A Kid from Appalachia

A Kid from Appalachia
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The smell is arguably the strongest sense in our repertoire, bringing back memories more vividly than any other human capability. So, what does it mean for a child growing up in Appalachia?

A Kid from Appalachia / Growing up in Appalachia

Early morning in the Appalachian Mountains is an extraordinary thing. The lack of car sounds means that it seems downright quiet outside, with only the occasional call of a bird, a bark of a stray dog in the distance, or the rustling of some critter in the underbrush. 

As it used to be, I would wake up at six every morning and slowly make my way out of my bed to get ready for the school day; the smell in the air would be that of oatmeal and bacon, and the only sound would be natures alarm Mr. Doodle, the rooster.

There’s a particular smell to the morning dew in the forests of the Appalachia – a scent I grew up with and will always associate with my native land. 

After all the people and cars and lights turn off, the forest is left alone to do its own thing. 

The trees grow, spread their seeds, drop deadwood on the floor, and the whole ecosystem comes to life again. Some trees will secrete an oily substance that gives off a distinct smell when it rains on them – almost like the trees are alive. 

At least, that’s how I perceive it. Humans have very little in common with these silent and mighty beings, and we take much more than we give to them.

Something is calming about the sound of rain falling on a tent that seems to be a universal truth among people who have gone camping. It’s a soothing sound, and it lulls me into a dreamlike state. It doesn’t matter whether the rain is coming down hard or gently, because either way, my thoughts wander to a place where there’s nothing else but this and myself.

What It’s Like to Grow Up in Appalachia?

Smells are powerful. So, to start with, there is the smell of animals in much of Appalachia. Squirrels outside my window scurry around trees and bark, searching for nuts to eat when they could be looking for food in your walls or attic. 

Deer can regularly be seen roaming about Appalachian woodlands even though people are regularly hunting them. With all that wildlife, there are bound to be scents that we see every day but barely acknowledge: skunk scent will always remind me of my childhood because of all the times I had trouble crossing it as a child, not noticing it until I had already crossed it.

In the air around us resides unique scents from unique lifeforms. Appalachian wildlife has been described as “unobtrusive,” and this is true to an extent: we can live right next to each other and hardly notice anything out of the ordinary unless we actively seek something strange or unusual. It’s easy to forget that things do not belong here:

  • Kudzu vines.
  • Imported plants and animals.
  • Alien species such as Africanized honeybees (not native but accidentally introduced).
  • Even people who don’t belong in Appalachia for one reason or another.

For example, if you lived downwind of a large city, you would probably notice how the smell of the city becomes more and more potent as you get closer to it. There is a reason why the air smells so different after an Appalachian thunderstorm than it does before.

Mountain Laurel

Appalachia has many other things to smell, but one stands out above all else: our mountain laurel blooming every summer.

The actual “king of the forest” here in western North Carolina smells strong enough to fill up an entire small town with nectar for as far as the eye can see during its two-week blooming season. It’s easy to become lost in admiration at how beautiful these flowers are. Still, they’re even more impressive when you look closer and discover that their scent is natural mosquito repellent! 

I still think they’re worth every bee sting, though, because they make a compelling statement about what it means to be an Appalachian.

A child growing up in Appalachia with all their senses will feel like they are living inside a world that most people would never expect most of the time. It’s easy to forget how different our forests and mountains genuinely are because we’ve lived here for so long. There is no doubt that Appalachia is one of the most biologically diverse places on this side of the planet, but that is something best discovered firsthand by those who choose to live here!

So, before I had a smartphone with me all the time, because now I am always shooting nature photography whenever I go out to the forest,

However, I am constantly reminded of my childhood memories and how much has changed since then.

The forest, the smells, and the people of Appalachia

The Appalachian Mountains are home to many different people who live in different ways around the mountains. The most common occupation in the Appalachian Mountains is farming, with many families living on farms that have passed onto generation after generation of their families.

Many of these residents also grow fruits and vegetables that they either sell themselves at local farmer’s markets or use to feed their families. Other jobs include beekeeping, carpentry, hunting, and fishing, though not everyone sees these things as a job but instead a way of life.

Tranquility

Early morning in the Appalachian Mountains is an extraordinary thing.

-Luther Taylor

Living up in the mountains, one thing about life is sure; it can be very peaceful and tranquil, especially when you go out into the woods away from all the noise of technology and civilization. Some people even choose to leave all modern conveniences behind them to simplify their life and reconnect with nature.

Appalachia Fern

Many different smells come from the Appalachian Mountains; the scent of wildflowers hitting your nose in springtime is an unforgettable sensation. The summertime brings on a bouquet of fresh air and clean running rivers, while the fall brings about all the beautiful scents of autumn like apple-picking and pumpkin-carving and rotting leaves.

So, if you are fortunate enough to be in the Appalachia area and the mountains during the winter months, there’s nothing like walking through the snow under the moonlight with not another soul around for miles, just listening to the quiet of nature that will be etched into your memory forever.

There are so many people living up in these mountains that it would take far too long to name the most extraordinary people, but I will mention a few. Some people live up in these mountains that want nothing but to hunt and fish for their food, which they provide for themselves.

Then some choose to farm and raise cattle or other livestock, passed down from generation to generation. And the last group I shall speak of is the one that lives off the land doing what they do best, being self-sufficient as much as possible while still living within nature.

A Kid from Appalachia

Empathy, Kindness

After finding out how nice it was up here, my friends and I decided we would come back tomorrow morning before going home so we could have time just enjoying nature’s beauty before having to go back home where cell phones and technology take over again. Still, someone had left the lights on, and the truck battery was dead, and we managed to become lost.

Searching for anyone nearby, we were making our way back to the truck when we noticed a small cabin wrapped around trees off in the distance. We decided to go check it out and maybe use their phone if they didn’t mind.

As we walked closer to the cabin, I could smell the wood burning in the fireplace. Even though there was no fire now, it still smelled like smoke coming from inside. There were goats tied up on one side of the cabin, too grazing on grass and other plants while chickens roamed free everywhere you looked. 

As we knocked on the door, an older man came out with a shotgun in his hand until he saw us standing there, at which point he put it down and welcomed us. 

He asked us what our business was here, so we explained that we had gotten lost while hiking and needed to use a phone. He said we could go on and use the phone but didn’t let us know where it was.

The man gave us some directions about which way we were supposed to go, then turned around and went back inside, leaving the door open as he settled down back in his chair next to the fire. 

My friends and I grabbed our things and headed out again; after only a few minutes of walking, we found the phone hanging on the side of an old cabin up on a hill.

We told my parents where we were, and they came and got us right away before heading away. I thanked the older man, and he said, think nothin of it.

As we pulled away from the cabin, I took one last look off into the distance seeing this beautiful scenery laid out like a picture before me. 

As we drove away, I could see the sun setting off in the distance through the trees on top of a nearby mountain, so I rolled down my windows and filled my lungs with all this beautiful fresh air as we sped away back towards civilization.

Conclusion / A kid from Appalachia

Being out in nature is something I treasure and will never forget because of the smell of the forest leaves on my clothes or the way my jeans smell after hiking up a mountain that’s been untouched by man. Childhood memories and the last time I went camping with friends. 

It was truly magical being surrounded by nature like that, and there’s nothing quite like it. At least while we have yet to tap all our natural resources, this is one thing we can still enjoy so long as we take care of what we have left together.

I always can’t wait to get back down home! Whether it is with family or friends, it’s always nice to get away from all the noise and pollution in this city of ours and slow everything down. 

There is something about listening to crickets chirping, frogs croaking or just laying out underneath the stars at night and thinking about how small you really are in comparison and, it’s always nice when you must return home after one of these trips and smelling my clothes, knowing that I’ve been out in nature for days on end.

Growing up in the mountains has taught me a lot about life, and I think everyone should get a chance to live in the mountains.