Yesterday, a kind reader reminded me that the Jackson County Farmers' Market had scheduled a happening for Saturday from nine o'clock 'till noon(ish) off of Railroad Avenue in Sylva, next to Bridge Park. Having spent the day working in my own garden and admiring other gardens around Cullowhee, I had been thinking about the many benefits of producing our food locally.
The fact that we have a Farmers’ Market is a hopeful sign. Some people tally up shopping centers or golf courses as a measure of the desirability of any given community. Not me. I count up rows of potatoes and beans. In my book, vigorous backyard gardens are a leading economic indicator and reflect a high quality-of-life.
Wendell Berry has written about this:
The idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. Without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice. You hear folks predicting we’ll see more gardens because of the current "hard times." I wouldn’t argue about the (relatively) hard times facing us, but I see those gardens as a sign of "good times," too. I know that it made my day when I was leaving home the other morning and saw my neighbor’s newly planted garden. It’s already a thing of beauty and I can imagine what it will look like as summer proceeds and the crops grow.
Is it really a sign of hard times when you grow your own lettuce in order to save money on your grocery bill? I’ve never lingered to admire the beauty of the produce aisle at Ingles, but my own lettuce bed is a visual delight AND delicious. If that's a sign of hard times, I'll take it.
To prepare the garden, I do use a noisy, gas-belching roto-tiller. However, I have another garden implement that is just perfect for the jobs to which it is well-suited. I always look forward to the opportunity to take it out of the shed and put it to use. It is an old, old push plow. I don’t have any idea how long it has been in my family. It was an already an antique when I was just a little kid, and now I’m an antique, too.
There’s no easier way to lay out straight rows. The push plow glides along in a low-tech and efficient way, requiring next to no exertion from me. Later on this summer, after the corn and beans start to grow, I’ll grab that push plow again for light cultivation.
Some people would say I’m a pessimist to talk about an impending economic collapse. I disagree. And the reason I hope the inevitable adjustment comes sooner, rather than later, is because of the tools and wisdom being lost and forgotten on a daily basis. The sooner something forces us to value those as we should, the better. Some day, you might wish you owned a push plow. How will you get your hands on one if they’re all hanging from the ceilings of Cracker Barrel restaurants – displayed as useless relics from the past? If we do face the anarchy of a sudden, catastrophic collapse, you’d do worse than to break into one of those Cracker Barrels and liberate the antique corn shellers, cabbage cutters and other implements of subsistence.
In his 1985 essay, Six Agricultural Fallacies, Wendell Berry wrote:
My own suspicion is that, especially for the private owners of small properties such as farms, hand work may become more necessary as petroleum and other industrial inputs become more expensive. I suspect also that a considerable amount of hand work may remain necessary for reasons other than economics. It will continue to be necessary in the best farming because the best farming will continue to rely on the attentiveness and particularity that go with the use of the hands. Judging from our epidemic of obesity and other diseases of sedentary life, the greatest untapped sources of usable energy may now be in human bodies. It may become the task of a future economy to give worthy employment to this energy and to reward its use.
Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all. – John Maynard Keynes
I set out to investigate the mysterious fumarole of Tuckasegee, NC. In the process, it was inevitable that the not-so-mysterious fumarole of Oscar, NC would let off some steam.
Let’s get that out of the way first.
The mega-developers who’ve flocked to Jackson County, hell-bent on grinding mountains into money, simultaneously create ecological catastrophes and boast about their stewardship of the environment.
But that’s why they need professional marketing consultants. Right?
You know the routine. Wild places succumb to the bulldozer…so they can be replaced by a synthetic version of natural beauty.
And what happens to the mountains, also happens to mountain culture. When the complexities of the genuine article are too difficult to comprehend, much less respect, then it’s time to fabricate a counterfeit to replace the real thing.
Take the Legasus developers.
They went out and paid the big bucks to Envisioning + Storytelling, a British Columbia public relations firm, to concoct a suitably appealing vision of mountain culture that plays well on the glossy pages of a hefty real-estate brochure. Never mind that it’s as much a fiction as Deliverance or the Beverly Hillbillies, albeit a more genteel and marketable fiction. Don’t take my word for it, though. The fine folks at Envisioning + Storytelling say it much more eloquently than I ever could:
Stories are voices from the heart. E+S uses stories as an engaging tool to inspire people, unite them, and transfer knowledge to new audiences.
I know. It would be asking too much for the young talents at Envisioning + Storytelling to understand the actual culture of this place – men working the copper mines on Cullowhee Mountain, berry-picking youngsters spooked by the glimpse of a panther, an old man who remembers digging ‘sang with his grandfather.
But times change. Places change. People change.
Our stories will be forgotten. And in their place, Cullowhee Mountain’s folklore of the future might include some tale of a miraculous shot from the bunker on the 11th hole.
Who’s to say we’re not the richer for it? Certainly, Envisioning + Storytelling is…
Now that I’ve vented, we can return to the original subject of this story, the legendary Smoke Hole located somewhere near Tuckasegee. A couple of days ago, I found directions to the site, as recorded seventy years ago. To get there, head south out of Cullowhee on NC 107 until you reach Tuckaseigee. Then:
Right from Tuckaseigee on a logging trail to the Smoke Hole, 3.5 miles, where passersby often warm their hands in the vapor which arises when the temperature is low. The Cherokee explain this as the smoke from the town house of the Nunnehi, immortals who dwell beneath the mountains and the rivers.
Okay, okay, so this might not be a fumarole in the technical sense of the word, but I still think it’s pretty danged amazing. So what if magma is NOT the source of those vapors? For sheer intrigue, I’d take the Nunnehi over magma any day of the week.
The Nunnehi, in case you’ve not been reading your local blogs, are a race of invisible spirit people. They had many townhouses, especially on the mountain balds, and were quite fond of music and dance. Hunters in the mountains would often hear dance songs and drum beats from invisible townhouses. But when the hunters went toward the sound, it would shift about, and they would hear it behind them or in some other direction, so they could never find the place where the dance was.
After reading the directions to the Smoke Hole, I wasted no time pulling out my maps to find where it might be. Soon, I was saddened by what I saw. It seemed all too likely that the Fumarole of Tuckasegee, the Smoke Hole, the townhouse of the Nunnehi, might be located on the Legasus property! And the only holes in the ground that Legasus wants people to gather around are the ones in the middle of the putting greens carved into Cullowhee Mountain.
Smoke Hole?? Nunnehi??? Bring on the bulldozers!
And that saddens me. But I try to look on the bright side.
I would not want to be the one to destroy the Tuckasegee townhouse of the Nunnehi.
That, my friend, is asking for trouble.
[I’ve been reminded to remind you that if you haven’t read this past week’s Smoky Mountain News, you should check out Agencies Oppose New Golf Course Dam at Balsam Mountain Preserve. It’s a real eye-opener on the extent of the environmental disaster at BMP. The aftermath from that incident suggests just what our community can expect from the impending desecration of Cullowhee Mountain. And it ain’t pretty.]
We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, April 4, 1967
Great minds have purposes, little minds have wishes. – Washington Irving
Creation is longing for salvation as much as we who bear the joy and burden of human creaturehood. In travail for the true response to God, may we bring forth fruits of repentance and liberation and a substantial stewardship of the round earth we share with everything God made and will yet make. --Thomas John Carlisle
We must live as we think, otherwise we shall end up by thinking as we have lived. – Paul Bourget
We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light. --Hildegard von Bingen
Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. --C.S. Lewis
Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments, but let us have patience and we soon shall see them in their proper figures. – Joseph Addison
To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do it knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, destructively, it is a desecration. -- Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land
If Christ were coming again tomorrow, I would plant a tree today. --Martin Luther
Philosophy means nothing unless it is connected to birth, death, and the continuance of life. Anytime you are going to build a society that works, you have to begin from nature and the body. --Susan Griffin
Ask the loveliness of the earth, ask the loveliness of the sea, ask the loveliness of the wide airy spaces, ask the loveliness of the sky, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, making daylight with its beams, ask the moon tempering the darkness of the night that follows, ask the living things which move in the waters, which tarry on the land, which fly in the air; ask the souls that are hidden, the bodies that are perceptive; the visible things which most be governed, the invisible things that govern—ask these things, and they will all answer you, Yes, see we are lovely. Their loveliness is their confession. And all these lovely but mutable things, who has made them, but Beauty immutable? - Augustine Sermons 214.2
The power of imagination makes us infinite. – John Muir
Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out. It doesn't matter much to me. Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields. Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields forever. -The Beatles Today, I spent a few hours mowing and was richly rewarded when I uncovered a bunch of wild strawberries. I switched off the lawnmower and gathered the tender fruit.
Whenever I taste a wild strawberry, I automatically think back to the time that William Bartram crossed the Cowees at Leatherman Gap and descended into Alarka Valley.
What an incredible coincidence for me to find wild strawberries on May 24, 2008, because it was May 24, 1775 that William Bartram encountered this scene:
…enjoyed a most enchanting view, a vast expanse of green meadows and strawberry fields; a meandering river gliding through, saluting in its various turnings the swelling, green, turfy knolls, embellished with parterres of flowers and fruitful strawberry beds; flocks of turkies strolling about them; herds of deer prancing in the meads or bounding over the hills; companies of young, innocent Cherokee virgins, some busily gathering the rich fragrant fruit, others having already filled their baskets, lay reclined under the shade of floriferous and fragrant native bowers of Magnolia, Azalea, Philadelphus, perfumed Calycanthus, sweet Yellow Jessamine and cerulian Glycine frutescens, disclosing their beauties to the fluttering breeze, and bathing their limbs in the cool fleeting streams; whilst other parties, more gay and libertine, were yet Collecting strawberries or wantonly chasing their companions, tantalising them, staining their lips and cheeks with the rich fruit.
Keep in mind that Bartram was a 36-year-old man who’d endured several weeks of difficult travel, far from the comforts of home:
This sylvan scene of primitive innocence was enchanting, and perhaps too enticing for hearty young men long to continue idle spectators. In fine, nature prevailing over reason, we wished at least to have a more active part in their delicious sports. Thus precipitately resolving, we cautiously made our approaches, yet undiscovered, almost to the joyous scene of action. Now, although we meant no other than an innocent frolic with this gay assembly of hamadryades, we shall leave it to the person of feeling and sensibility to form an idea to what lengthsour passions might have hurried us, thus warmed and excited, had it not been for the vigilance and care of some envious matrons who lay in ambush, and espying us gave the alarm, time enough for the nymphs to rally and assemble together; we however pursued and gained ground on a group of them, who had incautiously strolled to a greater distance from their guardians, and finding their retreat now like to be cut off, took shelter under cover of a little grove, but on perceiving themselves to be discovered by us, kept their station, peeping through the bushes; when observing our approaches, they confidently discovered themselves and decently advanced to meet us, half unveiling their blooming faces, incarnated with the modest maiden blush, and with native innocence and cheerfulness presented their little baskets, merrily telling us their fruit was ripe and sound.
We accepted a basket, sat down and regaled ourselves on the delicious fruit, encircled by the whole assembly of the innocently jocose sylvan nymphs; by this time the several parties under the conduct of the elder matrons, had disposed themselves in companies on the green, turfy banks.
For an itinerant botanist who answered to the name "Puc Puggy", Billy Bartram knew how to have a good time.
On this very day, 233 years ago, he took great delight…
We first encountered this elk last summer at a place of historic and ceremonial significance, and then again this week in the same neck of the woods.
To obscure his whereabouts, I'll simply refer to him as "Elmer."
Elmer appears to be a healthy fellow, and according to a herd report from last October, Elmer was one of the stars of the Fall 2007 rut:
Elk breeding season, known as “the rut”, is in full swing in the Great Smoky Mountains. The rut is the several-week breeding period when the cows cycle into estrus and the bulls compete for dominance to mate with the cows. A bull’s behavior will change significantly during the rut. They will have swollen necks, much like white-tail deer and will be seen rubbing their antlers against trees and the ground. They will scrape a bare spot on the ground with their hooves and antlers and urinate in it before wallowing there. This spreads their scent across their body, announcing their presence to females and other bulls alike.
A more noticeable announcement of their presence is bugling; a call the bulls make that can be heard up to a mile away in some terrains. This advertises his fitness to the cows, or challenges other bulls. If another bull accepts the challenge, the two will lock antlers and fight until an order of dominance is established. Typically, only the bigger, stronger bulls have a chance to mate with the females ensuring that the strongest genes are passed on to the offspring. When a cow cycles into estrus it lasts for less than 24 hours, so the herd bull must remain attentive, even while other bulls are challenging him.
The dominant bull for 2007 has been difficult to determine, as several bulls have taken the position for a short time before being defeated by another bull. During the first week in September the two dominant bulls from 2006, #3 (6x6) and #16 (6x7), returned to Cataloochee. These bulls remained about 20 miles apart in opposite directions from Cataloochee during most of the year but returned to the Valley within one day of each other. The same behavior was seen last year when they returned, fought, and divided the cows into two harems for the remainder of the breeding season. This year they again divided the cows into two harems.
However, over the past several weeks they have each lost their harems to other bulls including #21, #7, and Elmer. Perhaps the most impressive bull is Elmer, a wide, symmetrical 6x6. He is just 4 years old but is one of the largest bulls in the herd and probably has the widest antlers of all of them. Elmer had control over most of the cows for several weeks and was even seen breeding a couple of cows in the late afternoons. However, he has since been replaced again by #16.
Elmer is losing his winter coat, so he looks a bit ragged right now, but he is still a magnificent animal and it was good to see him again.
[I should add that no National Park rules were violated to obtain these photos.]
The one-year anniversary of the infamous Balsam Mountain Preserve Golf Course Dam Break is rapidly approaching, so I read with great interest this week’s article in the Smoky Mountain News regarding the continuing aftermath of the disaster.
While I was reading the article, for no particular reason I began to reminisce about a totally unrelated incident that occurred to me, also last June.
I’d gone to the supermarket to pick up a few groceries, and when I came back out of the store there was a terrible commotion in the parking lot.
Two frat boys, Jim and Craig, were joy-riding around the lot in an enormous green Hummer. I guess they were just trying to be macho and show off for Rosalie and some other hottie riding along with them.
Anyhow, they were driving round and round, faster and faster, trying to go airborne off the speed-bumps, scattering the shoppers and the grocery carts, cutting off cars that were trying to pull out of the lot.
People were angry. People were yelling at the Hummer:
“What do you think you’re doing!!!”
Jim and Craig both flipped the bird as they sped by. Rosalie and the other girl were in hysterics, they were laughing so hard.
To avoid the danger, I waited before walking back to my car. Somebody next to me shrugged it off, “Ahh, just some kids out having fun…”
At that very moment the Hummer smashed into the side of my parked car. Then the Hummer lurched into reverse and came to a stop. I rushed out to survey the damage.
Jim and Craig jumped out of the Hummer and faced me down. They had that frat boy look, alright, hairy-legged boys in satin gym shorts and flip-flops.
It was Jim’s Hummer, but Craig had been driving, and as soon as he saw me, Craig stated pleading, “Hey man, it was an accident. Sorry, man. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t my fault.”
I was steamed, “Accident, my foot, you guys could have killed somebody the way you were cutting up out here.”
Jim chimed in, “Nah, we’re really into safety, dude. That’s why I have a Hummer. Safest thing on the road, dude.” Jim said it with mock sincerity while Craig and their girlfriends were snickering and trying to contain their laughter.
Craig started to say, “Hey man, you shouldn’t have parked your car in OUR WAY…”
But Jim interrupted and tried to placate me, “Don’t worry, dude, I’ll take care of it. I’ll get your car fixed. Good as new, dude. BETTER than new.”
About that time, a police officer drove up, filled out a report and issued citations against Craig and Jim for various violations. The officer confided to me, “These guys have been causing trouble for a long time. We’ve written warning tickets, but it never did any good…”
I didn’t keep up with the legal proceedings against Jim and Craig. You know how it goes. Their hot-shot lawyer kept getting continuances, dragging things out, trying to get charges reduced, trying to get prayer-for-judgment. About what you’d expect.
I do know this. They gave me a big run-around when it came to fixing my car. They had my car hauled in to what they said was “the best body shop in Western North Carolina” and it sat there for weeks, waiting for parts, waiting for Bondo, waiting for paint.
When I finally got it back, the doors didn’t line up and the paint job didn’t match, but at least it was drivable. But what really got me was how they acted so put out:
“Hey man, WE paid to get your car fixed. It was coming out of OUR pockets, not yours, dude.”
Then, the other night, I was having a burger at O’Malley’s. I heard some familiar voices from down the way. Jim and Craig were leaving the bar along with their girlfriends. When they got near my booth, they recognized me. They had a good beer buzz going and were even more loud and belligerent than usual.
Jim started in on me, “Well if it’s not MISTER UNGRATEFUL. We paid to get his old car fixed and he’s STILL complaining, trying to say we’re reckless drivers. Accusing us of being IRRESPONSIBLE. Sheee-uuuutttt.”
There was a tense silence as all four of them glared at me. A second later, they moved along without another word. And as the door flung open for them to leave, I could hear them all guffawing.
I leaned over and looked out the window. They got on board that big green Hummer, and peeled rubber as they swerved around the corner of the building.
A split second later, I heard the familiar crunch of sheet metal.
Well, you don't know what we can find Why don't you come with me my friend On a magic carpet ride Well, you don't know what we can see Why don't you tell your dreams to me Fantasy will set you free -Magic Carpet Ride, by Steppenwolf
Given the current worldwide shortage in magic carpets, we’ll need to find alternate transportation for the trip I have in mind.
A bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan should do just fine. Meet me at Boone’s Corner in Candler and we’ll take it for a spin on the Pisgah Motor Road.
First, though, let me tell you how this all got started. Shortly after I began collecting vintage postcards of Western North Carolina, I snagged this linen-era scene of "Mount Pisgah and the Rat" and encountered a mystery. The Mount Pisgah part was easy. There’s not a more recognizable peak this side of Grandfather Mountain.
But "the Rat"? I pondered over that one. Maybe the rat was one of the smaller hills poking up in the foreground. What were they talking about? I just couldn’t see it. Then, a few months later, I was reading Margaret Morley’s 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains:
That beautiful form with the dome-like top, southwest of Asheville, is Mount Pisgah, and that ridge, a little lower and to the left of the summit, is the Rat. " Pisgah and the Rat ! " — the two names inexorably yoked together because the two shapes make one group, and the lower of them has a form so suggestive that there is no escape for it. They are so near Asheville as to attract immediate attention from the newcomer, who, according to his temperament, is shocked or amused at his first introduction to "Pisgah and the Rat."
In the meantime, I had collected more images of Mount Pisgah and the alleged rat. Perhaps if I viewed the scene in person, the ridge leading up to Mount Pisgah would bear a greater resemblance to a rodent of gargantuan proportions. To check it out, I could drive the Nissan up NC 151 toward the Parkway.
But anybody could do that!
Instead, you’re invited to join me in that bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan. Fortuitously, it came furnished with North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State published in 1939 by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Project Administration. So hop in, hang on, and open up the book to page 445, Tour 21A.
According to the Guide, the following scene awaits when we reach the 4.0 mile point on the Pisgah Motor Road:
Pisgah and the Rat, twin eminences, loom above the range straight ahead. From a distance the Rat resembles a rodent with tail extended and head lowered between its front paws.
Eureka! I pull over to the side of the road, and snap a few pictures with my Kodak Brownie. If I squint and turn my head to one side, I can barely, just barely, picture a giant rat skulking up toward the top of Mount Pisgah.
It's just like Peggy Lee always said:
Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is
With a full tank of Ethyl in the Chrysler, I figure there’s no need to end this journey on an anticlimactic note. Let’s break out the booze, let’s have a ball, let’s turn the page, let’s roll on.
After four more miles of travel, we pass Stony Fork, "a colony of summer cabins, a few permanent homes, and a sprinkling of refreshment stands."
Then the road gets steeper and curvier as we wind to the top. I watch the temperature gauge pushing toward the danger zone, so I ease up on the accelerator to keep the radiator in this old Chrysler from boiling over. In spite of our automotive anxiety, the scenery along the way lives up to the promises of the Guide:
In May the woods are gay with azalea that varies from white to deep orange. The bloom of the laurel shades from white to delicate pink, and in June the purplish-red splotches of the rhododendron are profuse. Among flowers in the woods are columbine, bluet, wild iris, Indian pink, ladyslipper, and trillium.
Soon, we manage to reach the top. Just ahead is the Little Pisgah Ridge Tunnel. Anatomically speaking, we’re about to pass through the bowels of the rat. When we come out the other end, we’re that much closer to Buck Spring Lodge, the impressive log structure built by George W. Vanderbilt on his private hunting estate.
Nearby is the parking lot for the trail to the top of Mount Pisgah.
It’s too bad the refreshment stand is closed today. An ice-cold bottle of Double-Cola sure would hit the spot.
So we roll on along the Pisgah Motor Road and in less than a mile pass by the Pisgah Forest Inn, "a rustic hostelry from whose front porch the Pink Beds and the round dome of Looking Glass Rock are visible." Just across the road, the Frying Pan Campground (5,040 alt.) is the highest campground in the Pisgah National Forest.
After a couple of more miles we come to Wagon Road Gap and the junction with NC 284. Might as well take a little drive south toward Looking Glass Falls and the town of Brevard. Just past the Pink Beds, we pull into the U. S. Fawn Rearing Plant:
This is the only plant in the United States that has for its primary purpose the rearing of fawns. People in this area are given permits to capture fawns, which the plant buys at $4 a head and raises on bottles. When they are six months old, they are shipped to other preserves. About 135 fawns are reared each year.
I’d like to stick around for feeding time, but it’s getting late. The sun is dropping fast. And I need to drive you back to Candler before this bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan turns into a pumpkin.
This postcard destination won’t make it into anyone’s hiking guide to North Carolina lookout towers. But it warrants a mention, if for no other reason, by combining an observation tower with a waterfall. Frank Lloyd Wright attempted something similar with considerably more success.
[Observation Tower and Water Falls at Nantahala Inn – On U. S. 19, 9 miles west of Bryson City, North Carolina. From this Observation Tower panoramic views may be had of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and of Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Park. Nantahala Inn serves the best in Southern Cooked Food – 35 units – Rooms or Separate Cottages – Swimming pool – Recommended by Duncan Hines.]
I have no idea if the tower / waterfall continues to stand / fall at Nantahala Inn. My guess? It has vanished.
Up the gorge from the Nantahala Inn another landmark has gone the way of the Edsel - Gorgarama Park and Restaurant. This postcard conveys the unique Gorgarama charm.
I especially like the Gorgarama-mobiles parked out front.
Perhaps the rights to the name from this fine establishment are available. Some quick entrepreneur would get rich by purchasing the Gorgarama name…
…and opening an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
"If the soup was as warm as the wine, if the wine was as old as the turkey, if the turkey had breasts like the maid, it would have been a fine dinner." - Duncan Hines (1880-1959)
Heucheras, or, Coral Bells. This plant has an unusual trait. Unlike many other plants, heucheras can be grown under Black Walnut trees because they are resistant to the toxin Juglone which the trees emit from their roots. Heucheras are also salt tolerant.
Nikwasi Mound, Franklin, Macon County, NC, ca. 1896
Kudos to local blogger Thunder Pig for his coverage of this weekend's celebration at Nikwasi Mound (Franklin) and the unveiling of the Cherokee Heritage Trail Marker. I don't know of any place in the mountains with a richer history than Macon County. And, evidently, it is home to some honorable folks, given that when Thunder Pig lost his mp3 player during the event, someone came forward to find it and return it to him. He reports that video of the celebration will be posted in the next day or two.
Missing out on events like this, as I did, makes me wish for a time machine that would allow going back to revisit the past...to get a second chance to be in attendance. But if I could get a ticket to revisit ONE DAY, and one day only, at Nikwasi, it would be a no-brainer. I'd book it for April 3, 1730, when there was another celebration at the mound. In recognition of this weekend's festivities at Nikwasi, here's a re-post from April 3, 2007.
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.
There must have been some mix-up. All I wanted was the UV block and the scratch resistance.
Back when I purchased new glasses from the Vision Center, I DID NOT order the Special Coating. The lab put it on my lenses anyhow. And I’m too busy to send them back for a re-do, so I just have to live with it.
I’d never heard of this Special Coating. It allows the wearer to behold absurdities, inconsistencies and non-sequiturs that would otherwise go undetected.
I find it something of a distraction.
For instance, just this week I’m rolling out of Asheboro on US 64, singing along with my favorite Roy Orbison CD. Then I spot something on the periphery of my bespectacled vision.
I hit the brakes, turn around at the Blue Mist Restaurant and speed back west on 64.
It’s a big sign reflecting the fervent vitality of two great American religious traditions. I grew up with one of the traditions, so I can understand it (to the extent that anyone can “understand” a religious tradition). I did not grow up with the other one, so I’ve never understood the primal zeal it evokes.
Anyone else would cruise past Frank’s Gun & Pawn without giving it a second look.
It’s the glasses, I tell you.
With the Special Coating.
That I DID NOT order.
Lacking that Special Coating on HIS glasses, Frank of Frank’s Gun & Pawn would NOT be prone to strange and disturbing visions while sitting around reloading cartridges. Or whatever it is that he does to piddle away the hours at Frank’s Gun & Pawn. Therefore, Frank would not see this:
Jesus and his posse walk into the shop to purchase a weapon.
(Did I mention these are young, swarthy, Middle Eastern men? If you watched the bunch of them boarding your plane, you’d start to squirm, even if it made you feel guilty for being so politically incorrect.)
Anyhow, Jesus and his posse walk into Frank’s Gun & Pawn to purchase a weapon. They look around for a minute and then Jesus exclaims, “James, Peter, come check out this snub nose .38!”
Peter picks up the pistol. He likes the way it feels in his hand. He exchanges glances with his comrades and then turns to Jesus, “What do you think? Should we buy this one?”
Doubtless, this vision has never occurred to Frank.
Circling around the parking lot at Frank’s Gun & Pawn, I pause to take a photograph of the sign. I take off my glasses and sight through the camera. Got it! Before putting my glasses back on, I wipe off a smudge and glance across the highway at a vacant lot.
Then, with my glasses on, I see the lot's not vacant after all. There's a shop. Khalid Habib’s Guns and Pawn. And right there on his sign is an inspirational verse.
From the Quran.
Waiting for the traffic to thin out so I can resume my trip, I watch the drivers on US 64. They’re all slowing and gawking at the sign in front of Khalid Habib’s Guns and Pawn. Their faces contort with disbelief. They shake their heads in disgust.
In just a few weeks, the rhododendrons of Roan Mountain will be in full bloom. It’s one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen. But that’s not the only reason I’m itching to get back there. What I really want is to hear some good old mountain music. And Roan Mountain is the place to find it.
No mournful ballads. No droning dulcimer. No scratchy fiddle. No plinkety-plunk of a banjo. This Roan Mountain music is something altogether different, as described and explained (with great certitude) by Henry E. Colton in an 1878 newspaper article:
Several of the cattle tenders on the mountain and also General Wilder had spoken to us about what they called Mountain Music. One evening they said it was sounding loud, and Dr. D. P. Boynton, of Knoxville, Hon. J. M. Thornburg, and myself accompanied General Wilder to the glen to hear it. The sound was very plain to the ear, and was not at all as described – like the humming of thousands of bees – but like the incessant, continuous and combined snap of two Leyden jars positively and negatively charged.
I tried to account for it on the theory of bees or flies but the mountain people said it frequently occurred after the bees or flies had gone to their winter homes or before they came out. It was always loudest and most prolonged just before there would be a thunderstorm in either valley, or one passing over the mountain.
I used every argument I could to persuade myself that it was simply a result of some common cause and to shake the faith of the country people in its mysterious origin but I only convinced myself that it was the result from two currents of air meeting each other in the suck between the two peaks where there was no obstruction of trees, once containing a greater, the other a less amount of electricity, or that the two currents coming together in the open plateau on the high elevation, by their friction and being of different temperatures, generated electricity.
The ‘mountain music’ was simply the snapping caused by this friction and this generation of electricity. Many have noted the peculiar snapping hum to be observed in great auroral displays, particularly those of September, 1859 and February, 1872.
As the amount of electricity in the air currents became equalized or surcharged, they, descending to the other side caused the thunder storm daily in the valleys near the mountain and sometimes immediately on the edge of the timber surrounding the great bald top. The air currents of the Western North Carolina mountains and the East Tennessee valley form an aerial tide, ebbing and flowing.
The heated air of the valley rises from nine in the morning until three or four in the afternoon, making a slight easterly wind up and over Roan Mountain. As night comes on the current turns back into the valley, almost invariably producing a very brisk gale by three or four o’clock in the morning which, in its turn, dies down to a calm by seven and commences to reverse by nine o’clock. This continual change of currents of air makes it an impossibility for any great malarial scourge to exist in the East Tennessee valley, especially its northeastern end.
This is not the first incidence of humming in New Zealand. In 2005, New Zealand author Rachel McAlpine wrote a book called The Humming. In her novel set in small town, an artist called Ivan and a number of the townsfolk are plagued by a low frequency humming noise. The book was largely inspired by the author's own experiences in the seaside town of Puponga on the northwest tip of New Zealand's south island which was itself at the centre of a humming mystery some years back.
Despite the unstable weather, I figured it was a good day to take up the challenge – to climb a far tar.
So I leafed through Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towersand perused my maps and decided that Albert Mountain tower was the place to go. Before leaving the house, I checked the radar and the satellite weather. They didn't indicate any serious threats, though I knew to prepare for anything.
The closer I got to Standing Indian the more the air was filled with bluster. It was blustery at Winding Stair Gap. It was blustery along the upper reaches of the Nantahala River. I tried to imagine how it would have been around here in the timber era, with a busy sawmill and a steam locomotive chugging up and down along the banks of the river, the same stretch of river I was following to Bearpen Creek.
Starting out on the trail to Albert Mountain, I knew a climb of about 1600 feet awaited me in the next three miles. Not so bad, but it’s been a while since I’ve faced a hike of such strenuosity. I knew, though, that the first part would be the toughest. That after a while, I would reach a point where I would catch my second wind. It was at about that point the trail decided to get steep and to stay steep for a long ways. I was just fine, though.
Bearpen Trail leads to the Albert Mountain tower sitting at 5220 feet, along the Appalachian Trail, and astride the Nantahala and Little Tennessee Divide. That fact alone makes it an auspicious place by my reckoning. But with a journey this nice, I wasn’t obsessed with the destination. The rich, fertile slopes were covered with trillium of different kinds, ferns, violets, moss covered rocks at the crossings of little brooks, moss covered stumps standing like sculptures by the trail. The hemlocks, sadly, were ghosts of what they used to be. Cancer root popped up here and there - such an odd plant with its lack of chlorophyll - depending on the roots of the huge oak trees for its life.
I sought to ease my concerns about the weather by keeping an eye on the blue patch of sky that never completely disappeared. But the wind whistled. The wind howled. Had it gotten much worse, I would have grabbed for that reliable cliché, "It sounded JUST LIKE a freight train coming through," but, fortunately, it didn’t get much worse.
All along Bearpen Trail and back, and on the Appalachian Trail, too, I didn’t see another soul. Not one. I didn’t see any bobcats. I didn’t see any coyotes. I didn’t see any panthers. Once or twice, a weathered stump in the distance managed to pull off a credible impersonation of a black bear. But no, I didn’t see any black bears. (Though I have to confess, it was considerably more than one or two weathered stumps in the distance that managed to pull off credible impersonations of black bears. Good to be alert, I say!)
No rain. But that wind! It roared.
Bearpen Trail joined the Appalachian Trail for the last little jag leading up to the lookout tower. I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, so I'll skip over any description of the final approach to Albert Mountain. Suffice it to say that you’ll be rewarded with excellent views once you reach the top.
Here’s what you’ll see:
To the north, the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains and Clingman’s Dome.
The Nantahalas, including Siler Bald, Wine Spring Bald, and Wayah Bald.
In another direction, the town of Franklin, the Great Balsams and Richland Balsam in the distance.
Overlooking Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory below the steep slopes facing east, you face the upper valley of the Little Tennessee and have views of Whiteside, Shortoff and Yellow Mountains.
Turning southward, there’s Rabun Bald, Ridgepole Mountains, Big Scaly, Standing Indian Mountain and Brasstown Bald.
Then to the west and north-west, Tusquitee Bald, the Snowbird Mountains, Joanna Bald and the Unicois.
IS THAT ENOUGH FOR ONE VIEW? HUH?
The Albert Mountain Tower was moved here from South Carolina in 1951. The 43 foot tall tower is topped with a steel live-in cab of 14-by-14 feet. The wind was strong enough to distract me from my acrophobia, so I quickly reached the uppermost platform that was open, several flights up. Once there, I had to brace myself against the steel supports because the wind was BLOWING LIKE A BANSHEE. I held on long enough to get some pictures taken. It was as much blue sky as I would see all day.
After that it was back to the ground.
Albert Mountain was named for a member of a prominent pioneer Macon County family, Albert Siler. Born in 1829, Albert grew up with Cherokee playmates and was a fluent speaker of Cherokee. He established St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cartoogechaye in 1881, a church rebuilt in 1940 by Albert’s grandson, the Reverend A. Rufus Morgan. Now I hadn’t known about Albert Siler, but I knew about Rufus Morgan. Founder of the Nantahala Hiking Club, he would celebrate his birthday, even throughout his 80s, by climbing Mount LeConte. Dr. Morgan’s sister, Lucy Morgan, established Penland School of Handicrafts in Mitchell County and retired to Webster. Quite a family.
Though the wind wouldn’t let up, I explored the top of Albert Mountain for a few minutes.
Normally, I wouldn’t post photos of the comfort station, but in this case… Just downhill from the base of the tower, the open-air (and abandoned) privy was an eyecatcher.
It was, to borrow a phrase from E. M. Forster, "A Room With a View."
It took a couple of hours to climb the three miles to the top, but that included plenty of time for shutterbugging and a side trip along a Forest Service Road leading to Yellow Bald. Scrambling back down the mountain only took an hour.
A good time was had. The forest was resplendent, the view from the top superb. I didn’t get blown off the tower. I didn’t have to share my granola bar with a hungry bear. Long-dormant endorphins finally kicked in. And it started to rain...
Long, long ago when my friends and I would shoot the bull about Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, Alan Watts and Thomas Merton, someone would invariably bring up the romantic notion of working a season as a lookout in a fire tower. It was an appealing fantasy: go and experience months of solitude, endure dramatic thunderstorms, memorize the names of every peak on the mountains unrolling in all directions, and use the space and the time to write great literature. We knew that many like-minded people had lived the dream. It was less clear how many of them actually descended from their towers with sheaves of poems or manuscripts of the great American novel. I had occasion to revisit that old dream by attending a book talk at City Lights in Sylva the other night. Peter J. Barr was there to promote his new book, Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers. Right off the bat it seems like a clever concept, but thanks to Barr’s relentless research, the book tells a much richer and more dramatic story than your usual hiking guide.
An excellent speaker, the author reminds you a bit of a very young Jim Carrey, MINUS Carrey's annoying level of manic energy. His voluminous knowledge of the towers is readily apparent, giving the impression that you could ask him how many steps lead to the top of any particular lookout, and he could give you the precise answer off the top of his head.
For anyone who loves the history and the natural beauty of these mountains, Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers tells a story you need to know. Barr’s presentation was inspiring on several counts. For one thing, I‘m ready to set out hiking to some of these towers. And once I get there, I might be inspired to confront my acrophobia. But I was inspired, also, by learning that the author is director of the NC Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA), a group working for the preservation of these towers.
Although there have been dozens of towers dotting North Carolina’s peaks, they are a dying breed. Barr reports that “About a third of the lookouts that once stood in the state are gone. Others are so badly deteriorated that they face removal. Most people assume that the towers on public lands are still maintained; sadly, this is far from true.” Barr calls the Yellow Mountain tower north of Highlands, on the Jackson/Macon county line, “one of WNC’s biggest lookout restoration success stories.” The Yellow Mountain tower, which was featured on the cover of Barr’s book, was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register in 1992.
The FFLA has catalogued rapidly deteriorating towers, including the Shuckstack Lookout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And you can support the association’s efforts to restore Shuckstack and similar endangered towers. (Visit http://www.nclookouts.com/ for more information on how to get involved.)
One of the best lookout towers to visit isn’t even on a mountaintop anymore. You can pick up Barr’s book to read the amazing story of how the Little Snowball Lookout was saved and relocated. Unlike the other towers in the book, it is furnished with the supplies and equipment that would have been found in a working fire lookout tower, including a 1934 Osbourne fire finder. You can visit Little Snowball at the Big Ivy Historical Campus off Dillingham Road near Barnardsville in northeastern Buncombe County. I intend to go there ASAP.
My youthful flights of fancy never made it off the ground. I never harvested grapes in France. I never hopped a freighter. I never joined the Peace Corps. And I never spent a season writing poetry while perched atop a lookout tower. But at least I can pick up Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers, hit the trail, climb a tower and imagine how it might have been.
Sometimes, the natural history of the Great Smoky Mountains overshadows the human history. But there was a time when the two were more closely intertwined, and it's worth celebrating the lives of the people who called the Smokies home in the years leading up to the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Consider Wiley Oakley (1885-1954). His name alone suggests someone you'd want to meet. Born and raised in Gatlinburg, Wiley gained a reputation as a simple, hard-working and good-natured man, quick to help anyone in need.
During the early years of the Park, Wiley became the unofficial ambassador of the Great Smokies. With his encyclopedic knowledge of plants, animals and geography, along with the ability to share homespun tales from his life, Wiley Oakley became a featured guest on radio stations in major cities across America. His growing popularity earned him one nickname, "the Will Rogers of the South."
From the 1936 book, The Great Smoky Mountains, Laura Thornborough shares this Wiley Oakley story:
"I was guidin' some girls up Le Conte and had toted some potatoes along because I like potatoes cooked in the ashes," Wiley began. "Hit war cold that night and to keep 'em from freezin' I planted the taters under a balsam tree. Next day when I was diggin' 'em up, one of the girls seed me and wanted to know what kind of tree that was. I tole her it was a balsam tree and jes' for a joke, I never dreamt she'd believe it, I says, 'and these here are balsam potatoes.'"
"She 'lowed that she never heared that potatoes growed on balsam roots and wanted to taste 'em. So when I had cooked 'em in the ashes I gave her one. She divided with the other girl, who said it tasted like ordinary potatoes to her, but the first girl says, 'No, it tastes stronger!' That tickled me. I 'low they were burnt a little grain with the smoke, and when she says they are stronger than ordinary potatoes, I thought I'd bust out laughin'."
"Goin' down Le Conte that afternoon, the first girl wanted to stop under some balsams and dig some potatoes to take home with her. I tole her that only the she-balsams growed potatoes. Us mountain people," he explained, "call the spruce 'he-balsam,' and the mountain balsam we call 'she-balsam.'"
Then he resumed, with a chuckle, "That girl wanted me to find a she-balsam. She shore did. But, 'course I couldn't find nary one. But the first girl must uv believed me, 'cause when I was down to Knoxville atter that, a man I knowed stopped me on the street and he says, 'Wiley, why did you tell those girls that yarn about balsam potatoes ? They believed you and come back and tole everybody that Wiley Oakley tole them that balsam trees growed potatoes on their roots, and they'd even had some to eat.'"
"I 'lowed to him I never dreamt they'd believe a yarn like that. When I'm a yarnin'," he concluded seriously, "I allers tell 'em they don't have to believe it if they don't want to. Or sometimes I just yodel after I've tole a big 'un!"
Here's a priceless artifact:
If you click on the following link, you can actually hear Wiley Oakley telling a story (recorded around 1928 - a couple of minutes long). Depending on whether he's yarnin' or not, Wiley may or may not cut loose with a yodel when he gets to the end, but you'll have to listen to find out which way it goes.
John Foster, as he preferred to be called, was born Dec. 10, 1918 in Wilkes County, N.C., to John Wilkes and Elvira Foster West during the flu epidemic of that year. John attended Mars Hill College in 1941, where he met his future wife, Nan Elizabeth Love. He graduated with a B.A. in English from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1947 and with an M.A. in 1949. As an undergraduate, he was involved in establishing the “Carolina Quarterly,” a literary journal still in existence today. He also did doctoral work in English and journalism at Chapel Hill and the University of Iowa.
He taught English and creative writing for 42 years at three different colleges. He was at Elon College, N.C., from 1949 to 1958, Old Dominion College in Norfolk, Va., from 1958 to 1968, and in 1968, Appalachian State University (ASU), from which he retired, as professor emeritus, in January 1991. At ASU, along with teaching, he was writer-and-poet-in-residence and mentored hundreds of aspiring writers and poets throughout the years.John will be remembered most as a North Carolina writer, poet, historian and activist for the preservation and ecology of his beloved mountains.
His first published book of poetry, “Up Ego,” was written while he was teaching at Elon College in 1951. In 1965, John received wide acclaim for his first novel, “Time Was.” Published by Random House, the publishers submitted his novel to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize. Other books were: “Appalachian Dawn,” 1973, a sequel to “Time Was”; the “Ballad of Tom Dula,” 1990; and the Appalachian Consortium’s Appalachian Fiction Award, “The Summer People” in 1989. In addition to varied contributions to magazines and other periodicals, his books of poetry include: “This Proud Land,” with photography by Bruce Roberts, “Wry Wine” and “High Noon at Pompeii.”
John received many awards and acknowledgements during his prolific career. He has appeared in “Who’s Who in the South and Southwest,” “Who’s Who Among American Scholars,” “Contemporary Authors” and the “Dictionary of International Biography.” He was past president of the N.C. Writers Conference, N.C. Folklore Society and Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism fraternity.
John Foster West was a fascinating, eccentric, brilliant, caring and introspective man and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him.
From his works:
…My last lover told me I smelled like apples an acceptable fruit filled with tart juices. A product of bright seasons and sunlight, I will use this longest day to play among granite outcroppings up here, companion to the goldenrod and daisies, to the music of the ubiquitous mocking bird, the sun, earth, and the green mountains, the things I kneel to. Carpe diem seems an apt adage still.
-Excerpt from Summer Solstice – 1988 (on the crest of the Blue Ridge) included in High Noon in Pompeii
Mrs. DeVoss spoke again after they left the tunnel of trees and approached a huge, two-story building on the right, dark with age. There was a narrow little porch, two rusting pumps like strangers standing close together for companionship, and a dilapidated farm wagon to one side with mules hitched to it testing the sound of the approaching car with long ears swinging from side to side like hairy antennae. Anna could see faded signs on the side of the building: Peach Snuff, Rumford Baking Powder, B. C. Headache Powders, and Nehi Grape.