Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Out Under The Sky

I've just finished reading Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal by Harvey Broome and I'm thinking of starting it again immediately. Broome was an attorney born and raised in eastern Tennessee who helped found the Wilderness Society and served as president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. The book is from his writings of nearly 50 years of exploring the Great Smoky Mountains on foot, off the trails more than on. (Heck, there weren't many "trails" as we know them today, but old roads and footpaths and animal paths.)

But it's more than a recording of "what I did today." It is a love story about the Smoky Mountains, his love for the wildness and his vision for its future. Broome's concern for conservation is absolutely contemporary. Many of the things he feared have indeed come to pass: pollution, development, encroachment, people trying to get their "nature" without getting out of their cars. His opinion of the automobile was often skeptical: "The car has for many people become a sort of extension of their personalities. But if they were forced to do without cars they would adjust quickly. Studies in the physical conditioning of modern Americans show that many of this generation may not be fit because of softening influences in their formative days. But the race is not injured basically and the next generation, if need be, can be strong again...But what concerns me is the rejection of the past in this summary way...They have become so entranced with the illusions of power which the automobiles and the other contrivances of modern living have bestowed upon them that they want to dedicate themselves to such a life without thought of the consequences to themselves, their history...A second illusion is that they can soak up beauty and natural values from an automobile in the same manner and to the same degree as on foot. Sound and subtleties which the canoeist or foot traveler would hear and sense do not exist for the motorist." Broome made those observations in 1953.

One can usually determine my enjoyment of a book on my shelf by looking at the number of page corners turned down. Broome's book is filled with bent corners at his thoughts on conservation and his eloquence of description of each hike into the beautiful mountains. Just lying on his back on the ground was cause for reflection: "I reveled in the feeling of god-like attainment afforded by these full views on a warm spring day through the winter nakedness of the trees. Everything was perfection and the views fell in our laps."

It is always interesting to read about places one has been and I tried hard to picture Broome's views of Gregory Bald, Chimney Tops, Porters Creek, Charlies Bunion, Greenbrier. But what he describes is no longer there as he saw it. The Smokies are constantly changing, sometimes because of weather in the form of flash floods and ice and snow and sometimes because of humans creating trails and furthering erosion. That makes Broome's book especially important as it captures changes from his first hike as a teenager in 1917 to 1966 - it is a history book as well as a love story. I've got to get back to my reading...

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