Welcome to East Tennessee, a land of leaning mountains, of lakes and rivers, of urban sprawl, steeples and bells, and green, green everywhere dappled with orange and other aesthetic whims of merchants and builders. It's a land of country cooking and Bible-thumping and sonorous music and used cars and much more than I can name here and now.
You'll encounter a bewildering blend of people--curious, kind-hearted, rude, generous, judgmental, talented, scholarly, ignorant, practical, well versed in lore and common sense, mostly well-intended, mostly white folks, yet integrated with people of color in places. You'll likely meet folks from a lot of religious traditions, but fundamentalist Christians predominate and they'll do their best to save you--body and soul. Don't be put off. Here, as along the Gulf Coast, clerks and waitresses will sometimes call you sugar and honey and sweetheart--something I miss when traveling north.
I'm guessing the last few days have been a blur of comings and goings--a nightmare mingling of grief and relief. For some of you, no doubt these days have been a tour through hell--but I won't dwell on such things. I'd simply invite you to spill your soul as soon as you're able. Tell your stories to counselors or clerks or to me and others. You'll find sympathetic ears if you try, I promise.
Should you at last muster the will to turn away from your own miseries, you'll likely notice the weather is on your side, for now. Reports call for clear to partly cloudy skies here, with no rain in the forecast that I watched this morning. Enjoy it, that weather will change soon enough. In fact, should you stay for a few months, you'll notice an amazing procession of sensations, once feeling returns. September is a blessed month. One recent morning I walked outside barefoot and felt the sudden, sweet coldness of dew on my feet. Maybe that's something you seldom experience. Later in the evening I went for a jog and reveled in crisp sunlight washing all trees, buildings and hills in the glow of autumn gold. In another month our terrain will adorn itself in mix-and-match finery of fly-by-night leaves. The trees will glow amber, orange, plum, copper and vermilion, as if lit from within, then carpet the earth. Maybe you'll see snow festoon limbs and fields and power lines like frosting on wedding cakes sometime or another between November and March. Should you stay until April you'll witness the arrival of a florid garden.
Nature is ubiquitous here in the Southern Appalachians, where you've landed for a spell. You'll likely notice high horizons everywhere you look. Could be you're feeling closed in, claustrophobic already. Maybe your home dwelt below sea level. Take heart, you're among sheltering mountains now. Whenever I visit coastal regions—and I've been to New Orleans twice--the absence of mountains is a pronounced psychic force, for here they're never far from hand. The land rises in a great gathering of hills, valleys and ridges, with wave after wave of whimsical formations on all sides, and all the shades of wine are bleeding throughout the land to wash horizons in tonal beauty. Within an afternoon's drive from Knoxville dwell the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi. Our rivers are not so wide as that one, yet they're impressive in their way. It might surprise you to see just how broad and deep are the Tennessee, the French Broad, the Holston. Engineers long ago dammed them in order to tame floods, exploit kinetic energy and open them to commerce all the way to the Mississippi River and thence to New Orleans.
I mourn for that city, maybe the most colorful and vibrant in America so recently. One hopes for resurrection. I trust our town will not taste too drab by comparison. No doubt, you'll get your fill of Big Orange football and country music and Bible-thumping. You'll miss the casual jazz that intoxicated your streets and squares, but one may hear music in Knoxville too without excessive effort, down on the Market Square, in taverns or churches.
In closing, I let me admit I've had my own quarrels with East Tennessee, but it's a place filled with people I love. It's God's country and Mother Nature's province. I hope you find your stay here memorable, heartening, healing.
Let me know if I may help.