Friday, December 5, 2008

The Main Business of This Caravan

As we make our way around the loop at Cades Cove, stopping to examine the barns and the cabins, I wonder if Rumi is getting tired.

After all, he IS over 800 years old.

For whatever reason, the poet is quiet and subdued. I suspect he has grown weary of my incessant prattle about the good old days here in the valley.

We find a comfortable place to sit near a fence overlooking a vast pasture and unwrap our sandwiches. Before he takes a bite, he hesitates, and then he speaks:

Every moment love arrives from all sides,
But no more sightseeing.

We are leaving for pure emptiness,
Traveling with friends we once lived with,
Beyond angels, beyond spirit,
To our home city of majesty.

Load up. Say good-bye
To this dusty place. A young luck
Rides at the head of us.

Giving up the soul
Is the main business of this caravan.

More flippant than I intend to be, I chuckle and ask "Hey man, what’s that supposed to mean?"

His eyes focus on the tour booklet I’ve been reading from all day, and he presses his thumb and forefinger to his mouth as if he’s buttoning his lip. Or urging me to.

Apparently, the poet has nothing more to say, but does hand me a photocopy of an article, well-worn and highlighted.

I read the title and sigh, "Good grief, where do you come up with this stuff?"

The article, by Terence Young, is entitled Virtue and Irony in a U. S. National Park, and it opens with a blistering critique of the very tour booklet that I’m holding in my hand:

According to the tour booklet, the former residents of Cades Cove lived in a harmonious society in touch with itself and in balance with its environment. They were neither alienated nor destructive. Tourists find little to question in the presentation or in the landscape. The cove is a mirror of the suburbs in which its visitors live—a socially homogeneous place....

The official story encourages them to see the setting in a golden, romantic light. Under the hand of the National Park Service, the cove has become a themed landscape wrapped in sentimentality. The visitor need only follow the road to access the National Park Service’s message of goodness: Everything is beautiful, upbeat, and positive....

In one sense, Cades Cove is a "ride" within the larger park; similar to amusement park rides, the spatial experience is tightly controlled. The unidirectionality of the drive virtually guarantees that a tourist will visit the cove’s buildings in a particular order....

The tour of Cades Cove is thus similar in structure to a ride such as Space Mountain,where the nominal story—a trip into outer space—is established at the beginning, reprised at the end, and a physically stimulating, uninterpreted roller coaster ride fills the middle. The cove’s tour booklet does not attach meaning to each field and building along the road because these middle elements, like a roller coaster, are supposed to be experienced physically within the context of meaning established and reiterated at the beginning and the end of the tour....

Cades Cove, like other living museums, is presented as the landmark of a golden age. The misty, distant epoch it depicts was rural, an American arcadia where everyone worked, "fields were in common and plenty was invariable." This message seems to resonate well with suburbanites, perhaps connecting with their ambivalence toward cities, as it celebrates hard but rewarding work....

Despite the National Park Service’s charming representation, it does not exhaust the cove’s history. The official brochures fail to acknowledge the incongruities and contradictions of the early twenty-first century landscape. It is ironic for the National Park Service to present Cades Cove as a paragon of virtues when its former residents actively resisted the inclusion of their lands in the park. They wished to remain separate because the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cades Cove within it, mandated their displacement....

National parks are treated as sacred spaces intended as settings for nature—not people. People, in contrast to nature, are profane. Therefore, while the landscapes of Cades Cove may have been lovely and the occupants’ way of life exemplary, the people had to leave as the park came into existence. Although some of the residents sold their land and left willingly, the majority viewed relocation with "dread and apprehension."

When the past becomes a mirror for the benefit of the present, David Lowenthal tells us, the mirror makers "extend antiquity, contrive missing continuities, emphasize or invent ancestral prerogatives and achievements, minimize or forget defeat and ignominy." Cades Cove is no exception to the rule; its past reality and current presentation are at variance in at least three ways. First, the residents did not live as they are now portrayed. Second, the landscape never appeared as it does today. Third, Cades Cove was not an environmental Eden....

Cades Cove, like many of the National Park Service’s historic landscapes, is an attractive, amusing, and nationalistic setting for millions of middle-class Americans. They arrive in their cars from the suburbs and tour around the valley floor in a fashion reminiscent of an amusement park ride. Traveling through the valley in this linear fashion makes it much easier for the National Park Service to weave tales about the landscape and append beautiful scenery to its official tour booklet, since both the cove’s narrative and one-way roads are linear....

I finish the rest of the article and look at Rumi, taking the last bite of his sandwich.

"You sure know how to rain on my parade, don’t you? Thanks a lot."

The poet does his best to suppress a satisfied smile.

We gather up our belongings and prepare to leave this "amusement park." I glance at my watch and announce,

"If we hurry, we'll have time to go somewhere else this afternoon....

...Dollywood, maybe?"

Cantilevered Barn, 11/27/2008
Cades Cove looking toward Gregory Bald, (by Dutch Roth) 10/19/1930
Squire Lawson's House, (by William Cochran), 8/25/1886
Tipton’s Fence, 11/27/2008
John Oliver’s Cabin, (by Dutch Roth) 8/23/1936

Virtue and Irony in a U. S. National Park, by Terence Young:

1 comment:

kanugalihi said...

this is by far my most favorite blog that ever lived. thanks for some fascinating threads to pursue, the Terence Young paper is great.