This past weekend, we left our bubble of Carrboro to celebrate my son becoming a teenager. He wanted to go to the mountains to an area where “we don’t see many cars.” I had just the spot—a secluded cabin owned by a childhood friend in Transylvania County. It was a long drive that began on an interstate and ended on miles of switch-backs past vistas, farms, and mountain streams, just as he wanted.
We first found that we were in different territory with a stop for gas in Burke County. My daughter and I went into the convenience store to find ourselves the only people wearing masks. Not even the clerk had one on. In Carrboro, my kids had barely been outside of our house without masks and everybody wears them in stores.
Not far from the store, a huge Confederate flag flies over I-40. I’m sure the owner and the people who support him believe they are defiantly anti-PC, but my children believe they are racists. Both are probably correct.
Once we turned off the main road, we found a landscape littered with Trump signs and Trump flags. My daughter kept commenting, “The election is over. Biden has already been inaugurated.” For these people, though, the signs are not about the election. They are expressing their allegiances. The Trump flags often shared a pole with a Confederate flag. One was a bastardization of the American flag with the red and white stripes of Old Glory morphing into the the Confederate battle flag.
Ironically, many of these people are descendants of mountaineers who stayed loyal to the Union during the Civil War and more than a few are descended from people who deserted the Confederacy because they believed they had no stake in the fight. The sentiments, though, may be the same. They live back in those hollers and off those winding roads because they just want to be left alone. They don’t want to be bothered by regulators who would limit their hunting and fishing or logging and mining. And they don’t have much use for outsiders whether they are from Mexico or Florida.
After leaving the seclusion and rugged beauty of rural Transylvania County, we traveled to Grandfather Mountain where the stunning landscape and breathtaking views attracts people from across the country. Not only did we see license plates from states both near and far, we returned to the mask wearers. Even crossing the Mile High Swinging bridge, most people kept their faces covered.
We had a great weekend in western North Carolina and experienced the diversity of our state, both in terms of geography and cultures. Those people who keep close to their communities, wary of outsiders, are also disbelieving in the threat of the virus or the ability to control it. They brazenly shun protections and proudly display their loyalty to philosophies held in contempt by people in more populated environs. In contrast, the people who are attracted to this state for its diversity and amenities, whether Grandfather Mountain, the Research Triangle Park, or our world-class universities, embrace the science of vaccines and the protections of masks. One North Carolina represents the future of the state and one is desperately holding onto its past, but neither is quickly going away.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >