Friday, January 30, 2009

We Won't Even Leave the Light On For Ya'

The Southern Highland Reader reports that construction of the Clarion Hotel on Highway 107 has ceased.

The general contractor was quoted as saying the project had run out of money.

The hotel formerly known as the Sleep Inn, site of the eagerly awaited Stray Cat Grille, has become the eyesore that many residents had feared when plans for the structure were revealed in 2007.

Just last month, a representative of the project announced an upgrade from Sleep Inn to Clarion Hotel. A billboard on Main Street still advertises an opening date of February 2009. But, alas…

I see the monstrous hulk on the ridge every morning and its ugliness never ceases to offend me. It is amazing, really, that someone was able to design and locate a building even more obtrusive and repugnant than the Walmart and other retail sprawl surrounding it.

But as far as I’m concerned, only one thing would be needed to bring the Clarion Hotel project to a satisfactory conclusion

…and that’s a wrecking ball.

The Love family owned the farm where the hotel has been built, and several members of that family still occupy space on the hill next to the new building. During my recent visit with them, none of the family members would comment on the failed hotel project.

I understand that a bidding war has begun for the highly-coveted and hard-won sewer allocation obtained for the hotel.

Meanwhile, Western Carolina University officials have hired an engineering firm to evaluate the feasibility of moving the entire building to the Millennial Campus and a scenic location overlooking the Cullowhee Body Farm and Forensic Laboratory.

If that option is carried out, the name could change once again, from Clarion Hotel... Carrion Hotel.

Research continues at the WCU Body Farm.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Our Common Good

The recent talk about a possible merger between Sylva and Dillsboro is nothing new. It appears to go back at least 120 years!

From the Tuckasegee Democrat, January 29, 1889:

Our townsman, Mr. O. B. Coward has shown us a pair of Berkshire pigs brought from Columbia, S.C. by Mr. T. B. Coward.

We enjoyed the pleasure this week of a visit to our sister town of Dillsboro. The trade in locust pins and railroad crossties has assumed quite large proportions, and Dillsboro may justly claim to be headquarters for crossties. ...

We learned from some of the leading citizens that the Democrat had failed to receive as hearty a support as we could wish because of the existence of a real or imaginary feeling of rivalry between their town and ours. If any feeling, looking to the advancement of Sylva's interest by pulling down those of Dillsboro, exists among our people we are not aware of it and must protest that the Democrat does not share it. Our efforts are now and will continue to be directed to the upbuilding of the whole county, and we shall rejoice in the continued growth and prosperity of all her towns. In fact we would be glad to see the time when Dillsboro and Sylva shall grow into each other and be governed by one corporation. In the meantime we desire to foster and encourage the kindest relations between the two places. Let us all work together for our common good.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

George Hunter's Map (1730)

A portion of the 1760 Kitchin map. The village of Evanga is indicated where the Little Tennessee and the Tuckasegee Rivers meet.

Last August, I shared a look at one of the first published maps to display the Tuckasegee Valley in any detail – Thomas Kitchin’s New Map of the Cherokee Nation (1760).

The Kitchin map identifies several villages located along the Tuckasegee River as Kittewano (Kituwah), Cunnawiskee and Tuckeseegee (Tuckasegee). Villages on the Oconaluftee include Newni, Cunnulrasha, Tuckereche. The section of the Kitchin map show above includes the Little Tennessee River villages of Cowee and Ihoree.

Only recently, I managed to get my hands on George Hunter’s 1730 map of the Cherokee country. Hunter accompanied the eccentric Sir Alexander Cuming on his mission from Charleston, SC to the mountains and mapped the entire route of the trip.

This portion of the Hunter map lists some of the villages that reappear on Kitchin’s map thirty years later.

A settlement is shown at the forks of the Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee, although it is not named on the Hunter map. The villages on the Oconaluftee are listed as Newni and Tocoreche, while Kattewa (Kituwah), Stecoe, Connnutra (?), Connawisia (?) and Tucosegee (Tuckasegee) are shown along the Tuckasegee. Hunter lists many of the towns on the Little Tennessee, such as Cowe and Ihoree.

The dotted line paralleling the Little Tennessee and turning west at Ihoree, from where it goes on across the Nantahalas, was a well-known trading path.

The documentary record for this period in the region is relatively slim, but this map is a reminder that white traders were already familiar with the area from buying deerskins and selling trade goods to the Cherokees.

Thanks to the folks at the North Carolina Collection of the University of North Carolina library in Chapel Hill, the Kitchin map and many, many other NC maps are at:

Unfortunately, George Hunter’s 1730 is not among them, and I’ve been unable to find it available online. If you visit the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla, SC, though, a nice framed copy hangs by the entrance to the museum.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Legends of the Falls, III

It’s no surprise that waterfalls inspire legends. In the past few weeks, I’ve been finding a slew of tales associated with Southern Appalachian waterfalls. Few, if any, have a basis in actual native traditions. However, the nineteenth-century writers who created many of these legends usually featured Native American characters.

So far, I’ve found six different stories associated with Toccoa Falls in northeast Georgia.

In her 1840 book, Rambles Around the Country, Elizabeth Fries Ellet related:

A sad tradition is connected with the Falls of Toccoa. A white woman, a prisoner of the Indians, it is said, was compelled by them to betray a party of the whites, who were encamped in the neighborhood. Under pretence of leading them, by a secret path, to a safer position, she led her unsuspecting victims, blindfold, one by one, to the brow of the precipice, and suffered them to walk off the brink.

Another tradition relates, how a fair, innocent boy, a child of the white race, was dashed down the precipice by an Indian, a sacrifice to the demon of revenge in his savage bosom. Probably there is little truth in either tale. It is natural for men to love the embellishment of beautiful scenes with imaginative legends.

Fifty years later, ethnologist James Mooney relied on James Wafford, who was part Cherokee and had been born near Toccoa, for information about the falls:

The lands about Toccoa falls were sold by the Cherokee in 1783 and were owned at one time by Wafford's grandfather. According to Wafford, there was a tradition that when the whites first visited the place they saw, as they thought, an Indian woman walking beneath the surface of the water under the falls, and on looking again a moment after they saw her sitting upon an over-hanging rock 200 feet in the air, with her feet dangling over. Said Wafford, "She must have been one of the Nûñnë'hï."

In 1896, Charles M. Skinner included a story of Toccoa Falls in his Myths and Legends of our Own Land:

Early in the days of the white occupation of Georgia a cabin stood not far from the Falls of Toccoa (the Beautiful). Its only occupant was a feeble woman, who found it ill work to get food enough from the wild fruits and scanty clearing near the house, and she had nigh forgotten the taste of meat; for her two sons, who were her pride no less than her support, had been killed by savages. She often said that she would gladly die if she could harm the red men back, in return for her suffering—which was not Christian doctrine, but was natural.

She was brooding at her fire, one winter evening, in wonder as to how one so weak and old as she could be revenged, when her door was flung open and a number of red men filled her cabin. She hardly changed countenance. She did not rise. "You may take my life," she said, "for it is useless, now that you have robbed it of all that made it worth living."

"Hush!" said the chief. "What does the warrior want with the scalps of women? We war on your men because they kill our game and steal our land."

"Is it possible that you come to our homes except to kill?"

"We are strangers and have lost our way. You must guide us to the foot of Toccoa and lead us to our friends."

"I lead you? Never!"

The chief raised his axe, but the woman did not flinch. There was a pause, in which the iron still hung menacing. Suddenly the dame looked up and said, "If you promise to protect me, I will lead you."

The promise was given and the band set forth, the aged guide in advance, bending against the storm and clasping her poor rags about her. In the darkest part of the wood, where the roaring of wind and groaning of branches seemed the louder for the booming of waters, she cautioned the band to keep in single file, but to make haste, for the way was far and the gloom was thickening. Bending their heads against the wind they pressed forward, she in advance.

Suddenly, yet stealthily, she sprang aside and crouched beneath a tree that grew at the very brink of the fall. The Indians came on, following blindly, and in an instant she descried the leader as he went whirling over the edge, and one after another the party followed. When the last had gone to his death she arose to her feet with a laugh of triumph. "Now I, too, can die!" she cried. So saying, she fell forward into the grayness of space.

The website for Toccoa Falls College - All Things TFC - features a different legend of the falls, attributed to Kathryn Trogdon’s 1973 History of Stephens County [GA] and A Tree God Planted, The Story of Toccoa Falls College by Troy Damron (1982)

Once upon a time many moons ago there lived in a beautiful valley in what is now northeast Georgia, a lovely Cherokee princess named Toccoa. One day, beautiful Toccoa met Wild Waters, the chief of a hostile tribe, at the foot of a high waterfall in Cherokee land. Never before had Toccoa seen such a handsome brave. His hair was long and black, and his eyes sparkled more brightly than those of any of the braves of her tribe. His laughter mimicked the rippling of the stream below the falls, and his words were like the fragrance of Cherokee roses kissed by the morning dew. Toccoa fell madly in love with the handsome chief, and her every thought was a heartthrob for her young lover. Each day when twilight came, she met him at their trysting place—the foot of the high waterfall.

One day the lovely princess did not come to meet Wild Waters. His heart was heavy as he gave his special call to her, only to hear his echo for an answer. But he continued to come to the falls in search of Toccoa. One night he was meet at the falls by the old witch mother who brought a strange and mysterious message from Toccoa: “Come to the falls each evening at twilight until the leaves are a bright golden yellow. Then, ere the leaves are crimson with autumn stain, we shall know whether we have loved in vain.”

The father of the princess had been told of his daughter’s love for Wild Waters. But he was very unhappy because there was a young brave from among the Cherokees whom he wanted his daughter to marry. So Toccoa was forbidden to see her lover again. But Toccoa steadfastly refused to marry her father’s choice.

One day she heard that she was going to be given that night to the Cherokee brave. In the evening when Wild Waters came to the falls, the clouds were black and low, and the rumble of the thunder filled the air. Zigzag streaks of lightening played their part in the imminent scenario. When Wild Waters reached the foot of the falls, he saw the lifeless body of his beloved Toccoa lying stretched full length atop the big, brown rock. Her arms were full of crimson autumn leaves, and he thought he could hear her sobs in the sounds of the beautiful waterfall. It is said that even today anyone whose ear is tuned to the sounds of nature and listens carefully can hear the sobbing of the beautiful Toccoa in the sounds of the falling water.

My favorite Toccoa Falls legend, though, features a lovely Indian maiden (naturally) and appeared in Scott’s Monthly Magazine in 1868. [This is quite lengthy, but to retrieve the story from obscurity, I post it here in its entirety.] The author of this melodramatic piece was identified only as “Carrol”:

Toccoa was an Indian maiden, an orphan niece of a powerful chief. From her childhood the tribe had regarded Toccoa with interest and respect, for she was not only wonderfully beautiful, but wise and thoughtful beyond her age. As a child, Toccoa was the embodiment of reckless gayety; but as she grew to womanhood she became silent and melancholy, ceased to join in the sports of the Indian maidens, ever wandering away from them, and silting alone on some eminence, with hands clasped, and deep despondency in her great black eyes, that ever seemed fixed upon a terribly fascinating object, from which it was impossible to withdraw them; and the aged of the tribe would say, “Toccoa sees more than the wisest of us can see.”

“What do'st thou see, Toccoa?” her young companions would ask.

“Ask me not; I cannot tell thee,” Toccoa would reply.

Then the maidens would say: “Thou wilt not tell us, Toccoa, because thou seest that which will make thee more beautiful than thy companions; and thou art only studying spells by which thou wilt keep captive the hearts of our young warriors.”

“I am proud of our young warriors,” returned the girl, “but neither seek or desire their love.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the maidens, “thou hast caught a glimpse of a warrior in the home of the Great Spirit; that is the reason thou carest not for our braves!”

“No, no, my friends. I only love our hunting grounds—their forest trees, our mountain streams, the graves of our kindred, and I think only of the greatness of our people.”

“But why art thou so sorrowful, Toccoa? Such things should make thee glad. Wouldst thou be a warrior, and fight for our homes?”

“I would ! Oh, I would!” cried Toccoa; “and no harm should come to my people only over my dead body. Oh! would that I were a warrior, to lead our braves! I would sweep our enemies from the earth! None should live to threaten us!”

“Then,” thought the Indian maidens, “Toccaa is ambitious. She has a warrior's heart in her bosom—she is impatient of control, and desires to rule the tribe.” Thus they spoke to the chief's wife, as she sat in the door of her wigwam, nursing the chief's infant son.

The brow of the Indian mother grew dark and troubled; she pressed the boy close to her bosom, and said to Toccoa:

“Wouldst thou have our great chiefs and thy young kinsman die, that thou mighst be head of our tribe, lead our warriors to battle, and preside over our councils?”

“Wherefore dost thou question me thus?” asked the girl.

“Thy companions say, Toccoa will never be a wife to any of our braves, and she loves nothing better than our hunting-grounds. Dost thou not know, Toccoa, what a woman loves she desires to possess, and call it her own ?”

“Good mother, my love is not like the maiden's love for a warrior, or the woman's love for ornament. It is as the affection of the Great Spirit, who loves us because we are His people. Thus do I love our hunting grounds, because they belong to our tribe; our dead lie in them—the blood of those heroes who wrested them from other tribes flows around them, a broad stream, across which our enemies cannot pass. Our groves, our mountain passes still echo with the war-whoop, the wedding song, and the wail for the dead of generations passed away, and in the skies above us ever flit their shadows—“

“Thou art deceitful, Toccoa!” interrupted the chief’s wife. “A woman's thoughts for good go not beyond her wigwam.”

The squaw feared Toccoa, and said to the chief: “Toccoa has not a woman's heart in her breast. She is ambitious, and desires to rule the tribe like thee. When a woman has no wigwam, no warrior, no children of her own, and thinks of the things of which men think, she becomes dangerous, and is to be feared. Beware of Toccoa! She will seek to do thee harm. Even now when we find her at midnight kneeling, with soft, tearful eyes and outstretched arms, gazing up at the pale moon, or see her lying prostrate before the rising sun, as if drinking in its beams, she may be weaving spells by which thy strength will fail, thy arm grow powerless; and before thou hast numbered half thy days thou wilt pass away, with thy infant son, from the hunting-grounds of thy forefathers, and a weak woman will be head of they tribe!”

The words of the squaw troubled the chief, and he called his wise men in council to deliberate on the strange conduct of Toccoa.

Toccoa was with her young companions by a mountain stream. Some of the maidens were sporting in the waters, some wreathing their brows with flowers, others were braiding their long, black tresses and trimming them with crimson berries. Toccoa sat on a high rock gazing in the distance, her hair was unbound, and swept round the girl like a garment of raven plumes. No flowers were on her brow, or berries on her beautiful arms. Every now and »hen the merry maidens would call to her-

“Toccoa, thou art too beautiful not to wear flowers. Come down and trim thy neck and tresses with berries, and gaze at thyself in the water, and thou wilt never again think of anything else but thy beauty.”

While the maidens thus spoke, a boy came shouting, “Toccoa! Toccoa! The fathers of the tribe are in council, and call for thee.”

Her young companions looked at each other with startled gaze, like a herd of frightened fawns when they hear the huntsman’s horn, and followed Toccoa at a distance, as she walked with calm but mournful mein to the assembly.

“Toccoa,” said the most aged father of the tribe, “thou must tell us why thou art different from the maidens, thy companions? Tell us why thou dost not wear flowers, and deck thyself with berries? We must know, for we suspect thee of dark and fearful thoughts.”

“Father,” replied Toccoa, “it is because I can only think of the things the Great Spirit shows mc.”

“What are those things, daughter?”

“I must not tell thee.”

“If thou wilt not tell us, Toccoa, we will send thee far away into a strange land, into a wilderness, and in death thou wilt not sleep with thy forefathers.”

“Oh, fathers!” exclaimed Toccoa, “send me not from the land 1 so much love, for which I would grasp the spear, string the bow, and exultingly count the scalps of our enemies!”

“Daughter thou must go, unless thou wilt tell us why thy love is so great.”

“Father, thou compellest me to speak of that which I would fain hide from myself. Wo is me, that 1 can see more than the most aged of the tribe can behold. I see coming over the wide waters, beyond the distant hills, great canoes, filled with beings whose faces are white like snow. They number more than the spirit eyes that look out of the skies at night. They land on our shore, they kill our deer and buffalo, they turn the course of our rivers, and desecrate the graves of our forefathers. Oh, father! does not the mother more dearly love the child when she knows there is moored before her door the phantom bark that bears our dead to the hunting-grounds of the Great Spirit, and it is waiting for the loved one she holds to her breast? Yes, father, yes; and this is why I love my country more than all our tribe— because I see the evil that is coming upon us.”

The elders of the tribe then spoke softly among themselves, saying, “An Evil Eye hath looked on Toccoa, giving her power for harm. Our people say that she is wise, and they revere her; our young men say she is beautiful beyond all other women, and they worship her. Should Toccoa speak thus to them, they will hearken to what she says, and will think, wherefore shall we strive with other nations to enlarge and keep our hunting-grounds, when a more powerful people will come to take them away from us? Then their spirits will grow sluggish, their hearts will become heavy, their strength will fail, their courage will depart, and they will become as women. Then will come to pass the things of which Toccoa speaks. It is for this purpose she has been bewitched by our enemies. Toccoa must die!” The aged men said to the girl:

“Toccoa, then, must die tor the good of our country.”

“Fathers of my tribe,” replied the maiden, “I would die myriads of times to save my country; but my death will not avert the doom of my people. I hear the steady coming steps of the snow-faced people; onward, onward they come, over our plains, by our rivers, and up our mountains. I hear the mighty pines crashing to the ground, and our lordly oaks groaning beneath the strokes of their great tomahawks, and you, my people, will surely flee before them, into a distant land. I alone will remain to keep watch where our council fires have burned, and my spirit, that you have deemed unwomanly, will mingle with the race that shall displace ours, to kindle in their hearts a love for my country. Ah! and they will love it, fathers; as Toccoa loves it. Their women will be fair and gentle in times of peace; but when the war-whoop rings around their wigwams the spirit of Toccoa will kindle in their hearts, and they will become as the hearts of warriors. They will place bows and arrows in the hands of their boys, and bid them fight for the land they have wrested from the red man.”
“Be still, Toccoa!” said the fathers, “This cannot be! There is no nation so great as ours. Thou art laboring under the spells of an Evil Eye, from which thou canst be released only in the Spirit Land, where those of our tribe who have gone before us hunt milk-white deer across crystal hills, and drink the blood of our enemies in gourds made of the breath of flowers. We will send thee to join our maidens there, who live by streams blue as the sky, and who are crowned with wreaths that shine like the face of the Great Spirit; and thou wilt tell our kinsmen we are a great and powerful people, and our hunting-grounds cover the world.”

It went abroad through the tribe that an Evil Eye had looked upon Toccoa, and that the aged men had decreed she must die, or harm would befall their people; and though grieved for the maiden's fate, they did not murmur, for they believed that the fathers were wise men.

They took Toccoa to a high mountain. The maiden stood on the edge of a precipice, a line of warriors stood before her, with their bows and arrows. They would have bound her eyes, that she might not see the death-missiles, but Toccoa waved them away, saying:

“I die for my country. Let me die like a warrior!”

At a signal, the arrows of the warriors flew true to their aim, and quivered in the young girl's heart. She uttered no sound, but sprang into the air, and disappeared over the precipice.

Long did the Indian maidens search for Toccoa's body, but it was never found; but before two moons had rolled away, a clear, bright stream flowed to the edge of the rock, and fell over the precipice where Toccoa had been sacrificed, and the maidens of the tribe said: “It is the spirit of our lost companion come to prove to us that she is happy,” and they called the cascade the Falls of Toccoa.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Strippers and Strip Malls

I’ve been thinking about John Bardo’s plan to make the centerpiece of Western Carolina University…

…a strip mall.


The Chancellor, along with all the developers and political cronies that dominate the WCU Board of Trustees, should go on a fact-finding junket. Might as well do it up right.

And I have just the place for them. It’s the new "Strip Mall of America" stretching over 1/6th of North Dakota. From an article on this monument to free enterprise, we read:

The dull-gray cinderblock and tinted-glass structure stretches along Interstate 94 from Eldridge to a point seven miles west of Fargo. Occupying six different zip codes, it is capable of hosting more than 4,700 stores and boasts 240,000 parking spaces….

Only 40 percent of the retail space is currently occupied, and a full 3 percent of the storefronts house liquidation stores and cellular-phone outlets….

While the mall caters first and foremost to residents of North Dakota, mall officials said they hope it will also draw tourists from all over the country, much like the popular Mall of America in Minnesota….

An inspiring model to emulate at WCU?

I suppose the Chancellor has the best interests of the students at heart. It is difficult enough to cope with leaving family and friends in order to start a new life on the college campus. Having to make that transition without the comfort of familiar retail outlets is almost inhumane.

But some college students do take an alternative view. In this case, I’m thinking specifically of a party of Cornell students who spent spring break 2008 backpacking the Smokies. They enjoyed the wilderness a great deal; Pigeon Forge and Cherokee, less so.

I felt like Davy Crockett, Henry Thoreau, and Alexander Supertramp of Into the Wild all rolled into one, exuding mountain-manliness and sporting significantly longer chest hair. Unfortunately, this badass trek was bookended by two unpleasant experiences that left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth.

The first occurred near the border of the park in North Carolina.

What met my eyes in Cherokee, N.C., was not authentic indigenous culture; instead, I saw unappealing, commercialized sprawl. First was Harrah’s Casino — a towering glass monstrosity utterly out of place amongst the natural scenery. Next was a desolate strip of outlets offering generic mass-made junk cleverly marketed through the appropriation of Native American culture ("Moccasins! Tomahawks! Arrowheads!"). Third was a series of depressing and utterly out-of-place entertainment venues such as a moribund Santaland and a bizarre establishment called "Pan Fer Gold!" In a word, it was all crap.

By contrast, John Bardo has weighed in on the cultural contributions provided by Harrah’s. Or, as John puts it so eloquently:

The Casino's shows obviously have added a dimension to the western counties.

I suppose he's correct about that. After all, where else can you go in these parts to see a performance by male strippers? Similarly, John recognizes the important role of the Tennessee gateways to the Smokies:

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have taken a "mass marketing" approach to tourism that has been very effective.

On the other hand, our young friend from Cornell, Ted, was not so favorably impressed:

We emerged from the woods in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., a town whose claim to fame is playing host to Dolly Parton’s inexplicable theme park, Dollywood. As we made our way along Route 441, we passed endless successions of Denny’s, McDonald’s, Hampton Inns, Days Inns, Subways, Texacos, and Home Depots. At one point, we saw in the middle of a strip mall a gigantic faux-Greek temple turned on its head. I didn’t dare guess what purpose it served. My newly nature-nourished spirit was sick.

… companies like Barnes & Noble, Burger King, or Best Buy appear everywhere … there’s something unnatural about these vast expanses of commercialized anonymity, and I think I’d be fine never ordering another Gordita Supreme for the rest of my life.

I’m going to take a wild guess right now…I’ll bet Cornell did NOT accept money from BB&T in exchange for pretending that Ayn Rand is essential to a well-rounded education. That’s my hunch.

Of course, nothing I say will prevent John Bardo from building his strip mall. I’m just happy to know that some people are already thinking about what you can do with a failed strip mall. (I’d be glad to tell John Bardo what he can do with HIS strip mall!)

Strip malls are in trouble across North America as the economy tightens and people aren't filling their new houses with junk any more. Even when they were busy, they were not exactly the most efficient use of resources. Late last year the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) invited architects to determine what ideas they had for urban farming, live/work, revitalization of strip malls in Scottsdale, Phoenix and Tempe. MOS architects of New Haven, Connecticut of all places, took first prize with its Urban Battery that charges us up with wind and solar power combined with a vertical algae farm.

Now, THAT’S a way to find educational value in a strip mall!

As usual, though, I’m probably being too harsh and acerbic. A clip from a recent indie film by Roger Beebe, Strip Mall Trilogy, has opened my eyes to the benefits of exposure to retail sprawl.

Just check out what a strip mall can do for language development!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Where True Greatness is Born

We spent a great deal of time focusing on the visual image of the university. While the visual image is important, it is not the essence of the process. What are most important are the words that we use to describe ourselves and the university. These words will be used in all of our publications, in all of our ads, and they need to drive our development.
-John Bardo, 8/13/2008

After trying for some years to pretend that Sylva is Western Carolina University’s hometown, WCU has apparently decided to build one instead. University officials have developed the concept of a “town center,” which they contend is what’s needed to satisfy students’ needs so they don’t have to shop in Sylva. We have to admit that we’re puzzled by the idea of a commercial center being developed by a university. We thought WCU’s business was education.
-Sylva Herald editorial, 12/18/2008

Bardo Square Mall, Cullowhee NC

I’ve spent some time studying the public pronouncements of Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo.

It wasn’t easy.

I’m sure you could find a handful of people who’ve spent even more time than I have perusing his speeches. My sympathies go out to them.

Bardo’s stilted sentences and heavy reliance on buzzwords make the first impression on the casual reader. Beyond that he expresses a vision for this place that has no grounding in this place. To the extent that he can find anything admirable in Western Carolina, it is the sprawling mess you find from Asheville to Hendersonville.

If only we could implant a big box retail ghetto between Sylva and Cullowhee - like the one on Airport Road near I-26 – then that would be a splendid thing, indeed. It would demonstrate that we are recognizing our rightful place in Charlanta. Or so says Bardo.

Now that he has brought WCU to the top tier in academics, Bardo can devote his time to economic development, "public-private" partnerships, selling off academic freedom to the highest bidder...that sort of thing. In these boom times, he’s itching to put on the ceremonial hard-hat, fire up the ceremonial bulldozer, and raze Camp Lab School to make way for a strip mall.

By the way, I have a funny story about Camp Lab School. The powers-that-be at WCU have requested that North Carolina taxpayers spend $3 million (from 2009-2015) to renovate Camp Lab School. Renovate it first, and THEN demolish it? Is that the plan? But don't take my word for it:

"You want fries with that?"

Cullowhee has been hungry for a quality dining venue, such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and soon, thanks to John Bardo, we’ll have one. But that's not all! The Bardo vision includes a complex of 300,000 square feet. (By comparison, Biltmore Square Mall contains 500,000 square feet. Should we surmise that the Bardo Square Mall will be slightly more than half as successful as the Biltmore Square Mall?)

Enough of my anecdotes, though. Bardo has the benefit of something called the IEF, which can fabricate surveys and studies to validate the pre-ordained conclusion that Moe’s…and Barnes and Noble…will free us from the darkness of our ignorance. Given the firepower at Bardo's command, how can anecdotes (or common sense) stand up against the weight of statistical certainty?

The founder of Western Carolina University was a poet. And as with John Bardo, his words reflect his thinking. It would be easy to dismiss the sentimentality of a poem by Robert Lee Madison, but it does reveal his connection to this place, his love of the mountains, and his respect for the people who have made their lives here. Should John Bardo take the time to read Madison, I suspect he would find him totally incomprehensible, which makes Bardo's megalomania even more ominous.

It's a mountain thing, John, you wouldn't understand.

I yield the floor to Robert Lee Madison:

Mayhaps, you look with scornful smile on this humble place of stay-
A cabin of logs, with rude board roof and chimney of sticks and clay;
Mayhaps, you pity the pioneer, the housewife patient and worn,
The children's youth to poverty doomed, with want and toil to be borne.
But ah! do you know the Kingliest hearts in palaces rarely 'bide?
The noble of the earth, the pure, the true are oftenest those denied
What station or name or wealth might give, their dwelling a lonely cot,
Their parents devout, industrious, plain, contented with their lot.
Such unpretentious abodes as this where dwell the poor and obscure
Have fostered the dreams of genius, nurtured the noble whose names endure.
And though you smile at the primitive style of this home you deem forlorn,
The world some day may journey this way to see where true greatness was born.

My, how times have changed in Cullowhee! (By the way, while we're on the subject of unpretentious abodes, $572,800 has been requested for a palatial...I'm sorry...a partial renovation of the chancellor's residence. I don't know if that request has been granted.)

And, oh, this. I was wondering why the WCU administration, circa 2009, seems to care so little about Jackson County. Why this craving for shadowy schemes that leave the taxpayers holding the risks and unknown "entrepreneurs" making off with the potential "opportunities?" I thought Ayn Rand preached "every man for himself" so why is WCU getting into the business of aiding and abetting strip-mall developers?

Now, after reviewing the roster of the WCU board of trustees, I understand why education is taking a back-seat to slimy "deal-making" and grossly unrealistic strip-mall development in Cullowhee (as described in a Sylva Herald article last month).

No doubt the enterprising characters looking to cash in on their political "good will" have already latched on to the "possibilities" awaiting them in Cullowhee. And no doubt they're in their own element rubbing elbows with this WCU board:

Ms. Genevieve W. Burda
P.O. Box 1570
Mars Hill, NC 28754
Retired Entrepreneur
Appointed by Governor
May 6, 1999 to June 30, 2001
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Rick Carlisle
Dogwood Equity
316 W. Edenton Street
Suite 110
Raleigh, NC 27603
Venture Capital and Former N.C. Secretary of Commerce
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Gerald Kiser
101 Harbison Boulevard
Columbia , SC 29212
President/Owner Paladin Interiors and Design, Inc.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. George W. Little
650 Fort Bragg Road
Southern Pines, NC 28387
President, George W. Little & Associates, Inc.
Insurance Consultants – Brokers
Appointed by Board of Governors
June 9, 2006 to June 30, 2009

Ms. Joan MacNeill (Chair)
PO Box 40
Webster, NC 28788
Community Leader
Appointed by Board of Governors
February 18, 2003 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Stephen Metcalf
PO Box 1694
Asheville, NC 28802
President of the Policy Corporation Inc. and Former NC State Senator
Appointed by Board of Governors
July1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. William Ted Phillips, Jr.
6621 Wilbanks Road
Knoxville, TN 37912
Owner of Phillips and Jordan Construction Company
Appointed by Governor
May 5, 2000 to June 30, 2001
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Dr. Betty Siegel
1000 Chastain Road
Mail Drop 9106
Kennesaw, GA 30133
President Emeritus
Appointed by Board of Governors
September 12, 2008 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Steve Warren (Vice Chair)
PO Box 7216
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney, Long, Parker, Warren & Jones, P.A.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mrs. Teresa Williams
14114 Timbergreen Drive
Huntersville, NC 28078
Community Leader
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Charles R. Worley (Secretary)
PO Box 2232
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney and Former Mayor of Asheville, NC
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
Appointed by Governor
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Ms. Rosemary Wyche
2801-304 Glenwood Gardens Lane
Raleigh, NC 27608
Vice President of Development for NCCBI
Appointed by Governor
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Michael Frixen
Student Government Association
University Center
Cullowhee, NC 28723
Student; SGA President
Elected by WCU Student Body
May, 2008 to May, 2009

Mr. Steve Warren (Former Chair)
PO Box 7216
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney, Long, Parker, Warren & Jones, P.A.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

See also:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Planting Trees

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

~John Muir

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.

~Kahlil Gibran

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in their way.

~William Blake

One of the more memorable moments of my life occurred when I returned to a place where I had planted pine seedlings when I was a boy scout. It had been less than twenty years since the chilly spring afternoon when we set out the pines. Seeing them after that passage of time, I could not believe how high they reached into the Carolina sky.

Since then, I've planted dozens (if not hundreds) of trees and had the pleasure of watching some of them grow tall. With a little luck, I’ll enjoy the shade of trees I’ve not yet planted. But I will need to plant them soon.

The humble shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, in Jean Giono’s parable of The Man Who Planted Trees, is a source of inspiration. And after reading the story again, I began to wonder about real-life Elzéard Bouffiers.

With just a little work, it was easy to find equally inspiring individuals who have established forests on barren stretches of the planet. Some amazing stories of reforestation come from India:

Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani in Uttar Pradesh, is a small time farmer who started planting trees to seek solace after the death of his brother (who had initiated the practice) in 1948. Since then, Vishweshwar has planted 100 hectares of land with oak, cedar, walnut and rhododendron. People were dismissive of him until they saw the change that his work had brought about in the village. Denuded hills became green, land became more fertile and dry streambeds filled up. Fodder and fuel were in plenty.

Nestled deep in the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand the Pujar village echoes with the voice of the 'Tree Man' as Saklani is popularly known, as he goes into a trance and sings an ode to his trees.

His mission to turn the forest once barren, into lush green hills has rightly earned him the title, Vriksha mitra or friend of trees.

For Saklani, the jungles were his second home where he walked the forest trails planting trees. His daily walks gave life to over 50 lakh trees across 1,200 hectares around his village ranging from the rhododendron to his all time favourite, the Himalayan Oak.

Many villagers who have grown up watching the tree man at work feel inspired by his dedication to the forests. Asha, a teacher, said that he treated the forests like his children and he has contributed a lot to the environment.

"His main aim in life was to plant trees. He would leave home at four in the morning and return late in the evening and food was never a priority for him," said Deepak, a local.

In another instance from India, Bikkalu Chikkaiah and Thimmakka were a childless couple who worked in a quarry close to Bangalore. They decided to raise banyan trees in lieu of the children they were unable to have. So they chose a barren piece of land en route to their quarry. The couple planted saplings and put protective barriers around them. In the evenings, they lugged water from a well a kilometre away. 40 years later, 284 banyan trees provided shade to a 3km stretch.

Similar examples are highlighted at:

In 1998. Environment News Service shared the story of a tree planter in Mangalore, India:

Standing in a sun-scorched arid stretch of land he had newly bought, Abdul Karim made himself a promise, "I will turn this ochre expanse green."

Nineteen years later as he walks through that land, there is the twitter of birds in the air scented with the fragrance of wild flowers. Karim has kept his promise, creating a whole forest out of nothing.

[After planting the forest] Karim dug a pond in his plot and the villagers were amazed to find plenty of water in it. It was the first time someone had struck water in that part of the village. But Karim knew, from his feel for nature, that there would be water if there were trees. The deciduous trees he grew were the kind that drink in water during the rains and release it to the earth during summer. The leaves they shed helped replenish the groundwater level.

As the trees grew tall, birds began nestling in them. "Birds are the natural carriers of many seeds, and they dropped the seeds of many varieties of trees and plants here," says Karim.

"Thus trees like sandalwood and ebony began growing here. If we respect nature she shows us greater respect."

To him, the forest is like a living being. He has never cut wood or even broken a branch or killed any of the animals. They are guests in his green shelter, and he makes no money out of it. "This forest is not for making money," he says. "I created it to enjoy living here."

Entire ENS story at:

Here's one more hero of reforestation:

Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and has become known as “The Tree Mother of Africa.” The grassroots environmental group that she organized has planted more than 30 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion. In 2004 Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Wangari Maathai discusses the relationship between culture and the environment:

Too often, when we talk about conservation, we don’t think about culture. But during our work with the Green Belt Movement, we realized that some of the communities had lost aspects of their culture that facilitated conservation of the environment.

Culture defines who we are and how we see ourselves. A new attitude toward nature provides space for a new attitude toward culture and the role it plays in sustainable development.

Mount Kenya, African’s second highest peak, is a World Heritage Site. It is topped by glaciers and is the source of many of Kenya’s rivers. Now, partly because of climate change and partly because of logging and encroachment due to crop cultivation, the glaciers are melting. Many of the rivers flowing from the mountain have dried up or their levels have declined. Biological diversity is threatened as the forests fall.

Mount Kenya used to be sacred to the Kikuyu people. If the mountain was still given the reverence the culture accorded it, people would not have allowed illegal logging and clear-cutting in the forests. Cultural revival might be the only thing that stands between the conservation or destruction of the environment.

More at:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Let Me Live Elsewhere in Winter..."

How could I resist a book entitled Poetical Geography of North Carolina?

The poet, Needham Bryan Cobb, explained the purpose of his 1887 volume:

The following rhymes on the counties, rivers, creeks, sounds, bays, and mountains of North Carolina were prepared by the author to aid his own pupils in memorizing the geography of their native State. They were written out on the blackboard, a few lines at a time, and the whole school required to repeat them in concert.

By the time Mr. Cobb had woven several hundred Tarheel geographic features into verse, his rhymes were really becoming forced:

To sum up in brief what we've studied before,
We have Creeks three hundred and ninety-four;
Five and nine Rivers that flow north and west,
And fifty-nine others that flow south and east;
Ninety-six Counties, twelve Bays and some more,
And ten and one Sounds on the Atlantic shore.

In addition to instructive doggerel, Cobb included several other compositions in his book. He wrote “A Home in the Mountains” while vacationing at the White Sulphur Springs in Waynesville, July 1884.

He couldn’t resist a catalog of waterways at the beginning of the poem:

I love to live in the mountains,
This beautiful “Land of the Sky,"
Where streamlets from hundreds of fountains
Go singing and scampering by.

I love the beautiful Pigeon
And Jonathan, Soco, and Scott,
Tuckasiege and Lufty and Richland,
That tumble from Pisgah and Plott.

After going on to extoll the scenic virtues of the region, he concluded with an appraisal of the seasonal charms of the mountains. However, the eastern North Carolina native had not yet acquired an appreciation of our winter weather:

I love to live here in Summer;
The air is so bracing and light,
The breezes so cool and refreshing,
The waters so sparkling and bright.

I love to be here in Autumn,
When forests are changing their hue
From green to orange and yellow,
Red, violet, russet, and blue.

Oh! then is the time of rare beauty,
These mountains, sun-painted and grand,
Seem wreaths and rosettes of God's making,
Dropped down on the beautiful land.

I love to live here in Summer,
I love to live here in Fall;
But let me live elsewhere in Winter
If you 'd have me live here at all.

When turnpikes are turned to morasses
Of reddest and deepest of mud,
And horses and oxen and asses
Sink down with a splash and a thud,

When the mercury sinks below zero,
And icicles hang from your nose;
When fires are fruitless to warm you,
Though clad in your warmest of clothes : —

Then give me a home in the Lowlands,
The warm-hearted Land of the Sun,
Where people don't freeze by their firesides
When Summer and Autumn are gone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

a noble and glamorous quest for undulating mountainous bliss

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
– Carl Jung

Recently, I received a remarkable document*, from which these wise words are taken. elizabeth adams writes:

For newcomers to the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, the unexpected beauty of this North Carolina landscape literally wallops the senses like a flash snowstorm in July – a foreign yet somehow familiar phenomenon from out of the mountainous, misty blue. Damp and craggy cliffs, dropped from higher ground, decide every bend in the road. Traces of a tropical nature mingle amid northern forests, intriguing, bewildering.

Continue, my dear elizabeth, to bestow upon us the insufflated outpouring that reflects a meld of language and vision and nature such as that of the earliest inhabitants of these sacred hills:

If one has the even greater fortune of penetrating the Plateau during one of its lengthy fall seasons, then yes – words like “euphoria” and “exultation” emerge as entirely appropriate. For on this elevated tray of undulating mountainous bliss, with its seductive waterfalls and signature winding roads, lies what is perhaps the Southeast’s – nay, America’s most unusual earthly gem.

That this Foreword has found its way into your hands means that you, dear reader, are among those chosen to mine it, polish it, and present its story to the world….

Well, of course I am!

Sadly, when I turned the page to read more, I learned that this letter was not written to me, but was an invitation to a RiverRock Envisioning Session, November 15th and 16th, 2006.

Dang it. Why didn’t they invite me? I’d do almost anything to meet elizabeth adams. Consider how she described the mission of the Envisioning Session:

Twenty-one people will convene under one of the most luxurious roofs in the Carolinas to provoke thought, scratch heads, opine over and in the end determine the fate of five pristine, Plateau mountain properties. The process is one of enlightenment, immersion and inspiration, designed to tap the wealth of knowledge and wisdom present, and lay the groundwork for a story as fresh and clear as the water in Glenville Lake. You are asked to bring an open mind, all your ideas and a desire to journey far beyond your comfort zone – we’ll provide the stationery.

Ahem, she lost me there at the end. I prefer to remain well within my comfort zone. But I suppose that’s what separates the great writers from the hacks, like me. Never at a loss for words, e.a. continues:

Unlike most projects that begin with an envisioning, RiverRock has already begun. The team is assembled, the land is secured, divided and parts of it sold, the sales pitch is practiced and the Cashiers Sales Center is open for discovery. The overarching challenge for the participants of the RiverRock Envisioning Session is to rein in the tremendous lead the project already has on becoming, and conceive of redirecting it onto a clearer, more unified path.

Articulation of the future experience at RiverRock will be of primary importance to the significant portion of buyers who conceive of one day making RiverRock their primary residence.

Wait, wait. It gets better:

RiverRock has the potential to establish itself as a new category of mountain living – as the greatest mountain destination in the East. What would that experience look like? What would it take to create it?

Nowhere is it written that “luxury” and “eco-sensitivity” are necessarily mutually exclusive terms. Perhaps the real challenge is in fact a fantastic, trend setting opportunity for RiverRock to define and create a groundbreaking new category of “eco-luxury” living.

The timing for such a definition is propitious. Music and film celebrities like, Bono, Sting and George Clooney, together with high-profile politicians like Al Gore and Robert Kennedy have helped evolve the stigma surrounding “green” efforts from a “tree-hugging hybrid driver” affair, into a noble and glamorous quest to preserve our world for future generations. Closer to home, RiverRock can look to the noble and green legacy left by the Vanderbilts with the Biltmore Estate – an example of the most privileged among society putting the needs of the planet first.

Bono? Sting? Robert Kennedy? Evolve the stigma? Huh?
What more can I say?

Take us out with one of your favorite quotes, elizabeth:

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”
– John Muir

*From "Out of the Blue" by elizabeth adams

That Romantic River

photo link
The next several days (and a few more later this month) will feature the blog of Asheville attorney Augustus Summerfield Merrimon (1830-1892). His 1850s diary of sojourns to the Western North Carolina courts and county seats is one my favorites from that grand decade.
Sunday January 15th. 1854.
Today I left home at noon for Madison Court.—I had a cool ride down, that romantic river, the French Broad. Rode 22 miles this evening. Stopped on the river at the house of Smith & Baird, a comfortable place. Quiet a crowd of Lawyers, travelers &c. sojourn here tonight. Tonight I have been greatly amused at the conversation of different ones of our party. The conversation has not been instructive, save in one way, that is we learn from it the nature, that is often hiden of a certain class of men. The river roars tonight, the moon shines beautifully and the rugged hills around awake one to contemplation when he walks alone. I love to be alone in an hour like this. All is silent save the continual roar of the river, and the moon shine comes down so softly.—The night is cool, not cold. It is late at night.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Illustrating the Mountains, III

Toccoa Falls, Georgia was a favorite subject for writers and illustrators employed by the popular magazines of the nineteenth century and I've turned up a surprising number of engravings published during that era.

One descriptive passage on Toccoa Falls and nearby Table Rock in South Carolina appeared as early as 1816 and was reprinted in many other books during the following decades:

It is very surprising that two of the greatest natural curiosities in the world, are within the United States, and yet scarcely known to the best informed of our geographers and naturalists. The one is a beautiful water-fall, in Franklin county, Georgia; the other, a stupendous precipice in Pendleton district, South Carolina; they are both faintly mentioned in the late edition of Morse's geography, but not as they merit. The Tuccoa fall is much higher than the falls of Niagara. The column of water is propelled beautifully over a perpendicular rock, and when the stream is full, it passes down the steep without being broken. All the prismatic effect seen at Niagara, illustrates the spray of Tuccoa.

The Table mountain in Pendleton district, South Carolina, is an awful precipice of 900 feet. Many persons reside within five, seven, or ten miles of this grand spectacle, who have never had the curiosity to visit it. It is now however occasionally visited by curious travellers and sometimes by men of science. Very few persons who have once passed a glimpse into-the almost boundless abyss, can again exercise sufficient fortitude, to approach the margin of the chasm.

Almost everyone, on looking over, involuntarily falls to the ground senseless, nerveless, and helpless; and would inevitably be precipitated, and dashed to atoms, were it not for the measures of caution and security, that have always been deemed indispensable to a safe indulgence of the curiosity of the visitor or spectator. Every one on proceeding to the spot, whence it is usual to gaze over the wonderful deep, has in his imagination a limitation, graduated by a reference to distances with which his eye has been familiar.

But in a moment, eternity, as it were, is presented to his astounded senses; and he is instantly overwhelmed. His whole system is no longer subject to his volition or his reason, and he falls like a mass of lead, obedient only to the common laws of mere matter. He then revives, and in a wild delirium surveys a scene, which for a while he is unable to define by description or limitation.

How strange is it that the Tuccoa falls and Table Mountain, are not more familiar to Americans! Either of them would distinguish any state or empire in Europe

I haven't been to Table Rock, but however entertaining the scenery itself might be...watching those who are watching the scenery would be even more entertaining...people involuntarily falling to the ground in a state of wild delirium!

In the era before landscape photography gained prominence, these engravings of Toccoa Falls and Table Rock were among the first views of the Southern Appalachians for many outsiders. Writers were eager to craft their own word pictures in the florid style of the period. In her Journal of a Tour in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Winefred, Lady Howard of Glossop, recounted a four-mile carriage ride from Toccoa to the falls on the bitterly cold afternoon of December 29, 1894:

I got out to walk, or rather scramble, along a path over great boulders covered with green-gold lichens and moss, the ground one sheet of snow-ice, shadowed by solemn ilexes and pines, skirting the river, till I reached a quite open space with semicircular background of vertical cliffs, 185 feet high, pine-crowned, glistening with huge, pendent, fantastic icicles—the Falls in the centre gracefully floating rather than falling in loveliest fairy-like clouds and wreaths of misty foam down the shining ice-wall on to a dazzling snow-heap of frosted silver: then winding their way into deep emerald- green whirling pools hemmed round by green-gold velvety rocks ice-bound—the whole glittering magical scene lighted into a glory of radiance by the scarlet and gold of sunset!

The cold was intense, and at last, rapidly turning into a pillar of ice, I tore myself away, and we drove back to the Hotel Simpson, where I spent a very pleasant evening in the warm little cosy parlour with my kind and agreeable hosts…

I’ll close with some verse composed by Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809-1870) and published in 1834.


Hail, loveliest, purest scene!
How brightly mingling with the clear, blue sky,
Thy glancing wave arrests the upward eye,
Through thy grove's leafy screen.

Through thy transparent veil,
And wide around thee, Nature's grandest forms,
Rocks, built for ages to abide the storms,
Frown on the subject dale.

Fed by thy rapid stream,
In every crevice of that savage pile,
The living herbs in quiet beauty smile,
Lit by the sunny gleam.

And over all, that gush
Of rain-drops, sparkling to the noonday sun!
While ages round thee on their course have run,
Ceaseless thy waters rush.

I would not that the bow
With gorgeous hues should light thy virgin stream;
Better thy white and sun-lit foam should gleam
Thus, like unsullied snow.

Yes! thou hast seen the woods
Around, for centuries rise, decay, and die,
While thou hast poured thy endless current by,
To join the eternal floods.

The ages pass away,
Successive nations rise, and are forgot,
But on thy brilliant course thou pausest not,
'Mid thine unchanging spray.

When I have sunk to rest—
Thus wilt thou pass in calm sublimity,
Then be thy power to others, as to me,
On the deep soul impressed.

Here does a spirit dwell
Of gratitude, and contemplation high;
Holding deep union with eternity.-^
0 loveliest scene, farewell!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to Milk a Toad

Since learning of the alleged psychoactive properties of the catalpa tree, I’ve been thinking about other traditions for achieving a transcendent state in the Southern Appalachians. So far, I’ve found only sketchy references to Cherokee uses of hallucinogenic plants.

In an article on Cherokee beliefs concerning death, John Witthoft shares some inconclusive information on shamanic applications of various herbaceous plants and fungi to achieve visions.

Another curious statement appears in Time Before History, The Archaeology of North Carolina, by Trawick Ward and Stephen Davis. An odd discovery was made at excavated sites in two separate locations: Coweeta Creek in Macon County and Warren Wilson in Buncombe. At each of these sites, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large number of toads. According to the authors, "the toads may have been used for hallucinogenic or medicinal purposes."

Several species of toads are psychoactive, but I have no idea which ones inhabit these mountains.

I have no idea how you would identify such toads.

Maybe you look for toads with telltale tie-dye markings.

Maybe you look for toads that are jamming out to Phish.

I don’t know.

Assuming you crossed paths with such a toad, it is possible to obtain the psychoactive ingredient from the toad’s venom glands. Stroking the toad under its chin stimulates a defensive response and release of hallucinogenic venom, which can be collected and dried. The toad takes about a month to refill its venom glands, but harvesting of venom in this manner can be accomplished without serious harm to the toad.

I have no idea what harm might befall a person who ingests the toad venom.

And it’s not something I intend to discover from personal experience.

But I pass along this information in the belief that everyone should know how to milk a toad.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tripping Through the Valley of the Green Bird

Lighting the hallucinogenic catalpa. [For demonstration purposes only.]

I took a right turn at Bob’s Place, just before the Road Kill Grill, and descended into the Valley of the Green Bird.

Whenever I visit this place, I think of the trilliums that grow here, in abundance, thanks to an anomaly of Appalachian geology. I’ve been told that one hill alone hosts seven different varieties of the flower. Of course, that rainbow of trilliums is hidden underground for the next couple of months.

Here are some things I’ve just learned – trilliums have a symbiotic relationship with ants. The fruit of the trillium matures, splits open, and releases its seeds in late summer. Attached to those seeds are nutritious, lipid-rich elaisomes, especially attractive to ants.

The ants carry the seeds back to their nests, where they eat the elaisomes and discard the seeds intact. Waste disposal sites, enriched by the carcasses of dead ants and ant feces, form fertile seedbeds. The seeds over-winter before germinating. The first year, they develop only a small root; the second year, a rudimentary leaf; a year or two later, a single true leaf. In a couple of more years, the plant produces three leaves and, after another year, the trillium finally flowers. The cycle can take six years or more from seed to flower.

Trilliums aren’t the only evidence of persistence in the valley. The old homesteads and farm fields still look like they belong here.

One of those patches of ground called out to me and I pulled over for a closer look. I could see this land had been farmed for centuries. A large pasture stretched out to the edge of the creek that runs through the middle of this valley. Between the pasture and the road was a garden plot lined by several gnarled apple trees and one cigar tree. Dark slender pods, a foot or longer, hung from all the limbs of that tree better known as the catalpa.

Supposedly, the tree was a totem for the Catawba indians, and it was only due to a transcription error by a botanist that the name "Catalpa," rather than "Catawba" was applied to the tree. To my way of thinking, it’s one of those humble trees that doesn’t get its due respect. With a thick covering of heart-shaped leaves it provides a protected refuge for many species of birds.

If you want to catch catfish, remember this:

The tree is favored by the Catalpa Sphinx moth. The caterpillars of that moth eat the leaves of the catalpa, and are such an excellent live bait for fishing that some dedicated anglers maintain small groves of the trees, just to have a reliable source of "catawba-worms".

Indians smoked the catalpa seed pods for the hallucinogenic effect, which is why the tree became known as the "Indian Cigar Tree." I’d be more than happy to report on anyone else’s experience in this regard. I believe I’ll pass, but I do have a couple of pods for anyone who wants to give it a try.

Go ahead.

Light up.

Tune in. Turn on. Drop out.

Who knows? Maybe the Green Bird will make an encore appearance.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Slip Sliding Away

After all the recent rain, I’ve seen brooks and rivulets where I haven’t seen them in a long time. But what’s good for groundwater supplies and stream levels isn’t always so good for houses built on precarious slopes. Two people miraculously escaped death when their new house in Maggie Valley tumbled down the mountain this week.

The devastation was similar to that of a deadly landslide that destroyed a Maggie Valley home in 2003, shown here in a North Carolina Geological Survey (NCGS) photo:

The Asheville Citizen-Times has posted a photo gallery of the latest disaster:

[click on map to enlarge]

The NCGS has prepared a map of Jackson County identifying sites where landslides and debris flows have already occurred, and is preparing a highly detailed map of landslide hazard areas. So far, the agency has completed maps of Macon and Watauga counties. The Macon maps were the first in the series, and identify slope movements and downslope hazards.

You have to wonder how these maps are going over with the developers of gated golf-course enclaves (I need to quit calling them "communities") where some of the more precarious houses have already been built. I doubt that a complimentary copy of the landslide hazard map will be sent out with the glossy real estate porn peddled by Legasus and its competitors.

But it should be.

Many of these big developers in WNC are subject to the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, a federal law intended to protect consumers from fraudulent and abusive land sale practices. Landslides and erodible soils are common in the region and these hazards must be revealed. Failure to disclose material facts is a violation of the Act. More information on this issue is available at:

Over the course of a few days in 2004, the aftermath of Hurricanes Frances and Ivan resulted in 130 landslides, 5 deaths (Peek’s Creek) and 27 houses destroyed. That kind of information is not in the sales brochure.

But it should be.

For details on the landslide hazards in WNC, I can recommend two websites:

Introduction to Landslides, North Carolina Geological Survey

and The NC Mountain Landslides Website

One thing I’ve learned from these sources – signs of old landslides and debris flows are quite evident to the trained eye. And another helpful bit of information – curved trees can indicate a slow-moving landslide. From NCGS:

A clue that the land is moving is trees growing at an angle or with bent trunks as shown below. Trees growing on the side of a hill normally grow straight up. If the land is slowly moving downslope, the trees will lean, but keep trying to grow straight towards the sun. This process results in their bent growth pattern and indicates the trees are slowly sliding down the hill on top of the landslide. This should be a warning that the land may move substantially with the next large rainstorm.

I’ll bet that bit of mountain lore isn’t in the sales pitch.

But it should be.

Finally, among the many landslides to date in WNC, I don’t know that any have been captured on video, but a recent landslide in Japan was recorded and demonstrates how quickly and dramatically a mountain slope can collapse. Powerful stuff.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Legends of the Falls, II

A traveller, sleeping on the banks of the Oronoco, has heard the mysterious sounds of the Laxas de musica.* He wakens his Indian guide, who congratulates him on having heard them, and tells him they are the voices of his departed friends from the regions of the dead, giving him assurance that they are happy, and that they watch over him: that he need not now fear the paw of the tiger, nor the bite
(*Rocks which are said to emit musical tones at sunrise.)
- From The Works of Mrs. Hemans, by Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans, 1839

Beyond that wild illimitable waste
Of unfenced prairie, there are wild flowers growing
In rich luxuriance, over by the chaste
And velvet-vested rivers that are flowing
Within the moss-clad suckle valleys glowing;
And in that sea-like undulating wild,
The moon-like roses are forever blowing,
For there the wild deer, on the lawn, so mild,
Leaps with the unscared fawn like some delighted child.
-From Nacoochee, by Thomas Holley Chivers, 1837

I’m drawn to the under-reported and the overlooked, and I figured the early illustrations of the Southern Appalachians (published in magazines from about 1855-1885) fit into that category. The artists who created those illustrations are not especially well-known, but they were interesting characters. Investigating them leads deep into the popular literature of the nineteenth century, including numerous poems written about notable places and legends of these mountains. Drivel mostly, though I do bump into some enjoyable exceptions - a few intriguing stories.

Take for instance, Thomas Holley Chivers (1809-1858), a Georgia physician who penned some truly horrible verse. In 1899, Charles Dana summed him up as a “literary freak.”

I happened across his poem, Nacoochee; or, The Beautiful Star. after I'd already found a couple of other poems set in that lovely north Georgia valley. Chivers had merely appropriated the name from the Cherokees. His Nacoochee unfolds in another, distant and fictional, location.

Nacoochee was one of his more popular, and more highly-regarded poems, and the 1837 collection of the same name is a piece of work. Had he been a rock-and-roller, his gloomy collection featuring…

The Death of Time
The Dying Poet
The Dying Dove
The Dying Beauty
Song of the Dying Soldier
Burial of the Indian Child
The Dying Poet to His Child
Hymn to Death
The Mother’s Song at the Grave of her Child

…would make Marilyn Manson look like Doris Day.

Chivers is remembered mainly for a nasty feud with Edgar Allen Poe. Apparently, Poe gave Chivers a favorable review to butter him up for a loan. In return, Chivers accused Poe of plagiarizing “The Raven” from his own work. At least one book and many scholarly articles have been devoted to Chivers-Poe controversy.

Chivers' work, including Nacoochee does reflect two significant currents of American Romanticism. One is the influence of Swedenborgian philosophy and the other is an idealized celebration of the Native American.

Raised a Baptist, Chivers eventually became a devoted disciple of Swendenborg, and harbored delusions of mystical grandeur:

Poetry is that crystal river of the soul which runs through all the avenues of life, and after purifying the affections of the heart, empties itself into the Sea of God. Now, he who dives the deepest into that mysterious sea, brings up the greatest number of the shells of truth, and is made richer in the lore of the wisdom of the universe.

As with many of his contemporaries, Chivers’ fascination with Indian themes could be traced to Chateaubriand’s French prose work, Atala, which inspired many poems and legends, including some set in the Southern mountains. Chivers biographer Charles Lombard summarized the juicy story line of Atala:

Chactas, an old Indian chief, meets Rene, a melancholy young Frenchman who came to the Louisiana colony to forget an unnatural love for his sister, Amelie. Chactas, reared by Lopez, an old Spaniard, is rescued from the savage Muscogulges by a beautiful Indian maid, Atala. A Christian, she leads Chactas to a village inhabited by other converts. There the missionary, Pere Aubry, lectures Chactas on Christianity. Atala and Chactas spend many happy moments together amid the splendor of the unspoiled forests. When Chactas becomes too passionate in his declarations of love, Atala, adhering to her vow to remain a virgin, commits suicide. Ultimately, Chactas and Rene die at the hands of hostile Indians.

Lombard described how the Atala story was recycled, endlessly, by American Romantics:

A comely Indian lass, thoroughly Christianized and speaking a refined poetic language, was invariably the sweetheart of a stalwart brave patterned after Chactas. Invariably their love affair had a tragic end.

Chivers’ Nacoochee did not take place in the north Georgia valley of that name. The poet explained in the preface to his 1837 collection, a preface more engaging than the title poem itself:

The word Nacoochee, in the Indian language, signifies beautiful star. There is a lake, between the Oakmulgee and Flint rivers, in Georgia, which, during the winter season, is about three hundred miles in circumference. The Creek Indians believe that in the centre of this lake there is an island of such extraordinary beauty, that if they could only possess it, they would immediately be made happy. There believe it is inhabited by the most beautiful of all God’s creatures, - and that they are as lovely as the angels. It is to them what Elysium was to the ancients, and heaven to the moderns. It is to them a Fairy-land. They believe that at some future period they will be in the possession of that island – which is, to them, the same as being in Paradise. They believe that the women are descendants of some great tribe, and some say that when they approach that Eden of terrestrial bliss, the island continues to move on from them, so that no one has ever before had the fortune to arrive at that wished-for haven.

They say that there are great chiefs there, who are kings over the immortal rattle-snakes, whose heads are crowned with “carbuncles” of such excessive brightness, that they dazzle the island for nine miles around. They say that the great snake, which has this large diamond in his head, leads the rest of the serpents by mowing down the grass before him, by the breath of his nostrils. The Cherokees believe that if they could possess that beautiful “carbuncle” they could immediately buy the whole world.

They believe that the stones on that island make the most exquisite music, and that the beautiful beings who inhabit it, have the power, like Orpheus, of controlling that music whenever they please.

The musical stones, which are called on the banks of the Oronoco, Laxas de Musica, are called shells in the poem.

At a later date, I’ll introduce some other incarnations of the lovely Indian maiden named Nacoochee, but for now, here she is a’la Chivers:

Oh! Had you seen her thus beneath the moon,
Her snow-white bosom heaving like the sea!
As some tall mountain spread with snow at noon,
Her dark, long locks all sweeping lavishly –
As each soft breeze came fondling them for me!
Her dark bright eyes upturned upon the sky,
With two pearl tear-drops fringing them, to be
A living truth that she was born to die!-
Oh! Had you seen her thus, how deep had been the sigh!

Gracious! To think that this was the sort of thing that the League for Sanity in Poetry was attempting to protect and preserve!