Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter ode

We are just settling into winter in East Tennessee and approaching the end of 2009.  I was prompted, for no particular reason, to ponder the personality of winter and my mind inevitably switched into ode details.  Shall I share with you the beauty of my home?

Knoxville is a small city, nestled in the midst of the Tennessee Valley in the eastern portion of Tennessee.  If you are a native, then you will know that we don't say eastern Tennesee.  No, instead, it is East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee.  My side of the state is a wide range of terrain, with this small area of Knoxville encompassing gentle rolling hills, ridges, lakes and rivers.  Knoxville itself spreads out in a surprisingly large sprawl, not contained to the downtown area.  Indeed, travel to any direction north, south, east or west and you will find unexpectedly large sections of the city, with each direction possessing a unique personality. 

The majestic, spiritual Great Smoky Mountains are within a 90 minute drive from Knoxville.  It is there where you will find vistas that will reach deeply into your heart, speaking to you with a voice as old as time.  Our mountains are ancient here, worn to softer peaks over the vastness of imagined memory, yet no less impressive for the softer peaks displayed.  Wreathed in drifting, mysterious smoky mists, they patiently count the march of ages.  I can only imagine the history they have witnessed as the inexorable effects of weather, rain, earthquakes (yes, we get earthquakes here) and erosion softened the Smoky Mountains from brash, young, ragged peaks like the Rocky Mountains to their present stately mien. There is a healing energy in these mountains that the Native Americans recognized and respected, born of healing quartz mineral deposits, sandstone and limestone which purify the mountain water that feeds into all the lakes and rivers.

Early American settlers came this way, many of them being Scots and Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine and poverty.  They stopped here, deciding to "bide a wee" and eventually put down roots in an area that many said looked very similar to the gentle rolling hills of their mother Ireland and Scotland.  Much of our dialect, if you listen closely, reflects the lyrical flow of those settlers' original accents.  Scottish jigs became the template for modern country music, speaking with hearty fiddles, banjos, dulcimers and sounding out either brisk, happy tunes, or mournful, wailing sad ballads that tear at the heart of the listener.

Winter here in the Valley is quiet.  The lakes and rivers rarely freeze over and we celebrate the periodic snows we receive.  It is a peaceful time, the land slumbering, preparing sleeping trees and flower bulbs to burst forth with true glory in the coming spring months.

The people of East Tennessee are much like you will find in any southern small town.  Yes, there can be an insular attitude, but there are also ready smiles, welcoming nods to complete strangers and waves of Thank You's on the narrow backroads where "first come, first serve" rules the right of way.  It is still commonplace, when a funeral procession is on a road or highway, for people to pull onto the shoulder of the road, step from their cars and place a respectful hand over their heart until the procession passes by.  Here and there, you will still find the occasional small country store, or a Tastee Freeze drive-in restaurant run by one large family.  Even during winter months, these little remnants of the 1950's still thrive and do a brisk business. 

January 2010 approaches and we will settle more deeply into the full breadth of winter.  Perhaps we will be gifted with one or two good snows that will shut down schools, allow everyone to play outside with the kids, make snowcream and take quiet walks in the fields and woods, enjoying the white frosty beauty cloaking the trees.  Planning will already be underway for the spring celebration of the Dogwood Arts Festival that will usher in the inevitable explosion of life. 

For now, we rest in cold shades of greys, stark browns of trees stripped of their mantle of leaves, and breathe in crisp mountain washed air carrying the occasional tang of evergreen trees.  East Tennesse in the depths of winter is a magical place, steeped in a markedly slower, gentler rhythm than you will find in a larger, more bustling city. Spring will arrive, but only after the full depth of winter has kissed the mountains and valleys with frosty, misty salute. I write this from the warmth of a cozy townhouse, feeling embraced by the quiet tenor of the winter season of my Tennessee home. 


  1. Very beautiful Dawn, the Smokies are my favorite place to spend time especially when I need to refresh & recharge. I have only "driven" through Knoxville but you paint a wonderful picture for me. I love the peace of the mountains I find the quiet actually speaks to me. Thank you for an amazing picture.



  2. Bill, so glad you enjoyed it! I hear the same voice in the quiet of the mountains here, so I smiled to read your comment. It is an awesome, majestic stillness up there in the Smokies, and I do not jest when I say I feel a presence that is palpable when I spend time in that area. Second to spending time w/ my wonderful, loving family, time in the Smokies recharges my heart the same way you mentioned it does for you!

    ~ Dawn

  3. Wow great descriptions...I could visualize everything. I don't really know much about Tennessee, but feel like I learned some things through your post. If I ever get a chance to visit, I'll be sure to check out East Tennessee :)

  4. Anahid, that was such a great comment! I love knowing I was able to paint a clear enough picture that you could visualize on your end. I am a huge fan of my home, as I'm sure you could tell from the post. If you ever make it to East TN, let me know ahead of time so we can meet in person! Thank you for the kind words.

    ~ Dawn

  5. You are such a wonderful writer Dawn and now I really want to visit TN! It's been on my list for a long time now.

  6. Jenn and I.K., thank you for visiting this post. I just read back through it - we are having a rare snowy day in East TN - and I still love the words written. I daresay I will write an Ode to spring when it bursts forth, so stay tuned!

    I.K., TN is a beautiful place. I think you'll love the Smoky Mountains when you eventually find your way out here.

    ~ Dawn