Appalachia is an uncommonly beautiful place, Central Appalachia doubly so.
After COVID-19 hit in early 2020, a lot of us had to make changes. I was no different. I worked from home for months, and my teenage son, Aidan, was in remote learning for quite a bit of time. There weren’t many normal activities that could be undertaken.
But the one thing that couldn’t be taken from us was the outdoors. The week I went on work-from-home duty, I ordered myself and Aidan new fishing poles. Neither of us had fished in years, but we dove in head-first — at times figuratively and at time literally (especially during an especially slippery jaunt down the Middle Fork of the Red River at Natural Bridge).
We fished small creeks. We fished ponds and lakes. We fished rivers. If there was a body of water — we fished it.
We went after bass, bluegill, rock bass, catfish, trout, whatever we could go after. Aidan caught a lot more than I did, but we had a great time. We explored areas we had never explored before, first in our own area, then beyond.
We went to various areas of Central Appalachia — some known for the quality of the fishing, some not so well-known for that. We explored the creeks and streams in the Red River Gorge area. We fished in the Bristol, Tennessee, area, the New River Gorge in West Virginia and in areas of southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. I’ve even found spots so close to my home that I never knew existed before I started looking around.
I’m not a Disney World kind of guy. Sure, I’d go, but the cost, the travel and the headache just don’t really inspire me to work to make it happen. I like the Smokies, but I also find that once a decade is pretty much enough for me at this point in my life. Myrtle Beach isn’t happening — just no.
I’ve found over the past few years that I’d rather be on a riverside, creekside or lakeside, preferably fishing (though it’s not necessarily required), but definitely a bit closer to nature than the typical tourist trap.
What I also found, or maybe finally realized, is that Appalachia, at least this corner, is a paradise. Over the generations, our people have carved out an existence in an area that is far more friendly to the natural wonders that surround us than it is to us.
I don’t want to give the impression that it’s constantly a slog to live here, but it can be difficult, especially when weather and the natural characteristics of the region combine to make life more difficult.
Regardless, here’s the deal — barring unforeseen circumstances, I know now that, being raised in Central Appalachia, I will likely be buried in Central Appalachia. I don’t think I want to leave the region.
Before that happens, however, I’d like to take in as much as possible as I can, because it’s out there, people. I constantly hear “there’s nothing to do here” but what I feel needs to be added is “ … if you don’t have the imagination.”
Within an hour or less drive of my home, I can be on hiking and other trails that rival those anywhere else in the world. Fishing is available everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Hunting, which I’ve not yet gotten into, is also out there as an option. There’s rock climbing, there’s mountain biking, there’s kayaking and other types of boating, there’s camping and the list goes on and on.
All it takes is a little imagination and willingness to get out there.
This modern world has done everything it can to separate us as far from the created natural world as possible. That makes sense, too. God created this world for mankind, and even in its fallen state, the natural world offers a free recharge for our natural batteries.
While often it seems the society and systems we have created are just trying to grind us down, the reality is that the cure is so near to us here in Central Appalachia that we can scarcely miss it if we open our eyes.
We are blessed here beyond compare, and, as I’ve discovered in recent years while traveling on foot along ancient streams, surrounded by rhododendron, with the sun only able to peek through the thick forest canopy, sometimes all it takes to restore us is to return to “that” world.
Give it a try.