Woman of the Mountains

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I was in awe as I read the story of Aunt Orelena Puckett. She was born in 1837, married at 16, and became a midwife after age 50. She lived in this house in the later years of her life – a long life having lived to the age of 102. She helped bring more than 1000 babies into the world, the last one in the year she died, and it is said no baby died due to her fault. Orelena knew great grief, however, because she bore 24 infants herself, with only the oldest living just past 2 years. All the others died in infancy.

parkway200 185-2That is the story written on an information board at milepost 189.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It tells so much but so little about the life of this woman. This homestead would have looked so different in 1900 when people were living here.

parkway200 179-2I wonder what her life was like on a daily basis when she was, say, 70 years old – like me. She had to be a tough woman because she, along with her husband, widowed sister-in-law and her children, had to provide for and protect themselves. She also needed to be tender and supportive to bring so many women through labor and delivery. How did she grieve the loss of 24 babies and maintain the “cheerful and witty attitude” that she was remembered as having?

I think I found a new hero on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Milepost 34: Irish Creek Railway

We almost missed it, even though we were looking for it. One of the guidebooks had listed it, but there wasn’t a signpost saying it was at this pull-off. We had pulled in for some other reason, and I realized we had found it.

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Off to the left there were some stairs built into the side of the mountain, going up to the railroad bed. I smiled and my heart quickened at the sight of the leaf-covered steps that seemed to be part of the natural environment. This felt like a serendipitous discovery, like I was the first to discover the roadbed, even though there was usually another couple in the area as we explored.

Parkway 100 075-2 This narrow-gauge rail bed was originally built by the South River Lumber Company to carry virgin timber cut at the higher elevations to the lumber mills in the valley. By 1938 the region had been stripped so when the Parkway was built it was a barren wasteland that had to be replanted during the building of the Parkway from 1939 to its completion in 1987.

Parkway 100 080-2The roadbed had been preserved, but the short line of tracks that we walked along are a reconstruction of what was originally laid in 1919. How beautiful they are today, seeming to be a part of the natural environment. I imagine  when they were in use this was a dirty, barren place. It seems important to learn how our history contains the good and the bad of growth. Sometimes what seems like progress, in many ways is destructive. This tension continues as a few entrepreneurs get very rich while providing much lower incomes to workers, until the resource is gone, the workers loose jobs, the owner walks away with large sums, and the environment is left scarred. But I wasn’t thinking politics while I was walking the rails, surrounded by the beauty of these lands now preserved by the National Parks Service as a National Park.

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As we did the short walk down the rails, a waterfall came into view.

Parkway 100 098-2This mountain stream needed a small trestle and if you follow my blog, you know I love trestles. How much better could this stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at milepost 34, be?

Parkway 100 094-2If I keep my eyes open for the macro shots, there is always more beauty.

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