MADE BY MOUNTAINS STORY
Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
When I think about where I feel most at peace, most at home, it would be Fire Mountain.
An enrolled citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle inherited a deep and vivid connection to the land in Western North Carolina through her ancestors. The award-winning author finds the outdoors a place of inspiration and renewal for her writing and her spirit. “I feel that I find answers when I’m out in nature,” she says. “I believe there is energy in the natural world that informs our lives—we should pay attention to it.” And there’s no place that stirs her senses and ignites ideas more than Fire Mountain Trails, a multi-use trail system on the Qualla Boundary.
Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Author of
Even As We Breathe
The Appalachian mountains are a beautiful juxtaposition. They’re ancient, and yet it feels like there’s still mystery here. Like there is so much to discover, that there are more things we don’t know than we do know. That makes it exciting every time you go out on a new trail. And still, for all the surprises, at the same time this region is remarkably familiar to me. My ancestors have built a long relationship with this place. It’s a mutual one that builds a spirituality around it: We take care of it and protect it, and it gives us the gifts we need to thrive. I’ve lived here my whole life, except when I went away for college and graduate school. A lot of times I’m asked why I came back. My answer? People work their whole lives to retire in WNC. I figure I’ll get a head start! But really, I don’t stay in WNC for lack of options. It’s not like I feel like I have to be here. I choose this area because of the connectivity of my culture. This place is literally the origin of our Cherokee people; those people who resisted removal. There is a sensibility to this area that for me, is rooted in having value for this place. Sometimes it’s hard to explain—it’s a sense you have that this is where you belong.
On Connecting to Fire Mountain
When I think about where I feel most at peace, most at home, it would be Fire Mountain. I feel personally connected to it because I was working as the director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation when the planning grant came through for the trail system. It’s multi-use in terms of mountain biking, running, and walking. It has different levels of challenge for new riders, as well as advanced riders. There’s a wonderful sense of community on the trails. And it does so much for our community, too. In Cherokee, we have been working to provide a more authentic experience for visitors across the last decade. That’s one reason I love Fire Mountain—it’s as Cherokee as you can get. You’re not selling a fake headdress or teepee totally inaccurate for our culture. Fire Mountain represents the essence of Cherokee culture: To take care of the land and enjoy it in a responsible way.
On Finding Inspiration in Nature
Even my writing process is informed by cycling. I write mostly longform fiction, so I am concerned with, “How do I keep tension in a narrative?” For me, that is mirrored in cycling. Because cycling is often the question of: How do you drive yourself to that climax and then really enjoy the descent? I want to convey that same structure in my writing.
We often think of it as a cerebral process, but I believe that reading should be a physical process. If the writer is doing the job well, the reader should feel it. Often when I’m cycling, I’m thinking about story structure, sentence structure. I think cycling infuses my writing with that physicality that translates to the page. It gives me a tool for being more physical with my writing.
And then, there’s so much about observation that comes from being out in the middle of the woods. When I’m cycling, I’m constantly observing what’s around me—mostly so I don’t die! But it’s also natural to the writing process. And even when I’m riding with other people, they’ll make comments about the things that we see. It provides metaphors that surface in my writing.
On Achieving Balance in Nature
If I’m having a good day or a bad day, I want to be at Fire Mountain. It just seems to balance me out. It allows me to focus on whatever I need to focus on, whatever I need to sort through. It’s something I can rely on; I know those trails so well. I went on a day ride recently that turned into a night ride without me planning on it. I was coming down on the descent, and I didn’t have my lights with me, because I wasn’t expecting to be out that late. But it wasn’t a problem. I know those trails so well. Even though it was hard to see, I could listen to the sound of that descent and I knew where I was going. That was a beautiful experience. To be at Fire Mountain feels like home to me.