Archived Mountain Voices

A place called home

One doesn’t tire of certain places. Even though they inevitably change through the years, they become more than friends. The cove we live in has become that sort of place even though, in most ways, it’s just another mountain cove. There are no rare plants or birds. The views are comforting — if you enjoy gazing at nearly vertical mountainsides.

Most of the time it’s fairly secluded, except for the occasional hunter or fisherman or lost tourist. In years past, our cove was a trap of sorts for seriously lost vacationers from France. How they wound up on lower Lands Creek instead of downtown Gatlinburg was always a mystery. They couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them. But with the help of a jug of red wine, we got along.

Most of the time, it’s fairly quiet — except for when Johnny Floor and his rock band kick it into gear up the creek at midnight with their high-octane cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.” In one swift generation, the cove has gone from Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio to Johnny Floor wired for high-tech sound. Well, let’s look at it this way: Johnny can sing better than Little Jimmy, and even at midnight, I’d rather hear “The White Freightliner Blues” than “Take an Old Cold Tater.”

Sometimes I’m asked, “How much would you want for your property?” To those eyes it’s just another plot of land — a commodity in need of improvement. Those eyes see it as something to be exchanged and re-exchanged on the marketplace. Bulldoze that old house and that rickety barn with the leaky roof and plywood sides. Get rid of that antiquated gravity-flow spring-fed water system. Flatten that ridge top and build a mansion with a sensational view someone lives in for six weeks a year and never calls home.

I can’t grasp that perspective. Never even tried. I do know that a homeplace isn’t a commodity. Even as things change, as they inevitably will, such places continue to lift our spirits and keep us going. Going on 35 years now and we continue to be renewed by the familiar shape of each ridge and the familiar patterns and sounds of the creek.

Back in the early 1990s, we had to move everyone into a large house in town for seven months because of my mother’s declining health. That’s when we found out just how much that spot “out in the country” had become a defining factor in our lives. Once we returned back into the cove after mother’s death, we felt more certain of our place and direction in life. There was quite clearly no place else we wanted or needed to be.

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Everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. Our emotional ties to specific places can be as ingrained as our ties to certain people. Our most deeply rooted feelings about certain people are often associated with specific places. That’s surely one of the reasons why the families of those moved out of the lands now occupied by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are reluctant to cast core issues aside. Those issues are, after all, emblems signifying an ongoing attachment to certain places and not-yet-forgotten people.

But this is getting way too serious. It’s a simple matter. At the end of the day, each of us is lucky almost beyond belief if we have a place to go home to that means something — a place where you can punch up the “White Freightliner Blues” on the boom box, sit on the deck with a cup of red wine, and watch the creek flow by.


George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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