Cara Ellen Modisett
Cara Ellen Modisett
Journey stories. They are their own genre, and they occupy a place in many people's childhood reading.
I grew up on C.S. Lewis – though I loved "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the surreal mystery of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" made it my favorite of those seven Chronicles of Narnia. And the idea of traveling with all one's worldly belongings packed in a covered wagon and maybe the back of a horse – in my mind, I watched the forests give way to rolling prairies and wide rivers in Laura Ingalls Wilder's memoirs.
"Roads go ever ever on / Over rock and under tree," sings J.R.R. Tolkien's Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit," another well-loved journey story.
Not long ago frequent Blue Ridge Country contributor Joe Tennis asked me to collect some of my thoughts on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a story he was writing in the Bristol Herald-Courier, where he's a staff reporter. It got me thinking about the journey that is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
You'd think that a park no wider than around 600 feet in places, a park that's built around a long, two-lane line of pavement, a park without canyons or geysers or deep caverns, might be a rather prosaic creation, an unlikely destination. But by a combination of vision and imagination, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a compelling place because it's also a compelling experience. It's not just about the road – it's about the landscapes the road travels through, the communities it touches, the overlooks, the waterfalls, the traces of human history, the conflict and love that went into its creation.
Perhaps whatever resonates in our childhood imaginations is what draws us to the parkway today – knowing that at whatever point we leave the other roads – the interstates, the suburban drives, the roads of convenience – and turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, we enter a deliberately beautiful world, a carefully placed route through time and space, cross-sectioning the oldest mountains on the continent.
For 469 official miles (or 470, if you count the engineered stretch around Grandfather Mountain), the parkway reaches from the heights of the Smokies in North Carolina to the gentle farmland in Virginia. It passes meadows, winds through rhododendron forests, whooshes through dark tunnels, leaps over rivers. It overlooks city lights and near-tundra.
The parkway's history – and its present day – isn't all about land and scenery. In the pages of this special issue, we celebrate its scenic beauty, but we also bring you the voices and the faces of some of the people who have worked on it, photographed it, devoted life's work to it. People, not just place, are also the parkway's future.
For the rest of this anniversary year, we'll feature the Blue Ridge Parkway in a continuing series of stories by contributing editor Elizabeth Hunter, herself the author of three books on the subject, including a new one coming out this summer with photographer J. Scott Graham.