The first time my wife and I looked out from Green’s View in Sewanee, she said, “It looks like the original cover of The Fellowship of the Ring.” She was right, of course, in more ways than one. Sewanee has always had a feel of the Shire about it, a kind of remove from the workings of the rest of the world that we usually associate with the pastoral. As William Alexander Percy famously described Sewanee, It’s a long way away, even from Chattanooga, in the middle of woods, on top of a bastion of mountains crenellated with blue coves. It is so beautiful that people who have once been there always, one way or another, come back. For such as can detect apple green in an evening sky, it is Arcadia. The painting below of Green’s View was done last year by Dan Pate, whom I think of as Sewanee’s Cézanne– the dreaminess of the landscape done in abstract design capture much of what I see from this prospect.
But the fact is, there’s a lot more to this view than simple pastoral romance. Now that the trees are bare, let’s take an even closer look at Green’s View. So, what are those structures, way out there to the left?
Yeah, those ones …
Well, those buildings are
the Nissan Powertrain Assembly Plant, on Warren Chapel Road, in Decherd the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center. It is, according to the AEDC website, the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world. The complex operates 43 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells, space environmental chambers, arc heaters, ballistic ranges and other specialized units. It’s a big employer here in Franklin County, and alas, also a big polluter. As my friend David Haskell notes in a blog post, man-made Woods Reservoir near AEDC is contaminated with PCBs and the fish bioacummulate these toxins and pass them up the food chain to the birds.
Further to the west, and not quite visible from Green’s View is another large industry, Nissan’s Powertrain Assembly plant (pictured to the right). Now, I know what you’re thinking, people. You’re saying, Hey, I’m trying to enjoy a pure and unlittered panorama up here from Green’s View, knock it off! Get your “dark Satanic mills” out of my “green and pleasant land”! Well, my friend, that it where you are wrong, at least about Nissan, a plant that may well be a greener shade than you think. According to a press release from Nissannews.com last month, the Decherd plant has become an instrumental point in the production of Nissan’s electric car, the Leaf:
Nissan is finding more and more ways to localize its LEAF production in the U.S. When the vehicle first became available in December 2010, the car was manufactured in Japan. In January 2013, Nissan ramped up production of the car in Smyrna, Tenn. This was followed by production of the electric motor in Decherd, Tenn., in April. “Bringing that production here and those jobs here, it is better for everyone,” said Coral Kanies, Nissan Decherd Production Manager. As the press release further notes, Nissan added its electric motor facility in Decherd will use only locally sourced magnetic wire by the end of this year. (You can see the video version of this report below)
Admittedly, there’s a part of me that is pretty suspicious about electric cars, especially ones with names like “Leaf.” But the buzz on Leaf seems pretty good. There’s a blog from a Leaf owner called drivingelectric, who is pretty enthusiastic about this car, noting how little it costs to run: But if you are driving a standard car or truck that gets an average of 18 mpg and you drive it 15,000 miles a year, with gas costing $4/gallon, you are spending 22.2 cents per mile and $3,333 a year for fuel . If you were driving an electric car with electricity costing 10 cents per kWh, which is pretty close to average, you’d be spending 2.9 cents per mile and $435 a year for fuel . You’d be saving $2,898 a year on fuel costs.
For me, the downside is that a fully-charged battery will take a Leaf only 85 miles or so. That would only take me to Nashville from Sewanee–or back and forth to the Nissan Plant in Decherd twice (an 18 miles’ drive away). But in any event, it is interesting to think that looking out from Green’s View, one is gazing not just on a nostalgic past but also on competing visions of the future, one filled with PCBs and the other, not quite visible but much greener.
(Many thanks to David Haskell and Will Haight for gently pointing out my error about the buildings on the horizon above)