October 15, 2021
Welcome to Appalachia, the place where I live and write, the place that inhabits my soul.
Weather permitting, I tippy-tap on my laptop, sitting on my deck, surrounded by dogs and maples, oaks, and tulip poplars. The deciduous trees reflect the personality of each season. Come summer, they are flamboyant and lively. Two tulip poplars beside my deck provide both shade during the hot months and a splash of zippy color with their cream-orangesicle, cup-shaped blooms dotting their green sleeves. Come winter, the maples and dogwoods in the backyard block icy winds that swoop over the blue ridges of the nearby mountain.
Between summer and winter are the autumn trees. The sugar maples are the first to signal the changing seasons, ruby splotches appearing nestled in the greenery. Eventually, these splotches grow, cloaking the maple in red before she strips down to her skeletal essence in November. King crimsons turn spicy pumpkin or, sometimes, a sassy red, deep and sensuous. Sassafras glow yellow and orange, commonly hunkering closer to the ground like clusters of bonfires at the base of towering trees.
Oaks’ leaves remain the longest. During spring and summer, the oak wears bright green mittens; these mittens will turn into the shade of mink as winter approaches, and throughout the cold months, the entire tree wears mink—while the poplars and maples stand starkly naked. Along with beeches, these oaks will sing a raspy song all winter, aided by the wind, the desiccated leaves rattling and whispering. Then, finally, as spring approaches, oaks drop their mint coats and slip into satiny emerald once more.
In my writings, trees play a special role, sometimes providing shelter, sometimes serving as harbingers of change. Similarly, this rolling land of blue ridges and smoky mountains occupies an important space in my works. After all, there’s nothing like a steep climb or dangerously rocky slope to serve as a metaphor for the journeys all humans must take.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Appalachia is a diverse land. The region encompasses over 400 counties and spreads across 13 states. There are urban sectors, like in Western Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. There are also cozy places like Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, where visitors and residents alike can stroll the historic downtown, grabbing a bite to eat, shopping in quaint shops, and listening to stories at the International Storytelling Center.
My heart, though, dwells in Appalachia’s wildernesses that stir the imagination about faeries, dryads, and changelings, along with all manner of toothy, furry beasts that creep out of caves at dusk to roam the dark forests.
There are 6 national parks and 8 national forests throughout the Appalachian region. The Blue Ridge Parkway has over 400 miles of roads that wind drivers through fanged, stone peaked mountains, across elevated roads that seemingly disappear into the sterling sky or shrouding fog, and down into forests with pounding, majestic waterfalls.
In North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest alone, there are nearly 4000 acres, containing sections of old-growth and over 100 species of trees. Some of the oldest tulip poplars are over 20 feet in circumference. Spellbound, I have stood at the base of a mighty poplar, crouching to see the minuscule mushrooms (about the size of an infant’s pinky nail), then practically breaking my neck to look up at the dense canopy overhead.
Appalachia is the world in which I write.
Appalachia is the world in which my stories unfold.
Appalachia has its own stories, ancient, inspiring, and terrifying, and I look forward to sharing my neck of the woods with you in the years to come.