A Short Geography Lesson

When I say “WNC,” where and what is WNC? Skip this post if you already know.

While chatting with a friend in the U.K. about the flood that inundated her little farm just the other day, I realized that I didn’t know exactly where she was, where her part of the world fitted in with the rest of the world. Yorkshire? Derbyshire? I know these names only vaguely, and exactly where they are on the map of England, I do not know.

Did my friends in Europe, Australia and Asia feel the same way about my place, Western North Carolina?

For all of you, here is where I am:

North Carolina (abbreviated as “NC”) is one of America’s 50 states. American states divvy up and label territory just like Australian and Indian states or English counties do. North Carolina is located on the eastern coast (the Atlantic side) of the U.S., halfway between Florida and New York City. Either one is a day’s drive away. To put the breadth of America in perspective, driving from coast to coast takes three days, driving all day.

See it? Look for NC.
usa_map.gif
WNC is the west end of the state, towards TN (Tennessee, another southeastern state — where my mom lives!). Above us are Virginia and New England. Below us is the Deep South.

We have all four seasons here and the scenery is famous, especially in autumn when people come from all over the country to look at the mountains, which turn red and gold with the coming of fall. WNC holds part of the Appalachian mountain range, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Unlike the steep, rocky Alps or the Rocky Mountains of the American West, the Appalachians are rounded and green, more like the Pennines. WNC is not as wet as England or Ireland, but we have a similar green lushness of vegetation (when we are not having a drought), especially in spring.

hanging_rock_spring.jpg

(Click the thumbnail to see some beautiful NC scenery. It really looks like this here.)

As well as mountains we have rivers, waterfalls, lakes and streams. Native wildlife includes black bears, whitetail deer, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, snakes and even native panthers called mountain lions.

WNC’s true human natives are the Cherokee, a Native American people.

Cherokee people still live here (in fact the headquarters of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee nation is just a few hours away), and plenty of white people here have Cherokee ancestry. The first Europeans here were Spaniards with Hernando de Soto. The Native American population suffered from disease brought by the Spaniards and, most notoriously, from the infamous government-sanctioned forced relocation to Oklahoma called the Trail of Tears. European settlement — mostly, to my understanding, by the Irish, the Scottish and the Germans — began in the 1700s.

WNC is a mountainous, geographically isolated area. Which, unfortunately, always means a vein of isolationism and ignorance. If you’ve ever heard of the “hillbilly” stereotype (or of the hillbilly’s more modern cousin, the redneck), both are commonly applied to some NC natives.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVutfy21PcU]

Obviously people aren’t stupid just because they’re from Appalachia, but in years past geographic isolation did indeed confer ignorance. The stereotypes remain today, with geographical isolation as their root cause. Unfortunately a lot of ignorance remains as well.

According to Wikipedia, my town of Asheville is about 78% white (including a growing immigrant Ukrainian community), 18% black and 4% Hispanic, with people from all over thrown in. (Currently Asheville is less than 1% Native American.) About 16% of the population of Asheville lives below the poverty line. The population is about 72,000, and we have a state university and (yes) an airport.

WNC is known nationally as an adventure destination due to its rivers and mountains, which offer skiing, fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting…the works. This is a truly wonderful place to live, which is why I post sometimes against the overdevelopment that threatens it.

If you want to tell your own readers about where you are in the grander geographic scheme, consider yourself tagged — and if you do, please, please leave a comment with a link!

10 responses to “A Short Geography Lesson

  1. Cal’s friend, Kevin :-)

    Try this for a link:

    http://www.multimap.com/maps/#t=l&map=52.92193,-1.47564|8|4&loc=GB:52.92193:-1.47564:14|derby|Derby,%20DE1%202

    It’s centred on the nearest major town in her area, Derby. Zoom out to put in relation with the rest of the country.

    And this is where York is, which is the country town of Yorkshire:

    http://www.multimap.com/maps/#t=l&map=53.95772,-1.08231|9|4&loc=GB:53.95772:-1.08231:14|york|York,%20YO1%209

    I’ve met Will Goins of the SC Cherokee (or Tsalagi) but I’ve not met anyone from NC – but then whilst my pottering around parts of the US has taken me to many places, it hasn’t yet taken me to NC. :-)

    Don’t mind rednecks at all. :-) Was having the odd drink with some after 9/11 (I was in OK) whilst we considered the international situation and put the world to rights. :-) But then an American did once consider the West Country, where I’m from, to be the UK’s equivalent of redneck territory. Well, it is very rural. :-)

    Kevin

  2. Hey Kevin! (“Hey” is North Carolina talk for “hello”!) THANK YOU for the links! Maybe someday you will find your way to NC — meanwhile, I have always wanted to see Lyme Regis. Thanks for the info!

  3. I wondered how long before he came sticking his oar in ;-)

    Anyway, lass, you only misplaced me by a couple of 10’s of miles. I seem to have mislaid NC by a couple of 1000’s. Whoops! For some reason my mind had it somewhere about Wyoming…What can I say? I made it to New York state once, confused the police and came home again…

    Still, once again you’ve provoked me to think – there are all sorts of bits and bobs of history and prehistory of this area that I really should pull into some sort of order. So I shall :-)

  4. LOL on you “misplacing” WNC. I was feeling pretty provincial, but I see now we can’t all be experts on everything and everywhere. I DO love how the internet is a tool for learning and connection.

    I think about my home’s history and prehistory in part because of this amazing questionnaire I found on Kevin Kelly’s website. It probably deserves a blog entry of its own:

    The Big Here

    http://www.kk.org/helpwanted/archives/001084.php

  5. What a great idea! Very inspiring. My post is full of all sorts of random things about Boston. It was fun to think about the kinds of things to tell people that they might not know about where I am, as well as to wonder about what I know (and don’t) about where the bloggers I read are.

    Very interesting!

    http://knit-read-cats-hockey.blogspot.com/2007/07/where-am-i-you-ask.html

  6. Here’s a picture of part of my home county:

    Dartmoor 1

    Or you can search Flickr for Dartmoor, or for Bodmin (that’s next door, in Cornwall)

  7. Ah, I looked at all your pics! And I see you have been to the UP, where a very good friend of mine is from!

  8. Been to the UP many a time – where’s your friend from?

    I had a girlfriend up in the Soo, which was why I was up there. The shots of railway tracks were taken round the back of her property – it’s the Soo Line, which goes up into Canada and down into the Lower Peninsula. Apparently the inhabitants of the Lower Peninsula are called ‘trolls’ in the UP because they live below the (Mackinac) Bridge – a fair number of Scandinavians (mostly Finns I believe) emigrated to the area, hence the reference to trolls and bridges.

    Those trains are huge, BTW. We measured one, first by matching the speed of the cab, then flooring the accelerator to race it to the next level crossing, kicking up dirt from the gravel road and minor fishtails, so we could time how long it took to pass. Knowing the speed, we could estimate the length – it came out at over a mile long. :-)

    Had all sorts of interesting experiences at various times in the States. There was the occasion in Indiana that I was out in the country with two guys, steelworkers, in a very beaten up red Dodge Ram – the sort that should have a gun rack at the back – with a crate of beer on the floor. :-) Then there was drinking with rednecks in Oklahoma, and playing guitar with an Oklahoman heavy metal guitarist who plays in roadhouses and who owns a working antique shotgun that isn’t so much gun as a piece of field artillery (it uses percussion caps, has hammers, and can take nearly twice the load of a modern gun!). And on an earlier occasion, with another Oklahoman, watching the thunderstorm that goes with a tornado – pretty spectacular. :-) The rest of the night was spent putting things in the bathroom and watching the tornado warning on the TV. :-)

    Then there was a road trip (largely done to the accompaniment of Linkin Park and Nickelback) from Chicago to Norman OK, which included a stop for a meal at about 1 am in Joplin. Matters got more interesting on that trip – we arrived at 5am. 9 am I got woken up to be told planes were flying into the WTC. :-( Cue lots of strong coffee, cigarettes and a breakfast of biscuits and gravy whilst watching the news unfold. I also spent some time marvelling at the sheer amount of noise a load of locusts, crickets and frogs can make at night! :-) Plus listening to coyotes, watching fireflies and having a look at the praying mantises that came to the light at night, and watching hummingbirds round the feeder during the day.

    Then there was another roadtrip which started at Toronto, went down through NY to Pennsylvania to the forest there, where we were camping. We had the interesting experience of trying to find a liquor store in rural Pennsylvania :-). We did eventually succeed in finding a place that sold good wine. :-) Plus lots of roads winding through forests that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the X Files. And there was an attempted night raid by racoons to contend with. :-)

    After that, it was back up through Ohio into Michigan and to the UP via Detroit. We got directed off the interstate into the heart of Detroit and the signs disappeared, so we wound up in the roughest of the rough part, where the locals advise you not to stop for traffic lights. :-) However, we had to stop at a traffic light. However, though she looked like Mrs Middle America, we were in a car that had seen better days, and I was wearing a leather cutoff (plus beard and ponytail) and looked suitably relaxed but alert and laconically smoking a cigarette, as if we drove through here every day. We got eyeballed a lot by a gang on the corner, but that was about it. I don’t think that they were quite sure of what we were. :-) A few months earlier someone got carjacked there. I’ve seen better places. :-)

    Caused a bit of a stir in one Canadian diner, dressed like that (plus tee-shirt, jeans and Doc Martins), but then they’d just been having a lot of agitated headlines about Canadian Hell’s Angels. Apparently the locals thought that I looked like one – cue lots of looks, very quick service, and a fair space round our table. :-)

    Anyway, having got out of that part of Detroit, and running out of time to put up for the night, we found a motel, which seemed to be tenanted by rejects from the Jerry Springer show. :-) I suppose the name, Regal, might have given it away. :-) Interesting place. :-) Behind the door was a graffitti that said “Wayne wuz here!” Apparently this was the high point of Wayne’s life. There was a hole in the ceiling, repaired with a sock, a bloody awful painting that no one with sense would give house room to even if paid, screwed to the wall to prevent it from being stolen, and two large mirrors, also screwed to the wall. However, someone had had a go at unsuccessfully unscrewing all three (maybe Wayne?), and had finally contented themselves with stealing the shower head and shorting out the socket in the bathroom. Meantime I discovered that the only two channels that worked on the TV were HBO and the porn channel (of course!), of which the latter had the best reception. We watched HBO, which was a bit snowy. There was also an odd smell in the room – it’s the only hotel or motel where I’ve checked the bed closely for non-paying guests. :-)

    Fortunately an uneventful night was passed – well apart from two or three arguments elsewhere in our area of the motel, including one very aerated one in Spanish – after which it was back to the UP.

    Then there were other rambles – visiting Wolverine MI (a very strange place!), a trip to Wilderness Park where we had to wait for a grumpy black bear to get out of the road, Taquhanemon Falls and an amble out past Trout Lake to investigate an old and strange report concerning an unknown animal. I think that the animal was a cougar – we saw a cougar pawprint and it’s only just been realised that there is a population of them in the UP once more – they would have been unfamiliar to Yoopers at the time of the report. Mind you, we were also intent on seeing if we could find the deserted farmhouse mentioned in the report.

    Still got an invite from a friend to go to Barrow in Alaska, but not sure if I’ll get there. Going to be rather busy for the next few years. :-)

  9. Kevin,

    Can’t say I know exactly where Gary’s from, just that’s he’s a Yooper, and his daughter was married last year on the banks of Superior.
    > I had a girlfriend up in the Soo, which was why I was up there.

    “The Soo” sounds familiar, I must say, LOL, I’ll ask him if he’s a Soo Boy.

    > And on an earlier occasion, with another Oklahoman, watching the thunderstorm that goes with a tornado – pretty spectacular. :-) The rest of the night was spent putting things in the bathroom and watching the tornado warning on the TV. :-)

    LOL that sounds like a classic Midwestern experience!

    > Then there was a road trip (largely done to the accompaniment of Linkin Park and Nickelback) from Chicago to Norman OK, which included a stop for a meal at about 1 am in Joplin. Matters got more interesting on that trip – we arrived at 5am. 9 am I got woken up to be told planes were flying into the WTC. :-(

    Ah. A friend of mine was vacationing then, too, and found herself stuck in Yellowstone National Park for a week.

    > Cue lots of strong coffee, cigarettes and a breakfast of biscuits and gravy whilst watching the news unfold.

    I am not a smoker, but I will eat biscuits and gravy with very, very little arm-twisting.

    > I also spent some time marvelling at the sheer amount of noise a load of locusts, crickets and frogs can make at night! :-)

    Yes indeed. And the locusts continue to serenade during the day as well.

    > Plus listening to coyotes, watching fireflies and having a look at the praying mantises that came to the light at night, and watching hummingbirds round the feeder during the day.

    We’ve coyotes not too far from here (a 90 minute drive), and I enjoy all the others here, myself.

    > Then there were other rambles – visiting Wolverine MI (a very strange place!), a trip to Wilderness Park where we had to wait for a grumpy black bear to get out of the road

    They come into your yard, here, even in the suburbs. Perhaps their habitat is being encroached upon. A friend saw one in his yard on his way to get into his car to go to work.

    > Still got an invite from a friend to go to Barrow in Alaska, but not sure if I’ll get there. Going to be rather busy for the next few years. :-)

    Apparently! Thanks for the stories. You really make me want to get out and see the world a bit more, something that for some strange reason I have not yet done.

  10. Louisiana is a part of the Deep South, both culturally and climatically.

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