Friday, June 30, 2017

Across The Appalachians

I've spent the last two days with my family traveling from New Jersey to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I am writing this from a surprisingly swank La Quinta off of interstate 65. My wife and I are big proponents of having our vacation while we are supposed to be driving to our final destination. Yesterday our big drive was broken up by visiting friends in western Maryland. Today we explored Henry Clay's estate in Lexington and spent a few hours at Mammoth Cave. Tomorrow comes the long haul to Kansas City, and a blessed day of fun rather than driving. Truth be told, I am already getting a little white line fever.

This morning came the melancholy moment that happens every time I drive through Appalachia. All of a sudden, these old wise mountains disappear, the land more subtle rollings hills, and then flat. Appalachia is by far my favorite American landscape. I say this as someone who spent summers growing up in the Rockies. Now I think the Rocky Mountains are beautiful too, but they are extreme, almost anti-human. The Appalachians feel homey and human, lived in and welcoming rather than forbidding.

They are also a strange and unique borderland between the East and the middle of the country. Staying in Charleston, West Virginia, last night I was struck by the southern accents and social interaction rituals, but the weather was northern as can be. At least the biscuits at the hotel breakfast buffet this morning were of southern quality.

Speaking of food, I relished going to a "country store" across from a corn field tonight. I had the best damn fried catfish I've had in many a moon. It was a reminder that the south is the one region of the country with its own homegrown cuisine worth writing home about. Of course, we are now in the bluegrass country of central Kentucky, where the mountains are just a rumor.

Of course, I can't help but to think of politics. There haven't really been any outward manifestations, apart from a couple of random Trump signs. Traveling down the backroads and byways I was able to remember the spiritual mentality of my own rural upbringing, and what it means for the current political situation. For the past two days I have already been feeling cut off from the outside world. I was remembering that it is very easy for folks in rural America to think of themselves as the center, rather than the periphery. That mentality makes denying the will of the masses in the cities out to be a protective measure for those in rural America.

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