Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Maurice Brooks Defines Appalachia for Me

Appalachia is defined in so many different ways. It's a cultural region, no it's an economic region, no, it's a mountain range. The only time I've ever felt clear on the concept was when I took a graduate class in biogeography. You could make vegetation maps, and classify an area, and know what you had. That's why I was so happy to find Maurice Brooks' The Appalachians. This 1965 book gives a clear, unambiguous biogeographic description of Appalachia, its extent, its history, and its special character. It never once mentions hillbillies, the Scotch-Irish, fiddle tunes preserved in amber, or any other imaginary phenomena.

For a better understanding of all that Appalachia includes, there must be mention of its principal mountains. Some, the low ranges of western Newfoundland and the Shickshocks in the Gaspe, for instance, have been noted. South of the Shickshocks are Quebec hills that rise above the St. Lawrence plain, the Notre Dame ranges attaining respectable heights.

In Maine there is the great modadnock of Katahdin, and farther west in that state lower Appalachian ridges. New Hampshire's White Mountains are splendid, one of Appalachia's finest features. The Green Mountains of Vermont extend from Quebec to Massachusetts, and southward in the latter state they are named the Berkshires, whose hills enter Connecticut and eastern New York.

New York's second mountains, the Catskills, are a part of Appalachia; its most extensive and elevated range, the Adirondacks, are not. These bold peaks, between the Hudson and the St. Lawrence, are a southward extension of the great Canadian Shield, most of which is in Canada but which again enters the United States in the highlands just south of Lake Superior. The Appalachians cannot claim the Adirondacks, and so they lose some of the finest of eastern peaks.

South of the Catskills, across northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, there are many Appalachian ridges, none of them high but making rugged country nevertheless. Scarcely noticeable among other ridges, the great Blue Ridge begins to rise south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and it continues--sometimes as one main axis, sometimes as divided ranges--south to South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. In southwestern New York the Alleghenies begin, covering much of western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. The Great Smokies (actually a portion of one of the Blue Ridge divisions) lie farther west, and farther still, in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and Tennessee, are the irregular masses of the Cumberlands. There are, of course, local divisions of all these ranges, and many of them will be mentioned in the proper context. Here we are concerned only with primary features.

pages 19, 20.

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