Land and Geography of the South

American South
The South has its own unique environmental history: the story of how humans have survived and interacted with nature of this humid subtropical region of the North American continent. I have here highlighted a short list of some interesting bits of Southern land and geography we have encountered during the trip.
Despite its excellent defensive position, one of the downsides
of the location of Jamestown was the encompassing swampland whose
mosquitoes spread much  devastating disease upon settlement.

Much of the human history of the South has been one based upon agriculture. Southwestern Indians created sophisticated systems of cultivation and subsisted off crops of corn, beans, and squash imported from the Southwest. When the English aimed to permanently settle the region, colonies sought to establish economic gains for their stakeholders and country. Jamestown, the first permanent and successful English colony, was able to in the early decades of the seventeenth century, establish a profitable economy based upon the monoculture cash crop of tobacco. Jamestown's example became the model and what became the dominant agricultural energies of the South up until the Civil War (the continuation and spread of tobacco in the upper South, rice in the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia, sugarcane in Louisiana, and cotton throughout the region in the eighteenth century), were marked by exploitative agricultural arrangements which relied on initially on indentured servitude and later race-based slave labor. Thus the South offers different possible meanings for different groups: life for Indians, profit for Europeans, and a lack of freedom for blacks slaves.

The ground at Andersonville, Georgia features one of the many
remarkably fertile soil types of the South. This “ultisol” variety
features a vibrant red color cause by oxidation via the interaction
of soil metals with abundant amounts of temperature and moisture.
When considering mountains in the South, one cannot forget the hallmarks that are the Appalachians. The comparatively old mountain chain has been around and eroding for about 250 million years, accounting for their round qualities. Once the western edge of U.S. edge of settlement, today the mountains are a collection of many peoples, both rural and urban.

Navigable river systems are an abundant feature of Southern geography. Rivers provide humans with a speedy means of transportation and movement. It is not surprising then that places of their convergence become major centers of importance. A prime example is at Harpers Ferry in present day West Virginia. Remembered by students of U.S. history as the locus for abolitionist John Brown’s significant but failed revolution to destroy slavery in 1856, its older reputation as an industrial center of national importance is often overlooked today. Chosen for its importance as a convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the U.S. government established a federal arsenal and armory. We made other connections with the waterways of West Virginia, as the state also contains the New River on which we rafted about nine miles of whitewater rapids. The river's name is somewhat of a misnomer as it is geologically one of the oldest rivers in the world. Indeed, many states we moved through prominently feature highway signage that reminds one through which watershed, or river drainage system, he or she is passing through and to monitor one’s impact upon that natural area.

Van snapshot of part of a Tennessee watershed.
By 1940 FDR concluded that the TVA dams had turned a "vagrant"
stream,"sometimes shallow and useless, sometimes turbulent," into a
controlled system that was marked by enough commerce, power,
and recreation that it would "serve in full the purposes of
mankind." (Image: LOC; Quote: APP)
En route north to Kentucky we passed through the Tennessee River Valley and saw such information alerts. Famous as one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's early New Deal economic recovery experiments designed to fight the Great Depression during his first "hundred days" in 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority aimed to revitalize the struggling economic of the South in particular. Congress authorized FDR to create the TVA as a major experiment in federal water control through the construction of damns and power plants on Tennessee's main river and its tributaries. The Authority, itself a private company with federal authority, sought to transform the Upper South through the creation of a reliable source of hydroelectricity and thousands of jobs.

- Mike Uhl

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