National Geographic : 1976 Mar
NE WINTER EVENING I stood on a wooded ridge in southern Indiana and watched the last orange tint of sunset dissolve into lilac-gray twilight. Not an electric light, a car, a plane anywhere. In the darkening valleys I could hear an ax biting into wood, the ring of a hammer on an anvil. It was one of those hushed moments that make a man wonder about his relation to time and place. Most of my adult life I have lived in cities, writing about the complexities and anxieties of modern society. Now and then I need to return to these old uplands where I was born and raised, because here time seems to pause and let me think. When I was a boy, Etta Macy, then in her eighties, used to live with other elderly Quak ers in a sagging, vine-covered pioneer house on this ridge. They had almost no income, but ate well, laughed much, and needed little be yond what they grew themselves. Etta was famed for her recitations of poems; when townsfolk stopped at the farm to hear her, she would advise them: "If thee needs anything and cannot find it, just come to me and I'll tell thee how to get along without it." Etta found contentment in knowing that she could get by with little and take care of herself. I think this trait runs strong in many Indiana uplanders because of the kind of country this is. I turned up my overcoat collar and looked around. Every horizon was another long, level, deep-blue ridge. Most of Indiana, flat tened and filled by Ice Age glaciers, is rich farmland. But the glaciers bypassed the up lands, leaving a spine of forested sandstone and shale hills flanking a limestone plain honeycombed with caves and sinkholes. The uplands (map, page 345) are not adapted to large-scale farming; the gun, ax, and anvil, as much as the plow, were the survival tools of settlers. The people who began settling in the up lands about 1820 were of English, German, Scotch, and Irish blood. Many were sons or grandsons of pioneers who had first pushed westward through Cumberland Gap.* They were true frontiersmen who had learned to live by their hands and wits. They could hack *See "The People of Cumberland Gap," by John Fetterman, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November 1971. Indiana's Self-reliant Uplanders By JAMES ALEXANDER THOM Photographs by J. BRUCE BAUMANN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STAFF Knee-deep in June, Leo Coleman ranges the hilly fields near his Owen County home, searching for ginseng and other herbs that can bring more than $60 a pound. Coleman shows the spirit that brought settlers into this area in the 1800's, many of them by way of the Cumberland Gap. "I was raised on blackberries and gooseberries," he says. "I don't want a million bucks. There's absolutely no reason for a man to have more than he's going to need." With the same attitude toward the soil, uplanders carefully husband their small plots (overleaf). On a misty morning, a cornfield set between hardwood hills swerves around a pocket of marsh.