Friday, August 22, 2008

Unexpected Discoveries



North Carolina has plenty of places to discover, and one of my favorite books on those places is Carolina Journeys, Exploring the Trails of the Carolinas, Both Real and Imagined. It is different from other guide books – more personal and whimsical than similar volumes. I enjoyed it so much that I tried to contact the author, and learned the sad news that he had died after completing the book. It would have been fun to compare notes with someone who had worn out a copy of the 1939 WPA Guide to the Old North State.

In the introduction to his book, Tom Fowler took a couple of pages to explain his approach to sharing the places he had visited. Fowler wanted to write a guide book without providing so much information that it colored the expectations of the reader. Fowler explained that:

…the novelist Walker Percy thought about this effect of expectation upon perception. He described it as surrendering sovereignty over the experience to the expert – or at least to someone else who will evaluate your experience for you even before you experience it.
Carolina Journeys is intended to tell stories of poorly-known sites of interest in the Carolinas.


We realize that providing information about these sites is the first step in co-opting your sovereignty and reducing you to a sightseer – so our goal is to avoid providing too much information or too good directions or being too knowledgeable and authoritative. Much will be left up to you, dear reader and Carolina sojourner.



I appreciate how Fowler was careful not to rob the reader of the possibility for the experience of discovery. Nowadays, with the abundance of information just a click away, that sense of discovery is harder to come by. For whatever hiking trail or side road the traveller intends to take, it’s easy to find a detailed account posted by someone who’s already been there.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But sometimes there’s extra excitement in finding a place you’ve never heard of. That happened with the waterfalls pictured here. Had it not been for a keen-eyed navigator scanning fine print on the map, it would have been easy to drive right past the place, even though it is right next to a highway. In fact, I’d already driven past it a dozen times without knowing it was there.

I have no doubt that some readers will recognize the place. It’s not hard to find if you know where to look. But this time, I’m not going to name the place, provide directions or divulge any clues.

Then, if you do happen to stumble upon it, you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

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