The magnificence of the mountains of Western North Carolina attracts many tourists but few new year-round residents and little industry. The Scottish-Irish and English immigrants who settled here generations ago were drawn to the beauty, and their descendants have remained, despite few opportunities in this economically depressed area. Fiercely independent, many still roam the woods hunting bear in the fall, digging ramps in the spring and gathering ginseng in the summer. Others are self-trained musicians with a natural ear or undiscovered folk artists with an eye for composition in unsuspected places. A drive past many rural homes reveals accoutrements of life spilling out of houses, onto porches and into yards. Rusted cars and old farm equipment are kept either valued for parts or too expensive to haul away.
Over the years I've been fortunate enough to not only see these homes from my car window, but also visit for hours and walk through carefully tended gardens, frequently carrying away gifts of dinner-plate dahlias, foot-long zucchini and heirloom tomatoes. This community values nature, the land, and each other. Nearly everyone is related somewhere down the line, and they treasure their common heritage, despite the struggles of daily life. Years of sun and hardship are etched into many faces.
Leaving my own comfort zone to examine the choices and challenges they face, I have developed a profound respect for these people who consider themselves blessed. They find love and contentment in what would seem to many a deprived lifestyle. Merely driving by gives an incomplete story. You must sit on the porch and visit a while.