High Country Life

Living in the Appalachians is a beautiful thing. I appreciate the appeal of warm-weather locales and big-city bustle and amenities. Having been there, done both, there is something matchlessly special about residing in the mountains and sharing these beautiful surroundings with the folks living in these parts.

Mother Nature Done Good

For starters, it’s life in a vignette that never tires the senses.  All four seasons seemingly have starting and stopping points, each vying for the prize snapshots of rolling hills, mountain peaks and ridges, picturesque landscapes, all-matter of birds and hummingbirds vying for spots on the feeders, critters grazing on properties and crossing gravel roads, crazy-stunning sunsets, umpteen kazillion twinkling stars in the clearest-night skies, and a lungful of mountain air as refreshing as a silky smooth southern “Good morning, darlin’!”

Each fall brings crispness of breath, country fairs and craft shows, and a stunning pallet of reds, yellows, purples and browns.  Each winter, single digits and perhaps multiple inches of snow, and fireplaces bringing their distinctive warmth to family and home, with an amber lightshow flickering on the family Christmas tree freshly cut from a local farm.  Each spring, renewal!  Inspiration!  And happiness knowing that life will get warmer, bringing with it buds, blossoms, home vegetable gardens, and a countryside awash with the best color in the world — green is life!  Summer, never OMG steamy and swelty in nature’s perfect spa, is the singular call for the appearance of grills and hammocks, music festivals, pontoon boats, yard sales, world-class hiking, fishing and river-rafting, and just plain old meandering on small-town main streets.

Give Mother Nature considerable credit for helping create the year-round character of a place worth living and visiting.

D’jeet yet?  Not A Problem!

Good grub gets high marks in the Appalachians, too.  There are far too many southern and mountain specialties to name and certainly to expound upon.  Still, family kitchens and select restaurants know how to turn out mouth-watering eats including all matter of casseroles, country ham, fried chicken, giblet gravy, southern potato salad, Brunswick stew, chicken fried steak, barbecue, cornbread, pimento cheese, grits, fried okra, apple butter, collard greens with pot liquor, blackened catfish, biscuits, black-eyed peas, and chicken and dumplings.  All washed down with, of course, several glasses of sweet tea.  There’s boiled peanuts, cheese curds, and the traditional combos of salted peanuts and Coke, Moon Pie and RC Cola, Krispy Kreme and Cheerwine for southern snacking.  And pies!  Custard, pecan and sweet potato … or perhaps banana pudding.  Is there a stronger, more descriptive food emotion than hmm?  If so, insert here.  And always bless the food.

Just remember that if you’re invited to dinner, that means show up for lunch.  Supper means dinner.  Either way, the odds of experiencing good eats and better company are extremely high.

Up Yonder A Ways

In the High Country, Walmart rules and Dollar General stores ubiquitously attempt to grab the convenience market.  However, the extraordinary “looking-for stuff” businesses are the small, family-owned or independent marts and hardware stores.  While the country mom-and-pops struggle to compete with the big-box retailers and their buying power, the local businesses’ staying power is unique, tied to loyal neighbors who purposefully drive a couple of extra miles to support the corner proprietor.  The local mini-mart might well have gentlemen sitting out front reflecting on life and ladies, or perhaps inside playing a game of checkers.  More often than not, the entire family works at the local hardware and farm supply store that’s been in their family for several generations, and it will only take a couple of visits before you and they are on a first-name basis.  And if they ain’t got what you’re looking for, they’ll get it for you … with a smile and an “Of course!”  I’ve yet to see Lowe’s or Home Depot selling baby chicks, as I have at the local, family-owned have-everything hardware store.  And they order 1,000, which are out the door in a week.

Most rural properties have at least one outbuilding — a barn, shed, garage or stable.  Plank boards of weathered barn wood never fail to slow admiring drivers.  While these outbuildings are often small, they’re precious assets, housing all matter of vehicles, essential paraphernalia and junk (at least to the family), and an impressive lineup of tools, including the obligatory chainsaw, wood-working tools, reciprocating and circular saws, at least one cordless hammer drill, and three generations of nails, screws, hammers and screwdrivers.

Any 10-mile meander down a country road will have you passing a minimum of six churches, maybe more.  A preponderance of homes features front porches for rocking, swinging a spell, and talking about folks.  The scenic countryside is dotted with barns and homes proudly showing off colorful quilt patterns honoring a loved one or a family’s multi-generational quilt pattern.

And while we all have gotten crazily frustrated stuck in traffic in some city or its beltway, something is peculiarly calming about going 10 miles an hour for a spell behind a tractor or hanging out waiting for a cow to pass.  Only slightly vexing if you’ve got to be somewhere are sightseers admiring Autumn’s leaf-color show or an old brittle barn or Bambi and friends in the field on your left.  Our mail is delivered to boxes down on the “main road,” and we take our trash and materials to be recycled to the Convenience Center — the closest, in my case, guarded by a gentleman who acknowledges your entrance to his gated kingdom with a knowing nod.  Be careful not to hit his pet rooster. (Not kidding.)

The People

Still and all, as much as seasons and great food bring their distinct characteristics to North Cackalacky living, it’s the longtime residents of the Appalachians who bring the snap to the green beans.

Here, strangers acknowledge your presence, from “Yes ma’am/sir” rejoinders to the subtle but ever-present, steering-wheel-fingers “wave” as vehicles pass in opposite directions.  “Thank You” for time, effort, advice and compliment is as matter-of-principle as is the sense of community, the value of front-porch time, and the holding of doors with a subtle nod and an unpretentious “Hey.”

I’m not sure how long a coon’s age is, but I reckon it’s been at least that long in the mountains since a nearby resident wouldn’t step up and be there for their neighbors.  Moreover, at least our neighbors seemingly can fix anything.  And if they can’t, they know “Johnny” down the road a piece who will be happy to drop what they’re doing and take a look at your project, vehicle or plight.

These folks have in spades characteristics that money can’t buy — manners, morals, integrity.  They do the right thing, from wheeling the shopping cart back to its storage confines rather than leaving it empty next to where their car is parked, to not interrupting conversation — mountain folk are amazingly patient while you ramble before interjecting their cogent thoughts.

These are just plain good people — strong of Faith, intensely prideful about their locale and their families, powerfully loyal to friends, and positively respectful to visitors.  If you’re predisposed to casting a worrisome glance at unfamiliar surroundings and approaching strangers, hanging around mountain folks a bit will slowly pull down that curtain.  Bless their hearts, it’s refreshing.

Other characteristics?  Based on handshakes, forearms, hauling and loading, Mountain Strong is a bona fide thing.  There is a 99% chance that a Mountain Man in these parts carries a knife of some sort because it might could come in handy, and pretty darn close to that percentage of certainty that there is a pickup truck in the driveway.  It takes 30 minutes for these good folks to say goodbye, and what my neighbor calls “mountain mumble” somehow serves to make one listen harder, which is a good thing — there’s nothing quite so stimulating or polite in these parts as an appreciative listener.  Everything feels effortless, natural and coming in time.  The town folk don’t have much use for bad manners, unreliability, pretentiousness, clothes that require dry-cleaning, and apparently g’s, either — most of the ladies are darlin’ … gentlemen are fixin’ to … and a standard for gran(dma) is the classic warning, “Y’all ought not be doin’ that.”  Just sayin’.

The Appalachians are truly one of the Good Lord’s special creations, full to the brim with mountain charm.  C’mon up or down or over for a visit to this gem of a locale.  It won’t disappoint.


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