38 pm

      God be with you, Randy. You are remembered in my prayers.

  • Reply
    Nancy schmidt
    April 26, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    I’ve read that during the Civil War soldiers from the mountains (either side) were known to just take off and go back home for a spell, and then return to their units. They just has to get home for a bit. Turrible homesick.
    They were known to be such good soldiers that their commanding officers learned to not hold them guilty of being AWOL, and let them come back in good standing, and not be shot as deserters.
    I’ve spent my life as wife, mother and nurse in Kansas, my husband’s folks home, and learned to love the special beauties of the prairies and wide horizons, but when by surprise I might see a photo of the creeks and valleys of the Smokies or gentler hills and twisty roads of my Kentucky childhood home, I almost gasp with alarm: “Where am I? I need to get on home! “

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    No matter the many places I have roamed in my life home will always be Kentucky. I grew up in Louisville but explored many places in the state with my family. Their families lived for 6 or more generations in Central Kentucky and since they both passed away I feel a strong attachment for that place and it’s people. In the future I hope to travel to places that older ancestors came from to see if that sense of place can be felt as well.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Ops – I meant to say to that music and song was really good. Paul’s singing reminds me of Pap’s singing:}

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    Family is the number one tie I feel to the land. Others may differ and that’s o.k. In the early 40’s a lot of the southern people had to head north for jobs and I’m so thankful my Father did and choose a beautiful little town on the shore of Lake Michigan. I was really blessed in that Aunts and Uncles also moved to that same area. So I grew up with extended family in the same area. My cousins and I often talk about what a wonderful place it was to grow up in. Like you, my cousins and I were raised with the same moral values and each year traveled back to NE MS to see Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins there. But the attachment to Place really stuck in my Father’s mind and all the southern men that I knew had moved. Like you mentioned – many times they would go back to their home place down south every weekend that they were able to. And when my Father retired he could hardly wait to get back to the hills in NE MS where he was born and raised.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 26, 2021 at 11:51 am

    I have, I believe, posted this before but it illustrates your point. My Dad worked about 17 years in a foundry in Covington, KY. For much of that time, we stayed ‘down home’ on the little farmstead in southeastern KY. In all the time we were separated, he missed I think maybe two weekends coming home. I remember staying up late on Friday night watching out the window for the lights of his car.

    For about 40 years I have lived “off” and I still do. But I am trying to get back. There has been something missing for that whole time. I can’t put a name or even a description to it.

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    April 26, 2021 at 10:59 am

    I’d also heard the remark about five state capitals being closer to Brasstown than Raleigh, so I went on Google Maps and discovered it’s true. Atlanta, GA, Columbia, SC, Nashville, TN, Montgomery, AL and Frankfurt, KY are all closer!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 10:27 am

    So many of my extended family had to leave these beautiful mountains to find jobs in times past. I chose a profession that would permit me to stay where I wished. Over these years I have watched so many family be brought back home for burial from states such as Florida or Delaware, and other areas with flatlands. Oddly, as I think about it, my relatives from Western NC have largely been buried right in the NC mountains. Maybe they had that sense of place because they did live in the mountains of Appalachia. I so miss the old ways that were so common such as baptizings, tent revivals, neighbors visiting back and forth. I suppose most of all is they once kept the tradition of not calling ahead for visits, so one could often get a surprise of entire families dropping by. We even had occasional uncle moving in, and it was not unusual to take in cousins for their last years of High School. What was once such common everyday life now seems strange when I look back. Strange compared to the filled calendars and instan cell phone calls for everything. I hang onto as much tradition as possible. We always willingly helped each other without hesitation.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Daniels
    April 26, 2021 at 10:21 am

    Tipper (and Blind Pig “family”)
    My Dad, Kenneth Roper, can certainly relate and testify to being fiercely attached to his homeland in Topton, NC!! The entire area with it’s beauty, serenity, history, people and culture sure does have a strong hold. It’s a blessing to love where you live. I needed to reach out to everyone who has thought of, asked about and shown care for my Daddy to let you know that he had another fall recently. He spent a few days at Erlanger East in Chattanooga TN. They transferred him to Hayesville last week for some skilled nursing rehab to strengthen him. I had gotten him a bed in a facility I work with in Georgia, but he refused, understandably wanting to be as close to home as possible! I wanted to thank everyone who has kept him in mind and in prayer since his first fall and heart surgery several months back.
    Tipper, I tried to call you, but couldn’t get through for some reason. I promised him I would let you all know what happened. Take care, God bless.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    April 26, 2021 at 10:01 am

    My biggest infatuation with growing up in Western NC was the running waters of the creeks and rivers. I wanted to see where all that water was going. Thirty years in the Navy, I went where the waters did. As the sun rises over Pearl Harbor this morning, I can stand in my rear patio and gaze over the Pacific Ocean. I feel more at home near the water than the hills and mountains.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 26, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      After all that water gets where it is going the sun draws it up into the sky where the winds blow it back across the mountains to fall as rain and snow again. Over and over again. Like a perpetual motion machine no human could ever invent.

  • Reply
    R Priest
    April 26, 2021 at 9:19 am

    I was born in New York City but raised in a small Pennsylvania town. I spent most of my adulthood in Fl., but not until I purchased a summer home in Blairsville, GA, which I owned for 18 years, did I come to learn how friendly and open people could be. It seems everywhere, throughout Applachia, I went I not only got to meet nice people but I learned their life story without ever asking, The outgoing friendliness of the people in Applachia will be my longtime fondest memory of the area.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    April 26, 2021 at 9:15 am

    All the reasons you stated are why this place is home. I’ve lived everywhere and the only place to come close to home was the jungles of South America. I have a friend who’s an aristocrat (her daddy was a banker in Charlotte and New Orleans for Barclays) and she states the only survivors of a Zombie Apocalypse are Hillbillies and Cajun swamp folk- tough as nails and just about as stubborn. There’s no place like home and the people here. That’s my story. It has been rumored the Cherokee cast a spell on the white man and declared he could never leave the hills without being drawn back. In essence his freedom trapped him….

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

    It doesn’t matter how many big cities I have lived in or how many years I have been gone, I still call the hills and hollers of eastern KY ‘home’.

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    April 26, 2021 at 8:59 am

    A great book about this very subject is Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers. It may not even be in print now, but you can find it online. It’s all essays by many the great women writers and poets of Appalachia (Sheila Kay Adams, Sharyn McCrumb, Sidney Saylor Farr, Lee Smith, etc.) about how growing up in Appalachia affected their writing. Some of the essays are pretty intellectual, but all of them are enjoyable.

    The land is not just where we live; it’s who we are.

  • Reply
    Barry King
    April 26, 2021 at 8:42 am

    I’m stumbled upon your web site last week and love it. I pass through your neck of the woods on my way to and from Clayton Ga. visiting friends. I love the mountains and rivers of western NC.. Murphy or Hayesville is where I stop and streach my legs and have a cup of coffee. Next time I would like to sit for a while and visit with some of the locals. Like you, we enjoy family, friends, and the history of middle Tennessee.

  • Reply
    Randall Dockery
    April 26, 2021 at 8:28 am

    Growing up, my parents taught me to have a deep sense of respect for my roots. Often saying,”Son, if you don’t know where you’re from, then you’ll never know find where you’re going.” My roots are in Appalachia! The people, the foods, the traditions, the morals and values, all reminders of who I am, and where I’m from. Just as I now teach my children, what my parents taught me, no matter how far we may move off, our family is always close. I love Appalachia as it gives me a great sense of belonging. It will always be home.

  • Reply
    April 26, 2021 at 7:51 am

    There is so much truth in your blog today, unfortunately like so many things we love about our mountains the times are a changing.
    With the outside influences of developers cashing in on our secret( gated communities, posted signs, access to local sites restricted to those who can pay), I think future generations may never know of what you speak.

    • Reply
      Margie G
      April 26, 2021 at 9:17 am

      Look up to where your redemption draweth nigh and have faith my good man! It ain’t over til the fat lady sings! I ain’t sung just yet…

  • Reply
    Don Byer
    April 26, 2021 at 6:08 am

    I left Ivy Log in 1960 and it took 43 years to get to Choestoe……but I came back…..

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