Sunday, June 29, 2008

Locomotive Difficulty

See updates below

Locomotive of the Tuckasegee and Southern Railroad that fell through the Scott Creek trestle, 1940

I've been scratching the surface of what's available from the National Archives, and came across this photo of a train in trouble. Although I'm not certain, this mishap might have been the result of the 1940 floods in Jackson County, NC. On August 30-31, 1940, unprecedented floods swept through the Tuckasegee valley.

For more background on that flood check out Lynn Hotaling's terrific recap published in the Sylva Herald:

The Digital Heritage website also provides good coverage and lots of links on the 1916 and 1940 floods in WNC:

Now that we have lakes on the upper reaches of the Tuckasegee, flooding from a weather event like that of 1940 won't be nearly as bad. Either that, or it will be a whole lot worse than what occurred back in '40.

Time will tell.

In May 1976, tornadoes and heavy rains swept across North Carolina causing several deaths. The Associated Press quoted an earwitness making the very predictable statement, "It sounded like a train coming." The story went on to report:

Two earthen dams near the community Speedwell south of Cullowhee were "in danger of collapsing"....both dams are on Cullowhee Mountain, one of them on a 20 acre lake. "If one goes, the other goes..."

A little searching failed to yield answers on the train falling through the trestle, but I did discover a website entitled "appROACHES: an annotated bibliography of COCKROACHES in starring and cameo roles in the creative arts." (Prepared by: Marion W. Copeland, 128 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 01002) Don't assume that cockroaches are a subject of limited significance:

Literary cockroaches usually empathize and are associated with the weak and downtrodden - from Aristophanes' beleaguered farmers in "Peace" (421 B.C.) to the poor, drug-addicted, outlawed and stigmatized whether because of race, ethnic heritage, sex or sexual preference, age or species. For that reason, Willie Baptist, speaking in the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, used this association to move his constituents to take advantage of a leadership training program especially designed for the powerless: “Let us do as the cockroach and not as the dinosaur,” he advises. “ The sensitive [survival] instincts of the cockroach must be matched by our own mental capacity to attain scientific truth about our conditions and about the strengths and limitations of our enemies.”

With amazing regularity, the cockroach represents or symbolizes the plight of those, world wide, most severely stomped on by the dominant, still patriarchal power structure. There is even a suggestion that, because of that association, the roach may prove one of the heroes of 21stcentury ecofeminism, dedicated as that movement is to cleaning up the remains of the patriarchy--of all modes of dominance--and establishing healthy, balanced ecosystems for all life forms. The goal?--making us all as likely to survive as is the ultimate survivor, the roach.

Anyhow, I stumbled upon the cockroach bibliography because it included a literary cockroach moment set on the Tuckasegee River:

Reichs, Kathy. Fatal Voyage. New York et al: Scribner, 2001. In the fourth of her Temperance Brennen, forensic anthropologist mysteries, Reichs creates a memorable cockroach encounter. Temperence is knocked-out, bound, sacked, and left by the Tuckasegee River in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, for later disposal by a mad, cannibalistic megalomanical adversary:

“My heart rate slowed…, and cogent thought began to creep back. “It was then the thing crawled across my cheek. I heard dry insect sounds, felt movement in my hair, then the tickle of antennae on my skin. “A scream formed in my throat. I rolled back and forth, batting at my face, my hair. Blinding pain seared my brain, and my innards jammed up against the back of my throat. “Quiet! One functioning brain cell commanded. “Cockroaches! The others shrieked.” (335)

“I kept at my ankles and wrists, yanking, twisting, tugging, stopping periodically to monitor the sound outside my bag. “Roaches scuttled across my face, their feet feathery on my skin” (338).

Once loose, Temperence encounters a far deadlier foe, her human would-be-killer, and the roaches are forgotten.

As it turns out, Reichs will be speaking at Western Carolina University this fall:

Scheduled to participate in the Chancellor’s Speaker Series in 2008-09 is Kathy Reichs, forensic anthropologist and best-selling author whose novels inspired the Fox television series “Bones,” on Nov. 18.

UPDATE - According to another source, the train mishap was the result of the 1940 flood and involved a Blackwood Lumber Company locomotive, seen here before the flood waters had subsided:

The identifying information accompanying the National Archives photos I've been examining is sketchy at best. If the trestle shown here actually did span Scotts Creek, it might not have been anywhere on the current rail line. And there was no Tuckasegee and Southern Railroad. According to a comprehensive list of North Carolina railroad companies, it was the Tuckasegee and Southeastern Railroad, founded in 1922 and running 12.5 miles from Sylva to East Laporte. Had this rail line not been discontinued (in 1946) it might have served us well, helping to relieve automobile traffic congestion between Sylva and Cullowhee.

But that's not what happened.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Frogs

I'd been watching for two weeks.

Suddenly, the tadpoles that had been swimming around with big tails and tiny hind legs...transformed into little frogs...

...learning to swim all over again.

His (her?) first morning as a frog:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Cold Mountain Got Its Name

Thomas Clingman explains how Cold Mountain came to be named Cold Mountain:

Several hunters were on the top of the mountain when it was covered by a thick sleet. The heels of one of them, to use a skater's phrase, "flew up," causing him to sit down very suddenly. Instead, however, of his remaining quietly thus at rest, the merciless action of the force of gravity, conspiring with the inclination of the ground, caused him to slide rapidly for a couple of hundred yards down the mountain-side.

When finally he did bring up in a bank of snow, he was decidedly of opinion that this mountain was the coldest one he had ever seen. In fact, when afterward questioned if he was not very cold, he said: "Yes, as cold as Cicero in his coldest moment!" He had doubtless heard some local orator pronounced as eloquent as Cicero, and thus concluded that the old Roman was a man of superlatives generally. Since that day the peak has rejoiced in the name of Cold Mountain.

-Appleton's Journal, December 27, 1873

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mysterious White Birds

God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages. - Jacques Deval

I received a note last week from a friend who had seen what he thought might be wood storks. Now that would be news. The wood stork is an endangered species. The closest known rookery for the wood stork is near Sunset Beach, NC, just north of the South Carolina border. And the birds in question were observed in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Those wood storks of WNC join my long list of unsolved ornithological mysteries. Despite my interest in birds, I can’t presume to call myself a birder. That requires some innate talent I lack. A bona fide birder explained to me the differences between a red-shouldered hawk and a red-tailed hawk, which sounds obvious. But even when I got a good look at a hawk last week, I could not tell you if the shoulders or the tail were red. To me, it was simply a hawk.

The birders were always very helpful when I tagged along on field trips. “Look,” they’d exclaim, “in that oak tree. It’s a Prothonotary Warbler.”

I’d squint and scan the tree, not seeing any birds. Finally, I’d concede, “Where? I’m missing it.”

“It’s about a third of the way out on the second limb from the bottom. On the right.”

I’d squint some more and see nothing but leaves. Finally, I’d claim, rather sheepishly, “Oh, alright, NOW I see it.” But, of course, I never did see that warbler.

Despite my deficiencies as a birder, I enjoy watching birds, I enjoy listening to birds and I enjoy learning their life stories. Occasionally, I’ll see a bird so unfamiliar that I get busy trying to identify it. Sometimes, I figure it out, as in the case of an impressive black-and-white warbler that visited the feeder. Just as often, I come up empty.

Several years ago, I saw a white bird strolling about near my house. It was larger than the average songbird and had a little plume sprouting from the top of its head. It resembled a quail more than anything else. But a WHITE quail? I saw it a couple of more times that week, and after that, never again. My best guess is that it was a quail, but then again, maybe not.

On a cold evening several months ago, we were cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway and caught a glimpse of a small white bird in the woods near the edge of the road. It was enough of a glimpse to observe the bird darting from a tree stump to the ground and back again.

After I got home, I perused my bird books and came up with the snow bunting as a possible identity for the white bird on the Parkway. Maybe it was a snow bunting. Maybe it wasn’t. I’ll never know.

Last week, a story came out of Stanly County, NC concerning an odd white bird. It was, in fact, a bluebird: an albino bluebird, with white feathers and red eyes. Millingport resident Martha Thompson said, “I’ve been watching birds 50 years and have never seen one before.”
Getting a close look at such an anomaly is a just reward for Thompson, who maintains 15 nesting boxes and five or six feeders. State wildlife officials deemed the albino bluebird “quite rare.”

My friend’s wood storks, like my own quail and snow bunting, could remain unsolved mysteries. However, I’ve learned another lesson in birding from that Stanly County bluebird. The next time I’m puzzled by a strange white bird I’ll try to get a good look at its eyes, to see if they’re red. Then, I still might have trouble identifying the species, but at least I could tell you whether it’s an albino or not.

I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven. - Emily Dickinson

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Solstice Celebration

Goodbye Spring. Hello Summer. Happy Solstice.

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and glowing, on sea and continues and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. - John Muir

The summer night is like a perfection of thought. - Wallace Stevens

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. - John Lubbock

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. - Aldo Leopold

In summer, the song sings itself. - William Carlos Williams

I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer. My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music. It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips. - Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. - Albert Camus

Finding Tamahaka and Tlanusiyi

If you can get beyond viewing these mountains through 21st century eyes, there’s no telling what you might see.

Take, for instance, William C. A. Frerichs. The artist visited the mountains during the 1850s, and painted at least two scenes of Tamahaka Falls in Cherokee County, NC. Tamahaka Falls is a place that I've yet to visit. That doesn’t mean it isn’t out there. But you won't find it with modern eyes.

That’s true of many places in these mountains. Tlanusiyi is another such place in Cherokee County. If you want to go, get onto Business 19 in Murphy and cross the bridge over the Hiwassee River. Find a place to park and take a good look at the stretch of water just downstream from the bridge. In May of 1848, Charles Lanman stood here and examined the river he called “Owassa”:

The Cherokee word Owassa signifies the main river, or the largest of the tributaries: and the paraphrase of this name into Hiowassee by the map-makers is only a ridiculous blunder. So I have been informed, at any rate, by one of the oldest Cherokees now living. The Owassa is a tributary of the noble Tennessee, and is as clear, beautiful, rapid and picturesque a mountain river as I have ever seen….

Today’s bridge crosses the Hiwassee (or “Owassa”, if you please) where the thousand-year-old Unicoi Trail forded the river. From this point, we have the luxury of seeing it as Lanman saw it:

I may here mention what must be considered a remarkable fact in geology. Running directly across the village of Murphy is a belt of marble, composed of the black, gray, pure white and flesh-colored varieties, which belt also crosses the Owassa river. Just above this marble causeway the Owassa, for a space of perhaps two hundred feet, is said to be over one hundred feet deep, and at one point, in fact, a bottom has never been found.

A couple of miles due west, the Nottely River makes the final approach to its confluence with the Hiwassee. Lanman reported that the two rivers were connected by a underground channel through the marble:

I have heard the opinion expressed that there is a subterranean communication between this immense hole in Owassa and the river Notely, which is some two miles distant. The testimony adduced in proof of this theory is, that a certain log was once marked on the Notely, which log was subsequently found floating in the pool of the Deep Hole in the Owassa.

Fifty years after Lanman’s visit to Murphy, James Mooney described the view along this portion of the river:

On the south side the trail ascended a high bank, from which they could look down into the water. One day some men going along the trail saw a great red object, full as large as a house, lying on the rock ledge in the middle of the stream below them. As they stood wondering what it could be they saw it unroll--and then they knew it was alive--and stretch itself out along the rock until it looked like a great leech with red and white stripes along its body.

It rolled up into a ball and again stretched out at full length, and at last crawled down the rock and was out of sight in the deep water. The water began to boil and foam, and a great column of white spray was thrown high in the air and came down like a waterspout upon the very spot where the men had been standing, and would have swept them all into the water but that they saw it in time and ran from the place.

More than one person was carried down in this way, and their friends would find the body afterwards lying upon the bank with the ears and nose eaten off, until at last the people were afraid to go across the ledge any more, on account of the great leech, or even to go along that part of the trail.

And so it is that the spot where the Valley river joins the Hiwassee was known among the Cherokees as Tlanusiyi, or "The Leech place." Mooney mentioned the underground waterway linking the Hiwassee with the Nottely. A deep part of the Nottely, where it bends toward Murphy, was also known as Tlanusiyi because the leech would emerge and make the water boil, just as it did on the Hiwassee.

There you have it. The next time you visit Murphy, you can look for Tlanusiyi on the Owassa, Tlanusiyi on the Nottely, and the underground river that connects them. And while you’re at it, you can look for Tamahaka Falls. But remember: if you view Cherokee County through 21st century eyes, you might never find those places.

Good luck.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Ride on the Hippie Bus

Recently, I received a comment in response to a story from last August, Margaret Rides the Hippie Bus Through Cowee.

The hippie bus has gotten a new coat of grafiti you should check it out!

And a couple of days later:

We re-paint the bus every Easter Sunday (weather permitting) Come check it out See ya

I certainly appreciated the invitation, and though I looked forward to seeing the 2008 edition of the hippie bus, I was slightly apprehensive. What if they had messed it up? It was such a classic already.

When I finally got to see the new paint job, not only was I NOT disappointed, I was mighty impressed! As you can see in the photos above and below, this year’s paint job is a winner.

Before re-posting Margaret Rides the Hippie Bus Through Cowee (from August 8, 2007) I did want to double-check the correct spelling of “hippie” because it never looked quite right to me. I learned that “hippie” is the preferred spelling though “hippy” is acceptable and was more commonly used in Britain. While clearing that up, I learned that the term originated in 1964, and gained wider usage starting in 1967. Also, it was during the height of the hippie movement that the governor of California, the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, described a hippie as a person who "dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheeta." What a perceptive leader! You should have known he was bound for greater things!

Margaret Rides the Hippie Bus Through Cowee

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.William Blake

One day last month I went to Cowee Valley. It was the perfect place to spend an afternoon watching a summer thunderstorm, a great blue heron, a flock of red-winged blackbirds.

Later, just past the ruby mine road on the way to the water gardens, I spotted an incongruous psychedelic box near the creek. The object they call the "Hippie Bus" is an odd time capsule in the midst of immaculate pastureland and farmsteads.

You can’t help but wonder where people have gone in that Hippie Bus.

Last month, too, I picked up a new edition of Margaret Morley’s 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains. I’d read it a long ago and appreciated that she wrote her book around the same time as Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders.

It’s hard to believe that the Hippie Bus is one hundred years old, but you never know. I say that because I opened to page 269 and read a passage that made me think that Margaret Morley rode the Hippie Bus through Cowee. How else do you explain this pair of sentences:

In the valley of the Cowee Creek these two lovely gems, the ruby and the rhodolite, have blossomed side by side in the rocks, each extracting from them what it needed to bring to expression the spirit of inorganic life, just as in the crumbling soil above them the roses and rhododendrons have blossomed each in its own rare colors to express the inner spirit of the plant. And who shall say that the same necessity, impelling the crystals through cycles of cosmic pressure to emerge in permanent forms of beauty, does not impel flowers of the upper air to clothe themselves in transitory loveliness?


For all I know, William Bartram rode the Hippie Bus through Cowee in 1775. Obviously, Bartram had blown the hinges off the doors of perception long before his moveable feast of botany and language reached the Little Tennessee:

Some of these roving beauties stroll over the mossy, shelving, humid rocks, or from off the expansive wavy boughs of trees, bending over the floods, salute their delusive shade, playing on the surface; some plunge their perfumed heads and bathe their flexile limbs in the silver stream; whilst others by the mountain breezes are tossed about, their blooming tufts bespangled with pearly and chrystaline dew-drops collected from the falling mists, glistening in the rainbow arch.

Let’s return, though, to Margaret Morley (1858 – 1923) who lived near Tryon, explored the mountains and wrote about what she saw. The Carolina Mountains also includes two dozen of her photographs. Some of them are staged tableaus of entire families, posing on their front porches. Others are straightforward documentation of geographic features. Several photos do stand out; for instance, one of her most memorable images - "The Sorghum-Cutter". In fact, the North Carolina Museum of History just concluded an exhibition of Morley photographs.

Morley moved to Tryon because of her close friend Amelia Watson, a watercolor artist with whom she had collaborated. Watson illustrated an 1896 edition of Thoreau’s Cape Cod, and her watercolor shown above is featured as the frontispiece for The Carolina Mountains.

Like Horace Kephart, Margaret Morley advocated protection of the mountains and devoted a whole chapter of her book to the Southern Appalachian National Park.

Maybe Horace even joined in with Margaret to drive that Hippie Bus all the way into town. I can almost hear them now, rolling out of Cowee and making awkward Victorian small talk with each other:

Margaret - To come from the turmoil of city life to these mountains is like taking a journey back into the history of the past.

Horace - I was seeking a Back of Beyond…In Far Appalachia, it seemed that I might realize the past in the present, seeing with my own eyes what life must have been to my pioneer ancestors of a century or two ago...

Margaret - Oh! Ahead there, Horace, it is the village of Franklin, with the Nantahala rising, an exquisite background, behind it. And seeing it thus in the mystical light of the summer day one has again that vision of what the earth might be, and will be, when future generations are moved by the power of beauty that is finally to conquer the world.

Horace - That's...uhh...groovy, Margaret, groovy...ahem... Myself, I wanted to enjoy a free life in the open air, the thrill of exploring new ground, the joys of the chase, and the man’s game of matching my woodcraft against the forces of nature, with no help from [blah blah blah...]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's In a Name?

Just the other day, I happened upon a compilation of treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the United States. The collection includes 17 treaties and agreements, the first from 1785 and the last from 1835. I’m sure it will make for fascinating reading, but one thing jumped out at me when I took a quick look at the treaties...the names of the Cherokee signatories are intriguing to anyone with a love of language. Here’s a partial list from a few of those treaties:

Koatohee, or Corn Tassel of Toquo
Kolakusta, or Prince of Noth
Newota, or the Gritzs of Chicamaga
Tuckasee, or Young Terrapin of Allajoy
Chesecotetona, or Yellow Bird of the Pine Log
Tulco, or Tom of Chatuga
Kowetatahee, in Frog Town
Taliusta, or Porpoise of Tilassi
Wooaluka, the Waylayer

Chuleoah, or the Boots
Canquillehanah, or the Thigh
Sawuttch, or Slave Catcher
Kunoskeskie, or John Watts
Koolaquah, or Big Acorn
Toowayelloh, or Bold Hunter
Cheakoneske, or Otter Lifter
Keshukaune, or She Reigns

Iskagua, or Clear Sky (formerly Nenetooyah, or Bloody Fellow)
Nontuaka, or the Northward
Chutloh, or the King Fisher
Teesteke, or Common Disturber
Tekakisskee, or Taken out of the Water

Chockonnistaller, or Stallion
Utturah, or Skin Worm
Kanowsurhee, or Broom
Tunksalenee, or Thick Legs
Kumamah, or Butterfly
Neckaanneah, or Woman Holder

John Jolly, or Eulatakee
Dreadfulwater, or Aumaudoskee
Sharp Arrow, or Costarauh
Turtle at Home, or Sullicooahwolu
The Glass, or Tunnquetihee

The Bark of Hightower
Currohe Dick
Going Snake
Roman Nose
White Man Killer
Katchee of Cowee
The Gourd
Spring Frog

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Peacocks on Pigeon River

Two books about Western North Carolina, both published in 1913, are still in print: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders, and Margaret Morley’s The Carolina Mountains. I suppose that the arbiters of taste in such matters favor Kephart’s book by a wide margin, and I can understand why it has aged well despite its shortcomings. Morley indulged in flowery prose that was fashionable in its time, but turns off most modern readers. I like it, though. Her chapter on The Forks of the Pigeon River showcased her talent for describing mountain scenery, and you could do much worse than to read it while traveling from Canton to Cold Mountain.

An episode on the Little East Fork of the Pigeon demonstrated how Morley’s high-flown idealism was at odds with the gritty reality of mountain life. Morley was surprised to encounter a gang of peacocks:

When we admired them with a sort of anticipatory pleasure in the time to come, when peacocks will sun themselves on the walls of the charming gardens that charming people will make here, we were brought violently to earth by learning that the real value of the peacock is in its superiority to chicken meat.

As with almost any outsider writing about Appalachia, Morley starts skating on thin ice when she gets into social commentary. Though not as guilty of condescension and caricature as the parade of writers that preceded her to these mountains, Morley adopts a certain tone in discussing “the mountaineer” that some might find objectionable. On the other hand, she was witness to a period of social, environmental and economic change in the mountains not unlike our own. This passage caught my attention because it hints at the complexities of what we call “property rights”:

The mountain people are many of them poor and ignorant, but the ill-clad man, who to the city visitor may look like a vagabond, is not to be treated as such; he knows some things the fine-appearing stranger does not know, and is well aware of the fact. The mountaineer is very old-fashioned, so old-fashioned that he values native shrewdness above what he calls "book-larnin"'; so old-fashioned that he thinks his neighbors as good as himself, and himself as good as his neighbors, irrespective of who has the biggest cornfield; and so old-fashioned that he believes progress to be a menace against his personal freedom, a thing to be combated at every point.

His long-continued, almost communal life in a free wilderness, where every one had a right to do what he pleased, — hunting, fishing, pasturing, even cutting down trees wherever it happened to suit his convenience, — made for him the acceptance of other ideas of property rights peculiarly difficult. He gladly sold his land to the newcomer whose slaughter of the forests he understood, but if the purchaser, instead of destroying, tried to preserve the forest land, prohibiting, burning-over, pasturing, and common use of the territory — then there was trouble. Also the inalienable right to hunt and fish when and where he pleased was a part of the faith of the mountaineer, whose long sojourn in the wilderness had ingrained in him primitive ideas which the gradual filling-up of the country did not change, although his methods were rapidly exterminating both fish and game animals.

Morley came to the mountains from the intellectual circles of New England. She settled into the artists’ colony of Tryon after she had already gained some notoriety in Victorian America for writing sex-education books for children. She must have been an object of curiosity, traveling difficult mountain terrain in the cumbersome clothing of her time, and taking amazing photographs along the way. It’s likely she was an object of scorn for being a part of the invasion that she derided. Even so, I find something timeless and hopeful in the words she left us:

For Nature is long-suffering and very kind, so kind, indeed, that in moments of discouragement one has only to remember that even if the worst were to happen, and these beautiful mountains become devastated by ignorant invaders, when the time came, as come it would, that the profaner depart, nature would begin anew her beneficent task of creating beauty.

East Fork of the Pigeon, oil, 16"x20"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Taste of Scotland

Man wearing fox, at Taste of Scotland Festival in Franklin, NC

Dance group at Festival

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Putting Panthers on the Map

Who says we don’t have panthers in these mountains? The fact is, you don’t have to go far to find a panther. A quick look at a good topo map will tell you that. According to the US Geological Survey, 75 named locations in North Carolina include the word “panther”.

Across the entire Tar Heel state, Panther Branch is the most common panther place name. You’ll find 15 Panther Branches statewide, while here in the mountains they flow through Buncombe, Cherokee, Graham, Haywood, Madison, Swain, and Transylvania Counties.

Panther Creek is a close second, with 13 occurring in North Carolina. Next on the list is Panther Knob, in eight different locations. Three Panther Knobs rise up in Jackson County alone, and two each in Macon and Madison Counties. If you continue searching Western North Carolina, you can cross four Panther Gaps and climb four Panther Mountains.

Places named after panthers are distributed unevenly across the state. The name is common in the southwestern mountains, appearing 40 times in the counties stretching from Madison and Buncombe to the western tip of the state. On the other hand, it is completely absent from the counties of the northwestern mountains, north of Mount Mitchell and running to the Virginia line. Graham and Transylvania each have seven places that include “panther”, while you will not find the name at all in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, or Wilkes. What does that tell us?

However, the name is scattered through the Piedmont and Eastern North Carolina. Panther Point Creek is in Rowan County, Panthers Den in Orange County, Panther Bay in Robeson County, and Panther Swamp in Northampton County.

It is easy to read too much into the names applied to places, but without a doubt, some place names did originate from the presence of the big cats. In his book, Place Names of the Smokies, Allen Coggins explains the origin of Panther Spring Gap in Haywood County:

Named for an incident where a young Jonathan Creek girl was allegedly dragged screaming through this gap by a panther in pioneer times. She was never seen again, and it was assumed that she was eaten by the large cat.

So do panther place names give us clues about where the elusive felines might be found today? I don’t know. But if you are planning to embark on a big cat expedition, consider Panther Cove in Graham County, Panther Den Ridge in Swain, or Panthertail Mountain in Transylvania.

Those places might once again live up to their names.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Panther Tales

Stories can be almost as elusive as panthers. Take, for instance, the account of Granny Pop Colwell, the Cataloochee woman who shed her clothes to evade a persistent panther. I knew that her story sounded familiar to me, but it wasn’t quite the story that I remembered from years ago. It could be that I haven’t found that old story yet, but let’s try this one…

Fifty years ago, Dorothy Ferrell started collecting stories in the vicinity of Andrews, North Carolina – by getting to know elderly folks in communities like Nantahala, Snowbird and Shooting Creek. Ms. Ferrell had a real flair in the way that she wrote about panthers:

Panthers, and plenty of them, inhabited these regions long after the pioneers hewed logs from the forest, raised their tiny cabins and announced that they had come to stay. The great beasts were uneasy about the intrusion of this new creature and his rifle, and the panthers crept up to the cabins at night, silent and stealthy on padded paws, to lie on their bellies and stare at the works of man with unblinking eyes like smouldering coals.

Hot diggity! Eyes like smouldering coals! I don’t think I’ll be stepping out past my back porch tonight! Ms. Ferrell went on to recount a curious habit of the panther:

It was our part Cherokee Indian friend Tilly, who told me that the panthers would dig a hole with their front paws, exactly as a dog would dig a hole, then put their tawny muzzles down almost against the earth and, as she said, “holler in it.”

“What is the panther’s object in screaming into the hole it digs, Tilly?” I inquired, puzzled.

“I think hits the painter’s way ter pertend he’s fer off”, Tilly replied deliberately after a moment’s reflection. “Ef nobody thinks he’s near about, they come out an’ he kin git ‘em.”

Big cat ventriloquism comes to mind, a most useful skill...

We could stay in that farmhouse near Kyle where Tilly’s great-grandmother protected her children by nailing a panther, a live panther, to the log cabin wall. But that’s another story for another day.

Ms. Ferrell shared a story told to her by Amanda, whose grandmother was a midwife who often traveled alone, on horseback, in the Tusquittee section of Clay County. Once, on her way to attend to a birth, the grandmother observed that her horse was becoming increasingly uneasy and agitated. She thought the horse had sensed a wolf following them, but when she turned around, she saw instead a large panther trailing her.

Here the story takes a familiar turn:

As the distance between the beast and the horse gradually decreased, the nimble witted mountain woman tossed a rag behind her, and gained headway upon the panther as it stopped to sniff and claw at the unfamiliar object dropped on the trail under its very nose. This device was repeated again and again, each time serving its purpose.

Finally, the animal closed in, and leaped at the horse and rider.

“That’s when my gran’mother rammed her walkin’ stick thet she always had to take with her ‘cause she was old and lame down the painter’s throat”, Amanda concluded in a perfectly commonplace tone of voice as if she were speaking of nothing out of the ordinary.

“Did it kill the panther?” I asked excitedly.

“Laws, she never did know what becum of thet thar painter. She jest galloped off fast as she could git.”

[While we're on the subject, this is starting to remind me of another story that was quite a favorite back during my very politically incorrect childhood. Click here for a blast from the past.]

How to Bake a Cherry Pie

I’m waiting for a freshly baked cherry pie to cool down. Since the pie is far too hot for me to slice into, I might as well write about it. The fragrance is heavenly…I’m not up to the challenge of describing that aroma, but there’s still plenty to say.

First of all, this cherry pie did not come from the supermarket. If the people that sell Mrs. So-and-So’s Apple Cobbler and Such-and-Such Farms Blueberry Pie were counting on shoppers like me, they’d be out of business in no time. Sure, they offer convenience. And that’s fine if you’re willing to settle for crusts that resemble greasy cardboard and fillings that are nothing more than gelatinous corn-syrupy goo.

If that’s what you’re going to get, I say "why bother?" And I don’t.

As I looked through pie recipes today, I found plenty that called for canned filling. If that’s what you’re going to get, I say again, "why bother?" In some ways, it makes even less sense than the pre-formed frozen stuff…you get the quality of store-bought AND the hassle of home-made. The worst of both worlds!

A real pie begins with fresh fruit: in this case, cherries from a couple of trees I planted fifteen years ago, trees I had pulled up from the edge of a pasture on Cullowhee Mountain Road. They call them "May Cherries" because they bear early. The blooms are gorgeous, as you might expect, and the fruit even more so, less hidden by foliage than most other cherries I’m familiar with.

My schedule is too busy for baking pies, the way I bake pies, but when those trees are full of cherries, what else can I do?

When I stopped by the store to pick up a carton of the requisite Breyers Vanilla, I’ll admit that I was tempted to grab a frozen pie crust, too. Just to make life simpler. But those cherries! I knew they deserved a better destination than frozen pie crust.

I got home, set out the butter, and rounded up the flour, the vanilla, the sugar, the salt and the arrowroot powder. That’s a short list. There’s nothing much to this pie-making business, right? Wrong!

If you’re working with fresh fruit, there’s no point in being hurried. Remember now, pitting cherries means pitting them one at a time. I so vaguely remember having a cherry pitter, that I must be imagining it, but that’s alright. A cheap vegetable peeler works fine. The pointed tip is perfect for digging into the cherries and neatly removing the pits. One at a time. But that’s OK. It gives me a good excuse to sit on the porch overlooking the garden and listen to the birds sing.

At this point, I might as well go ahead and transcribe the recipe, for my own future reference if for no other reason. That’s the handy thing about a blog. It can serve as a personal notebook of useful information, regardless of whether anyone else reads it or not. Anytime I need to refer to the recipes for Mayonnaise Biscuits or the wildly decadent Gulahiyi German Chocolate Cake, they’re as close as the blog.

The recipe for the double crust is basic:

2 cups all-purpose flour - unbleached White Lily with a bit of King Arthur whole wheat thrown in for good measure
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup of butter
6 tablespoons ice-cold water

You know the drill. If you don’t have a kitchen assistant, then get good at multi-tasking. This is the point in the process where my kitchen gets wrecked. But it is worth it, I remind myself.

Before you forget, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Here’s the recipe for the filling:

I take a great big bowl of pitted cherries. The recipe I’m using calls for four cups of fruit, but I’m not measuring. I must have a lot more than four cups of cherries. "Enough to fill a pie" is what I’d call it.

I stir just shy of one cup of sugar into the fruit. The recipe calls for more, but this is why I bake fresh fruit pies – to taste the fruit. I expect it will be plenty sweet enough. If you want to taste sweetness instead of fruit, stick with Aunt What-Have-You’s Frozen Cherry Pie. Lousy crust, corn syrup, and all.

Add a couple of dashes of vanilla flavoring, maybe a ½ teaspoon, maybe more.

[Update - I'm still learning. You can disregard the two paragraphs that follow. Forget cornstarch. Forget arrowroot. Forget flour. Forget simmering the juice. Simply stir together the cherries...four cups or so...along with one cup or so of sugar, and one-fourth of a cup of minute tapioca. Let that sit for 15 minutes and it will be ready to put into the pie shell. Tapioca will do a beautiful job of thickening the fruit filling.]
Then drain off the cherry juice to a sauce pan, mix in two or three tablespoons of flour and one tablespoon of arrowroot powder, which thickens at a lower temperature than flour or cornstarch. I don’t know. Maybe you should go with flour only, or arrowroot only. But my cooking philosophy is "why use just one ingredient, when you can use two or more?"

In any event, after you resolve that dilemma, heat up the liquid, stirring constantly (as if anyone can ever stir constantly – I have a pie crust to roll out, Sir, so I’ll stir when I can). Once it bubbles and starts to thicken (and scorch on the bottom of the pan) remove from heat.

With the bottom crust in the pie pan, scoop the drained cherries into the shell, then pour the thickened juice over the fruit. Put a few dabs of butter around the top.

Then top it off with the second crust. If you want to get cute with it, you can do the lattice-top crust. Why not? Go for it! (I didn’t.)

Pop it in the oven. After a few minutes, when the aroma starts to waft through the house, take it out of the oven and cover the edge of the pie crust with foil, to prevent it from over-cooking.

Return it to the oven and let it cook until the crust is, of course, golden brown. That should be a total baking time of 50 – 55 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Remove the pie from the oven and place it on a rack to cool.

Think how it is going to taste with a little Breyers Vanilla melting over the top.

Now then, my freshly baked cherry pie is almost cool enough to slice, and I’ve almost run out of things to say. I could check back in and try to describe how it tastes, but I’m not up to that challenge. You’ll have to find a more gifted writer than this one.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be disappointed. In another month or so, it’ll be time for the real harbinger of summer goodness – fresh blackberry pie. And in another month after that, wild blueberry pie.

Bon appetit, y’all!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Granny Pop Gets Nekkid

Everyone wants to know, “Are there any panthers in these hills?” Beyond the occasional hoax or some second-hand anecdote, what do those in-the-know say about it?

Don Linzey, from Wytheville Community College in Virginia, has done as much as anyone to investigate the eastern cougar. He summarized the prospects for panthers in the Summer 2005 issue of ATBI (All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory) Quarterly. In the area now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the last verified evidence of a panther was in 1920, when one was shot and killed near present-day Fontana Village. Linzey gives credence to two photographs of panthers in the Park:

In 2001, a Park visitor observed a panther looking out of a small cave and captured it on video. I later examined the cave but was unable to locate any evidence. In 2004, another visitor took a full broadside photograph of a panther in Cades Cove.

Several methods had been employed, without success, to verify the presence of the big cats:

In 2001, rubbing pads were used as a technique for obtaining hairs for DNA analysis. Sixty-five pads were in operation; however, panther hair was never collected. Also, remote heat-sensing, infra-red cameras have been used and have captured images of various animals, but still no panther.

Linzey has posted field guide information on panthers at:

Now that we’ve held our panther under the stark, bright light of 21st-century science, let’s return to the campfire for a chilling tale from the late-1800s, as passed along by Hattie Caldwell Davis in Reflections of Cataloochee Valley.

Mary Ann “Granny Pop” Colwell, who lived on Big Cataloochee, had gone to visit her married daughters on Little Cataloochee. Crossing Davidson Gap on her way back home, Granny Pop saw a panther perched in a tree, so she left the trail and circled through the woods to avoid the big cat. But soon after she got back onto the trail, she could see the panther following along behind her.

He was getting closer and she knew she’d never out-run him. After thinking about her predicament, she removed her apron, dropped it on the trail and walked faster. In a few moments, Granny Pop glanced back. Sure enough, the panther had paused to examine the apron.

Soon, though, the panther was following her again, and getting closer. She dropped another piece of clothing, and when the panther reached it, he paused to sniff at the garment and inspect it. But when he lost interest in the clothing, he resumed his quest of Granny Pop.

This happened over and over again for the next three or four miles. By the time Granny Pop got back home she was buck nekkid, but thankful to be alive.

After the men folks heard her story, they followed the panther’s tracks, set a trap and caught him.

So much for the panther of Davidson Gap

Mary Ann "Granny Pop" Colwell (1817-1917)

Speaking of Panthers...

Charles Lanman explored the Southern Appalachians in 1848 and compiled his accounts in Letters from the Allegheny Mountains. He wrote the following letter after arriving in Franklin in May 1848:

The river Nan-ti-ha-lah, or the Woman's Bosom, was so named on account of its undulating and narrow valley and its own intrinsic purity and loveliness. Upon this river is situated a rude but comfortable cabin, which is the only one the traveller meets with in going a distance of twenty miles. On first approaching this cabin, I noticed a couple of sweet little girls playing on the greensward before the door with a beautiful fawn, which was as tame as a lamb. This group, taken in connection with the wildness of the surrounding scene, gave me a most delightful feeling, the contrast was so strange and unexpected. The proprietor of the cabin owns about five thousand acres of land in this wilderness region, and is by profession a grazing farmer….

On questioning him with regard to the true character of the panther, he replied as follows: "I don't know much about this animal, but I have had one chance to study their nature which I can't forget. It was a very dark night, and I was belated on the western ridge, near the Big Laurel ravine. I was jogging along at a slow rate, when my horse made a terrible leap aside, and I saw directly in front of me one of the biggest of panthers. He soon uttered a shriek or scream (which sounded like a woman in distress) and got out of the way, so that I could pass along. Every bone in my horse's body trembled with fear, and I can tell you that my own feelings were pretty squally.”

“On my way was I still jogging, when the panther again made his appearance, just as he had before, and gave another of his infernal yells. I had no weapon with me, and I now thought I was a gone case. Again did the animal disappear, and again did I continue on my journey. I had not gone more than a hundred yards before I saw, on the upper side of the road, what looked like a couple of balls of fire, and just as I endeavored to urge my horse a little faster, another dreadful scream rang far down the valley. But, to make a long story short, this animal followed me until I got within a half a mile of my house, and, though he ran around me at least a dozen times, and uttered more than a dozen screams, he never touched me, and I got safely home. If you can gather any information from this adventure you are welcome to it; but all I know about the animal is this, that I hate him as I do the devil."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Picking Cherries

Quote of the Day
"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."
– Sidonie Gabrielle Colette aka Colette

Panther "Sighted" Near Cullowhee? (Naaah...)

This story could be huge...or not.

I'll go ahead and pass this along, with a little less information than has been provided to me. A panther has reportedly been sighted south of Cullowhee this week. And there is photographic evidence to back it up. The cougar is either extremely docile...or extremely dead.

I'm looking forward to comments on this.

UPDATE (6/11/08) - This one is easy to explain. Turns out it's a hoax. See
The bad thing about these hoaxes is that people won't believe it when you actually come through with the goods. For instance, I snapped this picture when I stepped out my back door this morning...

...but he got away before I could blast him with my deer rifle. He's out there. Somewhere. So, keep looking...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Welcome, Arnie!

Talk about unmitigated gall!

What does Balsam Mountain Preserve do on the one-year anniversary of the Golf Course Dam Break? They drag in Arnold Palmer (I think it's accurate to refer to him as "unindicted co-conspirator") to impart his blessings on the course that he purportedly designed.

If you don't believe me, the story is in today's Asheville Citizen-Times. Here's what good ol' unindicted co-conspirator Arnie had to say about carving his monstrosity into the headwaters of Scotts Creek.

"There are so many obstacles with this type of terrain," said Palmer. "This property was probably the most difficult to get started that we've ever encountered, but I think the end result is phenomenal. All the guys did an incredible job to create a course that is relatively flat, with a few exceptions.

"We encountered less rock than expected or it would have taken us another year, but we moved a lot of dirt."

Yeah, you "moved a lot of dirt" alright. Moved it real fast. Moved it into Scotts Creek and the Tuckasegee...all the way to Fontana Lake.

It is too bad that Arnie, the unindicted co-conspirator, didn't stop by to talk with some of the folks who live downstream from his pride and joy.

He might have learned something about golf course design.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In Memory of Scotts Creek

It was one year ago today that Scotts Creek was subjected to ecocide by the ill-fated Balsam Mountain Preserve Golf Course Dam. For the best summation of the situation one year after the disaster, my recommendation is to read Agencies Oppose New Golf Course Dam at BMP, a Becky Johnson article that appeared in the May 21, 2008 edition of the Smoky Mountain News. Not only does it reflect on the avoidable catastrophe at Balsam Mountain Preserve, it suggests what we have to look forward to from ill-conceived projects like the Legasus Webster Creek golf course development in Tuckasegee.

Following are two "ruminations" originally posted here on June 7, 2007:

Balsam Mountain Preserve Dam Break

So, we got to work this morning with the news that a dam at Balsam Mountain Preserve had broken, and water was pouring into Scott's Creek. Thanks to the drought, it appears unlikely that there will be a torrential flood, although indications are that plenty of silt and mud will be deposited downstream. Really nice for the trout.

What went wrong? An article from a couple of years back goes into some detail regarding Balsam Mountain Preserve's erosion control measures. So how many more of these jackleg dams are sitting on the mega-developments in Jackson County. Which will be the next to break? What are the responsibilities of the developers when the downstream areas are damaged by the released sediment? I wonder if the developers will educate us on this at Monday night's public hearing regarding the subdivision and steep slope ordinances.

Just wondering.

And if these dams are going to start breaking during an extended drought, it makes you wonder what hell will break loose if we start to get heavy rains again. I'm sure our friendly developers will have all the answers for us on Monday. Bastards. Greedy dissembling bastards.

Balsam Mountain Preserve map

From the erosion control article cited above (I have no idea if the dam mentioned herein is the same dam that failed this morning):

The stables and associated pasture encompassed 5 acres of clearing adjacent to Cashie Branch. All of the site was graded to drain away from the creek and into a 4,000-cubic-foot sediment basin. We recommended the use of a flashboard riser outlet, which was installed in March 2003. This was installed in a manner similar to a perforated riser, placed away from the dam wall and with a stone collar due to the contractor’s unfamiliarity with this type of outlet. More specific instructions to install it closer to the dam wall and anchored to the bottom with stakes or cement were needed. The purpose of the flashboard riser is to allow the formation of a permanent pool while retaining the ability to drain the basin if needed to remove sediment.
Most of the area was well stabilized with grass and mulch when grading was complete, but a fill area for the stables continued to contribute sediment to runoff for several months
. The first attempt to reduce this impact was to install a small sediment trap below the disturbed area. While this did retain a large amount of the sediment, the water was then released on the pasture, creating more erosion.

From WLOS:
A river of mud and debris marks the spot where a dam break sent about a million gallons of water down a mountain in Jackson County today. It happened in a development called Balsam Mountain Preserve. Emergency management crews do not know what caused the dam to break. The water went about 4 to 5 miles down into Cripple Creek. The dam at an irrigation pond broke about 8:50 this morning and put debris on about 10 bridges in and around the development. Emergency management tells us it could have been a dangerous situation but fortunately no one was hurt. No one had to evacuate and no home sites were damaged. Workers are looking at exactly what happened and how to fix it.

Furthermore, compare the Balsam Mountain Preserve hype...

When we say that Balsam Mountain Preserve's 38 miles streams are the purest you'll find anywhere, we're not exaggerating. That's a scientific fact, documented by our own on-staff naturalists and some of the many professional researchers who use Balsam Mountain as a living laboratory. As a result of the careful work of the Balsam Mountain Trust, which manages the land and streams in our preserve, Balsam Mountain Preserve earned high marks in an independent study measuring water quality. Thanks to our pristine waters, our streams are the last homes of the southern brook trout. Once common throughout the region, this fish has grown rare as more streams become inundated with silt and chemicals. But the southern brook trout is thriving here - and that's good news for those who enjoy both fishing and the beauty of untouched nature. (blah, blah, blah)

...with reality:

Teed Off

Here’s my question. How do you assess the ecological impact of multiple golf course developments? Specifically, how is our local environment changed when one or more golf courses are constructed and operated at the head of nearly every watershed in the county?

The immediate event triggering this question, of course, is today’s dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course, purportedly designed by Arnold Palmer. But it has been a question on my mind for the past couple of years due to the frenzy of elite subdivision development in the mountains of Jackson County, NC.

For now, I’ll set aside the cultural impacts of this development. Suffice it to say that outside corporations have barged in, overrun traditional mountain communities and turned the land into a commodity, "product" to be sold via slick marketing campaigns. It’s not a particularly new pattern, but reflects a form of imperialism that has played out on the American continent for the past 500 years. Exaggerated claims about the abundance and beauty of the land have been used to attract investors for centuries. In the same vein, you can go to the website for any of these new developments and see the image of an idealized life in mountain paradise. Toss in the astronomical prices paid and ungodly amounts of money to be made, and it sets the stage for economic and political conflict, such as what we’re seeing with the creation of the subdivision and steep slope ordinances.

To return to the original question, how do you assess the ecological impact? With the failure of the Balsam Mountain Preserve dam, one million gallons of water rushed into Cripple Creek, a tributary of Scott’s Creek, which feeds into the Tuckasegee River. In February of this year a Cripple Creek resident went on record to describe the damage to the stream caused by Balsam Mountain Preserve, with sediment from erosion making the stream unfit for trout. At the same meeting this February, a Balsam Mountain spokesman dismissed the complaint, and defended the developer’s actions. Well, if Cripple Creek was not silted up before the dam break, it most certainly is now. That’s one impact on the environment from one golf course.

This wasn’t the first Jackson County golf course disaster. From a Sylva Herald news story in 2000:

In what is believed to be the largest award ever handed down in Jackson County, a local jury March 13 gave a Highlands family $500,000 in compensation for damage to their lake.

Plaintiff Whiteside Estates, a family corporation represented by Earl and David Young of Highlands, proved to the jury's satisfaction that construction at Highlands Cove, a planned golf course and residential community upstream, caused irreparable harm to 18-acre Young Lake.

Both the Youngs' property and Highlands Cove are located in southern Jackson County near the intersection of U.S. 64 and Norton Road between Cashiers and Highlands. The jury considered awarding even more money to the Youngs, said juror Robin Schaeffer of Sylva. Damages of around $2 million were favored by most members of the jury, she said, with the half-million dollar verdict a compromise with a juror who held out for a lower award.

Before-and-after photographs of the lake, plus evidence from experts about the turbidity (amount of particulate matter suspended in a given amount of water) and loss of wildlife, convinced her to find in favor of the Youngs.

The debacles of Highlands Cove and Balsam Mountain Preserve should be enough to raise questions, and doubts, in the minds of all but the most avaricious. Beyond the occasional catastrophes associated with massive land disturbance on mountain headwaters, what are the ongoing and less obvious impacts from an epidemic of golf course construction?

In a report outlining the problems with expansion of a golf course in Massachusetts, several ecological impacts were discussed, but it boiled down to habitat fragmentation:

In order to function as a forest ecosystem and maintain biodiversity, there must be sufficient acreage of continuous woods to support breeding and feeding territories of wildlife species. This is not possible when forest areas are "fragmented" through development. Fragmentation is, in fact, one of the two major cause of habitat destruction and the consequent loss of global biodiversity.

Constructing an additional nine holes would, at a minimum, fragment Salem Woods with golf fairways, leaving only small patches of wooded areas. These wooded patches, isolated from each other, would not be a forest ecosystem any more than patches of trees in the yards of houses on a rural street could be considered a forest.

The loss of species from fragmentation of Salem Woods would be dramatic. This past summer, our comparison of vegetation diversity between areas in Salem Woods and comparable habitats within the Olde Salem Greens boundaries was completed (see Appendix). Sixty-five different plant species were identified within three Salem Woods habitats while only thirty different species were identified within the comparable golf course habitats. The bulk of the golf course land, the fairway areas, of course, contain very little vegetation diversity.

Concerns have been raised about an "Arnold Palmer designed" course in Minnesota:

Deacon's Lodge typifies most new golf course development. It isn't built on a rare ecological community, yet it isn't built on land that had been plowed, pastured, or mined, either. Instead, it flows through a natural landscape, which is ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others.
"We look hard for the right land," said Peter Loyd, golf director for Sienna Corp., developer of Deacon's Lodge. "This property was ideal because it had it all--three wilderness lakes, wetlands, rolling topography, tall Norway pine that loggers never cut, and bright white clumps of birch. Deacon's Lodge has a great north woods feel to it. And it's all sitting on about 170 feet of pure sand that's ideal for growing grass."

Score card: One over par. The golf course ripped up natural woodlands and wildlife habitat, but at least the plant and animal communities weren't considered rare in the Brainerd area.
The values that developers seek for golfers--lakes, rolling forest, and gorgeous vistas--are values shared by many other people, who couldn't care less if they ever sink a 40-foot putt. This nongolfing public also worries about new residential development and gas stations, convenience stores, and service businesses that inevitably spring up around golf courses and other recreation areas.

Over time, the more bent grass that grows, the less habitat for wildlife and native plant species. In the forested parts of the state, for example, golf courses reduce the amount of interior forest used by songbirds such as the ovenbird and wood thrush. The forest that does remain--actually strips of trees between fairways--shelters skunks, white-tailed deer, and other common species. However, these strips make poor habitat for species that are uncommon and becoming more so each decade. As a whole, Minnesota's forests are becoming more edge rich and interior poor.

"Most rare species have very specific needs," says Pam Perry, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) nongame specialist at Brainerd. "The more the landscape is fragmented, the more it fails to meet the needs of certain plants and animals."

Closer to home, the proliferation of headwaters golf courses brings other problems. Maintaining the desired "look" of the turf and golf course landscaping requires significant amounts of fertilizer and pesticides applied over large areas, and allowed to runoff into surface waters and leach into the groundwater. Widespread application of the chemicals undoubtedly compounds the pressures on plant and animal life, already struggling with fragmentation of habitat and, possibly, with the intentional introduction of non-native plant species on the golf course.

Finally, Golf Environment Europe summarizes the problems associated with golf development projects:

Loss of species and habitats.
Degradation of landscape quality.
Damage to historical landscapes and cultural heritage features.
Pressure on water resources.
Impacts on water quality from siltation, runoff and leachate of fertilisers and pesticides.
Fragmentation of habitats.
These concerns are combined with other, wider worries about golf development, which include:
Associated real estate development.
Pretext for urbanisation, especially so in tourism areas.
Piecemeal approach to development.
Inconsistent application of planning regulations.
Highly variable standards of Environmental Assessment.
Unpredictable planning outcomes.

This barely scratches the surface. But the implications of upstream golf course development throughout Jackson County and many other parts of the mountains deserve a closer look than they’ve received to date.

Maybe that’s one lesson we’re supposed to learn from today’s flood.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Could Entopics Explain Judaculla Rock?

Have you ever seen floaters?

You know, the little squigglies that seem to float along the surface of your eyes. Floaters are one kind of entopic phenomena. Floaters appear as shadow-like shapes that appear alone or together with several others in one's field of vision. They may appear as spots, threads, or fragments of cobwebs, which float slowly before the observer's eyes. Another entopic phenomenon is a phosphene, or the perception of light without light actually entering the eye, for instance caused by pressure applied to the closed eyes.

Other entopics can be experienced during various trance states. One student of the subject explains the connections between entopic designs, trance and symbols of cultural significance:

The human brain hates the random, hates chaos. It tries to find ways to turn random entopic designs into meaningful symbols. In the middle stage of trance people generally focus on combining entopics with familiar items from their lives. As trance deepens, its imagery moves away from personal memory and toward deep cultural themes.

I was not aware of entopics until a reader commented on a story posted here in January 2007, Judaculla’s Microscope, which discussed various theories explaining the odd carvings on Judaculla Rock, several miles from Cullowhee, NC. Here’s that comment:

Have you ever heard of entopics? Look it up. See especially the research of Lewis-Williams and Dowson. Here's a quick breakdown of it:

If you follow the link to that site, you’ll find that entopics has been suggested as a factor in the creation of paleolithic art:

In 1988, J. D. Lewis-Williams and T. A. Dowson put forward a theory which they claimed explained the non-figurative images of Upper Palaeolithic parietal and mobile art. They also claimed to have identified the circumstances under which these images were produced. A synopsis of their theory follows. The non-figurative motifs found in Upper Palaeolithic art forms, among others, are in fact entoptics.

Entoptic is a generic term used to describe phosphenes and form constants. Phosphenes and from constants are generated by the human neural system, and can be seen with the eyes closed. Such imagery is enhanced by hallucinogenic drugs, such as L.S.D. These drugs would have been taken to induce visions, as part of a shamanic ritual. Once these visions ended the motifs which had been 'seen' in the visions would have been portrayed on the walls of caves and on mobile pieces of art.

Lewis-Williams and Dowson make five major assumptions. First, that phosphenes and form constants occur in all Homo sapien sapiens, and have always done so. Secondly, that the drugs needed to produce an altered state of consciousness would have been available to our antecedents. Thirdly, that they would have taken these drugs if available. Fourthly, that this drug-taking would have been a part of a shamanic ritual. Finally, that having seen these entoptics, our antecedents would have wished to record them in some form. The aim here is to locate evidence in support of Lewis-Williams and Dowson's theory. To systematically assess the basis on which these assumptions have been made, and to decide if their claims are justified....

Fascinating stuff! There's much more at that site, if you want to explore the role of entopics in paleolithic art.

For more background on Judaculla Rock itself, the following excerpt is from Judaculla’s Microscope.

The NC Museum of History explains its significance:

Judaculla Rock is the largest and best-known example of rock art in North Carolina. It is located in Jackson County on Caney Fork. According to legend, the Cherokees named the rock after "Tsul kalu," a mythical giant hunter whose feet and hands scratched the rock as he leapt from the top of his mountain home and landed on the rock in the valley below.

Therories abound. The rock contains prehistoric code, a hidden message. It is a map, a boundary marker, a treaty monument. I’m considering my own theory and it will be a good one. We all want to know how Judaculla Rock came to be, and it’s hard to take "Nobody knows!" for an answer.

So there’s always room for another explanation. Here’s one I’d never seen until now, raising the new question, "Could Judaculla Rock rewrite the history of technology?" The Dutch scientist Anton Van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope 1674. Judaculla Rock was etched several hundred or several thousand years prior to that date.

And yet, Judaculla Rock contains distinct likenesses of microscopic life. That’s rather obvious when you compare the pictures of the amoeba, the diatom and the others. So had an earlier civilization already invented the microscope that made the Judaculla carvings possible? Or in the distant past, did astronauts from another planet visit Caney Fork and leave drawings of the basic life forms found throughout the universe?

The L.E.M.U.R. team of paranormal investigators visited Judaculla Rock and entertain the theory that it depicts various microscopic forms. For videos from their Judaculla expedition, click on the following links (Parts 1 and 2):

Finally, a recent Sylva Herald article reports on renewed efforts to protect Judaculla Rock.