When Men and Mountains Meet

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

This is not done by jostling in the street.

— William Blake, Gnomic Verses

Who doesn’t love a view? Few sights surpass blue mountains stretching across the horizon beneath an endless sky. In my part of the United States, you can easily see such a view by pulling off at an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic road that begins in Virginia and winds its way down through North Carolina.

Sadly, I take this view of undulating blue hills for granted. In fact, my original plan for Photography 101’s Landscape theme was to drive out to Max Patch, a bald mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Situated on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Max Patch offers an amazing 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain groups: the Bald Mountains, the Great Smokies, the Unakas, the Black Mountains, and the Great Balsams. You need a video camera to capture the astonishing scenery at Max Patch.

June 2011:  A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch

June 2011: A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch. Click here for my unsteady video of the view.

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

IMG_3197 cropLife interfered with my plans for a panoramic photo at Max Patch, so I chose an easy — and obvious — option for a landscape picture: the Haw Creek Valley Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. En route to the overlook, my son and I made an unscheduled pit stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. This was my first time inside the Visitor Center, where several hands-on exhibits caught my son’s eye. Meanwhile, my eyes were drawn to William Blake’s words — “Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — emblazoned across a photograph near the entrance.

In this context, Blake’s statement is lauding the Blue Ridge Parkway as a “great thing” achieved by the conjunction of men and mountains. Construction of the Parkway began in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and was finally completed in 1987. In every subsequent year since 1946, the Parkway has been America’s most visited national site. As the longest linear park in the United States, the Parkway annually gives millions of visitors access to campsites and hikes, vistas and waterfalls, wildflowers and trees. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a remarkable achievement.

Like most visionary projects, the Blue Ridge Parkway was not without casualties. Browsing through a bookstore in August, I came across When the Parkway Came, a children’s book written by Anne Mitchell Whisnant and David E. Whisnant. The Whisnants’ book looks at the building of the Parkway through the eyes of Jess, a boy whose family’s farm lies in the path of the proposed highway. While Jess is fictional, the book is based on a letter written to President Roosevelt in 1937 by S. A. Miller, owner of a small farm in North Carolina. Miller’s objections to the low offer made for his land were eventually rewarded with a better price. Although the book does not shy away from the Parkway’s darker repercussions, the Whisnants end on a note of optimistic reflection:

“I wish this land was still ours, Papa Jess,” I said. Papa Jess was quiet for a while. Then he looked up and smiled. “It is, Ginny,” he said. “It still is. Yours, mine, and everybody’s. And it is still so beautiful.”

As someone who benefits from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I am torn between sympathy for the mountain farmers whose property rights were overruled and gratitude for the engineers and CCC workers who made the mountains accessible to everyone. Because farmers like Miller sacrificed their land, the mountains bordering the Parkway are now a place for refuge and reflection – a beautiful place that provides recreational opportunities and inspires artists and writers.

In my reading of Blake’s epigram, he was not thinking of a specific “great” achievement when he wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. /  This is not done by jostling in the street.” A Romantic poet who hated the ugliness of industrialization and wrote of England’s “dark Satanic mills,” Blake is speaking here of that sense of wonder and awe that descends upon us when we gaze on a landscape too large for our circumscribed minds to comprehend.  Blake lived in London all his life — amidst the jostling of nineteenth-century London’s dirty, crowded streets.The great thing for Blake would have been solace for his soul and freedom for his thoughts as he gazed upon mountains.

Does the creation of a public treasure like the Blue Ridge Parkway justify the high price paid by Miller and many others? Thinking of the countless visitors who have gazed in wonder at views along the Parkway, I would answer, “Yes” – but, then, it wasn’t my land.

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)


Thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting the weekly Writer’s Quote Wednesday event.

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All photographs were taken by Sandra Fleming in November 2014, with the exception of the Max Patch picture, which was taken in 2011. An iPhone 5s was used for the panoramic photos and overlook sign, while a Panasonic Lumix was used for all other photos. Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

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29 thoughts on “When Men and Mountains Meet

  1. The title of this post caught my attention. In my growing-up years, we lived about five hours from the foothills of the Himalayas. Every summer, it was like a religious ritual to spend a few days in one of the several “hill-stations” in the foothills. Have left an enduring impression on me.

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    • Wow! I suspect that the foothills of the Himalayas would dwarf our Blue Ridge Mountains. That must have been quite an experience.

      I have never been to the Rocky Mountains in North America, but we hope to see them next summer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot about the bikers and cyclists who also enjoy the parkway — glad to know you are one of them. We’ve hiked parts of the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail but only a bit of the Appalachian Trails. Maybe one day!

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  2. Pingback: Writer’s Quote Wednesday (11/26/14) Weekly Re-Cap | Silver Threading

  3. I love this post and the comments too, very interesting. Yes, blogging can sometimes be like putting in a paper you’re not being graded on as sometimes the research takes a lot of time and work! And the comments on land ownership…I have absolutely no idea on the answer but I don’t really like humans ‘buying’ pieces of the earth and calling it theirs…I would like to think it is ours but how to manage that, who knows! Great post, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I made my comment when I was trying to sneak a peek at your pictures before going to bed. Now that I have actually read it, I’m thinking what happened to these people after the sale? Did they move on to bigger and better things? Did things get worse and they regret the sale? I’m also reminded of John Mellencamp’s, “Pink Houses” and the lyrics, — an interstate running through the front yard. The latest superman movie also made this relevant with the Clark’s farm.

    Anyway, I’d be really interested to know what happened next.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure what happened to the real Mr. Miller, but, in the children’s book I read, the father worked for the CCC for a while, after he sold part of the farm to the government. WWII came along, so the dad went off to war. When the father returned, he decided it was best for the family to sell the rest of the farm and move to Lenoir, NC, where he took a job in a furniture plant. (At one time, there were a lot of furniture companies in western NC, but the global market has changed that.)

      You’re right, April: there are a lot of stories where eminent domain hurts an individual or individuals , while theoretically benefiting the general public. I remember seeing the movie The River, back in the 80s, which is about the TVA flooding valleys to provide electrical power for a large area. Tough issues.

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    • That does not surprise me, April. Her sense of the settlers having displaced the Native Americans comes through in Little House on the Prairie in particular (if I’m remembering correctly). I love her books — another national treasure, in my opinion.

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  5. Hi Sandi – breathtaking views. I like the combination of assignments as you gave us the gift of knowing the historical facts. Thanks.
    I was thinking about what the indigenous people thought when they too gave up their land , as the price was blood.

    Happy Thanksgiving !

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lucile, you raise an excellent question — because, as you hint, the mountain farmers were not the first people to inhabit these mountains. That is a sobering thought, especially in light of what happened to the Cherokee in this region.

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    • Thanks, Deborah. But — I spent way too much time at the computer today. You think you know about the place where you live, but, when you start writing about it, you realize that you don’t know very much at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know exactly what you mean. I was looking at some info about Highway 101 because I thought it would make a nice post. Well there is so much info it is hard to condense it quickly. I would need to spend a good chunk of time to organize the info and not just copy it off the internet. You did a great job. It was well organized and it covered the topic nicely.

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        • Thank you: I appreciate your feedback 🙂 One problem when you know a place is that there are so many side issues to avoid (for example, the building of the Visitor Center was actually controversial, b/c there is also a Folk Art center nearby; there was concern about diverting business from the Folk Art center). In the end, I decided to ignore that issue.

          I don’t know if you saw Terri’s recent post on blogging as a “serious leisure pursuit.” It really is: who knew how much time you could spend researching all this stuff — and it’s not even for a grade?

          Liked by 1 person

        • If I am going to do a piece of more length and depth definitely I must do more research and take more time for sure. Yes and deciding what to put in and leave out takes time. With the daily posting I felt the need to do something fairly quick. Also wanting to read others posts takes time. I lost track of Terri. I had not seen any posts from her. I will have to check it out. Did she stop posting for awhile?

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        • I met two different Terri’s in Blogging 101: Terri of Write out of the Darkness and Terri of Perspectives on . . . I haven’t seen anything from Write-out-of-the-Darkness Terri in over a month, but the other Terri is still blogging regularly. Perspectives Terri (as I think of her!) is also doing Photo 101, so I see her posts in the Photo 101 Commons (when I can find time to stop by).

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