The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 17:33:32 GMT
From: NRDC - Frances Beinecke <>
To: Alan Sondheim <>
Subject: Defending the Homeplace

Dear Alan,

I take real pleasure in sharing with you this very personal and
heartfelt portrait of the Southern Appalachian region by writer
Patricia Adams. For years, BioGems Defenders have fought
successfully to protect the famed forests of this area --
including the Cumberland Plateau BioGem -- from destructive
logging and development.

To view the remarkably beautiful panoramic slideshow that
accompanies this latest addition to our Firsthand series, please
visit the online version at

The slideshow is featured at the top of the page.

Patricia joins me in thanking you for your partnership in
protecting our country's last wild places for generations to

Best regards,

Frances Beinecke

. . .

from the Natural Resources Defense Council

To see the html version with pictures, go to:
Please feel free to forward this to friends!

Defending the Homeplace
by Patricia Adams

The hound dogs ran up the trail, ears flopping and noses close
to the ground as we sat on our porch watching the rain clouds
move up from the valley. Thunder rumbled and lightning pierced
the dark sky. The dogs, never lifting their heads, howled and
yipped as they ran through the clearing and disappeared back
into the dense woods.

Within minutes the storm, a real "gully washer," was upon us,
pounding the tin roof of our cabin and shaking the windows with
powerful thunder claps. The cabin is in a temperate rain forest,
which gets up to 90 inches of rain a year, much of it in summer
thunderstorms. Tulip Poplar trees grow over 200 feet tall and
white oaks are five feet in diameter. Forest floors are so thick
with under growth that, as the locals say, "A dog can't wag his
tail in it."

When the storm passed, evening began to settle. A Towhee trilled
"Drink your tea!" in the waning light and hoot owls called.
Stars shone in the clear sky. Below in the valley, dim lights
blinked on farms that have been in families for over a hundred
years. Mountains reaching over 6,000 feet folded in the

We were in western North Carolina, a part of the ancient
Southern Appalachians, which were old when the Rockies and the
Himalayas were formed. These mountains were the home of the
Cherokee and the streams and mountains retain their names;
Nolichucky, Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Unaka. The mountains
are rich in diversity -- to climb from a valley to a mountain
top, one passes through the same floral zones that one would
encounter traveling from mid-Georgia to southern Canada.

Our cabin is on land that has been in our family for seven
generations. When my parents gave us land, John and I chose to
build a replica of the "old homeplace" where my mother was born;
a small clapboard house with a wide front porch by a "bold
spring" which gives us clear water year round. There is no
electricity so we cook on a wood stove and get light from
kerosene lanterns. When we climb the stairs to our bedroom and
blow out the lamp, we experience the night as our forebears did;
no ambient night light, no sound of traffic, no phones or T.V.
-- just cicadas and katydids singing outside with jungle-like

The cabin sits by a long abandoned road. Hundreds of years ago,
it was a Cherokee trail over the mountain. After the Cherokee
were sent to Oklahoma on the infamous "Trail of Tears" it was
used by white settlers to travel to a lumber camp which operated
in a high mountain meadow.

Simply sitting on our porch, we can experience the great
heritage of the Southern Appalachians -- the serenity and beauty
of the mountains stretching in all directions, the bountiful
hardwood forest (which contains half of the old growth forest in
the eastern United States), the pure mountain spring, the legacy
of the Cherokee and the presence of people who have lived here
for generations.

The integrity of our "homeplace" is still intact, but the
integrity of these southern mountains is at great risk from
over-development, reckless logging and air pollution.

It is understandable that this sanctuary is attractive to the
millions who live in the burgeoning cities of the South, but we
are destroying the very mountains that beckoned us in the first
place. Where uncontrolled development has come, great gashes of
earth and trees are ripped off mountains to perch houses on the
steep slopes. Heavy rain carries the exposed soil down the
mountainside. Paved roads circle around the ridges and power
lines creep up the gorges. The dark coves with moss-covered
streams and abundant wildflowers are no longer sheltered.

Throughout the Southern Appalachians, there continues to be
intense logging of the hardwood forests. In the Cumberland
Plateau, these forests are replaced with biologically
impoverished pine plantations. Herbicides destroy the
undergrowth, which may allow a dog to wag its tail, but does not
allow for foxes or songbirds to find food or cover.

Air pollution, both from neighboring regions and population
growth, means summer days of unhealthy air and the loss of
spectacular mountain views behind the milky haze of pollution.
And this pollution is killing the conifers, which stand black
and covered with parasites as they die.

Instead of being able to "lift mine eyes unto the hills -- from
whence cometh my strength" -- too often, we lift our eyes unto
hills where ridges are bare from logging or covered with dying
trees or mottled with houses. These forested hills that for
years represented eternity and solitude, sometimes look like
they suffer from mange.

In response to this alarming destruction, NRDC named the
Cumberland Plateau region a BioGem in 2005. Since then, hundreds
of thousands of BioGems Defenders from around the country have
taken online action in defense of this vast network of
forestlands stretching from Kentucky and Tennessee down through
the Carolinas to Georgia and Alabama. And their efforts have
paid off: Following intense pressure from BioGems Defenders, the
giant paper company Bowater signed a groundbreaking agreement to
stop clearcutting natural hardwood forests and converting them
to pine plantations. A massive outcry from BioGems Defenders
also helped persuade the U.S. Park Service to reconsider a plan
to build a 34-mile road through untouched portions of the Great
Smoky Mountains National Park. Near the park, they partnered
with both local and national organizations to protect 30 miles
of pristine river and thousands of acres of forestland. With
their support, a local land trust was able to preserve a
1,500-year-old Cherokee Indian mound. These tireless BioGems
Defenders don't share my family history and many live hundreds
or thousands of miles from the Southern Appalachians, but
working together they are helping to safeguard these age-old
mountains for present and future generations.

February 2008


Take action to help protect the Cumberland Plateau BioGem in the
Southern Appalachians from clearcut logging and harmful

Read a personal story about making everyday choices to help save
endangered forests.

Download the NRDC shopper's guide to forest-friendly tissue


The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee is helping to conserve
the waters, forests, farmss and heritage of the Upper Little
Tennessee and Hiwassee River Valleys.

The Dogwood Alliance is working to hold corporations accountable
for the impact of their industrial forestry practices on our
forests and our communities.

The Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition protects and restores
the wildlands, waters, native forests and ecosystems of the
Southern Appalachian landscape.

. . .

Patricia Adams has been a strong supporter (in more ways than
one) of NRDC since its establishment in 1970. With her husband
-- NRDC founder, John Adams -- she has traveled, entertained,
solicited and celebrated the growth of this organization.
Patricia is moved by the lengths to which BioGems Defenders will
go to protect beleaguered lands such as her own beloved
"homeplace," and she salutes each and every one of them.

. . .

Copyright 2008 Natural Resources Defense Council

. . .

Thank you for your interest in Firsthand, an occasional series
of personal reflections on the places, creatures and world that
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