Life is old here. The past is tangible and bleeds into the present much like the fog hangs over the mountain ridges. Appalachia. Music, art, food, language – all of these are unique here. Talking to locals, you can still hear a dialect that harkens back to the South of old – back to a time when these hills and hollers were all that separated folks from the old world they left behind and the stark realities of a new world they were trying to embrace. There are words still used today in this region that have European origins going back hundreds of years. The mountains that protected those early settlers, also preserved their ways.
Today, driving around the back roads of Appalachia, there are constant reminders of what life might have looked like for the early settlers of this region. The mountains are still remote and one can still get lost in them. Thick underbrush and hardwood forests are untouched in some places, much like it would have been when Europeans first arrived here. Rivers run clean and clear. Native wildlife such as the black bear, wild turkey, and trout are still around – one of the few places in America where man hasn’t completely driven them out. Tiny communities are filled with people whose roots go back hundreds of years. They are clannish. Much like their forebearers, they are wary of outsiders and know their neighbors. Some still live on the same land farmed by their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Traditions are important, they matter to these people.
They depend on their family, not the government, to get them through the tough times and they are not afraid of a hard days work. These are mountain people and mountain people are hardy. They raise what they eat and know how to recycle almost anything. Hunting and fishing are still skills taught by fathers to sons. Quilt making and canning are still done by mothers and daughters. They still sing songs that have the sound of the old country – mournful Scottish ballads that tell of loss and hard times are their verbal history. Sounds brought to this land by the Scotch-Irish settlers who hacked a path through the wilderness just to find some sense of peace and freedom. To be left alone.
When civilization fails and the rest of us are dying in droves, mountain people will survive simply because they have kept alive a range of skills and know-how that those of us in the modern world have deemed no longer relevant. The old times are not forgotten here – they are remembered and taught. Hard times are relished for the lessons learned and pleasure is taken from the little things – the smell of the air after a springtime rain. The sight of mountain wildflowers blooming in a meadow. The sound of church bells echoing up through the valley on Sunday morning. The feel of a warm fire on a cold, dark winter night. The sheer joy created when the lively sounds of a well played fiddle meet the soothing sounds of a dulcimer.
Coming to these mountains is like coming home. Its easy to slip into their dark embrace and lose yourself in a peaceful calm not found in very many places these days.
I hope they never change.
All photos by the author.