“Civilized” Moonshine… is just wrong

Posted on October 19, 2012 by

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Earlier this morning, I took a “stroll” through FaceBook entries and saw one* which revealed a photo of a clear bourbon glass… the contents of said glass were ice cubes and… Moonshine. On top of that, it was served at Skyland, on the Skyline Drive.  

As if instinctively, I felt my soul seem to cry out… “Oh, irony of ironies!”

There’s a lot that’s out of whack with such an image.

For starters… if we’re looking at the image itself, without knowing the setting, then folks who know… know that Moonshine is not a drink consumed over ice… nor in a bourbon glass. Rather, it seems only natural (perhaps this is Appalachia revealing itself within me) to see it in either a stone jug, or a Mason jar… and at room temperature.

The “insult to injury” part, however, is the fact that such an image comes from Skyland.

One may ask… “how so?”

Consider this… 

How…

1)… earlier inhabitants (or European descent) of the area were moonshiners;

2)… these people epitomized the artistic beauty so commonly associated with the culture of Appalachia;

3)… those who were “civilized” uprooted these people claiming how uncivilized the earlier inhabitants had become; and

4)… today’s Shenandoah National Park is the end result of #3 (and yet even more ironic… with its roots in the old Skyland Resort).

Now… granted… I appreciate the Shenandoah National Park for what it is. Without it, I have good reason to believe that, today, the mountains would not be as forested… and protected… as part of the National Parks system. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate foliage nearly as much as we can today. On top of that, I have many fond memories from my years of visits to the Park (picnics in particular)… and even appreciate the beauty it offers passing through… into and out of the Valley… and while traveling parallel to it, (still within eyeshot of it) on both sides of the Blue Ridge.

In fact, just this weekend, I took a quick drive along the northern end of the Skyline Drive. While it was a bit too early to appreciate the leaf peak (I think it was more about 70% peak… and still a week before true peak), it was still an eye-opener… especially when I saw the lines (three) of cars headed into the park at the entrance point near Front Royal.

Part of me was happy to see the park gaining the revenue with each car load. Revenue helps the park… and the local economy.

On the other hand, part of me was bothered.

O.K., I suppose I’m also fickle to some degree.

Blame it either on the history I’ve come to learn in the last two decades… or perhaps… blame it on some of the DNA within me, from some of the families who were impacted by George Freeman Pollock’s efforts, but I became a little defensive. It might even be that this feeling peaked within me as I reached the Hughes River Gap, looking east into Nicholson Hollow. This, as I have learned, was where generations of my people lived (which, I might add, makes one feel even more empathy for Native Americans when in certain areas).    

Folks were coming in from various places (I can’t begin to tell you how many cars I saw with Maryland license plates), and I’m sure the leaves were a big reason for the draw. Still, as I drove along and stopped at different overlooks, I wondered… do they realize the sacrifices… unwilling, to be sure… made by others so they could see what they came to see?

It made me think that perhaps that “civilized” glass of Moonshine… on ice, in a bourbon glass… was an excellent reflection of what had happened to the culture of the place. The moonshine itself is a reflection of times past… and people of the past.

In that glass… we see that Moonshine remains. Well, even in that, perhaps there’s more fake than there is real. Maybe it’s just the name for a liquor, but it isn’t the same today as it was then. It’s most certainly not the Moonshine from nearby Free State Hollow, but something that Skyland can offer to their visitors that offers some “charming” reflection of the people who were once here.

Let me be clear… as bitter as it might sound… I’m not being bitter… really. I’m just giving thought to how this simple observation of Moonshine in a glass might be reflective of bigger things.

George Freeman Pollock (along with Miriam Sizer) and the people he (they) “civilized” through displacement… they are long gone. But, in the manner in which the moonshine is served at Skyland… is the legacy of George Freeman Pollock still “civilizing” what remains of the culture of the people who once lived here… in these mountains? 

I can’t help but think how a visitor might see the drink selection on a menu and say… “how charming”, and yet be totally unaware of all that is behind it, and the place.

Hopefully, those same tourists stop at the Big Meadows Visitor Center to get just a little understanding of the story of the people in this place (even the people before those of European descent set foot here)… though I also have reason to doubt that they, as outsiders, will ever be able to fully appreciate and understand how civilizing Moonshine is less than charming to those who appreciate and understand the culture behind it… let alone… how and when to drink it.

We are unwilling to part with our homes to help a small part of our population to get their hands into tourist pockets.

- H.M. Cliser, in a letter to President Herbert Hoover

*By no means is this meant to offend the person who posted the picture in FaceBook, but rather… it’s an observation of the experience of the nature of the liquor in the place in which it was served (Moonshine at Skyland).

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