Monday, April 30, 2007

The End of April

Something down the hill caught my eye. "It couldn't be orange survey ribbons."
On this last day of April, two flame azaleas - a tall one and a small one - were blooming. These guys were way outside the bell curve. Dozens more (hundreds? more) azaleas cover this hill, and I could only find one other one in bloom.

Keyhole Gardens

"When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do what I should have done with my own hands." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here’s the start of a keyhole garden just out the front door. Ten feet in diameter, it contains lots of easily- reached planting space. I expect to fill it with tomato plants and basil. Keyhole gardens, of a slightly different design, have been created by the thousands in Lesotho, as reported in The Independent (12-27-2004):
In Lesotho, there's no frenzy, just patient teaching. Razzmatazz would be pointless, as gardening isn't a hobby here. It's a survival strategy. This is the poorest country in southern Africa, because of a debilitating cycle of environmental and social problems. The keyhole garden is an invention which can break that cycle because it addresses both sets of problems.
This small mountain kingdom has unpromising basics for agriculture. Its craggy landscape is obviously fragile: the soils are infertile and thin, a shallow covering over steep slopes; the temperature rebounds between intense heat and fierce cold; and water is available in only two volumes, almost none during the long droughts, or far too much during devastating downpours. Once the surface of the ground is broken, the soil is washed away. The country suffers some of the worst soil erosion in the world.

Migrant labour returning from South Africa proved a perfect transmission route for HIV, and Lesotho now has possibly the highest infection rate in the world: some reports suggest that in tests on expectant mothers, it is 50 per cent. With the men who ought to be the farmers dying in their thousands, and the money to pay for farming largely gone, growing food has become critically difficult. Much of the population is already malnourished, with worse likely to come.
The keyhole garden addresses both the soil and social problems. It will grow vegetables efficiently in a baking landscape of bare rock, at negligible cost, and an elderly widow, or even an ill man, can maintain it.

It is a sort of cairn, made of big stones and shaped like a cake about four feet high and eight feet in diameter, with a slice of the cake cut out. (It looks like a keyhole from above). The missing "slice" allows easy access to the centre of the keyhole, which houses a wooden tower of compost. Around it, filling the cairn, is soil in which vegetables are planted.
The plants grow at waist height; they can be sown without digging, and harvested without bending over. They are irrigated from the home; the water from washing and cooking is simply poured on. An average household can irrigate an average keyhole garden.

Insecticide is home-made, from garlic and cooking oil; fertiliser is home-made too, using a bag of pig manure suspended in a can of water. The soil is protected from excess heat and downpours with a straw covering, Once begun, almost the only cost is the seeds.

At the village of Thaba-Chitja, about 5,000ft up on a rocky hillside, homesteader Qoane Letele was growing beans, spinach, potatoes, pumpkins and beetroot - at waist height, watered from the household washing - to supplement the maize-meal diet of his family of seven. As a boy, he spent years living on maize-meal porridge with no vegetables at all, he said, and he delighted in the varied diet he now had, especially the beetroot. "That makes me strong," he laughed.

See also:
In the Midst of Great Beauty, Breathtaking Tragedy
Catholic Relief Services in Lesotho
Keyhole Gardens in Lesotho
Send A Cow

"He who plants a garden, plants happiness."
Chinese Proverb

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Looking Glass Falls

Hindu Peace Prayer
I desire neither earthly kingdom, nor even freedom from birth and death. I desire only the deliverance from grief of all those afflicted by misery. Oh Lord, lead us from the unreal to the real; from darkness to light; from death to immortality. May there be peace in celestial regions. May there be peace on earth. May the waters be appeasing. May herbs be wholesome and may trees and plants bring peace to all. May all beneficient beings bring peace to us. May thy wisdom spread peace all through the world. May all things be a source of peace to all and to me. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (Peace, Peace, Peace).


A Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace

That where there is hatred I may bring love,

That where there is wrong I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,

That where there is discord I may bring harmony,

That where there is error I may bring truth,

That where there is doubt I may bring faith,

That where there is despair I may bring hope,

That where there is sadness I may bring joy,

That where there are shadows I may bring Thy Light.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Multitude of MAPS

MAPS ETC is a repository of historic maps from all over the world. Easy to search the site and view LEGIBLE old maps.

The color map of western NC above is from 1920. It labels places within ten miles of here with names I 'd never heard before and I thought I'd heard 'em all, but - Jerd... Dean... Custer...???? Very intriguing map.

And then there's "Drainage Map of the Appalachian Region"... It's from no later than 1911 and slightly rotates the normal view of the eastern US to display the topography and waterways flowing from the Appalachian range.
Anyhow...nice source of obscure maps from all over.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Land of Elk and Peacocks

I saw a peacock yesterday, on the banks of the Tuckasegee. Like a huge pheasant, glowing royal blue, iridescent emerald. It stood there and looked back at me.

Today, I stopped to find the peacock. But it was gone. Elusive as pawpaws and persimmons.

Often we are surprised by animals - Not long ago, an elk appeared a few miles upriver from Cullowhee. From the official report in 2005: "After weeks of hard work the lone cow elk (#42) residing south of Cullowhee, NC was finally captured in late March and returned to Cataloochee after a 3-year absence."

Those re-introduced Cataloochee elk are astounding, but native elk were roaming these hills in the 1740s, as witnessed by John Brickell :

The Elk is a monstrous, large, strong and swift Beast, in shape exactly like a Deer, but bigger than a Horse, and is reported to be fearful, and subject to the Epilepsy or Falling sickness. They have two large Horns, which exceed in weight all Creatures that are yet known in the New World. Their Neck is short and thick, but the Ears and Back very long: Their Colour is like a Harts, and sometimes all White. Their Flesh is not near so sweet as the Fallow-Deer, being much courser and stronger. [Editor's note - In fact, that's what the elk pictured above are saying - "our flesh is not nearly so sweet as the Fallow-Deer..."] These Creatures may be made Domestick, and it is said, that they are so swift, that they will run more Miles in one Day than a Horse can in two. Some take the Elk for the Red Deer of America, but I am credibly informed, that they are of two different kinds, and that they will never breed together. Their Horns generally weigh twelve or fourteen Pounds. These Beasts are plentifully to be met with in the Savannas near the Mountains, and Heads of Rivers: It is reported that some of them are seventeen Hands high. Several parts of this Animal are used with good Success in Physick, and especially the Hoofs of the Male’s hinder Feet, which have a pleasant scent when they are burnt.

On behalf of my fellow 21st centurians, thank you John Brickell...."they will run more Miles in one Day than a Horse can in two" leads me to wonder if elk could be trained as work animals, like he says. They might lift you up to clean out the gutters...stuff like that. Very cool instant scaffolding.

And if the Tuckaseigee is the river of feral peacocks, then it might as well be the land of ...domesticated elk. Why not?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aeolian Sands

[Links to sound files have been repaired.]

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Then the trees of the forest will sing,
they will sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
1 Chronicles 16:31-33

If David emerged from the abyss of 3000 years, how would he and his psalm of thanks fare today? He describes the sublime, still within reach (for the moment). But even in these hills, nothing’s easier than to tune it out completely. Jubilant fields? Trees singing for joy? What’s THAT got to do with making and spending money?

It’s easy to give up on the prospect of seeing the unseen or hearing the unheard. But on some level, people are hungry to see and hear these mysteries…

The wind got me thinking about this. The wind howled the other night. It roared like it almost never roars. All night. I’d already been recollecting aeolian harps. Once, I’d thought, they were archaic instruments lost to the past. But now I see where artisans are creating contemporary aeolian harps, rather magnificent works. Somewhere on this planet at this very moment, an aeolian harp is singing out, brushed by the wind.

David tells us in an ancient midrash that his harp sometimes began to sound: "Other kings slumber soundly through the entire night and are wakened up by the sunrise's rays of light; but I wake up at dawn. My harp is standing over my bed. At midnight the north wind, blowing through my chambers, causes the harp to sound by itself. These sounds awaken me and I spend the rest of the night singing psalms and hymns to praise God."

In the 18th and 19th centuries it was custom in Germany to place aeolian harps at caverns and parks and fallen castles. Goethe must have heard these harps when he wrote:
And I am seized by a long forgotten yearning
For that kingdom of spirits, still and grave;
To flowing song I see my feelings turning,
As from aeolian harps, wave upon wave;
A shudder grips me, tear on tear falls burning,
Soft feels my heart, once so severe and brave;
What I possess, seems far away to me,
And what is gone becomes reality.

There’s another sound heard in 35 deserts around the world. It’s been compared with distant kettle drums, artillery fire, thunder, low-flying propeller aircraft, bass violins, pipe organs and humming telegraph wires. In the 13th century Marco Polo blamed evil desert spirits for the singing sands of the Sahara, which "at times fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms."

University of Paris researcher Bruno Andreotti went to Morocco to record the mysterious natural music. Given the right conditions of heat and dryness, long crescent shaped sand dunes generate eerie low frequency sounds when closely packed sand grains slide over each other, like an avalanche down the slip face of a dune. Stationary sand underneath acts as a giant sounding board or amplifier to produce the enormous volume of sound. Seen under a microscope, the sand is more rounded and finely polished than ordinary sand.

An example of the "booming sands" is heard in this sound recording made at Sand Mountain, Nevada. The last minute of this 2 ½ minute recording is the clearest part of the track, the sound of billions of sand particles rolling down the dunes.

Leaving the singing sands of the deserts, some people claim to have HEARD the Northern Lights. However, highly sensitive microphones have been unable to detect the sound.
But a magnetometer hooked up to a recorder left this record of variations in the magnetic field caused by incoming solar particles. Listen to the sound generated from the magnetometer at Andøya Rocket Range
[And for an impressive assemblage of arcane knowledge of an obscure subject, see Flowers in Ultraviolet Arranged by Plant Family, Photography by Bjørn Rørslett/NN."]
We’re constantly bombarded with radio waves, and I wonder how this must affect humans and other organisms that have had virtually no time to adapt (on an evolutionary scale). So it doesn’t surprise me to read a news story like the one released this week, suggesting that cell phones and other high-tech devices are emitting signals that are disrupting the bees’ mysterious navigational capabilities. This might explain colony collapse disorder and the abrupt disappearance of bees to pollinate crops. According to the report in The Independent, Dr George Carlo headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the 1990s, and said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."

I am convinced that a lot of possibilities are real. Spring flowers basking in ultraviolet light, desert sands booming, auroral sounds ringing in the icy atmosphere, aeolian harps singing in the wind. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.

The Aeolian Harp at Baden Baden

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tupelo Guacamole

Boneyard Beach

Find Wappetaw, out past Wando, near Awendaw Creek and you might hear this story:

The Seewee Indians lived on the islands along the coast of South Carolina. In 1699, the Seewees were dissatisfied with the deals that local traders offered them for deerskins, and determined that they would transport the skins to England themselves. They set out in twenty-foot canoes and that’s the last anyone knew of them. The tribe was decimated by their loss.

It’s haunting, when you look out from Boneyard Beach across the vast expanse of the Atlantic, and imagine the Seewee families standing at the edge of the ocean, watching their men paddling into the distance. I don’t know if any part of the European invasion affected the Southeastern Indians like the century of the deerskin trade. It hit a peak in 1707, with more than 121,000 skins exported from Carolina in that year.

By 1730 and the season of Sir Alexander Cuming in Nequassee and the Tannassy, the Cherokees lived in a much different world from the world of their grandparents. Traditional subsistence skills were already being lost. A market economy had taken hold. Having deerskins to sell meant you could buy more ammunition, cloth and tools. Manufacturers and merchants found new markets among the Indians, and there was a well-worn path from the urban trade center of Charleston all the way to the Cherokee villages of the mountain South. Three hundred years ago. It was a long way from the mountains to the sea and then again it wasn’t.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Swamp Shadows

Wallace Stevens

Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier-mache...
The sun was coming from the outside.

That scrawny cry--It was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

- Wallace Stevens

Only a Dream

I walked out the path from my home in the woods, and there at the edge of the clearing, by a deep and clear spring-fed pool...a little orange cat strolled out to greet me. I picked up the cat, scratched him behind his ears, and set him back down on the ground. The cat leapt into the pool, dove to the bottom and disappeared.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Like Sir Alexander Cuming, we left the hills of Nequassee and the Tannassy on an April day, and took the old trading route back to Charleston. But this April's day was cold and snowy. Coming back from the dolphins, the alligators and the egrets, the orchards along the way were sad sights, the peaches and the apples a total loss, we're told. What a frozen spring, 2007!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Today's Snaps

April Thaw
Cold Mountain
Mountain Profile
Sliding Rock Shadows

Monorails and Cotton Mills

"Look for me after you get off the monorail in Statesville. I’ll be in the red and white 12-wheeler with the hydrogen tank on top. You can’t miss it."
Alas, it is not to be, for long ago the monorail was the road not taken.

Every once in a while, some obscure fact will catch my curiosity, like hearing that evangelist Billy Graham collaborated with Andy Warhol in the 1960s. Well, no, I didn’t actually hear THAT, but I did hear something a little LIKE that…a North Carolina icon crossing paths with an unconventional genius.

But it’s a long story.

First elections I recollect? 1960. I begged my parents, "Vote for JFK, vote for JFK, that ol’ Nixon’s a MEAN MAN!" About the only other things that stuck with me from the elections that year were a few names: HENRY CABOT LODGE. Now that’s a name to remember. Can you imagine how your life would be with a name like that – Henry Cabot Lodge. Henry Cabot Lodge. Henry Cabot Lodge. Repeating that solid name a few times would make anyone feel richer and more powerful.

And there was another name, Terry Sanford’s opponent in the primary for governor, I. BEVERLY LAKE. Another unforgettable name. He must have really hated whatever the I stood for.
What reminds me of this nonsense is this documentary I saw on public tv this week, "Terry Sanford and the New South." Actually, I was about to switch it off, when they ran film and pictures of the world where I was born – the Piedmont in the 50s. An entirely different world it was.

Back then, it had not registered on my five-year-old brain that I. Beverly Lake loudly proclaimed himself a segregationist. He even stated that the I in his name didn’t stand for Integration. Sanford’s carefully chosen stock response on race was: "We’ll give it prayerful consideration." Winning the primary, Sanford was a shoe-in for governor in 1960, and once elected was seen as a progressive …that is…THE progressive governor in the South.

NC limited governors to one term, so Sanford had to work fast on public education and race relations. And he did something strange by today’s standards, hiring Asheville-born writer John Ehle as his "idea man". Sanford later reflected on the decision:
"If I were to write a guidebook for new governors, one of my main suggestions would be that he find a novelist and put him on his staff."

John Ehle had a big role in Sanford era accomplishments like the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Governor's School, North Carolina Film Board, North Carolina Institute of Outdoor Drama, and the North Carolina School of Science and Math.

And in the midst of all this the Governor gets onto an airplane with Buckminster Fuller and they fly across North Carolina at night. They observed the long sweeping arc of city lights from Raleigh to Charlotte - the Piedmont Crescent - the rapidly urbanizing manifestation of the New South. Geographer Edward Higbee, also on the flight, warned that the entire swath of the Piedmont Crescent would be paved over by the year 2000 unless the state acted to preserve green space. Fuller, meanwhile, suggested that the state construct a monorail spanning Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte.

"The Governor’s Conference with Buckminster Fuller" (71 pages!) was published soon thereafter, part of a series of explorations into the future of the state. Fuller was already familiar with North Carolina, having spent time at Black Mountain College and NC State University. While at NC State, Fuller designed an automated cotton mill housed in a spherical, dome-shaped structure. Years before, in between terms at Harvard, Fuller worked as a mechanic in a textile mill…so he’d had a long time to consider more efficient ways to manufacture textiles.

OK, that’s it. So it wasn’t as shocking as it would have been if Billy Graham had leaned on Andy Warhol for advice. But anyhow. Terry Sanford comparing notes with Buckminster Fuller on the future of the place we’re inhabiting today? A progressive governor indeed!

I do wish they’d built that monorail, though.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Brimstone Snake

The first snake of spring…seen the last day of March. I can tell you it was NOT a Glass Snake or Brimstone Snake. From John Brickell’s The Natural History of North Carolina (1743):

The Brimstone-snake, so called, from it's being almost of that colour. They might as well have called it, the Glass, or brittle-Snake, for it is as brittle as Glass, or a Tobacco-Pipe, for give it the least touch with a small Twig it immediately breaks, or rather disjoynts into several pieces; and several in these parts confidently affirm, that if they remain in the same place untouch'd, they will joyn together again.
What harm there may be in this brittle-ware, I cannot tell, for I never knew any Person hurt by them.

Brickell was actually referring to what is now called the eastern glass lizard.

Monster of the Woods

I found a picture of the bison that Sir Alexander and his comrades bagged in South Carolina. Well, more or less. It's a real beaut, eh? From John Brickell’s The Natural History of North Carolina (1743):
THE Buffelo, or wild Beef, is one of the largest wild Beasts that is yet known in these parts of America; it hath a Bunch upon it’s Back, and thick short Horns, bending forward.
This Monster of the Woods seldom appears amongst the European Inhabitants, it’s chiefest haunts being in the Savannas near the Mountains, or Heads of the great Rivers.
Their Flesh is very course, and nothing to be compared with our Beef, but their Calves are said to be excellent good Meat, as in all probability they are: And it is conjectur’d that these Buffelo’s being mix’d, and breeding with our tame Cattle, would much improve the Species for largeness and Milk; for these Monsters (as I have been inform’d) weigh from 1600 to 2400 pounds Weight.
They are a very fierce Creature, and much larger than an Ox.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Possum's Hair Hat

I’d call it an astonishing mystery - on April 3, 1730 in the Cherokee village Nequassee (present Franklin, NC) Sir Alexander Cuming oversaw a ceremony to install Chief Moytoy as the "Emperor of the Cherokees," and won the allegiance of the Cherokees to the King of England:
April 3. They proceeded this Morning to Nequassee, being. five Miles Distance from Joree, their Company always increasing. Here the Indians met from all Parts of the Settlements, (having received Intelligence of the General Meeting intended) by the Expresses sent from Keeowee. This was a Day of Solemnity the greatest that ever was seen in the Country; there was Singing, Dancing, Feasting, making of Speeches, the Creation of Moytoy Emperor, with the unanimous Consent of all the head Men assembled from the different Towns of the Nation, a Declaration of their resigning their Crown, Eagles Tails, Scalps of their Enemies, as an Emblem of their all owning his Majesty King George’s Sovereignty over them, at the Desire of Sir Alexander Cuming, in whom an absolute unlimited Power was placed, without which he could not be able to answer to his Majesty for their Conduct. The Declaration of Obedience was made on their Knees, in Order to intimate, that a Violation of their Promise then made in so solemn a Manner, would be sufficient to make them no People. Sir Alexander made the Witnesses sign to the Substance of what they saw and heard, in order to preserve the Memory thereof, after Words are forgot. The Witnesses were Sir Alexander Cuming, Eleazar Wiggan, Ludovick Grant, Samuel Brown, William Cooper, Agnus Mackferson, David Dowie, Francis Beaver, Lachlan Mackbain, George Hunter, George Chicken, and Joseph Cooper, Interpreter, besides the Indians.

Cuming anticipated some details of the ceremony, as indicated by one contemporary account:
Sir Alexander had been informed of all the Ceremonies that were used in making a head beloved man, of which there are a great many in this nation. They are called Ouka and as we translate that word King, so we call the Cap he wears upon that occasion his Crown, it resembles a wig and is made of Possum’s hair Dyed Red or Yellow, Sir Alexander was very desirous to see one of them, and there being none at that Town One was sent for to some other Town, He Expressed Great Satisfaction at Seeing of it, and he told the Indians that he would carry it to England and give it to the Great King George.

During the ceremony, Moytoy insisted that Cuming share in the glory of the moment. The Cherokees present lifted Cuming up onto the seat reserved for Moytoy and performed the Eagle Tail Dance that involved stroking him with the tail feathers of 13 golden eagles.

We’re told that Cuming made the trip to the colonies because of his wife’s dream that he would accomplish great things among the Cherokees. Drawn to a place he’d never seen, Cuming left England on September 13, 1729 and arrived in Charleston on December 5.

He was a persuasive confidence man, who wasted no time in swindling Charleston investors and planning an escape on the next ship heading back across the Atlantic. But not before his trip to the Cherokee territory as a self-appointed emissary of the crown.

For guides, Cuming enlisted white traders and Indian fighters familiar with the Cherokee land and people. On March 11, 1730, they set off from Charleston toward the southern mountains. Along the way, the party shot a wild bison in South Carolina, and were warned to avoid Cherokee territory because of their hostility toward the English.

Cuming never hesitated, but sped forward. At that time, there were about 64 Cherokee villages in parts of four present-day states, 30 to 60 houses per town. In an incredibly short time, Sir Alexander visited many of those villages, was greeted with exceptional generosity wherever he went, and forged extensive alliances with Cherokee leaders, culminating with the April 3 ceremony. He must have impressed the Cherokee people, because very soon after his arrival they hailed him as a 'lawgiver, commander, leader and chief' and presented him with the scalps of their enemies.

His whirlwind tour among the Cherokees began in the Lower Villages along the headwaters of the Savannah River, like Keowee, and then proceeded to Nequassee and the other Middle Settlements along the upper part of the Little Tennessee. He crossed the Unicoi Range past Murphy and visited the Overhills Settlements, including Tellico, before starting back to Nequassee.

He somehow convinced seven Cherokees to return with him to the royal court as evidence of the agreement he had negotiated with the Cherokees. Cuming and his entourage arrived back in Charleston on April 13, just a month and two days after starting their expedition to the mountains. They boarded a ship on May 4 and landed in Dover, England on June 5, 1730. He was promptly thrown in jail for debt. The Cherokees thought it a counterproductive punishment in that it rendered the debtor unable to repay his debts.

What a day it must have been, 277 years ago today, when Sir Alexander went to Franklin and was crowned with a possum’s hair cap.

One "embellished" book on this episode is William O. Steele’s "The Cherokee Crown of Tannassy" which expands on the contemporary accounts of the expedition.
The illustration: Seven Cherokee men show off English costumes given to them by King George II on a walk in St. James Gardens, London, summer 1730. Engraving, British Museum.

Monday, April 2, 2007

next to the armory

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods –
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

- Robert Frost, 1928

Sunday, April 1, 2007


It’s a funny thing, dancing with technology.

We put the top down on the red car, take off and and cruise along the interstate. Stopping at a rest area opens the door on a microcosm of modern transport. Weary, but relieved, truckers amble back to their rides. Vacationing families look harried, as they must. A young couple unloads two sets of dumbbells and an enormous black and white cat who climbs up the hillside. The cat watches their exercise routine as they face each other squatting and stretching with the weights. In a few minutes, we’ll all be hurtling along on the pavement again…bound for every destination imaginable.

We went to almost Tennessee, the northeast corner of the national park, skirting the Appalachian Trail, across the Pigeon, up from Waterville. Speed and gasoline can take you lots of places fast, some places not at all. Simply walking along the right trail brings a conflation of space and time. While you cross over the next ridge to view an unexpected bend in the river, you transport to another realm of time, approaching the ancient as well as the remote.

How long since this boulder field was a streambed, a riverbed no less? And these rocks, the size of houses! How and when did they tumble into place? And do they really defy gravity with their balancing acts? Or are they continuing their free-fall, be it ever, ever so slowly? Pulled back to and into the earth while plants spring forth from the ground, expressions of color escaping and exploding from the cold darkness.

Linger by the mossy horseshoe of a cascade on the creek and the secrets of Egyptian pyramids will start to reveal themselves. It’s all right there.
Phenology is just one way of understanding these plants and their place in time. We start at 2000’ elevation and over the next four miles gradually climb another 800’…progressing from shades of green to brown to gray, with multiple strata of colors along the way.

First is a lily field of sorts, full of yellow trillium, its foliage rich and varigated, its blooms a loose bundle of pale yellow.
Higher up a spectrum of violets from deep purple to lavender to white and yellow. Yellow? Yellow violets? That’s almost as priceless as finding blue oranges…and I’m still looking for those.

Higher still, the purple phacelia flows from the rocky crags above…and down the hill toward the creek.

And so it goes the whole way on the trail upstream. Beyond the bridge, we continue along the old rail bed to Walnut Bottoms. In this valley, the black walnut trees could have been six or eight feet in diameter. But as soon as a train could reach them they were gone. We don’t get as far as Walnut Bottoms, but do pass Brakeshoe Spring. Brakeshoe Spring? Aaaahhaa, I get it. This must be where trains, loaded with monumental walnut timber, would stop to cool their brakes, overheating on the long downhill run.

I’m not sure, but things seem to be blooming unusually early, from another abnormally warm winter. It’s March 31, and we see the blooms of Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus), Fire Pink (Silene virginica), Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), Dwarf Iris (Iris verna). I wonder what will be blooming along here a month from today, and what will be blooming a year from today. [See "Bloom Times for Wildflowers of the Southern Appalachians."]

Late in the day, our feet are aching. We retrace our steps and return to the red car and return to the highway and return to the city and return to what we think of as our lives.

Showy Orchis

For me, Showy Orchis is a harbinger. It has a quiet, self-assured way of announcing the arrival of spring. Orchis spectabilis is one of 29 different orchids found in the Great Smokies. It's considered rather rare, though what patches of showy orchis there are can be fairly extensive. Prefers moist, wooded areas with loamy soil at elevations of 1,500 to 3,000 feet.
Plants will speak volumes when we reclaim our ability to listen. It's amazing to consider the various impoverishments of the modern world and just how much we've lost from what we were once a part of. In "The Self-Organizing Mind of Plants," (1989) Kevin Kelly writes:
The unparalleled richness of knowledge about plants kept by aboriginal peoples is the most valuable green wealth of undeveloped countries. Destroying a rainforest not only destroys a gene bank, it also destroys a meme bank - all the future solutions, models, discoveries, and deep, replicating ideas that were held in the genes and partially extracted over centuries by careful shamans. That native scholarship with plants is a vanishing resource.

Biology, particularly botany, has always flourished with the amateur scientist's admirable skills - a reliance on empirical knowledge, and a capacity ot engulf the subject in its entirety by means of unbridled passion. The whole-systems approach of an amateur is so suited for the green cybernetics of plant life, and the plant cortex is so uncharted, that an amateur could pick a green spot on the world map by throwing a dart, and quickly become the world's expert on what those plants know.

Stonecrop Sedum

It would have been easy to walk right past this specimen. After all, the "rock garden" was so huge and these blooms so small. Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) is the only native sedum in the Smokies. Preferred habitat is moss-covered boulders and bluffs and stream banks at elevations up to 2,500 feet, according to Carlos Campbell in Great Smoky Mountain Wildflowers.

The Grooms Tune on the Road to Mount Sterling

Under the heading "SOMEBODY OUGHT TO DO THIS–"

The next time I roll through the crossroads at Mount Sterling, I should be listening to an old fiddle tune, Grooms Tune… or Bonaparte’s Retreat. Not the jazzed-up western swing version of Bonaparte’s Retreat, but a doleful rendition played slow and sad. The real Grooms tune. Somebody ought to do this next week. Because April 10, 1865 (the day after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse) was the day that three men were executed near Mount Sterling by Teague’s Home Guard.

The area had been ravaged by scalawags and bushwhackers, and the populace had suffered numerous raids of family farms by Union troops hunting provisions. The village of Waynesville had been burned two months earlier, and the citizenry was beleaguered and anxious.

For whatever reason, Henry Grooms, his brother George and his brother-in-law Mitchell Caldwell, all of north Haywood County, North Carolina, were taken prisoner by the Home Guard. The group traveled toward Cataloochee Valley and Henry Grooms, clutching his fiddle and bow, was asked by his captors to play a tune. Realizing he was performing for his own firing squad Grooms struck up Bonaparte's Retreat. When he finished the three men were lined up against an oak tree and shot, the bodies left where they fell. Henry's wife gathered the bodies and buried them in a single grove in Sutton Cemetery No. 1 in the Mount Sterling community, the plain headstone reading only "Murdered."

Now this account of the story was attributed to a Geoff Cantrell article in the Asheville Citizen-Times (February 23, 2000). Grooms family member Bettie Tanana, however, tells the story differently:

George was forced to play Bonaparte’s Retreat (later called Groom's Tune which can be found on the internet). Mitchell, according to Archives records, was an idiot and was told to put his hat over his face before he was shot. All three men were buried in a common grave. George was my great great great grandfather. My great great grandmother signed an affidavit stating that when she found her father's body his fiddle was found at his feet.

Some of Teague's men were also deposed verifying how the murders occurred. (I have copies of these records.) Most of the men in Teague's Homeguard were older men and neighbors of the men they shot. They even continued to live as neighbors after the war. Incidentally, another great great great grandfather, Henry Barnes was also found several miles away killed by Teagues Homeguard. His daughter, Amanda, married George Groom's son.

I had no idea that this scene was going to be in the movie Cold Mountain. I wanted to stand up and cry through my tears that that was my family being killed.

Myself, I’d like to think that come April 10, some fiddler will stand by the side of the little dirt road leading into Mount Sterling, and that fiddler will play Grooms tune one more time…really slow and sad.