In the middle of the day the Blue Ridge Mountains look green, but at sunrise and sunset, when viewed from a distance, they have a very visible blue haze. This is nature’s healthy smog, produced when plants breathe. They exhale hydrocarbons into the air, and these tiny molecules join in the atmosphere to form larger particles that scatter blue light from the sky.
At sunrise this blue color provides a beautiful contrast with the pinks and oranges of the rising sun. The mist clings to the valleys, seen here as a pale blue and in a few spots tinged with the orange of the rising sun.
Though the name comes from European settlers, it has been known for much longer. The Cherokees called their home Shaconage, land of the blue smoke. And so on this morning admiring the sunrise, I feel a kinship with all the people over thousands of years who have stood on mountaintops here in North Carolina admiring the peculiarly beautiful blue dawns.