November 19, 2002

Where I'm From

I am coming to appreciate my place as a minority blogger. No, I'm definitely a W.A.S.P. But I write from the Appalachian Mountains. There don't appear to be many bloggers who live here in this bioregion. Not many at all. If we could see from near-space a map of where the purported million bloggers live, I wonder if it would not closely match those satellite images we have seen of North America at night. Where there are thick bands of dazzling light ... in the cities, along the eastern seaboard, in college towns ... there, too, are the bloggers. That leaves very few of us in the empty, black, unlit rural zones of the country.

I am in yet a smaller minority, perhaps, in that not only is my physical presence in these souther Mountains. The Appalachians is also where my heart lives. I make my home here proudly, and by intention ... a perspective I hope to flesh out in some fashion in Fragments in weeks to come. I don't pretend to be or to hope to become an expert in mountain culture, geology, or the history of pioneer migration through this area. But I would like to gain more insight into 'where I am' in this world, physically speaking, and why. So, this theme will surface here, from time to time, perhaps regularly.

Meanwhile, a few simple observations for those who live in other places.

There is a right way and a wrong way to pronounce Appalachian: "apul ach'chun" is correct. "apul aye' chun" is incorrect. To be called by a name mispronounced is to impugn the identity that the bearer has with that name. Think about it. How do you feel if someone mangles your name? It is who you are. Call people by their proper names, and their lands also.

Realize that there is a difference between the social/cultural term 'Appalachia' and the Appalachian Mountains. This may be discussed here in due time. The old stereotypes should give way to more accurate understanding of who it is that lives in Appalachia in the 21st century. L'il Abner and Dukes of Hazard are not proper teachers anymore; they never were, but were accepted as such. I am not suggesting that one cannot still find archtypical Appalachian characters. But they are disappearing in the obituaries every day, and their memories and way of life with them. Some old prejudices and unsavory habits should pass away, but there is much about Appalachia that deserves to live.

All southerners are not Appalachian. There is the lowland South and there is the Mountain South. I live by temperament and by choice in the latter. I am curious to know how this nature of mine came about, and I suspect that these upland surroundings have had no small role to play with who I have become. The pull of the mountains may go back generations before I graced this planet; ancestral roots may have planted me where I have come to grow best.

I am burdened by the gift of a strong sense of place, and it has made for some difficult choices and circumstances in our lives. being where I am, I have given up convenience and proximity to 'stuff' of our culture. But I am living in the heart of God's Country of rural Virginia, and this is my choice, and I am happy in it. I'd like to be able to make you understand why. I first have to find the answers for myself. And maybe that is what writing is ultimately all about.

Wendell Berry said it simply: if you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are.

A ten-point buck just wandered under my window as I was writing that last sentence, and the first snowflakes of the season are falling. I take this as a good omen that our wanderings through Appalachian lore will bring us to a pleasant or at least a reasonable destination. We have all winter to get there, and an infinite number of blank pages here on the computer screen.

Posted by fred1st at November 19, 2002 06:07 AM

Fred, once again you have put into glorious prose a topic that is near and dear to my heart. These mountains, along with the people, music and culture that cling to them, are so much a part of me that I can't fathom living anywhere else. I look forward to reading future installments on the subject.

Posted by: ron at November 19, 2002 10:37 AM

Have you read Albion's Seed by Fischer? Talks about how waves of early immigration had long lasting effects on American culture. (these pages are based on some selections from the book.) The border folk (from between England and Scotland, and Northern Ireland) wound up in the Appalachians. Great book! My husband found many descriptions that rang true with his family who come from there, though now in the Northwest for a few generations.

When he was going to bring me to meet them for the first time, his dad exclaimed "Make sure she's ready to meet some hillbillies!" and cackled with glee.

Posted by: Anita Rowland at November 19, 2002 11:44 AM

Thank goodness for the Foxfire organization (, the books they've published and the work they've done to preserve much of southern Appalachian history and culture. The "Foxfire" series of books is an amazing compendium of Appalachian customs, crafts, folklore, and language.

Posted by: Curt at November 20, 2002 12:37 PM

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