Southern Cultures 9.1 (2003) 96-97
[Access article in PDF]
Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal. By Harvey Broome. University of Tennessee Press, 2001. 328 pp. Paper $15.95
Characterized by imported garbage and nuclear waste; beer cans and other litter on the side of the road; soil erosion; kudzu growing over abandoned, rusting cars and washing machines; soil contaminated by the use and abuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; and sites of massive environmental degradation such as Tennessee's Great Copper Basin—the South's environmental record has been often less than sterling. Harvey Broome, however, is a native southern environmental hero, instead of a villain, and his book Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies extols the glories of nature, rather than chronicling its degradation.
Harvey Broome was a native Knoxvillian, his ancestors some of the earliest European inhabitants of east Tennessee. A lawyer by training, his true calling was as a pioneer environmentalist and lover of nature—particularly the Great Smoky Mountains. Broome was a founding member of the Wilderness Society, its President from 1951 until his death in 1968, and an active leader in the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club.
In praising fellow pioneer environmentalists Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall, Broome asserted that "the best conservationists are those who fuse sentiment with knowledge." Although Broome does not share the national reputation of his friends and fellow founders of the Wilderness Society, he definitely meets his own criterion for being one of "the best conservationists." Indeed, Broome artfully combines both sentiment and knowledge in a style reminiscent of Leopold's masterpiece, A Sand County Almanac. Out Under the Sky is replete with fusions of [End Page 96] ecological observation and transcendentalist sentiment: "And thus flowed the current of life. The seeds of the silverbell were converted into squirrel; and squirrels were converted into foxes. Everything edible, from mice and chipmunks to roots and berries and apples, was converted into bear. And bear and his tracks are converted into wonder and adventure for man."
Out Under the Sky is a collection of observations Broome recorded on his numerous hikes into the Great Smoky Mountains and other areas of the southern Appalachian region. These descriptions are arranged chronologically from Broome's first backpacking trip into the Smokies in 1917 to one of his crowning achievements, the "Save Our Smokies" hike in 1966, which helped block the construction of a highway across the western end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In between, the book catalogs a changing landscape as the Great Smokies were transformed from the natural habitat of the logger and the cattleman into the natural habitat of the veery and the winter wren.
Broome takes the reader deep into the Smokies, often off-trail—"trails, though a convenience, were not a necessity"—in all seasons and in all types of weather. Indeed, Broome relished hiking through mist-shrouded old-growth forests, sleeping in the rain or rock-hopping in winter on ice-covered boulders just as much as he reveled "in the feeling of god-like attainment afforded by. . . full views on a warm spring day."
Along with his observations of nature, Broome also offers his views on overpopulation, the human need for wilderness, the conflict between environmental protection and tourism promotion, the importance of the study of ecology, and the need for "leave-no-trace camping." Although many of Broome's aphorisms may seem trite and preachy to the twenty-first century mind, one must remember that he issued them long before they became orthodox. Indeed, one is often astounded at Broome's prescience on environmental issues that were of little concern to most of his contemporaries.
In Harvey Broome and Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies, southerners can lay claim to a pioneer environmentalist and a classic of nature writing. Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas—a frequent hiking companion of Broome's—wrote, "When it came to writing about the outdoors and the wilderness, I always rated him along with Henry Thoreau and John Muir." Originally...