Eyes to the hills…why we are tied to the land

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Much attention is given to having or developing a “sense of place” when discussing the attributes of a particular geographical region. Defining the term takes many forms.

Anthropologists, sociologists, cultural geographers and urban planners study the reasons why certain places hold special meaning to particular people. Places which have a strong “sense of place” have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors.

“Sense of place” exists independently of any one individual’s perceptions or experiences, yet is dependent upon human engagement for its existence. Such a feeling is more often made up of a mix of natural and cultural features in the landscape, and generally includes the people who occupy the place.

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Dr. Thomas A. Woods, president of Making Sense of Place, Inc., says that “people develop a ‘sense of place’ through experience and knowledge of a particular area. …(it) emerges through knowledge of the history, geography and geology of the area, its flora and fauna, the legends of a place, and a growing sense of the land and its history after living there for a time.”

There is much more than a “sense of place” prevalent in the Dark Corner. Descendants of the earliest Scots-Irish and borderline England settlers retain a deep and abiding connection with the mountainous landscape.

They, like their ancestors, are tied to the land, inexplicably and completely, like no other place in the world that I have ever witnessed or known about.

These are my mountains, this descendant feels, along with hundreds of other natives, whether I own them or not. They are part of my heart, soul and psyche.

Some people have suggested that this deep-seated connection with the land is a shared experience with our Cherokee brothers, who believe the land was made by a supreme Creator that retains ownership and we are only allowed to use a portion of it for a length of time.

There is merit in that supposition, but there is a much stronger tie to these mountains, which are so steadfast within our innermost being.

Our Dark Corner ancestors came to this new country searching for freedom from religious persecution by an established world-wide hierarchical order and a state religion. They wished to have daily communion with a personal God and Creator.

With the psalmist of old, they sought divine help in these mountains of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, which the Cherokee called “the great blue hills of God.”

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

“The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” (Psalm 121, KJV)

The mountains are a daily reminder of the close and personal relationship with the Creator.