Jan 4, 2021

Appalachian Wilderness

the Great Smoky Mountains
Natural and Human History 
by Edward Abbey and Eliot Porter

     I liked this book, but was initially confused about it. The photographer's name (Porter) is the only one on the spine and prominent on the cover, so naturally I assumed most of the text was by him- especially as some excerpts noted to be by Edward Abbey are in italics at the ends of pages indicating they pair with photos on the following spread. It wasn't until I was nearly halfway through that I realized the words I read echoed sentiments of Edward Abbey I'd read in The Journey Home. So then I thought well, this chapter at least must be by Abbey- however it wasn't distinguished from any other chapter as to the author. Not until I was looking at details of the book on LibraryThing did I at last realize that all the main text is Edward Abbey, and Elliot Porter the photographer. There are also many quotes in here by Ivan Turgenev, John Hay, Frank Russell and others, plus several poems by E.E. Cummings.

So it is in turns a picturesque description of the region especially the immensely diverse plant life, a rant against development (Abbey went on for pages at one point on his stance that only foot traffic- no cars- should be allowed into the Great Smoky Moutains National Park- even though he himself visited there in a vehicle), the history in particular of how Cherokee were forced out of their homes, the way hillside farmers make a living and their distinctive local culture and pride- and how it's been degraded by strip mining which ruins the land. Maybe it sounds a jumble but really it is very well presented together and my mind moved seamlessly from one aspect to the next. The photographs are beautiful (if a bit aged in appearance after all this book as an object is almost fifty years old) featuring waterfalls, brilliant fall leaves and bright forest floor wildflowers from the region. 

I read this book as an interlude during Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. That one is very much about how native american mindset and living is in close partnership with the land- and there's a chapter where the author takes a group of students to survey plant biomes in a patch of the Great Smoky Moutains- and I remembered I had this Appalachian Wilderness on a shelf somewhere, and wanted to see the pictures. It was a perfect pairing.
Rating: 3/5                118 pages, 1973

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