Part One: Time and Terrain
The series begins with Earth’s oldest mountains — the Appalachians. We see how continents over millions and millions of years collide in a slow dance which ultimately results in the formation of the mountains we now know as the Appalachians. We trace the evolution of the Great Forest which blankets the region in green, forming a home for a unique mosaic of plant and animal species
We watch as the first humans who arrived as early as 12,000 B.C. develop a complex and sophisticated relationship with the natural world. In Appalachia, we soon discover, geology is destiny. We see portraits of Appalachia’s Principal People at the time of European contact: the Cherokee, Shawnee, and Iroquois — vibrant, adaptive cultures with finely tuned relationships to their environment, a complex ecological community with amazing biological diversity. The arrival of the Europeans signals vast cultural and biological upheavals
Part Two: New Green World
Two cultures, Native American and European, collide in a struggle for control of the mountains. In the conquest of new land, first come the surveyors and mapmakers, including young George Washington, then come the road and cabin builders. From ecologists, anthropologists, and geographers, we hear of the vast differences between the Native American and the European perceptions of the land and its resources, all of which comes to a head when gold is discovered in 1828 in the mountains of Georgia. Once again, geology is destiny.
We see a new inhabitant, the pioneer, carving out a life on the Appalachia frontier, coming to terms with the wilderness, and creating a way of life unique to the mountains, one which will endure in different forms through the centuries.
Part Three: Mountain Revolutions
A rich agrarian society is torn asunder by the cataclysm of the Civil War. “The race for the prize is on,” wrote Harper’s Magazine in 1872 as railroads pushed ever further into the mountains. Speculators spread through every timber rich and mineral infused hollow, making deals. The third hour of the series will tell the story of the region as it confronts this strange new industrial age.
The story begins in the Great Forest, where virgin timber still abounded as late as 1880. Coal camps replace villages; mountain farms are abandoned; missionary schools spring up; the land, the people, the wildlife and the culture are endangered. Foresters, botanists, geologists, novelists, and historians all recount the changes in the land and its people as the coal is dug and the ancient trees are felled to fuel the nation‘s booming new industrial economy.
Part Four: Power and Place
The story of twentieth century Appalachia is the story of a rich but deeply troubled region forging its own distinct identity. From the union battles of the 1920s to the celebration of its rich cultural heritage in music, art and literature, to the enduring environmental and cultural dilemmas of our own time, Part IV will explore the heartbreak and hope of modern Appalachia.
Sociologists and ecologists point to Appalachia’s own inner eye, the ways in which trouble and pain, discovery and self-discovery fortify the region’s soul and backbone. We see new attitudes and new environmental challenges, old people coming back, new mountain lovers moving in — symbolized by an old tree with a new genetic make-up — the American Chestnut.