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

Monday, September 17, 2007

Soco Falls Reprise

Way back on September 3, 2007, I recounted an attempted visit to Soco Falls. Warnings about steep banks, jagged boulders, broken glass, rattlesnakes and stinking nettles did not deter us. Impending darkness did.

From the glimpses I'd caught, and the photos I’d seen, Soco Falls was especially beautiful, a double falls where two streams meet. Like others before me I was astonished that such a treasure was suffering terrible neglect. The word that came to mind was "desecration."

An earlier start on a cool Saturday morning would be the time to complete the descent to the base of the falls. Pulling over at the unmarked space on the edge of the highway, I could see new activity underway. I peered over the guardrail, looked down the bank, and saw the foundations of a new observation deck for viewing Soco Falls.

Despite this welcome new undertaking, the path down to the falls was precarious…it was hands-and-knees-grab-the-trees to get down and back out.

And it was worth it. I managed to get some shots, thought not quite the ones I was after. That’s alright. I expect to get back there soon to try some earlier light and some different settings with this new and unfamiliar camera.

By then the maples might be adding a flash of color and the deck might be nearing completion. And I hope I remember to bring a garbage bag for carrying out some of the bottles and cans still littering Soco Creek. It's a unique and gorgeous place in need of a little more TLC.

[To find Soco Falls, get onto Highway 19 at Soco Gap. From the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway, go 1.35 miles toward Cherokee, and look for a narrow gravel pullout on the left. For the moment, the best route appears to be down the bank near the power pole at the end of the parking area.]

Murchison Grocery

Murchison Grocery, Murchison, Yancey County, NC 9/9/07

I went to a general store but they wouldn’t let me buy anything specific.
- Stephen Wright

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Helpless Critters Going Away to Get Killed"

Asheville resident Sarah Gudger was 121 years old when interviewed in 1937 about her time as a slave in McDowell and Buncombe Counties. She spoke of slaves being torn away from their families by speculators. She described [presumably] the Leonid Meteor Showers of November 12-13, 1833. And she told of soldiers marching past her home during the Civil War.

We've always heard the saying, "it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop." But Aunt Sarah has a saying I've never heard before. Describing the night sky illuminated by the Leonids, she said it was so bright, "you could pick a pin up." Thank goodness someone had the vision to create the WPA Writers Project. More excerpts from her interview:

Wahn’t none o’ de slaves offen ouh plantation ebbah sold, but de ones on de othah plantation ob Marse William wah. Oh, dat was a tebble time! All de slaves be in de field, plowin’, hoein’, singin’ in de boilin’ sun. Ole Marse he cum t’ru de field wif a man call de specalater. Day walk round jes’ lookin, jes’ lookin’.

All de da’kies know whut dis mean. Day didn’ dare look up, jes’ wok right on. Den de specalater he see who he want, He talk to Old Marse, den dey slaps de han’cuffs on him an’ tak him away to de cotton country.

Oh, dem wah awful times! When de specalater wah rady to go wif de slaves, effen dey wha enny whu didn’ wanta go, he thrash em, den tie em ‘hind de waggin an’ mek em run till dey fall on de ground’, den he thrash em till dey say dey go ‘thout no trubble.

Sometime some of dem run ‘way an cum back t’ de plantation, den it wah hardah on dem den befoah. When de da’kies wen’ t’ Dinah de ole niggah mammy she say whar am sich an’ sich. None ob de othahs wanna tell huh. But when she see dem look down to de groun’ she jes’ say: "De specalater, de specalater." Den de teahs roll down huh cheeks, cause mebbe it huh son o’ husband’ an’ she nebbah see ‘em agin. Mebbe dey leaves babies t’ home, mebbe jes’ pappy an’ mammy. Oh, mah Lawdy, mah ole Boss wah mean, but he nebbah sen’ us to de cotton country….

I ‘membahs de time when mah mammy was alive, I wah a small chile, afoah dey tuk huh t’ Rims Crick. All us chillouns wah playin’ in de ya’d one night. Jes’ arunnin’ an’ aplayin’ lak chillun will. All a sudden mammy um to de do’all a’sited. "Cum in heah dis minnit," she day. "Jes look up at what is ahappenin’", and bless yo’ life, honey, de sta’s wah fallin’ jes’ lak rain. Mammy wah tebble skeered, but we chillun wa’nt afeard, no, we wa’nt a feard.

But mammy she say evah time a sta’ fall, somebuddy gonna die. Look lak lotta folks gonna die f’om de looks ob dem sta’s. Ebbathin’ wah jes’ as bright as day. Yo’ cudda pick a pin up. Yo’ know de sta’s don’ shine as bright as dey did back den. I wondah wy dey don’. Dey jes’ don’ shine as bright. Wa’nt long afoah dey took mah mammy away, and I wah lef’ alone....

Many de time we git word de Yankees comin’. We take ouh food an’ stock an’ hide it till we aho’ day’s gone. We wan’t bothered much. One day, I nebbah fo’git, we look out an’ see sojers ma’chin’; look lak de whole valley full ob dem. I thought: "Poah helpless crittahs, jes’ goin’ away t’ git kilt. – De drums wah beatin’ an’ de fifes aplayin’. Dey wah de foot comp’ny. Oh, glory, it wah a sight. Sometime dey cum home on furlough. Sometime dey git kilt afoah dey gits th’ough.

[Note: If she was born in 1816, Sarah Gudger would have been 17 years old at the time she observed the Leonid meteor showers. From

… what occurred when the Leonids returned in 1833 was far beyond what anyone had ever seen or even imagined possible. For several hours over the United States there was a continual blaze of thousands and thousands of meteors at a time. One estimate was that over 240,000 meteors fell during that period, so many meteors in the sky at a time that many people were woken from their beds and stared at the sky in panic, believing the sky to be on fire. Many feared that it was the end of the world and dreaded what they would see at daybreak.]

In my research on Sarah Gudger, I have not discovered when (or if!) she died. Maybe I should ride over to 8 Dalton Street, Asheville, and knock on the door. Who knows? Aunt Sarah might still be there, with more stories and memories to share.

[The following map shows the slave population as a percentage of the total population, by county, prior to the war.]

Other posts on Sarah Gudger:

“I Took a Thousand Lashings in My Day”

“Helpless Critters Going Away to Get Killed”

Sarah Gudger – The Rest of the Story

Saturday, September 15, 2007

French Broad Ice Cream

French Broad Ice Cream, Del Rio, TN 9/2/07

Friday, September 14, 2007

"I Took a Thousand Lashings in My Day"

Sarah Gudger was born into slavery on September 15, 1816. One hundred twenty-one years later, from her home in Asheville, she shared memories of life before and after the Civil War. The interview was conducted in 1937 as part of the Federal Writers Project. In addition to preparing state guidebooks and historical pamphlets, FWP authors gathered more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 photos of former slaves.

It seems almost incredible that Sarah Gudger was actually 121 years old at the time of her interview. However, the details of her life were corroborated by other witnesses and the historical record.

Marjorie Jones spoke with Sarah Gudger on May 5, 1937. "Aunt Sarah" as she was known, lived with distant cousins in a comfortable two-story frame house at 8 Dalton Street, north of Kenilworth in Asheville. One relative, aged 72 years, said he had known Aunt Sarah all his life and that she was old woman when he was a small boy.

Jones reported that "Aunt Sarah seemed eager to talk, and needed but little prompting."

Describing Gudger’s appearance and manner, Jones wrote the following:

Small in stature, about five feet tall, Aunt Sarah is rather rounded in face and body. Her milk-chocolate face in surmounted by short, sparse hair, almost milk white. She is somewhat deaf but understands questions asked her, responding with animation. She walks with one crutch, being lame in the right leg. On events on the long ago her mind is quite clear. Recalling the Confederate "sojers, marchin’, marchin’" to the drums, she beat a tempo on the floor with her crutch. As she described how the hands of slaves were tied before they were whipped for infractions she crossed her wrists.

Aunt Sarah spoke about her life as a slave in western North Carolina:

I wah bo’n ‘ bout two mile from Old Fo’t on de Ole Mo’ganton Road. I sho’ has had a ha’d life. Jes wok, an’ wok, an’ wok. I nebbah know nothin’ but wok….

I jes wok all de time f’om mawnin’ till late at night. I had t’ do ebbathin’ dey wah t’ do on de outside. Wok in de field, chop wood, hoe cawn, till sometime I feels lak mah back sholy break. I done ebbathin’ ‘cept split rails….

Old Marse strop us good effen we did anythin’ he didn’t lak. Sometime he get hes dandah up an’ den we dassent look roun’ at him. Else he tie yo’ hands afoah yo’ body and’ whup yo’, jes lak yo’ a mule. Lawdy, honey, I’s tuk a thousand lashins in mah day. Sometimes mah poah ole body be soah foah a week.

Old Boss he send us niggahs out in any kine ob weathah, rain o’ snow, it nebbah mattah. We had t’ go t’ de mountings, cut wood an’ drag it down t’ de house. Many de time we come in wif ouh cloes stuck t’ ouh poah ole cold bodies, but ‘twarn’t no use t’ try t’ git ‘em dry. Ef de Old Boss o’ de Ole Missie see us dey yell: "Git on out ob heah yo’ black thin’, an’ git yo’ wok outen de way!" An’ Lawdy, honey, we knowed t’ git, else we git de lash. Dey did’n cah how ole o’ how young yo’ wah, yo’ nebbah too big t’ git de lash.

De rich white folks nebbah did no wok; dey had da’kies t’ do it foah dem. In de summah we had t’ wok outdoo’s, in de wintah in de house. I had t’ ceard an’ spin till ten o’clock. Nebbah git much rest, had t’ git up at foah de nex’ mawnin’ an’ sta’t agin. Didn’ get much t’ eat, nuthah, jes a lil’ cawn bread an’ ‘lasses. Lawdy honey, yo’ caint know whut a time I had. All cold n’ hungry. No’m, I aint telling no lies. It de gospel truf. It sho is….

I nebbah sleep on a bedstead till aftah freedom, no’m till aftah freedom. Jes’ an old pile o’ rags in de conah. Hadly ‘nuf t’ keep us from freezin’. Law, chile, nobuddy knows how mean da’kies wah treated. Wy, dey wah bettah t’ de animals den t’ us’ns.

[to be continued]

Other posts on Sarah Gudger:

“Helpless Critters Going Away to Get Killed”

Sarah Gudger – The Rest of the Story

Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC, 9/9/07

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Expensive Toys in Dillsboro

The Carolina Trophy Rallye made a brief stopover in Dillsboro this morning. I'm told that we were looking at $30 million worth of vintage European sports cars...Ferrari, Jaguar, Austin Healey, Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes, etc.

Oh, and ONE Ford Falcon, which brought to mind the old tale about the ugly duckling. What the heck. Vroom, vroom.....

Parrots and Rabbits

If you plan to take your horse at a full gallop across the Tuckaseegee River bridge in Bryson City, you’d best reconsider.

Research is a challenging proposition for me. I dig through the files to find details on a given topic and end up following rabbit trails to several other stories. Case in point: while seeking some information about a parrot that used to live here, I happened upon a copy of laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1885. It is one unique snapshot of the matters concerning folks back then.

For instance, Chapter 46 provides that any person who "shall willfully ride or drive a horse or mule or other animal faster than a walk on the bridge across the Tuckaseegee river at Charleston [Bryson City], Swain county…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days." With the passage of the law, signs were posted at either end of the bridge, advising that "All persons are hereby forbidden to ride or drive over the bridge faster than a walk."

In 1885, rail service was a relatively new amenity for residents of the far western counties, and it brought other connections with the "outside world" when Chapter 294 empowered the Western North Carolina Railroad Company to construct telegraph and telephone lines along its right of way.

The worst depredations of large-scale logging were still to come for most mountain counties, but a couple of laws indicate early problems associated with timbering. Chapters 91 and 97 prohibited the felling of trees in Richlands, Cattaloochee and Crab Tree creeks in Haywood county, and in Scott’s creek in Jackson county. "Any person who shall fell, or in any other way put timber in [the aforesaid creeks] and let the same remain therein longer than five days, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction shall be fined not exceeding twenty-five dollars, or imprisoned not more than thirty days, in the discretion of the court."

Apparently, logging wasn’t the only threat to Cataloochee creek. Chapter 61 made it unlawful to "fish for trout in Cataloochee creek or its tributaries in Haywood county, and offer the same for sale as a matter of traffic, thereby tending to the rapid extermination of trout in said streams." The law added the requirement that anyone fishing for trout in those streams is required to obtain "permission or a license from the owners of land lying contiguous thereto." I’d be curious to know the going price for fresh-caught trout on the commercial market of 1885, and just how much money an enterprising angler might make in one day.

Chapter 21 of the code made it illegal to "kill or shoot, trap or net any partridges, quail, doves, robins, larks, mocking-birds or wild turkeys, between the fifteenth day of March and the first day of November in each year." However, Chapter 395 was subsequently passed to exempt Clay, Cherokee, Jackson, Swain, Macon and Graham counties from the North Carolina "bird law."

In 1885, wolves had not yet been extirpated from the mountains, so the general assembly enacted Chapter 25 to increase, from five up to ten dollars, the bounty for killing wolves in Madison, Haywood, Transylvania, Swain and Jackson counties.

Finally, another piece of 1885 legislation addressed stock law. Traditionally, farmers let their livestock roam free. Fences were constructed, not to keep livestock in, but to keep livestock out of croplands. An ever-increasing population was bringing about the reversal of this old practice, but faced bitter opposition from farmers who wanted to continue raising "free-range" cattle and swine. With Chapter 219, the legislature made it unlawful "for any live stock to run at large in Buncombe county; and no person shall permit any of his live stock to go or enter upon the lands of another without having obtained leave from the owner of such lands." Just to make it clear, "the word stock in this act shall be construed to mean horses, mules, jacks, jennets, colts, cows, sheep, calves, goats, and all cattle and swine." The act was one big step toward closing the open range in the mountains of North Carolina.

Now, with the completion of this detour through the session laws of 1885, I can resume my search for that mysterious parrot. At least until I get distracted by another rabbit trail.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Barnardsville Barn

Tobacco field and barn in Barnardsville, Buncombe County, NC, 9/9/07

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ralph Oliver Waldo Wendell Emerson Holmes

From a comment on Celestial Inspiration it was interesting to learn that the quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes has also been credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

It seems entirely plausible to me that Emerson could have been the actual source of the quote. I do know this – after spending a little time gathering quotes, I’ve seen certain ones get attributed to multiple sources, either by design or by mistake.

One of the all-time best misquotes is the Chief Seattle 1854 speech. Don’t you love this? -

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man….

Great stuff, but of course the words were never uttered by Chief Seattle. According to snopes:

The words Chief Seattle has become famous for were written by Ted Perry, the screenwriter for Home, a 1972 film about ecology. They have since been widely quoted in books, on TV, and from the pulpit. A children's book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message From Chief Seattle, sold 280,000 within the first six months of its 1991 issue.

Fascinating, but it doesn’t answer the tiny matter of Emerson v. Holmes. Here, I should add that the "tiny matters" quote has been attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior (poet, 1809-1894) AND Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior (jurist, 1841-1935), in addition to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).

One website of quotations credits both Emerson and Holmes with the quote. But the funniest web listing placed it under the category "Lies." (Language is such a capricious prankster. But applying that suggested meaning of the word "lies" gives the quote a new significance. Perhaps it DOES comment on our capacity for self-deception.)

Another especially helpful website on the Transcendentalists covers Emerson, Holmes, Thoreau, Fuller, Alcott, and others. From there it’s easy to track back to some original sources. I figured I was about to crack the case when I found the online text of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an 1885 book by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. It stood to reason that Holmes could have quoted Emerson in the course of the biography and hence received credit for the quote. The only problem is that it does not appear in the book.

I searched some Emerson text and never found the quote. Then I read this query:

Q. Can you tell me the source of the quote "What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
A. This quote is often attributed to Emerson, especially on the Internet. However, it does not appear in the Complete Works, nor in the Complete Journals. Various Internet sites (search Google) reveal both Henry Thoreau and Oliver Wendell Holmes as sources, although the sites do not list any sources. The best solution at present is NOT to attribute the quote to Emerson.

My guess now is that the quote came from a Hollywood screenwriter. I still like it. In any event, I believe the Holmes camp concedes the following quotes to Mr. Emerson:

Stay at home in your mind. Don't recite other people's opinions. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know. Journals, 1843

By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. In fact, it is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others as it is to invent.

Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.

But for all I know, they might be recent inventions as well.

So much for definitive answers.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Celestial Inspiration

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and sense in which he has attained liberation from the self. - Albert Einstein

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. - Ranier Maria Rilke

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chiulè Tells His Story

It’s a blessed thing to gather around the ancient fire for tales of long ago.

Our mentors and companions circle there, becoming immortal by the telling and remembering of their stories. Bartram, Timberlake, Featherstonhaugh, Merrimon, Olmsted, Muir, Mooney, Morley, Kephart and Dykeman – to name a few.

Now, another incandescent face joins the group.

Meet Chiulè...sharing his memories at the age of 110...

Onomastic cartography - mapping the poetry of this place - has caught my attention. And while exploring the names that describe our home, I found a reference as astounding as it is obscure.

The remainder of this posting is a passage from an unsigned article that appeared in The Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review, December, 1845:

"Information from Chiulè, an Indian, who, in 1838, was said to be 110 years old-Betsy Chickalee, interpreter. Chiulè stated that Valley River, which falls into the Highwassee at Murphy, was called Coneheteh by the Indians-in English, Long Town.

He farther stated that the tradition which was current among the Indians when he was a very small boy, was that, but a short time before - perhaps but a single generation - there had been terrible wars between the Cherokees and a nation of Indians living to the west of that river - that these wars were attended with various successes - that the piles of rocks in the gaps of the ridges from Highwassee to Ninety-Six, the neighborhood where Chiulè was born, were the graves of the conquerors; that Nantihala was the divisional line between the Cherokees and the people with whom they were at war, and that this name signifies a dividing line, or the `middle between.'

He farther informed me that the last decisive battle between these enemies, was fought at the mouth of Peach-tree Creek, where the western nation had a fort or place of defence, and that the Cherokees remained masters of the field. Highwassee, in the language of the beaten people, signifies fortress or place of defence, From this fort the river takes its name, conferred, according to Chiulè, by the conquerors.

According to this venerable informant, the holes and numerous excavations along the Valley River, at the head of Peach-tree and other places, were dug by a people who resided with the conquered nation - that they were not white people, but were whiter than Indians - that they were called Hispan, and retired, with the people with whom they dwelt, after the last fatal field in which they were expelled from their places of refuge."

There is much of curious interest in this narrative of old Chiulè. It contains nothing which is not perfectly probable. The fortresses which cover the country, the numerous remains here and there, in works and implements, by which we are to infer the presence of a race superior to the rude savages by which the country was overrun, rather than occupied, at the coming of the English settlers, may, with reason, be ascribed either to the Northmen in the first instance, or to the scattered bands of Spaniards, brought by Ponce de Leon, by Nicuesa, by De Soto and others, in the last.

The Spaniards, whiter than the Indians, but less white than the blue-eyed and fair skinned Saxon, are sufficiently described by the words of Chiulè; while the accounts of the Northmen, which represent the same region of country, to have been partially possessed by a white people, speaking a language which they could understand, and which resembled the Irish, will seem not unreasonably to indicate the presence of this latter people among those conquered by the Cherokees, when we note their numerous ditches which Chiulè insists upon. By putting this and that, and what else elsewhere we may find, together, and our dealer in fiction, if not in history, may venture on his way with sufficient confidence.

"Tusquattie signifies `a bend,' and this creek was thus called, from its falling into the Highwassee, just below a remarkable bend in the latter river. `Chunky Girl Mountain' lies between Nantihala and the heads of Tusquattie, Shooting Creek, Bill Creek, and Hightower Creek; and received its name in compliment to a very fleshy and chunky squaw, the daughter of Culsowec, who dwelt at the foot of the mountain, and at the head of Shooting Creek. `Steccoe' was a town on the Tuckasidgee, and meant `little fat.' The `Chestatee' river of Georgia, was so named from the waters falling over a rock. `Jocassee' signified a field. `Che-oee,' falling into the Tennessee, below Nantihala, is `Otter' river. `Tuscaga' means bushy-head.

The French Broad, from the Long Shoals to the head, was called by the Indians `Cheu,' or Canal river, as not easily fordable, but navigable along this space. Below the Long Shoals and down to Holstein, it was called`Tokeaskeh,' or Running river. The Indian name of Pidgeon river was Wayah, or Wolf river. Nolichuckyis from Nolichuckquah, `a spruce pine.' Catugajay is `bread made with the milk of roasting ears of corn, 'Elejay is `new.' The Indian name of `Toe' river is Calltah, `of no value.' Terrora, or Tellulah, a river of Georgia, is `a `possum.' Coweta is `taking away.' Holstein was Oointewasteh, or `Swimming River.' Cumborland was Equoneh, or the `steep banks.' Peach-tree Creek was Culsateh. Eastatoe, a branch of the Saviny, is `poor beaver."

Thus ends the chronicle of Chiulè and Indian Bet…

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

By the French Broad

From The French Broad, by Wilma Dykeman -

The French Broad is a river and a watershed and a way of life where day-before-yesterday and day-after-tomorrow exist in odd and fascinating harmony. Beneath the deepest waters impounded by Douglas Dam lies buried the largest untouched Indian mound of the French Broad country. Our most ancient relic of man and our most recent trophy of his scientific skill rest practically side by side.

There is the same coexistence of past and present within the people. It helps explain how they may be at once so maddening and so charming, wrong about so many things and yet fundamentally right so often. This living past and present is my story of the French Broad. I should like to think that by some unmerited but longed-for magic I have spoken for a few of the anonymous dead along its banks and up its mountains. For the Negro baby drowned in the river when its mother tried to swim from slavery and bring it into freedom. For the sheriff who was shot in the back from a laurel-thicket ambush as he picked his way along a fog-blanketed early-morning trail. For the minister in a windowless log church who made foot washing a symbolic ceremony of humbleness and brotherhood. For the old taletellers around country stores and the urbane newcomers who seek but have not found as yet.

For these and for the river itself, mountains, lowlands, woods, gullies, springs and ponds and brooks I should like to speak, to quicken understanding. For the French Broad is above all a live country. The Cherokees said, "We have set our names upon your waters and you cannot wash them out." They were right - the Nolichucky and the Swannanoa and the Estatoe - but they might also have said, for all of us, "We have lived our lives along your rivers and you cannot wash the memory of us out."

(Photos 9/2/07 - Del Rio, TN and Madison Co., NC - in the French Broad Valley)

Monday, September 3, 2007


Ever since I collected a vintage postcard of it, I’d been wanting to find Soco Falls. So we started out from Waynesville, zipped through Maggie Valley and up Soco Mountain, marvelling at the decrepit junk that lined the road.

Margaret Morley took this same route a hundred years ago when the scenery was still intact:

The road follows up through the peaceful valley, past the picturesque houses with the cornfields showing above the roofs, and the gardens full of flowers, past the high-wheeled mills, and across the charming fords banked in laurel where Jonathan Creek crosses and recrosses the road. You go on and up the mountain-side where the forest is stately, still, and ancient, and where underneath the trees, on all sides as far as one can see, a bed of dewy ferns covers the earth, the green fronds nested in shadows.

When we reached Soco Gap, I knew it wasn’t much farther, even if the surroundings didn’t quite match Morley’s description:

At the gap you see Soco Fall and hear it thunder down the lonely cliff. It is the wild beginning of Soco Creek that dashes down the other side of the mountain. … Yet nothing can dim your pleasure in the splendid freshness and mystery of the shadowy gorge where the water shouts in a thousand voices, for you are in the Indian Country where nature seems a little wilder and more secret.

So where is Soco Falls? I decided to stop and ask for directions at Starvin’ Marvin’s ("Last Beer and Wine Before Rez!", "Buy From Me or We Both Lose") .

"Could you tell us how to get to Soco Falls?"

Starvin’ Marvin looked aghast, "You don’t want to go THERE! It’s just down the hill on the left, but when they built the new road they dumped rocks over the bank. It’s really steep. There’s broken glass everywhere and RATTLESNAKES! I’d stay out of there if I were you."

With a full tank of gas and some helpful advice, I started down the hill toward Cherokee and looked for a wide spot between the road and the guardrail. Just enough room to pull over and park. Gazing down beyond the guardrail, the scene was about like Starvin’ Marvin described it. Except I couldn’t see the rattlesnakes.

The sun was going down and I surveyed what Margaret Morley had seen:

The writhing limbs and deep-green foliage of monster rhododendrons crowd the banks. Above them tower dark hemlocks. It is twilight in the gorge, although the sun shines brightly on the tree-tops.

Through the foliage, I caught a tantalizing glimpse of the falls. Beautiful! Had we gotten here an hour earlier, the boulders and broken glass and venomous snakes would have been no hindrance. But darkness was quickly closing in.

The viewing of Soco Falls would simply have to wait.

A premier photographer of Carolina waterfalls, Rich Stevenson visited Soco Falls in October 2005 while traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway:

When I got to the exit for Maggie Valley and Cherokee, I said to heck with the leaf peepin' and decided to pay another visit to Soco Falls. The falls are actually quite beautiful - 2 waterfalls side by side flowing into one creek. The tallest of the 2 is about 35' high. Unfortunately, humans built a road next the waterfalls and very stupid humans decided it was a good idea to throw trash over the bank down towards these beautiful waterfalls.

Stevenson descended the bank and was rewarded with a view of the falls and a close encounter with stinging nettles.

Some day I’ll go back and get a better look at Soco Falls. It’s a shame that this treasure has suffered such neglect and abuse.

But when you’ve got a glitzy showpiece of a casino in town, waterfalls don’t count for much.

So enjoy your visit to Cherokee.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Great Blue

When the heron takes to flight, what a change in size and appearance! ....There go two great undulating wings pinned together, but the body and neck must have been left behind somewhere. - Henry David Thoreau