Why we love the mountains

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mountains seem to be a universal attraction to people no matter where they come from. To we who were born and raised in them, they are especially endearing because they were the constant backdrop of our lives: their beauty, their challenges, and their molding of the culture of our ancestors that was passed on to us. Mountains are special, but what is it about them that everybody falls in love with? This will sound over-simplistic, but the answer is their 3-dimensional terrain. Let me explain.

We love to see mountains, either looking up at them from below, or looking out over them from their peaks. This is only possible because they have the 3rd dimension of height and so can be seen miles away. They are also sculpted with ridges, valleys, streams, and cliffs that add to their beauty. Because they are steep and rugged, they weren’t cleared for farming, and so have skin made of forests that annually change the look of the mountains four times during the seasons. The bright colors of spring and fall, the multi-shades of green of summer, and the gray-brown bareness of winter (occasionally brightened with snow) all have their own beauty.

We love the mountains because of their diversity of life. Ours have over a thousand herbaceous plant species and over 130 woody plants that in turn provide food and shelter for a plethora of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs, and fish. Why all the diversity? Again, it’s the 3-D terrain. The bumpiness of the mountains creates a patchwork micro-climates that each supports different plant cover types. Ridges are dry, drains are moist. East and north facing slopes have moist soils, south and west slopes are dry. Cliffs, rocky places, shallow soil sites, all have their own version of plant and animal populations. The variety of life in the mountains is truly astonishing, and second only to the tropics

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We love the mountains for it’s culture. Mountain living was challenging to the native American and European settlers who moved into them. Families were isolated. Medical care was almost non-existent, and illness was treated at home using mountain herbs. Self-sufficiency was a necessary trait, and yet neighbors knew each other and helped when help was needed. Contact with the world outside of the mountains was rare, and so change came slowly, and old traditions stayed intact. This includes our way of speaking, which still has remnants from the old country.

So we love the mountains because they engulf us with scenery and with life, and made us who we are as a people. Next time you step outside and look at the horizon, give thanks for what you see.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.