The Professor took me camping over the long weekend to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and boy was it beautiful there. We saw elk, deer, bears, and several salamanders, as well as a billion beautiful trees and rocks and lichens and waterfalls. Unfortunately, my camera battery gave out before we got to the prettiness. I am hoping to get a few pictures from the Professor later to share, but in the meantime, here’s a picture of the campiness along the way.
First of all, did you know there is a store called Goats on the Roof in north Georgia? It’s this side of Clayton on 441. It is a store that has goats on the roof. Genius. Here’s the main shop, where they sell lots of gifty foodstuffs, including goat cheese products. I asked the tired girl at the register if they sold wool from their goats, and she looked at me as if I were insane for considering it.
And the side upon which the goats lounge. (Someone is up there fixing, among other things, the device that lets you feed the goats, which of course I paid twenty-five cents to play.)
And if you look closely . . . goats! On the roof!
Next stop, Cherokee, North Carolina, which is an American Indian Reservation. The signs were all in both English and Cherokee. They had some museums there that looked interesting that I’d like to go back and visit someday.
The town itself was pure tourist trap. Tacky nonsense nestled in sublime beauty.
Here is a shop called Miz-Chief.
And the Tomahawk Mini Mall, where we had a Subway sandwich and then some Mayfield ice cream at the fudge shop. There were men in elaborate costumes outside some of the shops getting ready to perform dances. And there were men with long hair in leather tunics outside of shops calling tourists to come in. One shop had some pretty amazing photographs of historic Natives, so remote from what was before us.
I’m working on a book right now that is about how American Indian authors portray Indian identity and connection to the land, and oversimplifying the argument a great deal, I’ll sum it up as saying that much of the depiction of Indians as protectors of the land, of having a greater spiritual connection with Mother Earth, is an association pasted on in hindsight, not particularly true historically, not something intrinsically Indian. And looking at all of the portrayal of Indianness for tourists right there on the reservation made my head spin a bit, thinking about how one would hold onto any sort of identity as Indian while trying to make a living stepping into and selling stereotypes of what Indian identity is, and what that must mean.
In a much less pronounced way, I see–and even somewhat experience–that struggle with Southern identity. So many folks try so hard, so prolifically, to define it. It’s y’all, it’s collards, it’s hospitality, it’s uberstubbornness, etc. So many folks try to uphold what they believe is their Southern birthright, only to totally misinterpret their roots and history, attaching themselves to myths. Such as the folks in the mountains of Tennessee who hang Confederate flags, when that area was known for strong Union sympathies–after all, what reason did mountain folk have to sacrifice everything to keep slavery alive, when their rocky land didn’t support large plantations? (Or, if I want to answer like Miss Teen South Carolina, “U.S. Americans don’t have topographical maps, such as.”)
Of course I think of the brilliant short film The Accountant, in which the main character blames Boston Market for destroying Southern identity. He warns that one day our children will be eating cornbread that’s sweet and drinking tea that ain’t, and they’ll think that’s Southern tradition. Maybe they’ll even buy this Redneck Dreamcatcher for $14.99, thinking it is a sacred symbol.
Another such as, is that I so easily misunderstood my mother’s explanation that geeha comes from two separate commands for mules, gee and haw. (Thanks to everyone for the etymological clarification.) My grandfather spent half of his life “on the south side of a mule,” and yet those simple terms didn’t trickle down to me. Maybe such details don’t have to be passed down the generations, but it does seem a little sad, to see that lost. It’s like losing part of my grandfather, whom I loved dearly.
But he passed a lot on to me, a lot that I suppose is more important than how to plow with a mule–in particular a passion for learning and a joy for living. And also a few diluted Indian genes, plus an almost spiritual love for gardening, so who knows.

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1 Response to Campy

  1. jodi says:

    I really like Cherokee; it’s a bit like the tourist trap that time forgot. There’s a “your weight and future” machine that still costs a penny. There’s also a magical bamboo forest in that park that’s on the little island. The whole town seemed deserted the times that we were there, and we wondered if there was economic depression setting in (perhaps to do with the rise of Pigeon Forge on the other side of the park).
    As for the problem of defining Southern identity: did you know that in Canada, they pretty much call all Americans “yankees”? I know. I know. But there you have it.

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