Tuesday, December 25, 2007

His Friends Called Him Champ

he with camp stool and dripping umbrella slung on his shoulders, with broad slouch hat crushed down over his eyes, and a variegated panorama of the road along which he had passed painted by the weather upon his back--the artist, whose hands were filled with the mystic tin box; behold him! the envied cynosure of boyish eyes.
- Edward King, describing the artist James Wells Champney, who accompanied King on an expedition through the Southern Appalachians in 1873.

Artists have been looking at these mountains for a long, long time...

A thousand years ago they created the petroglyphs on Judaculla Rock.

A couple of centuries ago, naturalists like William Bartram sketched the plant life and other sights they encountered in these hills.

In the 1850s, William Frerichs explored the Blue Ridge and the Smokies to get inspiration for his majestic oil paintings. (A post from last year raises questions about Frerichs’ painting of "Tamahaka Falls" in Cherokee County, NC. )

After the end of the Civil War, magazine publishers had an insatiable appetite for travel stories describing the people and scenery of the Southern Appalachians. More than one scholar has opined on how these articles shaped and reinforced stereotypes about mountain people. But I’ve not seen much written about the artists who supplied the illustrations that accompanied the travel stories of the late nineteenth century.

Take for instance, James Wells Champney (1843-1903). He accompanied the writer Edward King on travels throughout the South and made more than 500 sketches during their journeys. Champney’s engravings were included in a recent post that featured King’s account of a trip from Waynesville, NC to Webster and Whiteside Mountain. The two traveled more than 25,000 miles together.

James Wells "Champ" Champney has been described as:

a prolific artist whose work was of high quality and broad scope. He was very successful as a oil painter of genre scenes, and later was perhaps the foremost pastelist of his day. A lecturer, illustrator, watercolorist and photographer, he was also one of the first Americans to grasp and utilize the spirit of impressionism.

Born in Boston, the artist studied drawing at Lowell Institute and took courses in anatomy from Oliver Wendell Holmes. Champney had already visited Europe for further studies and exhibited at the Paris Salon before he was commissioned by Scribner’s to illustrate the Edward King articles. Afterwards, he returned to Europe and provided figure drawings of American life for the French magazine, D’Illustration. By 1876, he settled in Deerfield, Massachusetts where he taught art at Smith College.

J. Wells Champney married Elizabeth Williams (1850-1922) in May 1873, just prior to his visit to Western North Carolina. Elizabeth Champney herself began to publish short sketches, poems, books on art, and romantic travel stories, some of which were illustrated by her husband.

After Mr. Champney opened a studio in New York City in 1879, the couple divided their time between Deerfield and New York, and made frequent visits to Europe. Further, we read:

He was an early and avid amateur photographer, and also used the camera as an aid to his work. He was fond of books and the theatre, was a member of a dozen clubs and artists’ societies, and with Mrs. Champney entertained generously at their Fifth Avenue home and at Deerfield. "When they arrived, and Mr. Champney was seen on the street, the old town always seemed to come alive," wrote one villager.

Champney was in great demand as a lecturer, as suggested in December 18, 1894. New York Times article:

The members of Sorosis had a pleasant gathering in the parlors of Sherry’s yesterday afternoon, when J. Wells Champney told them many interesting things about pastels… The bright and luminous tints of the pastel, Mr. Champney said, are due to the fact that ‘the integrity of the molecule is intact,’ and that there is not ‘gumming together,’ as with paints… He humorously recommended the pastel as a valuable health thermometer, to be kept by every family, for if the pastel showed signs of succumbing to its one great enemy – dampness – the welfare of the household should be looked after.

An 1899 story described Champney’s presentation at the Carlisle Indian School:

On Tuesday evening, J. Wells Champney, the famous pastel artist of New York City, delivered a lecture before the Literary Societies and a large audience from town in Assembly Hall. The lecture was replete with wit and interesting anecdote. From the beginning lines of a straight-edged pig the artist with chalk and crayon led up to the graceful curves of a child's face, and on to the picturesque in landscape, giving scientific reasons for changes of lines, in a most attractive manner which could never tire the listener.

On May 1, 1903, Champney fell to his death. Champney had gone to the Camera Club of New York to make some photographic prints. As Champney got on the elevator, a piece of walnut furniture was too large to be carried in the car, so the operator had placed it on top, where it shifted and jammed the elevator between floors.

The headline of the New York Times article stated "His Death Was Due to His Hurry and Disregard of Warning." As reported by the Times:

Against the protests of the elevator boy, he attempted to swing himself to the floor below. He lost his hold on the car floor and fell down the shaft….

Mrs. Champney was notified by the police of her bereavement, and showed great fortitude after learning of her husband’s death. "We were very happy together," she said. "He was one of the most beautiful characters in the world and was always lovable. His life was just like his work."

So here’s to Champ, and his summer in the mountains 134 years ago, when he looked around Waynesville and Webster, Cullasaja Falls and Whiteside Mountain, and drew the world he saw.
Illustrations (From top)
1. From The Great South, "The Judge", a member of the travel party, shows Champney’s sketch book to a group of mountain folks, illustration by James Wells Champney.
2. Judaculla Rock by firelight
3. Morning Glory, by William Bartram
4. Falls of Tamahaka, oil on canvas, William Frerichs
5. James Wells Champney and daughter, Maria, ca. 1874
6. Elizabeth Champney
7. Feeding Chickens, oil on canvas, James Wells Champney
8. The Poppy Garden, James Wells Champney
9. Mount Pisgah from The Great South, illustration by James Wells Champney

239 of Champney’s sketches from The Great South trip are housed at the Lilly Library Manuscript Collection, Indiana University.

Finally, a passage from The Great South, in which Edward King describes their mode of travel:

It is sometimes said that Western North Carolina is shaped like a bow, of which the Blue Ridge would form the arc, and the Smoky mountains the string. Within this semicircle our little party, now and then increased by the advent of citizens of the various counties, who came to journey with us from point to point, traveled about 600 miles on horse-back, now sleeping at night in the lowly cabins, and sharing the rough fare of the mountaineers, now entering the towns and finding the mansions of the wealthier classes freely opened to us. Up at dawn, and away over hill and dale; now clambering miles among the forests to look at some new mine; now spurring our horses to reach shelter long after night had shrouded the roadways, we met with unvarying courtesy and unbounded welcome.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Whoop up the Laggards

Our expedition grew rapidly after we left Waynesville, and our group of horsemen, followed by "the baggage train," toiling along the mountain roads, caused a genuine excitement at the farms by the way. One of our most memorable trips was that from Waynesville to Whiteside and the return.

Upon the beautiful country through which we were now wandering the Indian lavished that wealth of affection which he always feels for nature, but never for man. He gave to the hills and streams the soft poetic names of his expansive language--names which the white man has in many cases cast away, substituting the barbarous commonplaces of the rude days of early settlement.

The Cherokee names of Cowee and Cullowhee, of Watauga, of Tuckaseege, and Nantahela, have been retained; and some of the elder settlers still pronounce them with the charming Indian accent and inflection. The Cowee mountain range runs between Jackson and Macon counties, and the valley of Tuckaseege, walled in four crooked, immense stretches, includes all of Jackson county which lies north of the Blue Ridge.

The river itself, one of the most picturesque in the South, "heads" in the Blue Ridge, and swelling into volume from a hundred springs of coldest, purest, most transparent water, which send little torrents down all the deep ravines, it goes foaming and dashing over myriads of rocks, sometimes leaping from dizzy heights into narrow cañons, until it comes to, and is lost in, the Tennessee. Where the Tuckaseege forces its way through the Cullowhee mountains there is a stupendous cataract.

The little inn at Webster, the seat of justice of Jackson county, was none too large to accommodate our merry cavalcade. We came to it through the Balsam mountains from Waynesville, along a pretty road bordered with farms and giant mulberry-trees. In the valleys we saw the laurel and the dwarf rosebay, the passion flower and the Turk's-cap lily, and on the mountain sides the poplar or tulip-tree, the hickory, ash, black and white walnut, the holly, the chincapin, the alder, and the chestnut, each in profusion.

Webster is a little street of wooden houses, which seem mutely protesting against being pushed off into a ravine. For miles around the country is grand and imposing. A short time before our arrival the residents of the county had been edified by the execution of the only highwayman who has appeared in Western North Carolina for many years. The hanging occurred in front of the jail in the village street, and thousands flocked to see it from all the section round about.

Sunset came with a great seal of glory. Before the dawn we were once more in the saddle, en route for the Cowee range. Just below Webster we crossed the Tuckaseege river at a point where once there was a famous Indian battle, and wound up the zigzag paths to the very top of Cowee, now and then getting a glimpse of the noble Balsam left behind.

Now we could look up at one of the "old balds," as the bare peaks' tops are called. (The Indian thought the bare spots were where the feet of the Evil One had pressed as he strode from mountain to mountain.)

Now we stopped under a sycamore, while a barefooted girl brought a pitcher of buttermilk from the neighboring house; now a group of negro children, seeing a band of eight horsemen approaching, made all speed for the house, evidently thinking us Ku-Klux or "Red Strings" resuscitated; and now a smart shower would beat about our heads, and die away in tearful whisperings among the broad leaves. The mile-stones by the roadside were notched to indicate the distance; and from hour to hour, in the mountain passes, stops were made to whoop up the laggards.

-From The Great South, by Edward King (1875), illustrations by James Wells Champney

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Who Said It?

I happened upon a collection of presidential inaugural addresses. After browsing through the past fifty years of speeches, I’m struck by how similar they all are (with a few exceptions). Reagan’s addresses, (and to a lesser extent those by the Bushes), break the pattern a bit, marked by language and ideas that are less lofty, and more specific, than the typical inaugural address. That's my first impression after a quick reading. In any event, you'll probably have a tough time matching the right president to each of the following quotes. These represent all of the inaugural addresses since 1957 (Eisenhower through Bush), but in random order. Answers follow the quotes. Noble words come easy, eh?

1. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

2. Together with the rest of the world, let us resolve to move forward from the beginnings we have made. Let us continue to bring down the walls of hostility which have divided the world for too long, and to build in their place bridges of understanding—so that despite profound differences between systems of government, the people of the world can be friends. Let us build a structure of peace in the world in which the weak are as safe as the strong—in which each respects the right of the other to live by a different system—in which those who would influence others will do so by the strength of their ideas, and not by the force of their arms.

3. America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally. And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace. So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to a world rich in possibilities.

4. In America’s ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

5. We live in a land of plenty, but rarely has this earth known such peril as today. In our nation work and wealth abound. Our population grows. Commerce crowds our rivers and rails, our skies, harbors, and highways. Our soil is fertile, our agriculture productive. The air rings with the song of our industry—rolling mills and blast furnaces, dynamos, dams, and assembly lines—the chorus of America the bountiful. This is our home—yet this is not the whole of our world. For our world is where our full destiny lies—with men, of all people, and all nations, who are or would be free. And for them—and so for us—this is no time of ease or of rest.

6. Beyond that, my fellow citizens, the future is up to us. Our founders taught us that the preservation of our liberty and our union depends upon responsible citizenship. And we need a new sense of responsibility for a new century. There is work to do, work that government alone cannot do: teaching children to read; hiring people off welfare rolls; coming out from behind locked doors and shuttered windows to help reclaim our streets from drugs and gangs and crime; taking time out of our own lives to serve others.

7. We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves. When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things—such as goodness, decency, love, kindness. Greatness comes in simple trappings.

8. If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

9. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state. For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to live. We don't have to talk late into the night about which form of government is better. We don't have to wrest justice from the kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must act on what we know. I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.

10. While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.

11. We have already found a high degree of personal liberty, and we are now struggling to enhance equality of opportunity. Our commitment to human rights must be absolute, our laws fair, our natural beauty preserved; the powerful must not persecute the weak, and human dignity must be enhanced. We have learned that "more" is not necessarily "better," that even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems. We cannot afford to do everything, nor can we afford to lack boldness as we meet the future. So, together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.

12. How incredible it is that in this fragile existence, we should hate and destroy one another. There are possibilities enough for all who will abandon mastery over others to pursue mastery over nature. There is world enough for all to seek their happiness in their own way. Our Nation's course is abundantly clear. We aspire to nothing that belongs to others. We seek no dominion over our fellow man, but man's dominion over tyranny and misery. But more is required. Men want to be a part of a common enterprise—a cause greater than themselves. Each of us must find a way to advance the purpose of the Nation, thus finding new purpose for ourselves. Without this, we shall become a nation of strangers.

13. In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth—we need each other. And we must care for one another. Today, we do more than celebrate America; we rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America. An idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries of challenge. An idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate, we—the fortunate and the unfortunate—might have been each other. An idea ennobled by the faith that our nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity. An idea infused with the conviction that America's long heroic journey must go forever upward.

1. John F. Kennedy, 1961
2. Richard Nixon, 1973
3. Ronald Reagan, 1985
4. George W. Bush, 2005
5. Dwight Eisenhower, 1957
6. Bill Clinton, 1997
7. Richard Nixon, 1969
8. Ronald Reagan, 1981
9. George Bush, 1989
10. George W. Bush, 2001
11. Jimmy Carter, 1977
12. Lyndon Johnson, 1965
13. Bill Clinton, 1993

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Big News Roundup

It looked like a "happy news" headline last week in the Herald: "Sylva Celebrates Pinnacle Park Conservation Easement." But this week, a spokesman for one of North Carolina’s most powerful think tanks blew the cover on a sinister scheme behind the recent headline:

Long ago, Miles Copeland claimed the CIA had noted unnamed entities systematically acquiring lands containing certain resources. These resources were neither gold nor oil, but something more essential and obvious. He did not elaborate. Copeland, as an insider, published several books about the CIA during the Cold War, which may well have only been misinformation. Nonetheless, his claim reverberates in my mind as events like this [the Pinnacle Park conservation easement] occur at an accelerating pace.

When the black helicopters start landing in Pinnacle Park, don’t count on the local papers to let you know about it. But Leslee Kulba and the John Locke Foundation will. They’re on the case…

Speaking of sneaky local officials, how about the photo on the front page of the 12/06/07 Sylva Herald? The county is displaying a huge lighted cross in front of the old Jackson County Courthouse…on gummint property! Not good. Looks like a job for Barbara Goldstein. She kicked ass in Macon County a few Christmases ago, sent the baby Jesus packing, and all that...

Harrah’s Casino always commands the back page of the Smoky Mountain News. This week they got the back page AND the front page. Predictably, we read glad tidings of the prosperity bestowed by the glitzy gambling house. We’re ALL winners. A quick nod to the problem gambling hotline absolves the casino of any responsibility for the poor saps who’ve lost everything to those machines. Coincidentally, we’re told this week that former Buncombe Sheriff Bobby Medford went through $54,000 at Harrah’s. Then to pay off the gambling debts, he took kickbacks from video poker operators. Poetic justice, I’d say. At any rate, the lawman has been indicted and thrown in the slammer. Ahhh, if only he had dialed the problem gambling hotline before it was too late…

In another SMN story, we learned that some lefties want to soapbox from their very own FM radio station…to remind us Jackson County hillbillies how dumb we are, I suppose. If you get the chance, try listening to Asheville’s progressive radio station…invariably some stoner mumbling incoherently and playing lousy reggae records. If that’s progressive media then please keep it in Asheville. Those lefties claim they want clean air, and then they threaten to fill it with that progressive media stuff. Heaven help us…

Balsam Mountain Preserve continues to screw around with the county over $300,000 in fines for their excellent environmental stewardship leading up to the catastrophic failure of the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam and subsequent devastation of Scotts Creek. BMP wants to keep everything behind closed doors. Essentially, they’re negotiating the price…the price they’ll pay to purchase the rights to destroy Scott’s Creek (after the fact, of course). Several years ago a Highlands developer bought the rights to destroy a small lake that wasn’t theirs either (after the fact, as well). As I recall, the price was well over $300,000. Close the doors. Keep the public out. After all, what business is it of ours? That’s what gates and armed guards are for. To remind us that Balsam Mountain Preserve’s business is none of our business…

Speaking of which, it looks like Carolina Boulder and Stone just won’t take "no" for an answer on their quarry in Tuckasegee. Undaunted by the state’s denial of their application for a mining permit, the company has appealed the decision. After the filing, a company spokesman had words for the Tuckasegee residents opposed to the mining operation:

We’ve about run out of patience with that bunch. If they want peace and quiet so much they should just go buy a place in a gated community, like everybody else. What do they think makes them so special? This is 2007, not 1807.

He also announced that effective immediately, the company has changed its name to Sisyphus Boulder and Stone, and they intend to keep on rolling with their quarry. I kid U NOT…

That concludes this week’s news roundup.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Do You Think?

Carl and Lilian Sandburg, 1923

Following is an early piece (ca. 1909) published by Carl Sandburg (as Charles Sandburg). I'd never seen this until today at Connemara.

What do you think about these things?

.To GET into the game of life, take chances, make decisions, and keep moving; to cultivate dispatch, eliminate waste, introduce system;

. To ACQUIRE friends with whom you can babble of stars, roses, coffee and the weather; to head for the open country, hills and the free, fresh sun and wind;

. To USE every possible tool and situation for the advancement of The Great Cause; to distinguish between intelligent discussion and futile rag-chewing: to make a slight effort every day or so at inaugurating a civilization that lays emphasis on the soul as the best man;

. To PITY the respectable and satisfied, and see in the heart of the jailbird your own impulses; to be patient with the stupid and incompetent, and chat reverently with the town fool about his religion; to give and take no job that involves human degradation; to realize that the grafter, the scarlet woman, Rockefeller, Thaw and the one-legged man on the corner selling lead-pencils, are each the result of conditions for which all of us are in part responsible;

. To SPELL Art with a capital A and enjoy paintings, poems, stories, statues and the silent benedictions of architecture; to love expression; to know when to behave and when to get reckless and forget that you're a gentleman; to hoe in the garden, split wood, carry out ashes, get dirty and be actually useful every once in a while if not twice; to pray and aspire and build and when you build, build strong;

. To LIVE in a bungalow, with bathrooms, music, flowers, a beautiful woman and children healthy as little savages; to be proud that you're human and aware that it's grand to be human; to help make life a chord of music wherein are blended the notes of companionship, love and ability - how about these things, Brother?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Let's Make a Deal

Let’s say that you just HAVE to call a piece of the North Carolina mountains your very own.

Let’s say that you have an extra $300,000 or so that’s been burning a hole in your pocket.

And let’s say that you can select a home site from gated communities in three lovely locations.


For the moment, let’s say that you can pick from what’s behind DOOR NUMBER ONE, DOOR NUMBER TWO, or DOOR NUMBER THREE.

But wait! I’ll even give you a little preview of what’s behind each door. Here goes.

How would you like a destination for those seeking a healthy lifestyle in a pedestrian friendly Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND)? How would you like a pedestrian zone at the Lakeside Village Center, where you’ll find 100,000 square feet of specialty retail featuring high quality arts and antiques?

How would you like a resort community boasting golf courses designed by Greg Norman AND Arnold Palmer? How would you like a ski slope, a Bass Pro shop and a 14 screen cinema to amenitize your Wilderness experience?

How would you like to live in an equestrian community where you can dine at one of several restaurants, indulge in holistic spa treatments or share a hot tub with friends at the Grand Lodge? How would you like a sunset wine cruise on the lake?

REMEMBER, you can choose only one, so which will it be? Hmmm…. Decisions, decisions.

Which door will it be?

If you selected DOOR NUMBER ONE, welcome to the charming Village of Penland in Mitchell County North Carolina. One little problem, though. The NC attorney general shut down the Village of Penland on charges that Tony Porter and friends pulled off a $100,000,000 scheme that diverted loan proceeds to lavish Greek cruises, failed shopping centers and similar disasters.

And a lawsuit filed on behalf of Village of Penland lot purchasers accuses loan officers at BB&T, First Charter, Carolina First, and United Community Banks of working closely (colluding?) with the developers. Door one? Nice choice!

If you went with DOOR NUMBER TWO, then pack your bags for Cataloochee Wilderness Resort in the Jonathan Creek valley of Haywood County, NC. Cataloochee Companies, LLC recently announced this fantastic 4500 acre resort. I guess you could say it’s still in the planning stages. According to news reports this week, the developers just need to purchase the acreage from a number of reluctant land owners, introduce themselves to Norman and Palmer, dot a few T’s, cross a few I’s…you know, minor details.

But the happy news is that Waynesville businessman Dean Moses is identified as a consultant on the project, with a knack for rounding up investors to back projects like Thermal Products, Enterprize Park and Grand Ridge on the abandoned Dayco industrial site. And as far as I know, those would still be going like gangbusters had it not been for the bankruptcy and foreclosure. But that’s ancient history. Welcome to the new day at Cataloochee Wilderness Resort!

If you chose DOOR NUMBER THREE, then you’ve attained a piece of Plateau Perfection, a foothold on the vastness stretching from Cashiers to Cullowhee, known simply as "River Rock". Call today, 888.743.2975, to schedule your visit.

Ask about the Artist in Residency Program. Ask for a tour of the River Rock Culinary School and the River Rock Hospitality School, the Tuckaseegee Lodge, the Orion Spa and the Mother Jones Hot Tub. And as sales executive Bart Franklin writes, "Perfect your gold [sic] game on our 18-hole gold [sic] course by Phil Mickelson Design, skim across the lake in one of our restored wooden Chris Craft classic boats, challenge your children to a game of tennis on one of our courts…" All this and more awaits you. NOW!

Join the ranks of other satisfied River Rock land owners like Barry J. Schulman, Nicholas Namba and Man Q. Tran. Cordial folks who'll slide over to make room in the hot tub for you. "Howdy neighbor, and welcome to River Rock! Come on in, the water's fine!"

Don’t forget, "A formidable force of human heart, intellect, and creativity was galvanized for River Rock to come to be. Names that will all reappear across time when people ask whose hand such marvelous places are by. The masterminds behind River Rock consider themselves students of the land rather than its overlords, for if we have learned anything from nature, it is that we shall always have more to know."

There you have it, reassuring words from the masterminds themselves, Tony Corliss and Ted Morlok, the Crick and Watson, the galvanizing braintrust, of the Legasus Corporation. And though I can’t compete with their command of the language, I do share this with T ‘n T…

I consider myself a student of the real estate industry rather than its overlord, for if I have learned anything from developers, it is that we shall always have more to know.

So, whether you chose door number one, door number two or door number three, may I say congratulations…and good luck!


From the Asheville Citizen, we read:
Investors are suing four banks they accuse of working closely with developers on a Mitchell County development project that collapsed, costing them millions of dollars amid a state fraud investigation. The banks’ loan officers were willing participants in a scheme that left investors owing at least $80 million on property in the Village of Penland that is now worth a fraction of that amount, according to a complaint filed on behalf of 99 investors in Wake County Superior Court in Raleigh.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more informative narrative and case history in how the mortgage crisis has come about than to study the complaint filed by the plaintiffs. Read it here.
I continue to be amazed at how the media have neglected this story….

Moving on to happier news, the future looks bright for the Cataloochee Wilderness Resort. Check out these spectacular renderings:

And CWR has its own website, appropriately enough "still under construction." But for my money, this knoxnews.com story tells us all we need to know about the Cataloochee Wilderness Resort. The word "brazen" comes to mind.

Closer to home, here amongst the Children of Fortune, we’ll be taking a closer look at the California software tycoon who has been buying up big chunks of Jackson County. Later…

Monday, November 19, 2007

Driving Back to Kimesville

He wasn’t there.

Not that I expected him to be.

Driving east, I wanted to escape the interstate. I wanted to take the blue highway that ran through Kimesville.


I’d been there without stopping in 1975, for just one glimpse, one random moment while speeding past.

Thirty-two years later, I knew the fisherman I’d seen that day would be absent. No doubt, he’s long since died. His Kimesville is gone.

This Kimesville wasn’t exactly the place of my memory. It was quiet, save for water trickling over the ancient dam and cars hurtling past on the way to other places. Nobody fished from the lake.

Later, I found what I’d written to make sense of that first visit to Kimesville long ago.


Serene sacred sculpture,
The old man in Kimesville
Sat on the stone dam
And fished.

It was Saturday evening.
The sun was filthy.

I tried to imagine myself as
Water over the dam
The fish on the hook
Or the old man.

I could not.

I have it figured.
One million feet of scenery
Passed by my car this afternoon.
And what did I see?

I am mostly blind
And getting blinder.

Night comes on,
Light shrinking into stars,
With hopes of getting there
Somewhere behind me.

- August 30, 1975

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Listening for the Rutherford Trace

I can’t get it out of my head.

Every day I cross the path. And whether I go west or go east, the signs are there to remind me.

Most people, when hearing of the summer of 1776, think of the document signed in the city of brotherly love. I think of the irony. I think of Griffith Rutherford bringing 2500 men and war, havoc and death, to these mountains.

It’s not easy to remove that summer from the safe distance of history, to feel the fear, to smell the smoke and ash carried by the wind, to see the blood mingling with the waters of the Tuckasegee.

A few days ago, I passed through a valley north of Marion, where soldiers gathered for the expedition. I looked for those men, leaving their farms in the Carolina hills to fight a war on terror. Did they crave adventure? Did they have doubts?

And when the ones who returned, returned home, what stories did they tell their children and their grandchildren? What did they say about this place and the people who lived here?

It’s almost a dream. Maybe now, that’s all it is. Maybe that’s what life and death and war become, given time.

A couple of weeks before he was fired by tribal officials, the editor of The Cherokee One Feather newspaper reprinted Columbus Day, by the Cherokee poet and artist Jimmie Durham.

It begins:

In school I was taught the names
Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro and
A dozen other filthy murderers.

Filthy murderers? You wouldn’t want to take a chance on visitors to your casino reading this stuff, would you? Maybe not so good for business, if you believe poetry has any power. But let's get back to Columbus Day:

In school I learned of heroic discoveries
Made by liars and crooks.
The courage
Of millions of sweet and true people
Was not commemorated.

Let us then declare a holiday
For ourselves, and make a parade that begins
With Columbus' victims and continues
Even to our grandchildren who will be named
In their honor.

Because isn't it true that even the summer
Grass here in this land whispers those names,
And every creek has accepted the responsibility
Of singing those names?

And nothing can stop
The wind from howling those names around
The corners of the school.
Why else would the birds sing
So much sweeter here than in other lands?

So, I would suggest, the next time you join that endless parade along the Rutherford Trace, take a moment to listen. Despite the jubilant KA-CHING KA-CHING VR-ROOOMM VR-ROOOMM that proclaims a kind of victory, you can still hear the whispers, you can still hear the howls, you can still hear the sweet songs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Singing Occoneechee on Main Street

My lunch hour ritual is to get out of the office and take a stroll on Main Street.

The fresh air is nice and you never know who you’ll see. Best of all are the chances to learn new things and help other people.

Several months ago, I was waiting at the edge of the street, when a little pickup truck slowed to a stop. The driver waved me across, and as I stepped from the curb, he stuck his head out the window. It was a lawyer that I knew.

“Go ahead,” he snarled, “walk out there so I can run over you!”

I took several lessons from this encounter. First, it confirmed what I already knew about lawyers. Second, it taught me to keep a safe distance from little hunter green pickup trucks. Mostly, it inspired me to seize any fleeting opportunity to do something useful for mankind.

With a renewed sense of purpose, it was only a matter of time before I faced a golden opportunity. A car pulled up with a harried couple inside.

“Dammit, how do we get to Ca-SHEERS from here?” the lady growled. The exasperated man jabbed the air, “Why don’t you put up a few road signs in this damned town?”

“Ca-SHEERS?” I responded cordially, “Sure, I can tell you where to go.” Having learned my lessons I was ready to do a good turn. I pointed to the next stoplight and said confidently, “Take a left up there and get on Highway 74 EAST to Waynesville, then go SOUTH on Highway 276. Follow that a few miles to Highway 64. Then go WEST on 64.”

“You can’t miss it,” I grinned. “That’s the best way – the QUICKEST way – to get from Sylva to CASH-urs, umm, Ca-SHEERS.”

They grunted, peeled off, and (yes!) took a left at the light, while I bade them a fond adieu.

Perhaps it’s my new attitude that makes me so approachable. I don’t know. But I do know that hardly a week passes without some stranger stopping me on Main Street to ask for assistance.

For instance, just a few days ago, I was on my way to return a library book when a church bus screeched to a stop. The front passenger’s door flew open and an older gentleman burst out, sprinting straight toward me.

“The Jarrett House,” he exclaimed nervously. “How do we get to the Jarrett House?”

“Great,” I noted to myself, “another chance to help a traveler in need.”

I began sternly, “Why’d you come all this way to eat at the Jarrett House? Surely they serve country ham and overcooked canned vegetables in …” I glanced at the side of the bus, “…in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina!”

His eyes narrowed, and then I chuckled, “Just kidding…I can tell you where to go. But it’s funny you should mention the Jarrett House. Did you know…”

The man seemed agitated and kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other. But I figured if he needed to find a restroom, he would have asked. So I continued.

“Did you know about Robert Frank Jarrett? He was the original proprietor of the Jarrett House, and he wrote THIS very book way back in 1916.” I held up the volume entitled Occoneechee – The Maid of the Mystic Lake and pointed to the author’s name on the cover. “How’s that for coincidence?”

“Mill Street. Mill Street,” he muttered impatiently, “they said to turn on Mill Street.”

“Yep, that’s Mill Street over there,” I said with a vague wave of my hand, “but get this…” I opened the book, “I just love the preface that Robert Frank Jarrett wrote.”

I cleared my throat and began reading, “Realizing that the memory of a nation is best kept aglow by its songs and the writings of its poets, I have been inspired to write Occoneechee. Trusting that a generous people may hail with delight the advent of this new work, I now dedicate its pages to all lovers of music, poetry and fine art.”

I looked at the man, “Pretty neat, huh? Amazing when you consider this came from the guy that ran the Jarrett House! If I’m not mistaken, some old football coach owns the place now.”

The man looked over his shoulder and then looked over his other shoulder. His comrades in the bus were all fidgeting.

“Mill Street. Mill Street. We didn’t see the sign for Mill Street.”

“Nah,” I assured him, “around here everybody calls it BACK Street, but it turns into West Main Street and then it’s something else when it gets to Dillsboro.”

“OK. OK. Which way…”

I opened the book again and began pointing to some of the old photographs. “Look at this! Occoneechee Falls, except they don’t call it that anymore. Actually I don’t know WHERE that is.” I turned the page, “And here’s a picture of Occonestee Falls. You should go there if you have the time.”

“Chicken. Chicken? How’s their fried chicken?”

“Overpriced, like everything else on the menu, but look, Robert Frank Jarrett wrote this epic poem based on an old Cherokee legend. It goes on for…” I thumbed through the book, “…almost a hundred pages.”

“How late do they, when do they, stop serving lunch?”

“Makes you wonder how long it took Robert Frank Jarrett to write this poem. Incredible, huh?” And I held up the book again so the man could admire it.

The bus driver revved the engine a couple of times, while my new friend bobbed his head frantically and gestured toward Back Street.

He blurted out, “Which way did you say? How do we get…”

“I almost forgot! Robert Frank Jarrett even wrote a song with Mrs. Sadie T. Hutchison called Occoneechee. The sheet music is in the book, and it goes like this.” I started to sing:

In the forest of the Smokies
Where Oconaluftee flows,
Dwelt a maiden long forgotten
Where the rhododendron grows.

The man’s jaw dropped. The bus driver tapped the horn. I kept singing.

She was pure and true and holy
And her cheeks were like a rose.
And her voice was soft and mellow
As the gentlest breeze that blows.

The man turned and scrambled back toward the bus. I followed along, held out the open book and invited him to join me on the chorus:

I can hear your voice still calling me
I can see your smile still beckon me
You’re calling me
You’re calling me
I hear your voice still calling me.

He jumped into the bus, pointed a bony finger at me, and sputtered, “You can just…you can just…go to Hell. We’ll find somebody else to give us directions to the Jarrett House.”

I smiled and waved. “Sure,” I thought to myself, “ANYBODY can tell you how to find the Jarrett House. But who else is going to tell you all about Robert Frank Jarrett and the legend of Occoneechee?”

I yelled at the rapidly departing bus, “Have a good ‘un! And, oh, I’d recommend the RAINBOW TROUT! Bon appetit!”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Making Corn

Well the older generation
they got something to say
But they better say it fast
or get outta the way

-Neil Young

Whenever I go back to my hometown, it’s easy to visit a whole bunch of people I remember from growing up. But they don’t have much left to say. They’re in the cemetery.

Long ago, I enjoyed hearing their stories. It wasn’t uncommon to talk with people born in the 19th century. Now, it’s all but impossible. One of the last conversations I had with someone born prior to the twentieth century was with Robert Lee Franks (1897-2000). While transcribing the 1990 interview, I recognized the poetry in his way of speaking. Language evolves, of course. And when the gentle rhythms of the past are gone, that’s just the inevitable toll of Progress. It’s not like we can turn back the clock. Sometimes, though, the silence is deafening.

Anyhow, here’s what Robert told me.

Making Corn

It took lots of ground to make corn,
The way the old people farmed it
On these hillsides,
Four foot apart the rows,
Hills of corn four foot apart.
Now that takes a big patch
To make anything.

We grew the Pigeon White, they call it,
And the Hamburg Red Speckled for a long time.
And we got off from that on to a corn
That was mixed a little bit with sweet corn,
Made a great big long grain
Sort of like Hickory King
But it would get ripe quicker.

Sometimes we’d grow a little wheat
And make our flour,
But not often, though.
We just traded corn
For most everything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake, Highlands, NC - 10/21/2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Let Them Eat (Gulahiyi's German Chocolate) Cake

[Notwithstanding my phased retirement from the blogosphere, I stumble across the occasional item that demands posting. In the past, I extolled the virtues of turducken, squipossuhog, creasy greens and a kick-ass recipe for mayonnaise biscuits. I hope you saved room for dessert, because that’s what you’re getting this time. But first, this...]

"If it’s not one thing, it’s another."

I can’t begin to recall all the ill-advised nonsense that the good people of Jackson County have worked to overcome in the past few years. We’ve taken on asphalt plant operators, helicopter tour businesses, the National Rifle Association, miners and real estate developers – with varying degrees of success. It looks like the next episode of "Manifest Destiny – Jackson County" is being brought to you by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, hell-bent on gouging out a freeway from Blanton’s Branch to Green’s Creek. Slimy bastards.

Against better judgment, I pulled myself away from the comforts of my happy hermitage to attend a meeting this week. Ever the optimist, I figured this gathering might spawn the revival of a moribund effort to thwart the road builders. But I was disappointed. Again.

I suppose we all find different ways to feed our egos. At least I’m humble enough to admit that my own ego has an insatiable appetite. And I recognize that my attempts to fill that void seldom result in anything positive for myself or anyone else.

When it comes to lots of the activists that I’ve observed over the past few decades, I guess it’s easier to feel important than to be effective. There ARE ways to conduct meetings with defined objectives and a sufficient understanding of group dynamics to engage participants in meaningful ways and empower them to take action. But you might as well tell it to a brick wall as try to convince some well-meaning people to buy into that line of thinking.

So, if you’re alarmed by the prospects of that ill-advised freeway through the heart of Jackson County, there’s one obvious foe, and a more insidious enemy. It’s easy enough to read between the lines and see that a few well-placed individuals will cash in a lifetime of political chips, reap a small fortune and retire to Montana. That’s the real business of the NC DOT, after all. Road building is just a byproduct.

I’d like to think that concerned citizens, as we like to call ourselves, (or NIMBYs, as others might say) could prevail. But when you combine the power of the DOT with the obstinate refusal of self-proclaimed activists to accept constructive criticism, then the game is over before it begins. And that’s how a lot of good causes go down.
So I’m determined to enjoy Jackson County while I can, and treasure the beauty of each new day. Soon enough, this place will be saturated with freeways, dead streams, strip malls, big box stores, gated communities, meth-infested trailer parks and slave labor camps. Manifest destiny, indeed!

If John Bardo, for instance, ever deigned to speak to us dumb locals, he’d probably explain how progress demands that Sylva and Cullowhee should strive to be Waynesville, which strives to be Asheville, which strives to be Charlotte, which strives to be Atlanta. That’s the new circle of life in our delightful consumer culture. That’s the rising tide that lifts all boats. And to deny it is to reveal one’s backwardness, which is a university’s responsibility to eradicate. Which is why John Bardo will likely deserve to have a stretch of that freeway named after him. It’s our road to the 21st century, or at least a more expeditious way to transport thousands of impatient scholars in a big hurry to "get smashed." Thanks, Mr. Bardo, and thanks, Western Carolina University, for the new age of enlightenment. If that’s not worth sacrificing a few more mountains, then I don’t know what is.

But I digress. The next time I’m tempted to spend an evening at some meandering presentation on stopping a freeway…I plan to stay at home and bake another one of my scrumptious Gulahiyi German Chocolate Cakes. It is a lot easier to swallow.

The Recipe
Prepare to make a total mess of your kitchen. But it’s worth it. First of all is the recipe for the chocolate cake batter, then the coconut/pecan frosting, then the mocha/white chocolate sauce. Yeah.

The Cake
You’ll need 9" round cake pans, 3 of them.
Sift together these dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Measure out these wet ingredients:
½ cup cola (diet cola is ok if you’re counting calories)
1 cup buttermilk

5 eggs – separated, set aside yolks and whites
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
Use a mixer to blend the butter and sugar together.
Melt the chocolate:
4 ounces German chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
After the chocolate is melted blend it with the butter and sugar mixture.
Then add:
2 teaspoons of vanilla and the 5 eggs yolks
Combine this mixture with the sifted dry ingredients.
Add the whipped egg whites. You know the drill, GENTLY fold the egg whites into the mixture.
Pour the batter into the three wax paper lined cake pans, they need to bake at 350 degrees fro about 30 minutes, and proceed to

The frosting:

Toast the following ingredients:
3 cups of coconut flakes
3 cups chopped pecans (or throw in a few black walnuts)
In a saucepan, combine and heat the following:
12 ounces evaporated milk
5 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 ½ sticks of butter
Continue to stir, so the mixture doesn’t burn. Keep cooking and it will eventually sort of caramelize, I think is the appropriate term.
Add the toasted coconut flakes and chopped nuts.

I’ll warn you right now. This is just enough frosting to cover the cake layers. If you want to DOUBLE the frosting recipe, you probably won’t regret it.

Finally, let’s make

the sauce:

½ cup STRONG brewed coffee
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces white chocolate

[I'd like this sauce better if it were thicker...if you can tell me how to do that, then thanks in advance.]

Combine all these ingredients and heat them in a saucepan.
When the cake is done (use the toothpick trick or whatever works for you), assemble the cake.
Pour the mocha/white chocolate sauce over each layer, followed by the coconut/pecan frosting.

After frosting the last layer, pour the rest of the sauce over the entire cake.
Pour a tall glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee. Slice off a big chunk of Gulahiyi's German Chocolate Cake.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1934 Canoe Trip Down the Great Pee Dee River

It feels good to complete something that’s been on my to-do list for years. A few days ago, I retrieved a tattered old notebook from storage and finally got around to transcribing it. My father kept the journal during a 1934 canoe trip down the Pee Dee River in North and South Carolina, when he was 32 years old.

I’m not sure that any of us can fully appreciate the significance of rivers to the people of early America. It’s something that has been lost for the most part. But I think this 1934 diary hints at what one river might have meant to the people who lived near its banks and travelled on its waters.

I have a deep affinity for the Pee Dee, or the Yadkin, as it is known upstream from its junction with the Uwharrie River. A couple of years ago I returned to a real treasure, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge and paused by the banks of the great river. If, at that moment, a stray canoe had come drifting along I would have been tempted to climb in and paddle to the coast. What a trip!

A note regarding the journal of the canoe voyage - some of the pages were missing, and two other pages that had been written by way of summary after the trip were added. For the sake of the narrative, I’ve combined the two accounts, with the text from the summary enclosed in brackets.

My father’s account of the trip begins:

[On June the twenty-fourth 1934, a friend and I started on a camping trip we had been planning since early spring. Our plans were to start out just below Hydro Dam located twelve miles from Albemarle, NC and follow the Pee Dee River down to the coast a distance of some two hundred and fifty miles ending in Georgetown, SC.

Our supplies consisted of one 10 x 12 tarp and two metal cans in which to carry and keep dry our extra shirt and pair of duck trousers and a couple suits of underwear, razors, 1 thermos jug, and two camp kits and a pretty good food supply. We started out early one morning, loaded our stuff on our canoe which is a 16 foot Old Town type and shoved off.

We had not been started long until we soon found we were in a for a hard time or at least part of the trip for the river was very low on account of the water being cut off at the dam. So there was nothing to do but put on our bathing suits, get out and pull the boat through shallow places and over the rocks. We has this to contend with until nearly three thirty in the afternoon at which time we began entering Blewett Falls lake made by another power dam, where we had to make portage. On reaching the dam we learned that they were getting ready to cut off more water here and that we had to get around and get started as quickly as possible. This meant about 45 minutes hard work and more hard paddling. We finally made camp about five miles below this place. And were we tired!]

Thursday noon or 1 o’clock - Just finished eating dinner and shoving off again. We are now within about 8 or 10 miles of Blewett Falls. Have made pretty good time considering crossing nine fish dams and being unable to shoot but three of them. Boy what a thrill have had no trouble at all. We have seen some wonderful scenery already.

Thursday night - More dams, waterfalls and what not. We are now below Blewett Falls and what a job. No more portages for me. Had to keep moving for fear they would cut off the water. So we stopped about four miles below the dam. Saw plenty of big fish, but didn’t take time to fish any and now to roost for the night.

[The next day was almost as bad having gone through what is known as Buchanan Shoals - two or three miles of the roughest water we never knew to expect. To avoid a smash- up, "Trouble" the friend who was working the stern would say, "Tell me where and I’ll put it there", so it was my job to look for an opening through the rocks.

We’d had real good luck until our last day of rough water which ended near Cheraw, SC something like a hundred miles from our starting point. We heard these rapids long before we saw we had something big. I picked out what looked to be a swift deep current. But my guess this time proved to be wrong, for instead of the current going straight with the course of the river it took a sudden turn to the left pushing us broadside against two large rocks. But with a little quick thinking and action saved us from a really bad smashup. "Trouble" stuck his foot over the gunnels just in time to break the force of the impact. And I just as quickly as possible stuck my paddle down and helped to hold it while "Trouble" climbed out on the rock, righted the boat, got us straight with the current and in again. This happened about 4:30 in the afternoon, so we decided we had had enough for one day. As we drifted by a pier, we asked two fishermen about a camping place. They gave us the information and wanted to know how we came through without having a spill and said we were through with rough water for the balance of the trip, for from here on the river was much deeper and not near so wide which was quite a relief to both of us.]

Friday night - At last we are at Cheraw and have we had a day – tired, and how – had worst falls today last one was most dangerous of all. But we finally made it, went up town, got here at five. Wrote two cards, bought some stuff and now Troy has gone up town. Made canoe repairs.

47 miles below Cheraw. Well here it is Sunday. We had a pretty good day yesterday. Everything was fine in the morning, made swell time. Got to Society Hill about eleven thirty, ate dinner and shoved off at twelve. A bad storm caught us about 2:30, lasted for about 45 minutes. We started to pull in to shore but a tree fell in the river so we decided to stay in the middle and take it after the storm cleared up. We came in contact with our first cottonmouth moccasin swimming across the river. Boy, I wish it was duck season. We have seen numbers and numbers of droves of little ducks just a few weeks old.

About three or three 30 we came to a little house setting about 65 feet above the water on the river bank, right on the outside bend of the river affording a wonderful view each way. Got out, went up and talked to the lady who had lived in Albemarle when she was about 13. A Mrs. Clay. After we left there and paddled for some time.

Another storm caught us even worse than the other. But we just kept moving. Finally it cleared up again. We then began to look for a place to spend the night but by the time we put foot on shore the mosquitoes would all but eat us up. The only place they don’t bother you is in the middle of the river so we decided to drift all night. Troy was going to take first turn at steering. But about 9:00 o’clock he ran into a sand dune or shoal which forms an island, which makes a swell campsite because mosquitoes will not bother you on an island. It thundered, lightened, and rained from before midnight until after 4:00 this morning. We sure did have some time keeping our stuff dry. It is still cloudy this morning. Will tell you more about it later in the day.

Sunday night - Left our temporary camp this morning, stopped at a ferry about a mile below and talked to an old negro who told us we were 47 miles below Cheraw and we were 40 miles from Pee Dee. This was about 10:30 and we stayed with it till about 4:00 o’clock. Troy went up to the place and I watched things. When he got back we decided to look for a camping place farther down. Talked to a boy at the highway bridge who told us we were 100 or 120 miles from Georgetown but we could find a camping place about 8 miles farther down, which we never found, so we drifted until about 10:30 last night, found a sand bar, got out rolled up in our blankets and spent the night. Boy, is the moonlight pretty down on this river!

Monday - Got up early this morning, shoved off without breakfast, decided to paddle until we got hungry. Came upon a landing, some fellows told us we were about 12 or 15 miles from another bridge where we could get some good water so we decided to eat breakfast at it, but the fellows must have been wrong for we were 2 ½ hours getting there. But the water was fine, so we ate breakfast and left at eleven (we don’t know where the next stop is). Paddled all afternoon without seeing anyone. Canoed through a big swamp.

You don’t have to go to Africa to see alligators slide off into the water. Troy almost gave out this evening so I told him to lay down across our stuff in the canoe and I’d paddle. I kept hearing things slide in the water, got to looking, and it was alligators and how! I had to rouse Troy to see them. They won’t bother you if you let them alone, which we are doing.

Right at night we overtook two white men and a negro in a dugout whose names were Carter and Cooper. Made camp somewhere above Little Pee Dee about 6:30. First real camp we have had for two days. When we first pulled up we thought we were not going to be bothered by mosquitoes. But did we catch it from 8 until after midnight! You should see the fish playing, not little fish, but big fish. We are taking a much deserved rest.

Wednesday morning – We shove off from our last camping place about 9:30, paddled until about eleven before we saw anyone then we came across two more fellows in another dugout. One of the men’s named M. P. Martin. They were very nice, showed us where the Swamp Fox and his men had their hideout between the two Pee Dees.

We left them, came 8 or 10 miles to the Yohanna Bridge, ate our dinner, left there and came on down the Pee Dee instead of going out Bull Creek as we had been advised, and am I glad of it. We came about 10 miles, stopped at a hunting lodge, saw a negro with an ox cart who we asked about a place to say. He said if we would go about five miles we would find a Mr. LaBrue and his wife who might give us a place to stay. Said he was a mighty nice fellow, but we have found them to be even more than that. They are swell. Live in a beautiful home that fronts on the river known as the Exchange plantation.

After spending a most enjoyable night we shove off at eleven with the tide. On our way we stopped at the old Don Sparkman Place known as Darlington, got in to Georgetown about 4:00, had a tough time crossing the river but finally made it. Came up town, sent a telegram, met the fire chief and a lot of other swell guys and found a swell place to stay.

And so concludes the journal. A clipping from the Albemarle newspaper reported that the paddlers had wired the news that they arrived in Georgetown…two days ahead of schedule.

Several years earlier, Dr. Douglas L. Rights had floated the Yadkin-Pee Dee all the way from North Wilkesboro to Georgetown. His account, a much more detailed, and quite engaging, story is available online: http://www.everydaycounselor.com/yadkin/yadkin1.htm (and following)

Rights' account also appears in the out-of-print book, YADKIN PASSAGE AND A VOYAGE DOWN THE YADKIN-GREAT PEEDEE RIVER, by Floyd Rogers, in which modern (1980s) adventurers retraced the same trip.

Dr. Rights later authored a classic historical work, The American Indian in North Carolina. To end this story, here's the conclusion from Right’s account of his voyage down the Yadkin-Pee Dee:

There is only a closing word.

What does this voyage signify? Aside from the pleasure and adventure there comes a striking remuneration. The river is a symbol of the well-spent life.

With its origin among the clouds, its source in the heart of the earth, it bespeaks the mystery of our advent. A brooklet crystal clear, with jocund leap and silvery chatter, pictures childhood, pure, innocent and gay. A strong current through the foothills, assuming the native hues of the soil through which it runs, it becomes in the middle stage of its career a vast power for service, sending out its strength of electrical energy to countless factories and homes; this is but an exemplification of the well-spent life that gives the strength of mature years to the benefit of our kind.

At last, richer, deeper, fuller, it moves calmly onward borne by the very accumulation of the past, not as some rivers that dissipate their reserves over dry and arid plains and finally trickle out amid the sands. Thus, too, the well-spent life, gathering the accumulation of the past, enters serene and brave into the lowlands of old age, and moves steady and unafraid to mingle at last in the great ocean we call eternity.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

black and white

[A dusty box of old family photos helped convince me to abandon the daily blog routine. I’ve been taking some time to scan the photos and identify people and places pictured in the old prints. I’ve found a few photos that aren’t your usual family portraits or vacation snapshots. Here’s the caption for one of those pictures.]

click on photo for better view

It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race. – John Ritchey

At first glance, nothing is particularly remarkable about the black-and-white photograph, a simple portrait of a visiting team, waiting to play in the World Series of the American Legion baseball league.

Growing up in Albemarle some years later, I knew that one of the most exciting and memorable events in the town’s history was winning the 1940 championship in front of the home crowd. To prepare for the finals, a crew of 100 carpenters added bleachers to the little ball park. All the stores and schools in town were ordered to close early on game days. Governor Clyde R. Hoey came from Raleigh to throw out the first ball.

Thousands thronged to the games. Albemarle’s star pitcher would be known as "Lefty" for the rest of his life.
That was the legend I knew.

But only after finding the photograph of San Diego’s American Legion Post 6 team did I learn there was much more to the story. At the instant that my father snapped the shutter, one player on the second row was partially obscured from view, cap pulled down, chin in hand. The player’s name was John Ritchey.

A powerful hitter, Ritchey was 15 years old when he propelled San Diego’s title run in 1938. The team advanced to the national semifinals in Spartanburg, SC, where officials barred Ritchey and another African-American player, Nelson Manuel [second row, second from right] from the game. Nevertheless, San Diego managed to overcome the racist chicanery and took the national championship that year.

Ritchey’s coach, Mike Morrow, was a San Diego legend whose high school teams included whites, blacks and Hispanics. Well into a successful season of American Legion play in 1940, Morrow wanted to prevent a repeat of 1938's player ban. For the national semifinals played in Shelby, NC, officials did allow Ritchey and Manuel to take the field.

Following their semifinals win, San Diego moved on to the finals against Albemarle. Anticipating problems, Coach Morrow threatened to take his entire team back to California if his players were ruled ineligible.

Two days before the first game, the Charlotte Observer reported it was "understood" that officials would allow them to play. One day before the opener, the newspaper (under the headline "Colored Boys Will Start for Pacifics") added:

A telegraphic poll conducted today by a Charlotte sportscaster brought replies from many North Carolina and out-of-state towns, all requesting that the colored lads be allowed to play.

The next day, reporting on the outcome of the first game, the paper stated that Ritchey and Manuel watched from the dugout because national Legion officials made the request not to use black players.

San Diego took the first two games over Albemarle by scores of 6-5 and 3-2, but Albemarle came back to tie the series with 6-3 and 7-5 victories against the California team.

In the fifth and deciding game, Albemarle held off a frantic San Diego rally to take a 9-8 win and claim the title. Although he was not allowed to play in the finals, John Ritchey was awarded a trophy as the tournament’s leading hitter.

In a wrap-up on the series, September 7, 1940, Observer sports writer Jake Wade addressed the controversy:

A crowd of something like 12,500 wrote history, with frenzied emotion such as has never been witnessed in a ball park in the Carolinas.

The crowd did not always behave so nicely. Parts of the crowd, I should say. The boos for the San Diego colored boys, when Coach Mike Morrow of the Coasters ill-advisedly had them warming up, was brutal. No credit to those who were guilty in this baseball crazy, partisan-mad assembly that overflowed Efird-Wiscassett Park.

Wade concluded:

Albemarle grasped it. Lisk flicked his pitch-out. The runner on third was nailed flat-footed. The ball game was over. Albemarle’s young men were junior champions of the world. The house came down, and tonight the bells were still ringing, the horns blowing, hoarse voices still whooping. The little kingpins were being accorded a rousing salute, and no kingpins deserved one more.

Art Cohn, sports editor for the Oakland Tribune, took a harder line against the ouster of San Diego’s players:

A great club, that San Diego team. It waded through the local, State, sectional and National play-offs and loomed as a cinch for the title. Until it hit Albemarle. Then hell broke loose.

Once below the Mason and Dixon, the most un-American of prejudices, racial discrimination, reared its ugly head, and, as a result, two regulars on the San Diego team were ruled ineligible. It seems that John Ritchey and Nelson Manuel, the two boys involved, had been found guilty…of being Negroes.

Ritchey and Manuel were good enough to play with and against their white brothers in California, Arizona, and even in Shelby, North Carolina, but it was a different story in Albemarle. There the good citizens had not yet learned that the Civil War recently ended.

So San Diego took the field for the first time without Ritchey and Manuel, and San Diego was beaten for the first time. It was a great triumph for Albemarle. The village should be proud of its contribution to American tolerance.

In a 1995 interview, John Ritchey recalled his life in baseball and his disastrous trip to Albemarle:
My earliest memories are of playing baseball, because there wasn't anything else to do. Most of my friends were White. Peanuts [Henry Savin] was a Mexican kid. The others were Nelson Manuel, Billy Williams, William Indalecio, Tom and Luis Ortiz. We played sandlot ball and the San Diego Police sponsored the league. Nelson was easy going and one time he got a job selling ice cream. It only lasted for one day, because he ate too much of the ice cream he was supposed to sell. He didn't get to eat much at home. They were good times playing with my friends....

With Post 6, I was taking batting practice in Albemarle and I hit a couple of line drives over the fence. They wouldn’t let me play for the National Championship game!

During World War II, Ritchey served as a staff sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers and earned five battle stars from duty in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and Berlin. After the war, Ritchey returned to baseball and led the Negro American League with a .369 batting average in 1947. The following year, he broke the color barrier in the Pacific Coast League when he joined the San Diego Padres, had seven hits in his first 11 at-bats and finished the season with a .323 average.

Although he never played in the major leagues, Ritchey enjoyed a successful baseball career until his retirement from the game in 1955. After baseball, Johnny and his wife Lydia raised a family in San Diego, where he worked as a deliveryman with Continental Bread Company for twenty years. Ritchey died in 2003 at the age of 80.

Two years later the San Diego Padres paid tribute to the "Jackie Robinson of the West Coast" by unveiling a bronze bust of John Ritchey. Tom Shanahan writes about what happened when family and friends raised money for the sculpture:

San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank came across some stories that tell us about John Ritchey as a man. "One guy said Johnny Ritchey didn’t know him, but he knew Johnny," Swank said. "He donated $200 because every time he saw Johnny around [San Diego State University] he would smile and say hello. He said he never forgot what a nice guy he was, and he knew what Johnny had been through in North Carolina."

Swank said a woman donated money because Ritchey had once rescued her from being taunted on campus by some bullies. Think about that for a moment: In 1940, Ritchey, a black man, stopped white bullies from tormenting a white girl.

"She said Johnny Ritchey’s bust should be made out of gold," Swank recalled.

Looking again at the photograph, I see nothing particularly remarkable in the image. Young ballplayers, far from home, looking a bit distracted. A team photo, not so different from thousands of others. Light and shadow of one split second from a September day, creating a picture of victory and defeat, pride and shame, back in my home town.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Toad Quotes

I'm always glad to see this toad, in the leaves near my house. I have nothing clever or profound to say about toads (or much of anything else), so it's nice that the great minds of the past have applied themselves to the task:

"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head"
-William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

"To a toad, what is beauty?
A female with two pop-eyes,
a wide mouth, yellow belly
and spotted back"
- Voltaire, 1694-1778

Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm."
- Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914