Friday, April 9, 2010

North Carolina

An early explorer once observed that “plenty and a warm sun” seemed to occasionally divert the people of North Carolina from their work. Today, they put their work ethic up against anybody else’s in the world. But they do have to admit that, even for people who’ve lived there all their lives, the stunning natural beauty of North Carolina can be pretty distracting. After all, miles of nationally protected seashore stretch unendingly along their coast, fertile farmland dotted by lakes and rivers decorates their undulating Heartland, and trees as old as America herself stand as silent sentinels in their High Country.
Time stands still along that picturesque Coast. Some of people still ply their fisherman’s trade here as they have for hundreds of years. Historic lighthouses still illuminate the way for weary travelers. Wild ponies still frolic along pristine shores once roamed by pirates like Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard.
You can hear the history in that place names – Avon, Buxton, Corolla, Moyock, Salvo and Topsail. And, in the speech of the natives, you’ll hear a unique dialect that some say holds remnants of Elizabethan English with a smattering of Scots-Irish and African influence. It is a language set to the cadence of seaside life.
From Bath to Ocracoke and Beaufort to Wilmington, you are so close to history that you can taste it. The explorer Giovanni de Verrazano, who discovered grapes in the Cape Fear River Valley in 1524, through that they would yield an excellent wine. Today, visit one of many wineries and relish historic flavors.
Coastal waters teem with life. In turn, coastal restaurants teem with good food – Cape Hatteras clam chowder, Atlantic blue crab, littleneck clams and hush puppies. Many festivals – like the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City – give you a true taste of the Coast.
If history gets old, there are plenty of activities for the here and now. Beaches regularly show up on lists of the best in the world. Peer between your toes at the sun-gold sand if you seek quiet contemplation. Or, for a little more excitement, you can sea kayak, windsurf and even hang glide. From a place where time stands still, let’s move to a region where we keep time musically: the Heartland. Home of the Piedmont blues, it’s also home to jazzmen John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk, country music’s Randy Travis, and pop troubadour James Taylor.
There’s a musical quality in the language here influenced by Moravian, African-American and Scots-Irish culture, as well as by the gently rolling hills. You can hear it in the works of writers and journalists like O. Henry, Charles Kuralt and Edward R. Murrow, who hail from this region.
Historic sites such as Bethabara and Old Salem reflect the Moravian culture. Pembroke and the Town Creek Indian Mound site speak volumes about the centuries of Native American civilization in the Heartland.
Towns like Aberdeen and Fayetteville are linked to Scots-Irish past, as is Pinehurst, the American home of the Scottish game of golf. The percussive sound of dimpled white orbs being smacked with woods and irons permeates the air across the Heartland.
The staccato rhythm of axes once rang through these forests, as trees were felled for still-flourishing furniture industry. These stands of Heartland timber now host nature’s chorus of birds. The throaty rumble of stock car racing, born of mountain moonshining, today fills major Heartland speedways in such places as Concord and Rockingham, not to mention the many smaller tracks around the region.
But it’s the music of commerce that sings loudest here. Charlotte, the state’s largest city and one of the nation’s top financial centers, thrums with the sounds of banking and finance. You’ll find here – and in cities like Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh – that commerce fuels cultural and entertainment offerings. While museums, the opera, the arts, symphonies and dance companies thrive in the Heartland, Mountains are for pioneers. The Cherokee nation had been in these hills for years before Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540. Moravian Bishop August Spangenburg investigated the region in the 1750s, and Daniel Boone lived here from 1760 to 1769.
Today, the highest peaks east of the Mississippi still issue pioneers a challenge: Climb us; explore hidden, misty coves; look for whitewater adventure; find yourself. A great place to start your journey of discovery is on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This black ribbon of road runs 252 miles balanced precariously atop Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains. Natural scenic wonders abound – the spring wildflowers, the fall migration of monarch butterflies and the awesome views from Mount Mitchell. And, not too far off the parkway is America’s oldest river, incongruously called the New River.
You can get a real taste of pioneer life at places like the Brinegar Cabin. Or just listen to mountain music to learn of the joys and the heartbreak experienced by early settlers. The music lives on today in the flat picking of the legendary Doc Watson and can be heard at events like MerleFest.
The land of Cherokee is at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Step back in time at Oconaluftee Indian Village, where Cherokee artisans demonstrate their centuries old crafts. Take advantage of their special knowledge of these hills on hunting or fishing expeditions with a Cherokee guide.

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