By Taylor Walters, Tennessee Uncharted Producer

So, a blog. Yep, we’ve jumped on that bandwagon, too!

As the crew has traveled the state these past two years, we’ve realized more and more how small a slice of our adventures we’re able to fit into a 26-minute show. We take our roles on the series very seriously, because we all believe in the messages we share with you, our viewers, each week. I say this because our small crew makes sure to “practice what we preach,” and staying true to that philosophy means that we’re out exploring what this glorious state has to offer 365 days a year. Like a family, we all have different interests, as well as different demands that are competing for our time; and, through this blog, we hope to connect you to the methods we use to stay engaged with our environment from each of our unique perspectives.

Speaking of family, I have to admit that our first blog post wasn’t originally supposed to come from me. Instead, we’d scheduled Director of Photography, Cody Walters, to write this first post about his experiences filming our final segment for Season 2 this past Thursday. But, that shoot never happened. Instead, life intervened. While sitting at a conference table Monday afternoon, I received one of those calls that you hope to never have.

Cody’s grandmother, Edna, hadn’t been feeling well last weekend, and his mother had taken her to the doctor for a checkup, suspecting she might need to make some small changes to her diet. But, God had other plans. Edna never woke from what was supposed to be a routine procedure and, while the loss of a loved one is always a shock, losing her so unexpectedly took the family by surprise.

What followed was, unfortunately, what I refer to as “the business of death,” or the harsh reality of losing someone in this day and age. Arrangements needed to be made, Social Security attended to, a home to be sorted and cleaned—all of which means that the days following a loss are somehow quickly consumed by errands and details, rather than the grief that is laying so heavily on your heart.

After the whirlwind, we all found ourselves sitting in the pews of an old, small church outside LaFollette this past Thursday, rather than filming the show’s final segment as we had originally planned. It was one of those numbing moments where you abruptly find yourself confronted by the reality of this journey we call life—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren sitting shoulder to shoulder, brought together for the first time in far too long by tragedy.

Now, to give you some context, as my husband’s family would say, my “people” aren’t from this area. Instead, I was born a rural community in Illinois. Despite living in Tennessee almost 15 years now, it still doesn’t take much to notice that I’m not originally from here. The truth of the matter is that I’m still fairly young, meaning that I’ve lived in Tennessee almost as long as I lived in the midwest, and since I’ve been here I’ve graduated college, met the love of my life and started a family. To me, these hills are home.

While some folks have argued that producing this series despite not originally being from the state could be a weakness, I’ve found it to be a strength. You see, calling Tennessee “home” is a choice for me, and I find that I am still far from immune to her distinctive charm. Thursday was the perfect example.

I had only known Edna for a handful of years, but you would never have known that. Since the first holiday Cody brought me home to his family, they have considered me one of them. They’ve celebrated my accomplishments, checked in with me regularly, even placed photos of me around their home as if I were another one of the children or grandchildren God blessed them with years ago. There has never been a time that I felt unwelcome or separate.

As the preacher began his funeral sermon Thursday, he listed the names of those Edna left behind, with Cody and our seven-week-old son at the end of the list. As he finished, a group of five young sisters took the stage, their hair neatly woven into conservative braids down their backs. They paused for a moment and then, in perfect harmony, sang the hymn, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” It was perfect. Uncontrived and unpretentious, it was an Appalachian’s sincere prayer to the Lord who sustains us. In that moment, Tennessee felt more a home than it ever has before. I was somehow more aware than ever before that I wasn’t, like the folks sitting to my right and left, originally from these hills, but I felt so lucky to be included as one of their own.

We are a fortunate few, the folks who call this state home. The boundaries of our families are permeable—including the neighbors that surround us whenever they find themselves in need. We have held onto the best shreds of our past and turned to them regularly to keep us grounded in the present. From plentiful plains to picturesque peaks, we have been blessed with a bounty that few other locations around the world can claim. This past week has reminded me that, as Erick so eloquently phrased it in our theme song, “There’s a place you’ve never been, that’s right where you want to be.” That place is Tennessee, among the family, friends and adventures that I’ve been lucky to find. Each day, this state offers me opportunities to connect with the folks I value most; and, I’m willing to bet that, if you take a hard look at your schedule, it does the same for you as well.

So, today, in this first, post of Season 2, I challenge you to not only “get up and get a move on,” but, in doing so, go make a memory with someone you love. None of us know how much time we’ll have on this earth. All we can do with the time we’ve been given is make sure to paint the landscape that surrounds us with memories that will last a lifetime.

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