A soft blue haze enveloped the first mountains I ever saw. They didn’t impress me much. In the distance, they looked like rolling hills. Then came the drive up the mountains, through the mountains, and along the ridge. Each curve, dip, and climb yielded breath-taking vistas of forested mountains, bald knobs, and valleys swathed in the blue haze. I was in grade school during that first trip. I went from unimpressed to loving the Blue Ridge Mountains and that mysterious blue haze.
I made many trips to the area as a child. I no longer recall all the details, when and exactly where, but there are moments etched in my memory. Memorable moments include a walk to a gorgeous waterfall, a climb to a rocky knob, and the larger-than-my-sister bear cub that sat three feet behind my little sister who played on the picnic table in the next camping site.
Little did I know then that these mountains would become the backdrop and setting for the world of My Soul to Keep. They are integral to the story of Fellowship.
World’s Second Oldest
The Blue Ridge Mountains formed about 1.1 billion to 250 million years ago. South Africa’s Barberton greenstone belt are the only mountains in the world that are older than the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Located in the eastern United States, these mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain range that spans from Georgia to Pennsylvania.
They were the home of Siouan Manahoacs, the Iroquois, and the Shawnee and other tribes. The Powhatan name for the Blue Ridge was Quirank. The Virginian branch of the Siouan called them Ahkonshuck.
The Blue Ridge Mountains encompasses two major national parks and eight national forests. More than 100 mountains in this range reach or exceed, an elevation of 5,000 feet. Learn more here.
The blue haze is a result of all the trees. When excess heat stresses the trees, they release a hydrocarbon called isoprene into the air. The isoprene reacts with other molecules in the air and causes the blue-tinted haze.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the newly finished Skyline Drive in 1933. During that visit, U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia suggested extending the road. He envisioned it connected with the recently established Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A meeting between the governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee took place. Plans for the park-to-park highway were drawn up.
There were protests about the Parkway. People’s homes were taken in the name of greater good and conservationists worried about the impact on the mountains and their ecology. Years of construction, refunding, and negotiations finally saw the Blue Ridge Parkway completed in 1987. (Learn more about the construction and more about the Parkway.
An Alternate History
These are the kinds of things I must research to make the alternate history world of My Soul to Keep. In that world, the U. S. did not get involved in World War II. The ramifications are huge. There would be no financial growth due to the war efforts and there would be no population boom when the soldiers returned. Thus, in Fellowship we learn that the Blue Ridge Parkway project was never finished. Those areas nourished by the tourist trade up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway would not have flourished. At least not the way they have in the real world.
Writing an Alternate History is fun but fraught with research. But it isn’t boring when I get to relive (physically and virtually) how I went from unimpressed to impressed and in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains.