Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Finding the Fumarole of Tuckasegee

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.

Those Legasus developers are so sure of themselves…so certain that they’re above any accountability to our community…or to any human authority (with the possible exception of a car full of wise guys from Hackensack, New Jersey wearing fedoras and trench coats). But should they have the arrogance to bulldoze away the Smoke Hole, they might find that they’ve gone too far. They might pay dearly for their folly.

Let me put it like this:

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.]


Rhapsody said...

I was doing research on Cherokee folktales concerning the Nunnehi, when I stumbled on this entry. I saw the entry was from 2008, now it's 2010, and I'm biting my nails to have an update. Was the Fumerole saved?

GULAHIYI said...

Interesting you should ask! Some long-time residents who used to know the location of the smoke hole haven't been able to find it at present. It was very possibly in the path of some of the work done by Legasus. Without making light of a tragedy, I did state the warning that the developers might be asking for trouble if they messed with it. And a couple of months after I posted this, one of the two major partners in the development died on the property of a sudden heart attack (in his early 50s). Coincidence?Perhaps...