Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pig in a Puppy

After having driven almost 400 miles along North Carolina’s border with Virginia, I was thinking about William Byrd and his 1728 expedition to survey that same border. In his History of the Dividing Line, Byrd’s biting satire infused his observations of the people that he encountered. Byrd took particular aim at those who lived south of the line.

The only business here is raising of hogs, which is managed with the least trouble, and affords the diet they are most fond of. The truth of it is, the inhabitants of North Carolina devour so much swine's flesh, that it fills them full of gross humours. For want too of a constant supply of salt, they are commonly obliged to eat it fresh, and that begets the highest taint of scurvy.

Thus, whenever a severe cold happens to constitutions thus vitiated, it is apt to improve into the yaws, called there very justly the country distemper. This has all the symptoms of syphilis, with this aggravation, that no preparation of mercury will touch it. First it seizes the throat, next the palate, and lastly shows its spite to the poor nose, of which it is apt in a small time treacherously to undermine the foundation.

This calamity is so common and familiar here, that it ceases to be a scandal, and in the disputes that happen about beauty, the noses have in some companies much ado to carry it. Nay, it is said that once, after three good pork years, a motion had like to have been made in the house of burgesses, that a man with a nose should be incapable of holding any place of profit in the province; which extraordinary motion could never have been intended without some hopes of a majority.

Thus, considering the foul and pernicious effects of eating swine's flesh in a hot country, it was wisely forbidden and made an abomination to the Jews, who lived much in the same latitude with Carolina.

I wonder what William Byrd would make of North Carolina 280 years later. I wonder what Byrd would think of all these North Carolina farmers still raising hogs. I wonder if Byrd would prefer his bar-b-que Eastern Style or Lexington Style. I wonder if Byrd would have stopped off for a PIG IN A PUPPY if he had seen this Eastern North Carolina billboard. I wonder…

Bayard Wootten

Bayard Wootten is one of the underappreciated heroes of North Carolina culture, and one of my favorite photographers. So, a pleasant surprise awaited me as I explored a historic waterfront neighborhood in New Bern the other evening. Across the street stood a sign marking Wootten's birthplace.

A simple house with ample porches, it's a private residence today.

For a 235-year-old house, it appears to be holding up quite well.

I first posted the following appreciation of Bayard Wootten in January 2007:

The camera is not a free agent as brush or pencil, but relentlessly records things as they are. So the artist must bring to her aid strong contrasts of light and shade, artistic grouping and rhythmic lines. To use a camera as a means of artistic expression, a certain quality of spirit must be brought to light and air. – Bayard Wootten 1926

It is unfortunate that there is no Appalachian Photography Hall of Fame. It would showcase some superb, and largely unknown, work from the past century and a half. Certainly, Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten (1875-1959) would deserve to be one of the first inductees. Born in New Bern, North Carolina, she overcame economic hardship, gender discrimination, and the obscurity of a small-town upbringing to become the state's most significant early female photographer. I'd call her a hero. Her father, Rufus Morgan, was one of the earliest photographers to work in Western North Carolina and many of his stereoscopic images survive.

During her lifetime, Wootten provided the photographs for several books, including Muriel Earley Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurel, a 1935 account of mountain people. The photograph displayed above, "Horse Traders, Bryson City, NC", is from that decade.

Wootten found the right blend of technical artistry and compelling subjects to produce timeless images. More than 130 of her photographs are collected in Light and Air: The Photography of Bayard Wootten. It has been said of her: "Wootten's most notable accomplishment was the creation of a photographic record of black and white Americans in the lower reaches of society--persons that other photographers often ignored."

Many of Wootten's photographs, such as this 1939 shot of a Winston-Salem tobacco warehouse, were published as postcards.

Pepsi-Cola originated in New Bern and according to Jerry Cotten, the editor of Light and Air, an unconfirmed Wootten family legend holds that Bayard Wootten created the first logo for the soft drink in 1898.

Bayard Wootten's grandmother was the author and poet Mary Bayard Clarke (1827-1886), who wrote to her son in 1873:
"Live your own life is my motto but I was brought up to think that I ought to live somebody else's life."
In an admirable and courageous manner, Bayard Wootten managed to live her own life rather than somebody else's life, and we're all the richer for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Warren, Martin and Bertie


House in Macon, Warren County, NC, April 2008

Farm House, near NC 11, Martin County, NC, April 2008

Swamp, Near NC 11, Bertie County, NC, April 2008

At the Corner of Cucumber and Vine

If you’re a faithful public radio listener, you’ve probably heard the following announcement. I know I’ve heard it a hundred times:


Well, do you think that if I happened to be in the vicinity of Mount Olive, I would track down this well-known “corner of Cucumber and Vine” and try to bring you a photograph of it?

You bet your sweet pickles I would!

Rolling through Wayne County, I could get the mental image. I figured the Mount Olive Pickle Company would be out in the country, with cucumber fields stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. I always thought the “Cucumber and Vine” thing was a little hokey. So I expected to drive into the Mount Olive Pickle Company parking lot and see some oversized, cartoon-ish street sign posted next to the front door.

Maybe somebody dressed up like a pickle would be there to greet visitors and hand out free samples. There’d probably be a Mount Olive Pickle Company Factory Outlet, where you take home caseloads of Mount Olive bread and butter pickles, Mount Olive tee shirts, Mount Olive coffee mugs, plastic serving-plates with the Mount Olive logo stamped on them, different sizes of pickle forks, EZ jar openers...

You know - really cool pickle essentials.

But it wasn’t like that at all. Here’s how it really happened:

I arrive at Mount Olive, quite the charming little town. And a busy place. For some reason, I feel like I'm driving back into 1963. Or 1947, for that matter. I mean that in a good way.

After I circle through the equally attractive Mount Olive College campus, I spot a road sign. “Mount Olive Pickle Company – Main Entrance” and it points to a narrow street. I follow the arrows and can see the famous street corner. With my camera ready, I head that way for a closer look.

There’s only one problem. The green signs don’t say “Cucumber” and “Vine”. They say “Chestnut” and “Witherington”. And what happened to the Mount Olive Pickle Company’s droll sense of humor I’d heard on the radio? The signs on the barbed wire chain link fence warn me, STOP / DO NOT ENTER / STOP. What a sour greeting!

Certain that backing my car around and snapping a picture constitutes a breach of some security threshold, I brace myself for the possibility of being pounced upon by a passel of pickle police…gherkin guards…cucumber cops…dilly detectives…the thin green line…or whatever it is they call their security force at the Mount Olive Pickle Company.

At that very moment, I hear the low, sonorous "HOOOOOT" of a steam whistle, yes, a GENUINE STEAM WHISTLE perched atop the pickle factory. It’s a beautiful sound. I look at my watch…12:53. This must be the whistle that tells all the pickle packers to "finish up lunch…you’ll need to start packing pickles again in seven minutes."

I catch a whiff of a pungent fragrance in the air. Vinegar! And I leave the factory parking lot, older but wiser. Down the street, I park next to the railroad tracks and walk along a block of little shops. Across the street, the pink azaleas explode around a dilapidated house.

I turn the corner and discover a library and an antiquarian bookstore. I amble in. Seeing the camera slung around my neck, the proprietor points me to the photography books, then he brings out some select editions:

-A fragile, century-old, folio-sized volume on the life of Washington Irving, profusely illustrated with photographs of the New York hills.

-And another book, filled with pictures taken on the streets of a French village from 1910 to 1940.

Finally, I have to ask, “Is there a Cucumber Street here in Mount Olive?”

Without missing a beat, he responds “Cucumber and Vine?”

“Right, right,” I chuckle, “as on public radio?”

“No, I really don’t think so.” He pulls out a map of Mount Olive and runs his finger over it as if to reassure me. “No Vine either.” Then he doubles checks both names against the map index, but they’re not on the index. He shakes his head, “no, no…” before hunching his shoulders, raising his palms and admitting, “…they just made it up.”

He tells me the annual Pickle Festival is coming up next weekend. Of course, I had already seen the banners. They were hanging from every lamppost.

“And so, what happens at the Pickle Festival?” Coming from a long line of Picklers, I realize I'm in the mecca of all things pickle.

"Oh, they park some antique tractors right out front here, and make a racket all day. They have a hot rod show there across the railroad tracks. People set up booths all over town selling crap. You know, fry bread, little shiny things, little pieces of wood.”

“Right, right,” I chuckle, “refrigerator magnets?”

“They want to bring in the tourists.”

“So,” I wonder aloud, “does Mount Olive GET a lot of tourists?” I'm not doing a very good job of hiding the disbelief in my voice.

My host rolls his eyes, pauses, and points a finger in my direction. “Youuuu…”

I chuckle again and explain that I’m in the business of investigating local legends…and debunking them whenever appropriate.

He goes on to tell me about one Wayne County community south of Mount Olive. “They call it BO-TANK-US. I’ve asked people how it got that name. Everybody has a different explanation.”

I can commiserate with his uncertainty, “Nobody really knows, eh?” I look around at the books one more time - admire a first edition Georgia O'Keefe collection priced at $325 - and get away without making a purchase, but I thank him for his time and for his research assistance. Reluctantly, I leave Mount Olive, North Carolina on the first secondary road that I cross. A couple of minutes later I see the roadsign pointing to “Beautancus Road.”

If I ever do return to Mount Olive, I can chip in my own theory on the origin of Beautancus. I’d opine that Beautancus was the region in France acclaimed for growing the very finest pickling cucumbers. And it was only natural, I would claim, that the early cucumber farmers south of Mount Olive would adopt that name for their own community here in the New World.

OK, so it’s not true. But it’s no more untrue than the repeated references to the “corner of Cucumber and Vine.”

One thing is for sure. If you want to visit the Pickle Capital of North Carolina, Mount Olive is the place to go...the rill dill.


Here's the official timeline from the Mount Olive Pickle Company. They claim there really is a Cucumber and Vine, but I'm not convinced. Not convinced at all.

I'll leave the final word to the Mountain Olive Pickle people.

"Yes, we really do make pickles at the Corner of Cucumber and Vine, in the town of Mount Olive, NC. Cucumber runs along the railroad tracks, and Vine intersects it at the company’s administrative offices. We pack over 90 million jars of processed and fresh packed pickles, peppers and relishes at that corner, which has been our home for almost 80 years."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Doing (Lunch) Time in Marion, NC

I’m not welcome in Marion, North Carolina.

All the more reason to go out of my way to have a bite there.

A few miles up the mountain from Marion, I saw a cafe’s sign for their daily special:

I had to consider that one for a minute. Lettuce? In soup? Fine. If that’s your thing. Go ahead and call it BLT soup. I’d call it WTF soup. But that’s just me.

As I rolled on toward Marion, I wasn’t getting hungry for BLT soup, but I was getting hungry for a BLT sandwich. Reaching Marion "I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a dreadful little town" North Carolina, I drove past the "Don’t Park on the Sidewalk" sign. I drove past the mental health billboard starring Abe Lincoln and Scarlett O’Hara. I drove past the scenic electrical substation. I drove past the charming cemetery.

I was SOOOO happy to be back in Marion.

And then I saw the Bantam Chef. I figured this was the place for the perfect BLT, and had been the place for the perfect BLT, ever since, say, 1971. I parked the Chevy, walked across the lot and opened the door, only to be greeted with blank stares from the unrelentingly sullen and remarkably homely faces of the lunch-time customers picking at their greasy entrees.

I was reminded of that wise old adage: "By the age of 40, you get the face you deserve." At least, I think that’s how it goes. If it is true, then you have to wonder about these Marionites assembled at the Bantam Chef. Why aren’t they serving life sentences at Central Prison for whatever heinous acts they committed to deserve faces like these? (Yeah, I know, I’m one to talk. I got the face I deserved long before the age of 40. Unfortunately.)

Once I overcame my initial shock, I settled into the Bantam Chef and decided it wasn’t so bad. For Marion. The tea was too sweet. And it wasn’t the perfect BLT. It might have been, if the toast had been toasted to a golden brown, if the bacon had been crispy instead of hard, if the tomato hadn’t been ice cold, if the lettuce hadn’t been chopped into minute slivers. Except for that, it was an OK BLT sandwich. Beat the heck out of BLT soup.

I enjoyed my Bantam Chef lunch. I enjoyed the company of the Marionites. As much as anyone could enjoy the company of Marionites. And I left town as quickly as I arrived, looking over my shoulder at those signs…the signs that "libbi greene" claims were installed to keep "little guys" like me with "small imaginations" from sullying up the streets and sidewalks of idyllic Marion, North Carolina. It began to dawn on me…a "BIG IMAGINATION" is a useful thing to have if you intend to spend any time in Marion. After all, it would require a big imagination to convince yourself that you’re in a nice place when you’re in Marion, North Carolina.

But out here in Jackson County we have a word for imagination of that magnitude.

To put if quite simply, the word is…


Potecasi Creek

Sunday, April 13, 2008


"...We fall asleep in a room fragrant with the scent of apples and pears, and when I wake up during the night I think for a moment that I am a boy again. For then my father not only had an orchard of his own, but purchased the fruit of other orchards....Every bedroom had heaps of apples on the floor, as well as those adorning the window-sill. At bedtime my brother and I had to pick our way between the piles of Tom Putts, Beauty of Baths, Orange Pippins, Bramleys, and the rest, all of which we could then identify by taste in the dark..."

- Ralph Whitlock, A Little Heap of Apples Under the Stairs, Letters from an English Village, Bradford on Avon

Francis Orray Ticknor (1822-1874) was a country doctor in Columbus, Ga., who wrote poetry and submitted horticultural articles to southern agricultural journals. Ticknor wrote the following on April 1, 1859:


A famous Apple

You’ve heard, I think, of the beautiful maid
Who fled from Love’s caresses,
Till her beautiful toes were turned to roots,
And both her shoulders to beautiful shoots,
And her beautiful cheeks to beautiful fruits,
And to blossoming sprays her tresses!

I’ve seen her, man! She’s living yet
Up in a Cherokee valley!
She’s an apple tree! and her name might be,
In the softly musical Cherokee,
A long-drawn "Nantahalee!"
‘Tis as sweet a word as you’ll read or write;
Not quite as fair as the thing, yet quite
Sufficient to start an old anchorite
Out of the ashes to bless and bite
The beautiful "Nantahalee!"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Split Mountain Ramble

Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872

Paris – April 1874 - a group of artists rejected by the juries of the Salon offered their avant-garde paintings for public view. Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Degas were among those represented in what became known as the first exhibition of Impressionism.

Meanwhile that same month, on this side of the Atlantic, there was another kind of explosion. The Hickory Nut Gorge gained notoriety as rumors spread of a volcano on Rumbling Bald Mountain, near Chimney Rock. Buncombe County’s Thomas Clingman (1812-1897), a one-time US Senator and a long-time explorer of the mountains, promptly weighed with his observations of seismic phenomena throughout Western North Carolina. In several articles he described "a certain mountain in the northern part of Haywood County, N.C. [which] was, at intervals of two or three years, agitated and broken into fragments along a portion of its surface."

Clingman first visited the site in 1848, and learned that the jolts to this unnamed mountain in northern Haywood County had been witnessed as early as 1812. Amidst his descriptions of the mountain’s behavior, he provided detailed clues to its location, so I compared his notes to my Haywood County topo map. Tracing the lines that indicated a mountain rising from Ledford Cove to Pug Knob, I saw the letters that spelled out "Split Mountain."

I was on the trail, with a map, a compass, a camera, and the words of T. L. Clingman:

The top of the ridge, where evidences of violence are seen, is perhaps three or four hundred feet higher than the ground below. There are cracks in the solid granite of which the ridge appears to be composed, but the chief evidences of violence were observable a little south of the crest. From thence along the side of the mountain as one descends, there were chasms, none of them above four feet in width, generally extending north and south, but also occasionally seen in all directions. All the large trees had been thrown down.

There were a number of little hillocks. the largest eight or ten feet high and fifty or sixty feet in diameter. They were usually surrounded by what appeared to have been a narrow crevice. On their sides the saplings grew perpendicularly to the surface of the ground, but obliquely to the horizon, making it manifest that they had attained some size before the hillocks had been elevated. I observed a large poplar or tulip tree, which had been split through its centre, so as to leave one-half of it standing thirty or forty feet high. The crack or opening under it, was not an inch wide, but could be traced for a hundred yards, making it evident that there had been an opening of sufficient width to split the tree, and that then the sides of the chasm had returned to their original position without having slipped so as to prevent the contact of the broken roots.

As indicating the sudden violence with which the force acted, a large mass of detached granite afforded a striking illustration. From its size I estimated that it might have weighed two thousands tons. It seemed from its shape to have originally been broken out of the side of the mountain above, and to have rolled in mass a hundred yards downward. It lay directly across one of the chasms two or three feet in width, and had been broken into three large fragments, which, however, were not separated a foot from each other.

I figured I could find Split Mountain. I wondered if it would resemble anything that Clingman had described.

The more I tried to imagine it, the more I hoped to locate that mountain. And the more I hoped to meet someone to tell me about it.

It was a gorgeous April drive. Beyond the big fields and rolling pastures of Crabtree, the farms were hemmed in by steeper and stonier mountains. Rock piles, hundreds of yards long, lined the ancient pastures on the slopes.

At last, my map and my compass told me I had found Split Mountain.

I couldn’t see any two thousand ton boulder broken into three large fragments.

I couldn’t see any hillocks, eight or ten feet high, fifty or sixty feet in diameter.

I couldn’t see any large trees thrown down, or saplings growing perpendicular to the ground.

But I’d found the place, and still hoped to find the person.

Then I saw him standing next to his porch.

I slowed to a stop and I said "hello".

He greeted me with a smile, and we proceeded to talking about rain and drought, developers with too much money, big tax bills, the price of gas, the prospect of raising laying hens and growing the corn to feed them.

This gentleman was exactly the person I’d hoped to meet. He must have been almost eighty, and he'd been born on the same homeplace where he lived today.

I showed him the Clingman article and asked what he knew about it.

"Not much," he said. "That’s Split Mountain, alright. But I’ve only been on it one time, hunting ginseng with my daddy."

He continued,"You see how those rocks run down the side of the mountain. I always heard you could go to the top, and find holes in the ground, where you could drop [fence] rails in and never hear them hit bottom."

I climbed out of the car, "I’d better take another picture of this mountain."

He pointed down the road. "There was a post office there one time. Split Mountain, North Carolina. And Riley Greene ran his mill down there. He ground corn into meal, and he had a sawmill, too. The sluice came all the way down the creek, ten or fifteen feet off the ground. In the winter, the water would overflow and freeze solid, all the way down to the ground. Winters were a lot colder then."

I enjoyed my visit, meeting this new friend, and seeing this place through his eyes.

On another day I might actually climb to the top of Split Mountain. I might even find that hole in the ground. And when I drop a fence-rail (or a walking stick) into that hole, I’ll let you know what I hear…or what I don’t hear.

For the time being I'll ponder over Clingman’s theories in regards to Split Mountain:

The extent and configuration of the ground acted on, the long intervals between the shocks, for a period of nearly a century past, and of the absence of heat and of the continuous escape of gasses, rendered it evident that these disturbances were not due to such a merely local cause as the combustion at a short distance below the surface of a bed of inflammable mineral substances. Though in the opinion of Mr. Fox and others, there are electric currents in certain mineral veins, yet no observations heretofore made would justify us in attributing such phenomena to electricity.

And I’ll continue to follow Clingman’s treasure maps to some other curious places in these mountains.

By the way, that First Impressionist Exhibition from April 1874 is depicted online at It's worth a visit, too.

Camille Pissaro, Gelee blanche (Hoarfrost), 1873

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Past, Present, Future

Time past and time future,
What might have been
And what has been
Points to one end
Which is always present.
-T. S. Eliot

Who controls the present controls the past; who controls the past controls the future.
- The Ministry of Truth, in George Orwell’s 1984.

Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.
- Ray Bradbury

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fire on the Mountain

Rumbling Bald Mountain, ca. 1940, Hans Curt Pfalzgraf Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804

Had you picked up the edition of the New York Times published on this date in 1874, you could have read of a "third-rate hoax" in Western North Carolina, the Bald Mountain Volcano. Starting in February 1874, stories spread concerning earthquakes in the Hickory Nut Gorge near Chimney Rock. By calling it a hoax, the Times was contradicting a story it had reported just a couple of weeks earlier:

RALEIGH, NC, March 17 – Passengers from the west on this morning’s train confirm the reports of the rumbling noises and the general upheaving of the Bald Mountain in Western Carolina. People living on and near the mountain are moving out, and a volcanic eruption is momentarily expected.

Despite the eyewitness accounts, the subsequent New York Times story that appeared on April 4, 1874 dismissed it as an old legend:

From Our Own Correspondent.
RICHMOND, VA., Friday, March 27, 1874.

The Bald Mountain Volcano, of North Carolina, has been regarded as a third-rate hoax here from the publication of the first sensational rumors in regard to it. The truth is, doubtless, that this new sensation is but the revival of an old tradition, derived from the Indians, that Bald Mountain was once, in very remote times, a volcano, and hence that absence of vegetation which has given it its name.

The Indian legend is to the effect that a certain tribe living at the foot of Bald Mountain was annually afflicted by the visit of a huge bird of prey, that made his eyrie on the summit of the mountain, and that on every visit seized and carried away with him a child of the tribe. The annual affliction had been undergone for a long series of years, when a great chief and medicine-man arose, and, just before the time for the next annual visit of the bird, began to preach a crusade against the common enemy. He adjured the warriors, as they were brave men and loving fathers, no longer to submit to the depredations of the bird, but to march against him and destroy him or be destroyed.

Thus aroused, the men of the tribe swore to follow the chief in the desperate venture, and, placing their squaws and children in a place of safety, they encircled the base of the mountain and began the ascent, resolved to kill the bird at all hazards and at every cost. The mountain was then clothed in rank vegetation – mighty forest-trees thickly undergrown by a tangled wilderness, that made the progress upward very painful and difficult. But the determined tribe persevered until, nearing the top of the mountain, what was their horror to perceive that it was not merely one tremendous bird they had to encounter and destroy, but a countless number of the fierce creatures, clustering in ferocious masses all over the higher portions of the mountain.
At this despair overcame them, for they at once recognized how impossible it would be for them to overcome and exterminate so many of the winged monsters, and they threw themselves down upon their faces, expecting the birds to rush down upon them and destroy them. At this moment their leader raised high his voice to the Great Spirit for their deliverance, and in answer to his prayer vivid lightnings sprang from every quarter of the cloudless sky, without a sound of thunder, slaying the birds to the last one, riving the forest-trees, and wrapping the whole mountain-top in flames, that soon swept from it every trace of vegetation. Thus were the monstrous birds of prey destroyed, the mountain made bald, and the tribe delivered. The anniversary of the deliverance was perpetually celebrated by the tribe, and the tradition I have just related handed down from one generation to another.

In this tradition lurks the true story, doubtless, of either the original formation of the ridge known as the Bald Mountains, or of an eruption which occurred many years ago.

- So concludes the New York Times report from this date in 1874. But that does not conclude the mystery of the Bald Mountain Volcano. In May 1874, the Honorable Thomas Lanier Clingman weighed in before the Washington Philosophical Society to discuss Rumbling Bald Mountain and other seismic phenomena of Western North Carolina.

But that’s another story for another day.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Maple Sugar

The blooms of the maples have caught my eye this spring. Their subtle crimson glow is one of the earliest signs of the end of winter and this year has been no exception. For honeybees, maples are among the first sources of nectar, and on the afternoons when the temperatures warmed to sixty degrees, you might have observed them making their rounds.

The blooms are easy to overlook unless, like a honeybee, you take time to visit them close-up. Then you will see their exuberant burst of spring life and color. After several weeks of blooms, the equally colorful seeds are forming now. And before long the winged seeds will take flight like little helicopters.

It is hard to say that I have a favorite tree. Oaks and hemlocks have a special place in my heart, going back even farther than my memory will reach. But the maples are a wonder in all seasons. Recently, I mentioned Margaret Morley and her 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains. It is an unusually well-indexed volume, so I checked to see what Morley had written about maples. She described how sap was collected from sugar maples – in North Carolina - to produce syrup:

Of course hickories, maples, elms, beeches, birches, and many other trees abound, although we lack the beautiful "American elm" that so adorns the old New England villages and lends romance to Northern valleys. And the spectral white birch is not with us. But the sugar-maple, — ' ' sugar-tree ' ' the native here calls it, — abundant in some regions, sweetens the corn-pone of the mountaineer as agreeably as in the cold North it embellishes the buckwheat cakes of a winter's morning. The sugar-trees might yield a good profit to thrifty harvesters, but the time-honored method of chopping a hole in the trunk and sticking in a bit of bark to conduct the sap into a wooden trough on the ground, although time-saving, does not produce results that command fancy prices, particularly as the rest of the process is equally free and easy.

The troughs stand on the ground through the remainder of the year collecting water, twigs, leaves, and anything else that may chance to fall into them. In the winter all this freezes into a solid cake which the practical mountaineer has discovered can be turned out whole, thus giving less trouble than any other method of cleaning the troughs. Maple-sugar as made in the mountains may be black in color and diversified with many strong flavors, but the people have a pretty way of running it into empty eggshells, where it hardens, and can then be handed about and carried in the pocket with more regard to cleanliness than is apparent in any other part of its history.

After reading Morley’s account, I went back through my notes, knowing that maple sugaring was an ancient practice in the Southeast. James Adair, a trader among the Cherokees during the 1700s, wrote:

...several of the Indians produce sugar out of the sweet maple-tree, by making an incision, draining the juice, and boiling it to proper Consistence.

Several years after Adair, Benjamin Hawkins served as an Indian agent and witnessed maple sugaring:

On this creek [Limestone Creek in northern Georgia], the sugar is made by the Indian women, they use small wooden troughs, and earthen pans to ketch the sap, and large earthen pots for boilers.

Finally, this passage from Appalachian Arcadia:

Elijah and Christina Messer came to Little Cataloochee in the 1870s. Elijah's new neighbors admired his talent with a fiddle and watched with curiosity as he tapped maple trees for syrup. Maple sugaring was undertaken in various sections of the mountains including Cataloochee in Haywood County. But this enterprise was better suited to the northwestern mountains, from Watauga to Ashe Counties, a region later promoted by the state for its maple sugar potential.