Spillers of Soup


The Appalachian Option


A guest article by ol’ Remus, who also explains his creative bent when choosing titles:

Incidentally, when I was puzzling out a title for this concoction I did as I always do, said ’em out loud. “Appalachian Option” sounded so cool, rolled off the tongue so nicely, well, I had to go with it. Go ahead, say it out loud, kinda musical.

Everyone thinks they know what the “real and for true” Appalachia is and where it is. Traced to its source, opinion is mostly derived from Hollywood, or local chambers of commerce, or deeply serious television documentaries with a not very hidden agenda peddled by standard issue collectivists. The colorful stuff is recycled drivel from the ’60s War on Poverty and the Depression era—mainly the FSA’s preferred version of things at the time, now solemnly intoned as if some sort of bona fides. It’s entertaining and cloying and folksy, yes, but about as valid as Goebbels’s volkische nonsense.

While the core cultural norms of Appalachia are remarkably unvarying and, it must be said, remarkably unloved elsewhere, the physical landscape varies considerably. For our purpose “mountainous Appalachia” consists of the Appalachian, Cumberland and Allegheny mountains,  the spine of greater Appalachia. The topography outside this area, although rugged, is not properly “mountainous”. But be aware, the term “Appalachian Plateau” is misleading, you’ll find impressive hill country in those so-called plateaus and they offer a viable, less severe alternative to mountainous Appalachia.

With the near certainty of a historic calamity in our lifetime, there’s a movement to withdraw from public life, described variously as “going off grid” or “going Galt” or by the repurposed Korean War expression for retreat, “bug out.” The idea is to establish an autonomous, defended sanctuary—the military term is redoubt, where they can survive the coming collapse as a community, preserve the ideals of the republic and offer them to a chastened America when the noise and mayhem subsides. Any such redoubt ideally has natural barriers to unwanted large scale incursions, so attention has largely fixed on the northwest quadrant of the nation, minus the wholly compromised collectivist coastal regions. This American Redoubt is sufficiently remote and demanding to be spectacularly unattractive to the less than wholly committed, much less to the ambitious but misinformed invader.

Some of the redoubt-minded have lately turned their attention to Appalachia, and there’s much to recommend it. Mountainous Appalachia presents any incursion with steep and heavily wooded terrain, caves and rocky ridges, gorges, and fast-running water with only widely separated bridges. Even experienced woods trekkers from outside are impressed by its ruggedness, always nearly vertical, often literally so.  Its roads are chokepoints for much of their length and not a few end nowhere in particular. Attempts by armed invaders to resupply their trigger-pullers would be supplying the defenders much of the time.

Managers of campgrounds and similar tourist attractions will tell you urban and suburban people are, to put it plainly, afraid of dense woodlands, afraid of the dark, and afraid of animals. Worse, without streets and signs and landmarks, they get lost easily. Stupid-panicky lost. In mountainous Appalachia almost no destination can be approached directly, and if a detour of convenience is carelessly done, getting lost is assured. In full foliage it offers sightlines of a hundred yards or less, mostly “or less,” defying easy orienteering with compass and map. In the cold months where visibility is comparatively good, the sameness of the ridges, receding to the horizon in parallel ranks, can defeat the casual navigator just as surely.


If an invader were other than a violent but disorganized horde, if it were one relying on gee-whiz military equipment, the terrain itself limits the opportunity for combined arms operations and mechanized maneuvers. It would be mostly close-in, small unit actions akin to jungle warfare. The long-range sniper would find only occasional employment here, it’s ground for the marksman practiced in woodcraft and stalking. Add a working knowledge of the territory and the tactics of the irregular and he has an insurmountable advantage in any otherwise equal confrontation. Few things demoralize would-be occupiers like ceaseless, unanswerable attrition.


Water, a favorite theme for survivalist writers, is a major worry for those in the “weather shadow” of the mountainous west, and much of the high country east of them. So too is water a problem in mountainous Appalachia, but it’s one of oversupply.  The place is laced with creeks and waterfalls and rivers, dotted with weeps and springs, ponds, reservoirs and small lakes. During the warm season the air is humid to the point of a perpetual mist, it’s how the Great Smoky Mountains got their name. Condensation drips from the trees on many mornings. Add to this the storms that barrel in from the west and south, lashing the mountains with torrential rain or, in the winter, with sleet and snow. Water is more likely to be inconvenient than scarce.

These are some advantages of mountainous Appalachia as a defensible redoubt. But those who know Appalachia as tourists have a false picture of the high, remote areas. The mountains of Appalachia are sparsely populated for a reason, it’s challenging country with a long list of drawbacks and not a few dangers.

Stinging nettles, brambles and poison ivy are common, as is the inviting but poisonous pokeberry, life-threatening to small adults and children. Then there’s giant hogweed, currently invasive and gaining ground, truly nasty stuff. The black (or Mississauga) rattlesnake inhabits upper Appalachia from western New York state into West Virginia. Copperheads and timber rattlesnakes are found throughout Appalachia, eastern diamondbacks in Georgia and North Carolina, pygmy rattlesnakes in Tennessee and south.

Add to this packs of feral pigs and wild boar in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina  the Great Smoky Mountains and south. They’re fondest of what’s called Plantation Appalachia, but they’ve been reported as far north as central Pennsylvania. A wild boar averages 350 pounds, but some outliers are double that. Should they charge they’re quick and agile, intent on spearing your lower body with their bayonet-like tusks. They’re also persistent, should they put you down they attack again and again until they’re convinced you’re no longer a threat.

Black Bears are found throughout Appalachia. They typically go 300 pounds or so but some get into the 400 to 500 range. Black bears are normally shy and retiring but not always. A black bear will tear your camp apart to find a morsel you didn’t even know was there. Fishermen seem to set off their dinner bell too. Veteran woodsmen say debilitated or old males pose a bigger threat than a momma with cubs, but this sort of thing remains unproven, mainly for want of volunteers. Or perhaps, survivors. Prudence is warranted in either case, and the larger caliber the prudence the better. Just to round things out, there are rabid animals, packs of feral dogs, animals with the mange, ticks that carry Lyme Disease, and so on, as in most country settings.

Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets make their nests both above ground and underground, and all are plentiful in Appalachia. For locals, this is near the top of the threat list because it’s the most likely threat. Disturb their nest and they’ll swarm and sting fifty times or more before you can get away. This is true well into the cold months, at least for what we call “white face” hornets. Ask me how I know this. Several people die each year from such stings, usually because they’re too remote for timely help. Appalachia also has the usual nuisances; mosquitoes, red imported fire ants and what we call “three corner flies” among them.

Mountainous Appalachia isn’t Amish country except with higher hills. Yes, farming areas exist, and they offer white-tailed deer and wild hogs for the larder, but hunting is only ‘fair’ at elevation. Most plentiful are shotgun game; turkey and ruffed grouse for two. Yes, the climate is mostly agreeable rather than life-threatening, as weather in the interior northwest often is, but it’s equally comfy for a long list of nasty plants and critters, some of which will gladly demonstrate your real place in the food chain.

“Them thar hills” aren’t uninhabited either. The term “suspicious of strangers” falls short in ways hard to anticipate. Should you decide mountainous Appalachia offers what you’re looking for, the usual advice applies: know what you’re getting into, then ensconce yourself in advance of the need, but be aware, residency of one or two generations may not be enough for acceptance. For instance, your property will be known by the name of its previous owner, i.e., “the old Jones place.”

Appalachia may be the last functioning meritocracy of any size, as the term used to be understood. And you’ll discover towns are run down because they aren’t the center of the social order, or of much else other than themselves. The real social order is not the apparent social order. This stuff is difficult to explain, it has to be learned. What it comes down to is: you need them, they don’t need you. This  may be the steepest hill you’ll have to climb.


This is an archive of: http://dpjk.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-appalachian-option_22.html