Following a brief stop in Roanoke, Virginia, I returned to I-81 S, making my way for Tennessee.
Between leaving home and arriving in Tennessee, I was set to cover approximately 1000 miles (a solid distance to drive over the course of two days). After following I-95 and I-81 most of the way, I wasn’t experiencing many different sights anymore. Farms, livestock, random cities scattered every few hundred miles – the further I got into Virginia the more everything looked the same. However, there were two images that caught my eye upon passing into Tennessee.
The first is one that I was not able to capture a photo of, as I was driving on the highway and was too transfixed by the image to pull over and photograph it. I’ve searched the internet for a photo of said sight, but I cannot find the exact one. Here is what it looked like:
A massive confederate flag, jutting out from the treeline, grasping for the sky, folding over itself and waving calmly in the Summer wind. Not only is it a symbol of pride for whoever strung the flag and hung it high, but it is a symbol to those entering the area, passing along the highway like myself: you’re entering our land.
As the world has witnessed over the past few weeks, the United States is facing an embittered battle over the preservation of confederate flags and confederate monuments, particularly boiling over in Charlottesville, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. The memorialization of Confederate history has a troubled past, one that for many Southerners speaks volumes for their family’s, county’s, and state’s history. Yet for many others, it is a daily reminder of our country’s slave-owning past, the subsequent cessation from the Union and battle fought to preserve the owning of slaves, the multi-generational racist sorrow and suffering inflicted upon African Americans, and the racism still ever-present in the US.
It’s a jarring sight. Being a northerner, it’s uncomfortable to see, considering I’ve never seen a Confederate flag flown with such bravado. I’ve seen the flag in sticker form, pressed to the back of muddied, lifted, 4-wheel drive trucks around New Hampshire, and I have still always been sickened by the sight. Seeing a massive Confederate flag rippling in the sky as you enter a state is another story.
At the sight of this, I’m reminded of my luck for being White. I cannot imagine what it would be like to witness this sight as an outsider, as an African American, a symbol of your people’s longstanding bondage, exploitation, and oppression brandishing the sky.
I knew to stop myself, though. While this made for a less than welcome entrance into Tennessee, I had to assure myself that it would be equally wrong of me to act as if everyone I would meet in the state were going to share the same beliefs as whoever decided to hang that flag. I wouldn’t forget the sight, but I couldn’t stereotype the people I met either.
After stopping for gas, nearing Knoxville, TN, I had another, singular object catch my eye. I was off of the interstate at this time, so it was feasible for me to pull over, climb the roadside hill and capture a photo:
A solitary tree among the grass.
It stood in calm contrast to the Confederate flag I had seen no more than an hour beforehand: a natural object protruding forth from the earth, rather than a man-made tapestry, a symbol dedicated to an ideology that sought to preserve a way of life, one that provided the riches for one and poached the culture, dignity, and life of the other.
For all I knew, there may have once been trees that surrounded this one. The treeline behind wasn’t that far away. Perhaps the other trees had been cut down with chain, iron, and stone, bound together, and brought off towards their moratorium, re-purposed into something greater.
The land could have been barren besides the distant treeline. Maybe some soul, seeing the fertile land for what it was, was tempted to break the earth and plant a seed, allowing life to emerge from the soil through the decades to come.
Or maybe it was a stroke of natural luck, some seed floating on through the air and settling off into nowhere land. As luck would have it, the seed would germinate and birth, cresting out of the dirt and longing for the clouds.
I’ll never know the reason for its being. I’ll never know why it stands alone.
What I do know is that its isolated existence is beautiful. It might not have erased the image from an hour early, but its dichotomy provided some perspective.
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow my blog to read soon-to-come blogs chronicling my U.S. cross country trip.
You can read my previous cross country posts here: