Let’s stop with the simplistic generalizations please

When my husband first proposed moving to Appalachia in the winter of 2011, I flat out rejected the idea: “No way in HELL am I going to move to Appalachia” (which I pronounced at that time as App-a-LAY-sha, not properly as App-a-LATCH-a.)

My impressions of Appalachia as a region of unrelenting poverty, coal mining and hopelessness were vivid and very real, built not on any personal experience with the region but on images from Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 tour of Appalachia, Jon Boorman’s Deliverance and Harlan County USA, Barbara Kopple’s Academy-Award winning documentary on the battles waged by coal miners against Duke Energy in the early 1970s.

Coal, poverty and banjo music. That’s what Appalachia seemed to me to be.

And then I moved to Appalachia and discovered a far more interesting place than stereotypes portrayed it to be. It’s a region with university towns like Boone, NC and cities like Asheville and Knoxville. There are vineyards in Appalachia. Though poverty is a very real issue, there is far more than coal and hillbillies here. Continue reading

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A swing county in a swing state.

The New York Times today has a story asking “do you live in a political bubble?” It provides an “extremely detailed map of the 2016 presidential election.” My state of North Carolina is considered “one of the swingiest of the swing states” and the Old North state saw multiple visits from both Clinton and Trump (creating traffic nightmares every time they stopped by for a visit!)

Neither major party presidential candidate came to Watauga County in 2016 – Clinton sent her daughter to visit close to the election. (In 2012, Obama himself came to visit Watauga County; but Romney won the county with a margin of less than 900 votes out of the nearly 28.000 votes cast.)

Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by a slim margin and there are certainly many counties in the state that are political bubbles.

Watauga County is not one of them. And it narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Watauga’s neighboring counties of Ashe, Avery, Wilkes and Caldwell all were decisively for Trump, which left Watauga as a purple island in a sea of red:

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Midterms approach… and they appear to be equally unpredictable.

The Appalachian Mountains: an overview

We drove last week from Watauga County to Chicago to visit family for spring break. When you are in the midst of the mountains, it’s hard to gauge the magnitude of their presence. But when you drive west across four states (North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky) to get out of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you begin to realize the enormity of the Appalachian Mountain range.

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We began our journey out of the mountains in western North Carolina. In less than an hour, we crossed into eastern Tennessee. As we swung north, we travelled into southwestern Virginia and then back into Tennessee, where we drove along US Highway 58, the  Wilderness Trail, one of the most beautiful roads in America. This road pays homage to Daniel Boone, the American hero who forged the trail through the Cumberland Gap, opening up a passage to the west.

We travel today on paved roads and through an impressively engineered tunnel at the Cumberland Gap. And it still takes us four hours to climb down out of the mountains. When the nation was young, long before there were roads and tunnels, the Appalachians provided a massive barrier to westward migration.

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Snow storm heading our way – April 16, 2018

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