A report in The New York Times chronicled the air pollution problems of India. It contended that as extremely bad as the air is in Beijing, it is comparatively cleaner than New Delhi's. The article's frightening nail in the coffin came with the statement: "Researchers are beginning to suspect that India's unusual mix of polluted air, poor sanitation and contaminated water may make the country among the most dangerous in the world ... "
Given that report — and especially photos of a polluted India — we have to feel collectively fortunate in the U.S. about most of our environment. As a reminder, we soon needn't look much further than a coin in our pocket to see one massive area of clean, fresh air with spectacular scenery and vistas.
Now, just being issued is the newest quarter in the America the Beautiful series featuring the Great Smoky Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park extends from Tennessee to North Carolina, but outside of the park, the range continues into multiple other states, including Georgia, South Carolina and even Virginia.
This first coin in the 2014 offering of five quarters features an image of a rustic log cabin replete with a stone chimney and shaded front porch, situated inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Split-rail fencing is seen in the foreground with a thick forest behind and a hawk soaring above. In the background is a representation of the towering mountain range.
Several other design considerations for the quarter included flora and fauna, such as a bear and its cub, indigenous flowers, dogwood blossoms, lizards and more. Those were good representations of the region but the cabin best underscores how lone and isolated so much of the area truly is.
It's especially reminiscent of the secluded farms and outback properties of miners and "mountain folk," such as those depicted in the film, "Coal Miner's Daughter" about country singer Loretta Lynn. In the movie, one aspect of just how remote many of the homes and homesteads in the mountains was seen when families devotedly gathered around and listened to the radio. Years ago, those broadcasts were the only connection they had to larger cities and the outside world.
Most famous throughout the region was the transmission by WSM in Nashville of the "Grand 'Ol Opry." The Opry was a staple of those living in the hills. When it increased its power in 1932, it became one of the most powerful voices reaching all areas throughout the Smoky Mountains and even up into parts of Canada. The Opry can still be heard on the radio in the mountains today.
A new feature the National Park Service has added to its website are web cams set up in various national parks. There are two in the Great Smokys focused into Tennessee and North Carolina.
It's almost impossible to describe the majesty of the mountains and "smoky" passes. On clear days from some vantage points it's possible to see mountain peaks as far as 30 to 40 miles away. For a taste of just how beautiful the region is, search for "Great Smoky Mountains" on Google Images.
Struck at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints, the new quarters will be appearing in pocket change and cash registers in the coming months. For those too inpatient to wait, rolls and bags of uncirculated coins are available directly from the U.S. Mint for a premium. The Mint is offering a special roll of "S" Mint-marked quarters struck at the San Francisco Mint in a three-roll set. For more information, log on to the Mint's website at www.USMint.gov, or phone toll free: 1-800-USA-MINT.
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the new Smoky Mountain quarter has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.