It was thanks to my brother-in-law that I first really saw Tennessee from the sky. An amateur pilot, Charlie took me along on a flight over the eastern foothills a few years ago. From 3,500 feet, I could see Sevierville’s  Victorian courthouse tower and could even spot the 1920s farmhouse where I grew up. The lake near our house surprised me with its size and amoebic shape; fingers of water seemed to stretch out in every direction.
Ever since taking this flight, I have asked for a window seat whenever I’m flying to or from Tennessee. What I see is a place that defies expectations. Tennessee is not just Nashville  and Graceland . It’s not just the Smoky Mountains . It is a land of rivers, fast and slow, of cold mountain streams and rich wetlands, but it is also so much more than you think.
Tennessee is the original home of the Cherokee Indians, whose language lives on in place names like Tuckaleechee, Chattanooga, and even Tennessee itself.
Tennessee has nurtured Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize–winners, and statesmen. It’s the birthplace of country music and the home of the blues; music seems to flow in the rivers and in the veins of Tennesseans.
Tennessee’s people include the generous and independent folk of the eastern mountains, from whose hills and hollers came the sound of shape-note singing and the wail of a fiddle.
Its people too are the smart ones who turned a small city called Nashville  into the Athens of the South, and later, Music City USA. They are the imaginative ones who envisioned a new future for the old industrial city of Chattanooga, its downtown reborn.
Out west, in the Delta country and Memphis , the land and the city nurtured bluesmen and rock ’n’ roll pioneers. People here are resilient and brave; their city has returned from devastation more than once.
From the sky, you can see Tennessee’s beauty, but you have to be on the ground to see the beauty of its people.