I was fortunate enough to spend four days in three different states over the 4th Of July. I started my sojourn from Washington D.C. and my itinerary included stops in North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. Before I take three months off and spend it in NZ, AU and Fiji I have decided to really take advantage of being a tourist in my own country.
The drive down highway 81 South from Virginia to North Carolina is a magical experience. From the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the secret seductiveness of the Smokey Mountains, you enter a different world the further south you drive. I was fortunate enough to stay with some friends who live in Franklin, North Carolina, a beautiful tiny town on the Appalachian Trail. The air felt clean, and the landscape felt as if it was actually growing around you in real time; I did not know so many various shades of green could exist. Franklin’s people are incredibly warm and inviting, without guile or pretense. I felt it was as if I transported back to another time. One of the things I found most interesting was their remembrance of American history. The Civil War is not a far and distant memory for Southerners, but something that is so fresh and recent that it evokes strong emotions when they speak about it. I looked over the valley, with the clouds that seemed to be lovingly caressing the mountains and I could imagine the farmers, the settlers, the ancestors of my friends who lived there in present day. Times may have changed, but I have a feeling that the essence of the tiny town of Franklin has not.
I happened to be in the South where Southern history and the Confederate flag are in the National Spotlight. Originating from the West Coast my feelings toward the Civil War are fairly simplistic; slavery bad, the North won and goodness overcame evil. I realize what a naïve and unfair opinion this was. War is inherently ugly and messy, there are not unequivocal good sides and bad sides because the sides are comprised of people, not politics, and people are both good and bad. Of the over 300,000 Southerns that died during the Civil War, only a small minority were slave holders. Most of these young men were sent to fight against their brothers because they were told they had too. Just like their Northern brethren, they left their families for years and endured great suffering.
Speaking with the locals in both North Carolina, and Georgia and hearing their stories of how their families were personally affected by the Civil War and in particular, Sherman’s destructive march through the South, I felt it was a disservice to casually dismiss the Confederate flag and marginalize the tribulations the losing side suffered. To the people I spoke with, the flag does not symbolize hatred or bigotry, it is a battle flag that their family fought and shed blood for- regardless of the greater political machine at the time. To truly be a United States, it is important that we do not forget our history, but empathically embrace and grow from our forefather’s lessons learned. I do not want to turn this into a political blog; I am merely sharing my perspective and what I learned during my trip.
It is easy to have opinions and perspectives, but it is important to have an open mind so you can see all of the different shades of grey. The rest of my trip in Atlanta and Charleston was fantastic; I could write an entire blog on each city. However, my one piece of advice, I feel if you do not personally experience proper Southern Barbeque in your life than that is a great loss indeed. There is something that is so comforting about tender juicy pork ribs that fall off the bone, and do not forget to dig into your scrumptious macaroni and cheese that someone compliments the entire meal so perfectly.
The thing I adore most about traveling is the feeling of awe I get when I go somewhere new. This feeling could be caused by natural landscapes, food that is such a pure and tasty reflection of its’ people, or getting to sit down and speak with someone and connect with them on a very real and authentic level. I have been preoccupied with my foreign bucket list, but my trip to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia reminded me that it is so important to look for that sense of awe no matter where you happen to be. There is beauty and something to be learned wherever you are. I was reminded not to lose my curiosity and my tourist mentality just because I happen to be in the States and in my backyard. The world is a vast place, and the breathtaking feeling and excitement of traveling is something that you carry with you internally.