In 1828, Dr. Elisha Mitchell kept a diary of his geological tour of the northwestern mountains of North Carolina. He wrote in a letter to his wife about climbing Grandfather Mountain:
About half way up we met with a Fir-Balsam tree. It is sometimes a foot and a half in thickness and pretty tall. The balsam resides in small blisters or cavities in the substance of the bark which are cut out and the precious fluid passed into a vial. They say that the exudation obtained in the same way as common turpentine has not the same properties—but I have my doubts. It is the panacea or universal remedy of the mountains—cures wounds, rheumatism, flux, et cetera. It grows quite to the top but it is stunted and smaller there, and along with one other tree occupies exclusively the highest points.
The summit of the mountain is moist and wet, producing carexes which I wished to but could not study. Holtsclaw had been often upon it but only in search of bears of which it is the favorite winter retreat. They retire to dens in the cliffs in December and come out in February, passing the time in sleep. This is time for the hunters to find their retreats and take them out. They lose nothing of their fatness, and their flesh is thought to acquire additional delicacy; they have nothing in their bowels during their sleep – I write this at Jefferson, July 11, Friday. I Ieave today for the lower end of the county where I hope to go out to the Elkspur Gap on Saturday into Wilkes.
I thank you for your letter. I may write again from Wilkes.
Yours, E. MITCHELL
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