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  • Ken Ilgunas

Blue Ridge Parkway

Yesterday, I drove six hours of the Blue Ridge Parkway from the N.C.-Virginia border down to Asheville, North Carolina.

The Parkway–a 469-mile scenic highway built between the 1930’s and 1980’s–has been paved atop the Appalachian Mountain chain to afford its wheeled wayfarers with a windshield wilderness: forested valleys and ancient hills that can be ohhhed and awwwed at from the comforts of our cars.

Part of me felt as if I was driving atop a sacred burial ground, and that the rumblings of my tires were sure to have been disturbing the spirits struggling to sleep beneath. Part of me wished these Appalachian hills had remained unblemished of tar and tourist, so that the mountains could remain raw and vicious and inaccessible, radiating an uncommon beauty: there, but rarely seen.

Let the intrepid few have wild places so that they may be stunned by the sublime. And also, let the sedentary many view the hills from below and afar, where the mountains will take on an air of mystery, a wilderness replete with caves and mountain lakes, home to bears and beasts, seamonsters and sasquatches–all of which may not exist in real life, but they, if given a place to dwell, will at least populate and enliven our dreams. The quicker we Google-map the earth, the more we remove from it the opportunity for our native planet to evoke feelings of wonder and enchantment and love in its inhabitants. Earth, I think, should always remain partly unknown, partly undiscovered, partly unclassified, at least until we begin to push the frontiers of space, where we’ll have a new galactic wilderness in lieu of the terrestrial one we’ve all but recorded and ravaged.

The country the Parkway meanders over–largely on account of the Parkway–is far from seeming wild, yet I can’t deny how much I enjoyed the trip: the cavernous rock tunnels, the charming stone masonry of the bridges, the constant scent of spring sweetness, the cool dark air of the forest sashaying into my van’s open windows, and the shadows of the forest draping themselves over the Parkway, a never-ending barcode of shade and sunlight.

I suppose beauty comes in many colors. Yes, I’ll take a wilderness that I can never get to in favor of one I can, but I am not so haughty to spurn those places made accessible by the steel ax and dynamite stick. I’ll look at nature from whatever angle it is offered, momentarily lowering my guard to give the planners and developers a chance to convince me that their vision was in fact inspired by the reverence they felt for a place that they thought okay to disfigure.

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