Giving Directions in Appalachia

DirectionsFor the first 18 years of my life I lived in a place where the driving directions included the phrase, “Turn off the paved road.” I love that so many places in Appalachia can be reached not by driving down highways or paying attention to street signs, but by following more . . . organic descriptions.

Majestic trees, creeks, barns, big rocks, and even livestock provide directional markers in my neck of the woods. You might be told to “Turn left at the Millers’ Farm,” even though the Millers left twenty years ago and someone named Johnson lives there now.

Directions can also turn into eloquent descriptions of the countryside. “Go on down the road a piece, you’ll see some rolling fields off to your left. George Smith farms those fields, keeps as nice a farm as I ever seen. When you top out on a little rise, you’ll see a big old maple on the right–prettiest tree in the county come October. Turn there.”

But my all time favorite directions were given to a photographer acquaintance of mine. He was traveling the back roads of Western North Carolina photographing pockets of Appalachia that seemed frozen in time. (I highly recommend his books, especially The Face of Appalachia.) He asked for directions to a particular farm and was told to, “Turn at the horse.” He asked what to do if the horse wasn’t there. He was assured that it would be. And over the course of several trips the horse was, indeed, where he was supposed to be every time.

It’s a special part of the world that can use a horse to point the way. And probably, when the horse dies, the directions will run, “Turn where that old horse used to stand.”

Now that’s where I want to live.

14 thoughts on “Giving Directions in Appalachia

  1. Aunt Pat

    Oh, Sarah, I almost cried when I readt this. You are soooo right. This is a special, blessed place to live and raise a family. I always ask the person who is asking directions of me if he/she is from around here. If he says yes, I tell them I live at Shanks Park even though the Shanks had long left here way before we bought the farm. If he isn’t from here, I try to give directions by using highways or hard topped roads. I can imagine the directions to your homeplace.

  2. Mom

    I met someone (who looked to be about my age) at the Honda garage the other day who said he lived near the farm. I was trying to tell him where the farm is (see, we still call it the farm tho very little farming has been done there in a long time) and after I had used all the clues I could think of, he finally said he had only lived there a few years!

  3. Awww, the things we suburbans miss out on. This was lovely.

    Around my little town, if you say “if you passed the castle, you’ve gone too far”, means you’ve passed the swanky old stone mansion. That’s about it for awesome directions.

  4. New mexico and parts of Texas are like that, too – except that there are no trees, and one is expected to be able to tell the cardinal compass directions, and estimate distance.

    And GPS doesn’t work where I live, when trying to find an address. I’ve seen people try to get to the house, saying, not to worry – they’ve got GPS…and I see their vehicles running merrily down the wrong road in the distance.

    Be nice to be able to correct them but cell phones don’t work well here, either.

    We don’t get many visitors.

  5. Once, in south Georgia, I was given directions to “follow the road ’til the winding straightens out a bit and look for the farm where a huge oak used to be but it was hit by lightening some time back and ain’t there no more, but you turn at the next road either left or right supposin’ on where you want to get to.” I never found the farm, finally found a gas station, they didn’t know “how to get there from here” and donated $5.00 of gas to allow me to continue my dubious journey.

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