Thursday, February 26, 2009

Legends of the Falls, IV

I found a superb guest blogger for episode four of Legends of the Falls. Here goes:

'When you were talking of Maiden's Rock, you spoke of
the long-departed Winona, darling of Indian song and story.
Is she the maiden of the rock?--and are the two connected by legend?'

'Yes, and a very tragic and painful one. Perhaps the most celebrated,
as well as the most pathetic, of all the legends of the Mississippi.'

We asked him to tell it. He dropped out of his conversational
vein and back into his lecture-gait without an effort,
and rolled on as follows--

'A little distance above Lake City is a famous point known
as Maiden's Rock, which is not only a picturesque spot, but is
full of romantic interest from the event which gave it its name,
Not many years ago this locality was a favorite resort for the Sioux
Indians on account of the fine fishing and hunting to be had there,
and large numbers of them were always to be found in this locality.
Among the families which used to resort here, was one belonging
to the tribe of Wabasha. We-no-na (first-born) was the name
of a maiden who had plighted her troth to a lover belonging
to the same band. But her stern parents had promised her hand
to another, a famous warrior, and insisted on her wedding him.
The day was fixed by her parents, to her great grief.
She appeared to accede to the proposal and accompany them to
the rock, for the purpose of gathering flowers for the feast.
On reaching the rock, We-no-na ran to its summit and standing on
its edge upbraided her parents who were below, for their cruelty,
and then singing a death-dirge, threw herself from the precipice and
dashed them in pieces on the rock below.'

'Dashed who in pieces--her parents?'


'Well, it certainly was a tragic business, as you say.
And moreover, there is a startling kind of dramatic surprise
about it which I was not looking for. It is a distinct
improvement upon the threadbare form of Indian legend.
There are fifty Lover's Leaps along the Mississippi from whose
summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped, but this is the only
jump in the lot that turned out in the right and satisfactory way.
What became of Winona?'

'She was a good deal jarred up and jolted: but she got herself
together and disappeared before the coroner reached the fatal spot;
and 'tis said she sought and married her true love, and wandered
with him to some distant clime, where she lived happy ever after,
her gentle spirit mellowed and chastened by the romantic incident
which had so early deprived her of the sweet guidance of a mother's
love and a father's protecting arm, and thrown her, all unfriended,
upon the cold charity of a censorious world.'

As the lecturer remarked, this whole region is blanketed with Indian
tales and traditions. But I reminded him that people usually merely
mention this fact--doing it in a way to make a body's mouth water--
and judiciously stopped there. Why? Because the impression left,
was that these tales were full of incident and imagination--a pleasant
impression which would be promptly dissipated if the tales were told.
I showed him a lot of this sort of literature which I had been collecting,and he confessed that it was poor stuff, exceedingly sorry rubbish; and I ventured to add that the legends which he had himself told us were of this character, with the single exception of the admirable story of Winona.

- Sam C.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big River

After reading it again this week, I’d agree with the writer who called it the gold standard of narrative journalism in America:

Mark Twain’s
Life on the Mississippi

After De Soto glimpsed the river, a fraction short of a quarter of a century elapsed, and then Shakespeare was born; lived a trifle more than half a century, then died; and when he had been in his grave considerably more than half a century, the SECOND white man saw the Mississippi. In our day we don't allow a hundred and thirty years to elapse between glimpses of a marvel. If somebody should discover a creek in the county next to the one that the North Pole is in, Europe and America would start fifteen costly expeditions thither: one to explore the creek, and the other fourteen to hunt for each other….

LA SALLE himself sued for certain high privileges, and they were graciously accorded him by Louis XIV of inflated memory. Chief among them was the privilege to explore, far and wide, and build forts, and stake out continents, and hand the same over to the king, and pay the expenses himself; receiving, in return, some little advantages of one sort or another; among them the monopoly of buffalo hides....

In time this commerce increased until it gave employment to hordes of rough and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse frolickers in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of that day, heavy fighters, reckless fellows, every one, elephantinely jolly, foul-witted, profane; prodigal of their money, bankrupt at the end of the trip, fond of barbaric finery, prodigious braggarts; yet, in the main, honest, trustworthy, faithful to promises and duty, and often picturesquely magnanimous….

When we presently got under way and went poking down the broad Ohio, I became a new being, and the subject of my own admiration. I was a traveler! A word never had tasted so good in my mouth before. I had an exultant sense of being bound for mysterious lands and distant climes which I never have felt in so uplifting a degree since. I was in such a glorified condition that all ignoble feelings departed out of me, and I was able to look down and pity the untraveled with a compassion that had hardly a trace of contempt in it….

"What is the shape of Walnut Bend?"
He might as well have asked me my grandmother's opinion of protoplasm. I reflected respectfully, and then said I didn't know it had any particular shape. My gunpowdery chief went off with a bang, of course, and then went on loading and firing until he was out of adjectives. I had learned long ago that he only carried just so many rounds of ammunition, and was sure to subside into a very placable and even remorseful old smooth-bore as soon as they were all gone.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Doug Clark and His Hot Nuts

It’s funny how the comments in response to the Serge Voronoff monkey story included musical references. Maybe we could turn the saga of Voronoff and Brinkley into a rock opera.

Unfortunately, Gene Pitney died a couple of years ago.

As far as I know, Dan Hicks is still with us.

This video demonstrates that, back in their day, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks could sing AND dance.

Now, the reference to Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts really brought back some memories. Hazy memories, though. I had always put Doug Clark in the "beach music" bin. For the uninitiated, that's a Carolina thing, much closer to doo-wop and R'n'B than to Southern California surfer music.

To be honest, it was never really my cup of tea, though I know plenty of my contemporaries would be ready to shag to the tunes. And if "shagging" makes you think of Austin Powers, then you know even less about beach music than I do. It's a dance...and I know some fairly proficient practitioners of the form. Of course, I'm not among them.

I would have guessed that Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts was a Carolina band...and sure enough, I've learned that they came out of Chapel Hill.

Here's the scoop from Wikipedia:
Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, also known as Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts, The Hot Nuts and, since the death of Doug Clark in 2002, Doug Clark's Hot Nuts, is a rhythm and blues, rock and novelty band that has played party and club dates for more than fifty years. Starting in Chapel Hill, NC they became famous on the college circuit in the southeastern United States in the early 1960s for their risque song lyrics and jokes, and for allegedly performing in various states of undress. Their signature song was Hot Nuts.

Watching this video was my introduction to Doug Clark, and it blows any delusions I might have harbored about the "innocent" early sixties in the Tar Heel state.

If you haven't figured it out by now, this encore by Doug Clark and his Hot Nuts confirms that the band had NO redeeming social value. This wasn't just "beach music"...this was a raunchy party band. I must have been at home watching the Andy Griffith show when all this was going on.

Nevertheless, we'll find a place for Doug Clark in the Voronoff-Brinkley rock opera.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Bear Country"
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
February 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Monkey Testicles vs. Goat Glands

Before I attempted to graft a genital gland my observations on thyroid gland grafting had already shown me that a monkey’s gland can perfectly well adapt itself to the human organism.
-Dr. Serge Voronoff

Dr. Serge Voronoff (1866 – 1951), Dr. John R. Brinkley (1885 – 1942)

In Goat Gland Genius, I provided a brief account of the life and career of Jackson County’s most famous son, Dr. John R. Brinkley. Here’s what Joe Schwarcz, PhD., said about him…over at Quackwatch:

The remarkable events I'm going to chronicle here would likely never have unfolded, in 1917, if young Dr. John Brinkley had not been hired as house doctor at the Swift meatpacking company, located in Kansas. He was dazzled by the vigorous mating activities of the goats destined for the slaughterhouse.

A couple of years later, after Brinkley had gone into private practice in Milford, Kansas, a farmer named Stittsworth came to see him. Stittsworth complained of a sagging libido. Recalling the goats' frantic antics, the doctor semi-jokingly told his patient that what he needed was some goat glands. Stittsworth quickly responded, "So, Doc, put 'em in. Transplant 'em." Most doctors would have ignored the bizarre request, but Brinkley was not like most doctors….

Brinkley went on to fame and fortune by transplanting goat testicles into men needing a little boost. Recently, I heard from the creator of a blog ( ) featuring the works of Dr. Serge Voronoff, a contemporary of Brinkley:

Please visit The Voronoff Link to be introduced to Dr. Serge Voronoff, who grafted monkey glands into men and women during the 20s and 30s in France. As a pioneer of Xenotransplantation, Endocrinology, and Sexual Rejuvenation, Voronoff deserves to stand beside other scientific visionaries in history. There are numerous conflicting accounts of Voronoff’s experiments; who he conducted surgery on, and who supported his research.

Veiled in secrecy, fear, and comedy, many of his most notable accomplishments have gone unnoticed for almost 100 years. Ridiculed and disgraced by the very institutions and political personalities that once celebrated him as a savant and saviour of the human race, he died in obscurity. Although some of his practices seem freakish and disturbing, his purpose was certainly to heal, preserve, and extend the human life. His work with Egyptian eunuchs, retarded children, schizophrenics, the rejuvenation of aging livestock, and proposed links to HIV deserve further investigation.

A wikipedia entry adds more about the impact of Voronoff on popular culture:

In the early 1920s, strange-looking ashtrays depicting monkeys protecting their private parts, with the phrase (translated from the French), "No, Voronoff, you won't get me!" painted on them began showing up in Parisian homes. At about this same time, a new cocktail containing gin, orange juice, grenadine and absinthe was named The Monkey Gland after the work being done by Voronoff in the 1920s and 1930s.

Voronoff was the prototype for Professor Preobrazhensky in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel Heart of a Dog, published in 1925. In the novel Preobrazhensky implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a stray dog named Sharik. Sharik then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, picks himself the name Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, makes himself a career with the "department of the clearing of the city from cats and other vile animals", and turns the life in the professor's house into a nightmare until the professor reverses the procedure.

The Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Creeping Man seems to have been inspired by Voronoff's work. Written in 1923, but set in 1903, it is about a distinguished, elderly Professor who experiences bizarre side-effects after taking a drug, derived from monkeys, in order to produce rejuvenation.

In 1999, some speculated that the AIDS virus discovered in the 1980s entered the human population through Voronoff's transfer of monkey parts into humans in the 1920s.

A 1921 article by Voronoff, TRANSPLANTATION OF THE THYROID AND SO-CALLED INTERSTITIAL TISSUES, was published in International Clinics: A Quarterly of Clinical Lectures, and is available online at .

While looking into this story, I came across an article on the grave of Dr. Brinkley, who was buried in Memphis, TN for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Anyhow, one comment in response to that article really caught my attention. Apparently, Brinkley was not only gifted at implanting goat parts into humans, he was able to oversee similarly amazing botanical transplants:

Harry Weiss, on June 19th, 2008 at 9:33 pm Said:
I was in the process of buying the Brinkley mansion and the contents from Mini Brinkley when John Brinkley her only son committed suicide with a pistol. He called his mother and asked her if she wanted to hear him shoot himself. I met quite a few men whose father had the operation. I bought several oriental rugs two large marble statues and stemware with Dr. Brinkley’s name on them with the yacht flag. John Brinkley had one daughter and never had employment. He had a law degree and was a CPA. He lived in a shack by a railroad track in Del Rio.

Mini Brinkley lived with her granddaughter in two small rooms in the mansion. Mini never moved into the main part of the very large mansion. For a short time I owned a sterling silver plane given to Dr. Brinkley by Howard Hughes. The once beautiful mansion was in a bad state of repair in the mid 1970s. One amazing thing was the Brinkley orchard. Dr. Brinkley had different trees growing out of another kind of tree. Like a Maple tree growing out of an Oak tree. I didn’t think this was possible. I spent many months in Del Rio and learned a great deal about Dr. Brinkley.

At the moment, I’m not sure about the status of the John R. Brinkley Museum and Organic Goat Farm, announced here in September. Has anyone asked Jim Pitts if Legasus is moving ahead with this…or have they dropped the ball?

So to speak.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Old Names for the French Broad

I like lists and, recently, I discovered an intriguing list from the U. S. Board on Geographic Names. These are variant names for the French Broad River:

Broad River
John Frenchs Broad River

Charles Skinner, in Myths and Legends of our Own Land (1896) refers to the river by another of its old names, the Tselica:

Among the rocks east of Asheville, North Carolina, lives the Lorelei of the French Broad River. This stream—the Tselica of the Indians—contains in its upper reaches many pools where the rapid water whirls and deepens, and where the traveller likes to pause in the heats of afternoon and drink and bathe. Here, from the time when the Cherokees occupied the country, has lived the siren, and if one who is weary and downcast sits beside the stream or utters a wish to rest in it, he becomes conscious of a soft and exquisite music blending with the plash of the wave.

Looking down in surprise he sees—at first faintly, then with distinctness—the form of a beautiful woman, with hair streaming like moss and dark eyes looking into his, luring him with a power he cannot resist. His breath grows short, his gaze is fixed, mechanically he rises, steps to the brink, and lurches forward into the river. The arms that catch him are slimy and cold as serpents; the face that stares into his is a grinning skull. A loud, chattering laugh rings through the wilderness, and all is still again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Short History of America

One of the things I enjoy about the following set of drawings is that, at first glance, they look like something Eric Sloane would have drawn. Of course, "A Short History of America" is the work of Robert Crumb, published in the Coevolution Quarterly in 1979.

The same drawings as featured in the 1994 documentary, Crumb:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Billie and the Possum

"Billie Bowlegs, III" and "A Very Unhappy Possum" [Florida state archives]

Flickr is a university of photography for any camera from the Florida state archives have just been posted at :

This is some fun. Another treasure is the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives

Work continues on hundreds of thousands of negatives and slides by Hugh Morton, including some iconic lighthouse shots:

Thanks for kind words from a remarkable writer, Tai Moses. Aerophant is an amazing blog from the West Coast:

Then, here's a new mystery...from this account of events in 1864:

We felt that as soon as we placed South Carolina at our backs our work would be almost done—that we would be nearly home.

The night that we expected to pass the border we walked with perhaps more spirit than on any other occasion. We pushed right on, through branches, over the foot-hills, up the side of the Saluda Mountains, until about midnight, when we came upon a pillar of hewn limestone, standing four feet out of the ground, upon the summit, on the south face of which was inscribed "S. C., 1849," and on the north face, "N. C., 1849."

The nearer we approached North Carolina the more we had been assured of the loyalty of the people of the mountains, and that we would be safe when we got out of South Carolina. We merrily shook hands all around at the boundary stone, rested a few minutes, then skipped off down the mountainside into North Carolina with hearts as light as homeward-bound school-boys.

It was well for us that we could not then lift the curtain that hid from us the events of the next twenty days, or we should have felt like turning back to prison.

The mystery (or one of the mysteries) is "whatever happened to that limestone pillar?" There's a chance that it is (or was) on Standingstone Mountain where the state border follows the ridgetop, near Caesar's Head and the Green River Gap.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Discoveries in the Smokies

This year, I’m intent on honing my abilities as an amateur naturalist. The way I see it, whatever it takes to become more familiar with the local flora and fauna would be well worth it.

Along those lines, it’s been interesting to learn about a massive scientific project underway in our own back yard – the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

An initiative of Discover Life in America, the ATBI seeks to inventory the estimated 100,000 species of living organisms in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hundreds of scientists and volunteers have been working on the ATBI since it began in 1997, and they’ve discovered almost 900 species new to science and more than 6300 species new to the Park. Many of these include algae, bacteria, protozoa and viruses. Also among the discoveries completely new to science are 41 species of spiders, 42 species of beetles, 27 species of crustaceans and 36 species of moths and butterflies.

So far, almost 17,000 species in the Park have been cataloged.

Researchers are on the lookout for rare species not seen in the Park since the 1930s, such as the scarlet kingsnake. What a beauty!

The project website contains, appropriately, an abundance and diversity of interesting information on the scientific frontier around us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Stories on the Rock

I’ve looked into the theories to explain Judaculla Rock. My favorite is that it reflects prehistoric access to the microscope since the carvings on the rock so closely resemble microorganisms.

I didn’t say that was the most credible theory, but I give it high marks for ingenuity.

It was good to see that some folks met recently with the intention of taking better care of the old petroglyph and I hope their efforts come to fruition. But that meeting got me to thinking again about the origins of Judaculla Rock.

Here’s one possibility:

We’re told that early settlers remember Cherokee elders coming to Judaculla Rock every year to commemorate a battle with the Creeks in 1755. According to that explanation, the various designs on the rock correspond to the events of the conflict.

Well, maybe.

But what of that episode in 1755?

The Battle of Taliwa was fought in Ball Ground, GA to settle a land dispute. The Cherokee war chief, Oconostota, led 500 warriors against a much larger band of Creeks. Despite being outnumbered, the Cherokees scored a decisive victory, with the Creeks retreating to the south of the Chattahoochee River, and relinquishing their former territory.

Assuming Judaculla Rock depicts this episode of history, there should be some image on the rock depicting Nancy Ward (1738-1822). She was, at the time, a teenager known as Nanye-hi. When her husband was mortally wounded in the battle, she took up his gun, sang a war song and led the Cherokees to victory, gaining her the title of “Warrior Woman.”

After the battle, Nanye-hi married a white trader, Bryant Ward, and encouraged peace between white settlers and the Cherokee. She became known as the “Beloved Woman” for her humanitarian efforts. Later in her life, and years before the Removal of 1838, Nancy Ward had this prophetic vision:

A great line of our people marching on foot. Mothers with babies in their arms. Fathers with small children on their backs. Grandmothers and grandfathers with large bundles on their backs. They were marching West and the "unaka” (white soldiers) were behind them. They left a trail of corpses, the weak, the sick who could not survive the journey.

If the elders did gather at Judaculla Rock to share war stories, some of their memories must have included the remarkable Nancy Ward.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Return to the Magnificent Forest

Photograph by Margaret Morley

When you start to consider big trees, the story can go in any number of directions.

Around here, with some effort, it’s possible to find a few big trees that give an inkling (and only that) of what the forests used to be. Some of those giants, like the hemlocks up Caldwell Fork in Cataloochee are ailing and won’t be around much longer.

Today, as I consider the big trees, I think back to the 1850s. No issue dominated the newspapers of Western North Carolina as did the highly anticipated coming of the railroad. It represented Progress, a Brighter Future. Mountain farmers would find new markets for their produce. That was the hope and promise.

But in all the hype of those days, I don’t recall any predictions of northern capitalists coming to the mountains to harvest the forest giants. Of course, with the eventual arrival of the railroads in the 1880s, large-scale logging became feasible…and brought unimaginable changes to the forests.

Then, as now, people were incapable of foreseeing the toll of Progress.

So, I’m grateful for those who took the time to describe the big trees, giving us a way to return to those magical forests.

Henry Seidel Canby spent some time exploring the area around Cherokee and, in 1916, published an article in Harper’s Magazine:

Indians and white mountaineers alike have an affectionate regard for their forests that I have not found in the North. They regard with a certain melancholy the invasion of the lumbermen, who, since my first visit fourteen years ago, have hacked their way to the top of the Balsams, and peeled off great areas of spruce. Being human, they do not despise the money that comes into the country, but they deplore the slaughter of the forests. North Carolina is better forested, more beautifully forested, than any other part of the Appalachian; nevertheless, the choppers have already culled the more accessible woodlands, and have gone far upon a more ruinous destruction.

"Seems as if they jes' nat'rally t'ar up everything," was our sheep-herder's comment.

"Soon thar'll be no more big woods," said the Cherokee at Lane Tatem's. But the valley folk cling to their forest lands. I know one who keeps fifty acres of virgin forest at his back door, because "my spring's right thar, an' a man cain't live right without a spring." When we asked of white or Indian where we might still find "big poplars," they were eager to direct us, regretful that there were so few left to find.

Our best information led us up the Oconolufta through the Cherokee nation, and on toward the main line of the Smokies, where they tower up well above six thousand feet into Mt. Guyot. We chose the Straight Fork of the river, for on it lie the twenty-five thousand acres of land sold but lately by the Indians, and still untouched by the lumberman, the finest forest, I am told, in North Carolina; if so, one of the finest in the world….

It was glorious riding, but difficult. Our road clung to one side of the narrow mountain rift where Magee and his sons had scraped a patch here and there for corn or sorghum. Beside us the Lufty shouted over its boulders. Above was a deep jade wall of rhododendron, then towering hemlocks beneath a cliff of waving hardwoods, oaks or chestnuts, until far above one saw through some cleft the faint spires of balsam near the top of Cataloochee. I remembered that I had seen such rhododendron hanging its candelabra of flowers over the mountain torrents in July, and regretted for a moment our September. But we rode through goldenrod as high as our saddles and beds of turquoise aster.

The air was crisp and cool, while beneath the hemlocks and among the rhododendron garnet maple-leaves and crimson sorrel burned in the sunlight. Perhaps there are still many groups of tulip-trees such as we found at last in Round Bottom, but I cannot learn of them. One other grove almost as fine I have seen, but now there are only stumps to show what once could be viewed there. And the tulip-tree-or yellow poplar, as it is more familiarly known-is of course no rarity like the sequoia, which among all trees that I know, at its best, it most resembles. True, like the sequoia again, it is the last of its genus; but once it was abundant everywhere in its Appalachian range; it is still common in our forests; but not at its best, not at all as it grows upon the Oconolufta.

We rode up Straight Fork through a sun-spangled grove of chestnuts, then left the trail to Cataloochee, splashed noisily across green water, burst horse and man through a screen of rhododendron, and entered the dark forest. It was an open forest beneath its high roof. The eye went freely once we were past the door of rhododendron, and at first, in intervals of guiding our scrambling horses, we looked vainly for the poplars. Hemlock shafts, oak bolls aplenty; and then on the upper slope I saw the first, a smooth tower, its head lost above the leafage, and beyond another, and below in the hemlocks a group of four, like cathedral piers beyond the pillars of a nave.

We rode to the first in view. Twenty-one feet in circumference, it rose massively for seventy feet perhaps without a branch; how much above one could not tell in that forest. For as in the redwood groves of California, so here, the eye can seldom take in a whole tree when in its forest setting, the camera never. Indeed, the habit of the great poplar is curiously like that of the giant sequoia. Like the sequoia it rises above lesser neighbors, and flings from the capital of its great trunk a crown of heavy limbs that turn and lift nobly above the forest roof. From an opposing hillside you can pick out these crowns of light-green foliage above the oaks and chestnuts, just as across a Sierra canon one sees the sequoias lift above spruce and fir. Only these two trees, in my experience, have this regal habit. And if the sequoia is vaster, it is less graceful.

As our eyes grew more accustomed to the green shade of Round Bottom, we saw that they were all about us, some springing from the rhododendron of the stream-bed until they had overtopped the hemlocks, some high up on the hillside catching the sunlight on smooth, mossy trunks. And everywhere beneath, clear, gold-lit spaces, and above, through rifts in the foliage, glimpses of great arms rising higher into the blue air above the forest.

Some day I hope to see an Eastern forest like this one not already marked for destruction. But I am not hopeful. There are few left now, and it is nearly too late to save them. Already surveyors are at work on the Oconolufta, and rails are waiting somewhere for the narrow gauge down which the last of the Indian poplars will trundle to oblivion. Surely if California can afford five forests of sequoia, we Easterners might have indulged ourselves with one such tulip cove! I have seen both, and really, if a choice between sequoia grove and tulip bottom should lie before me tomorrow, I should be torn. The one is grander; but the other is our well beloved woods of the Appalachians raised to a power which they never again will attain.

Twenty-five thousand acres, of which Round Bottom is, of course, the most valuable part, the Cherokees refused to lease to the government. The "council," a mysterious central power of varying judgment, was responsible. Then it was sold, or seized-the stories are conflicting-at seven dollars an acre!

When I heard this I lost my temper. A thousand dollars an acre scarcely represents what this tulip grove above the rhododendrons of Oconolufta might be worth – unlumbered - in pleasure and in cash to a more far-sighted generation. We splashed back through the river. At a steep cliff's edge, above a turn in the valley, we stopped our horses and looked up the verdurous canon, past the dark hemlock tops of the stream-line, past the green slopes with their giant arms uplifted, to where a mountain rose, ridge on ridge to a black wall dimly pricked with tiny pinnacles along its crest. "Hit's top o’ Smoky," said the mountaineer, and the Indian assented.

Once before and farther westward I had left the hardwoods behind, climbed through the spruce where its dense columns crowd up through rhododendron higher than horse and rider, and come out upon that distant line where Carolina meets Tennessee. I had watched the ravens sailing below, heard snowbirds in the bushes, and seen where bears had sharpened their claws upon trees by the trailside. But this time it seemed better to leave the black crest a distant goal beyond the valley.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Many Sides of Johnny Appleseed

Love in its essence is spiritual fire.

Man was so created by the Lord as to be able while living in the body to speak with spirits and angels, as in fact was done in the most ancient times; for, being a spirit clothed with a body, he is one with them.

True charity is the desire to be useful to others without thought of recompense.

–Emanuel Swedenborg

I’ve always admired Johnny Appleseed. The story of a tenacious, yet humble, oddball who achieves great things - that's quite a story, indeed. I have no idea if kids hear about him these days…and what they might think of him, if they do. It would be a shame, though, to see John Chapman relegated to the unfortunate cultural ghetto of children’s entertainment…reduced to being just another Disney character, when he was so much more than that.

Chapman was a proponent, some would say a missionary, of the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish scientist, philosopher and mystic whose teachings influenced William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Butler Yeats, Jorge Luis Borges and Carl Jung. Born in Massachusetts in 1774, John Chapman began planting apple seeds in Ohio around the year 1800, and soon thereafter acquired his better-known name. By 1817, his work was known in England, as evidenced by a Swedenborgian newsletter published at the time:

There is in the western country a very extraordinary missionary of the New Jerusalem. A man has appeared who seems to be almost independent of corporeal wants and sufferings. He goes barefooted, can sleep anywhere, in house or out of house, and live upon the coarsest and most scanty fare. He has actually thawed ice with his bare feet. He procures what books he can of the New Church Swedenborg, travels into the remote settlements, and lends them wherever he can find readers, and sometimes divides a book into two or three parts for more extensive distribution and usefulness. This man for years past has been in the employment of bringing into cultivation, in numberless places in the wilderness, small patches (two or three acres) of ground, and then sowing apple seeds and rearing nurseries. These become valuable as the settlements approximate, and the profits of the whole are intended for the purpose of enabling him to print all the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and distribute them through the western settlements of the United States.

A present-day Swedenborgian makes the case that Johnny Appleseed’s life-work reflected four themes of Swedenborg’s philosophy:

He lived both with his heart and his mind. He learned about his profession and the Van Mons theory of planting fruit as seed rather than grafting. He learned what kind of soil the trees needed, and he would go back often to check on the growth of his trees. Yet all that he did was focused in his love of people and of the Lord. He felt that he was called to be a preacher and healer; to help God care for people on the plains. He also planted medicinal herbs, and often shared them on his journeys. Swedenborg said that both Love and Wisdom are central to life. They represent spirit-matter; God-humanity; heart-mind. We must bring these "dualisms" into oneness in our lives.

He was friend of all. He learned many Indian languages and was held in high regard by many of the tribes. He cared about the concerns of both the Indian tribes and the white settlers, and often intervened in conflict. He never killed – either people or animals. He lived in complete harmony with nature. "In field and meadow and forest, he walked, concerned with the spacious thoughts of God. The singularity of his thinking and his living was inextricably entwined with his religious views". Swedenborg emphasizes our oneness with all creation; we are part of a web of existence and we contribute to and are nurtured by the whole.

His life was focused on "uses". He lived to be of service to others. Yet, he also attended to his own needs and, as always, that inner leading. He made a living, but money was not his motivation. He would accept cash for his trees – or clothing or food or even nothing at all. He never asked a person to pay a debt, for he reasoned that if God wanted him to have the money, God would move the customer to pay. Besides, the customer knew that he or she owed the money, without being reminded of it. However, he was not poor, and had some assets that he rarely used. Swedenborg tells us that Love and Wisdom must be expressed by our living a life of useful service to others. Johnny saw himself as a minister, and often said he was bringing good news; fresh from Heaven.

He lived by the guidance of his inner calling. Swedenborg tells us that God’s Love is always inflowing to our very being and essence. We can connect with the Divine by looking inward, to find the deep guidance at the depth of our soul. For there we find our deepest love and passion; and it is out of this that we live in oneness with God and the world.

An 1871 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine firmly established Johnny Appleseed in the American consciousness. That article revealed some aspects of the man that did not make it into the Disney version of his life.

[He] claimed to have had frequent conversations with angels and spirits; two of the latter, of the feminine gender, he asserted, had revealed to him that they were to be his wives in a future state if he abstained from a matrimonial alliance on earth.

The Indians treated Johnny with the greatest kindness. By these wild and sanguinary savages he was regarded as a "great medicine man," on account of his strange appearance, eccentric actions, and, especially, the fortitude with which he could endure pain, in proof of which he would often thrust pins and needles into his flesh.

Despite his peculiarities, the Harper’s article concluded with this tribute to Johnny Appleseed:

A laboring, self-denying benefactor of his race, homeless, solitary, and ragged, he trod the thorny earth with bare and bleeding feet, intent only upon making the wilderness fruitful. Now "no man knoweth of his sepulchre;" but his deeds will live in the fragrance of the apple blossoms he loved so well, and the story of his life, however crudely narrated, will be a perpetual proof that true heroism, pure benevolence, noble virtues, and deeds that deserve immortality may be found under meanest apparel, and far from gilding halls and towering spires.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Groundhog Day Revisited

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
-Scottish poem

Saint Brigid (left) and Brigid the Triple Goddess

I’m going to make this quick. This evening, I heard the obligatory Groundhog Day stories on the radio for the hundredth time. Punxsutawney Phil, two weeks, six weeks, yada yada yada. And I got to wondering about the origins of Groundhog Day. What other traditions might involve animals making weather forecasts? How did this holiday get started? I figured, correctly, that there could be an interesting story behind it. Following is some cut-and-paste of what I learned:

Groundhog Day came into being in the late 1800s thanks to newspaper editor Clymer H. Freas. Apparently, his festival in Punxsutawney, PA was derived from the European tradition of Candlemas and the belief that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for another six weeks.

Traditionally the Western term "Candlemas" (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on February 2 blessed beeswax candles with an aspergilium for use throughout the year.
Candlemas is the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary and has also been known as “the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

It is likely that some features of Pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas when the celebration of Candlemas spread to the north and west of Europe, where February 2 was sacred to the goddess Brighid (Brigid).

Saint Brigid (Christian)

Modern Pagans believe that Candlemas is a Christianization of the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe (and especially the Celtic Nations) at about the same time of year. Imbolc is called "St. Brigid's Day" or "Brigid" in Ireland and Great Britain. Both Brigid the Goddess and Brigid the saint are associated with sacred flames, holy wells and springs, healing and smithcraft. Brigid is a virgin, yet also the patron of midwives.

However, a connection with Roman (rather than Celtic or Germanic) polytheism is more plausible, since the feast was celebrated before any serious attempt to expand Christianity into non-Roman countries. In Irish homes, there were many rituals centered around welcoming Brigid into the home. Some of Brigid's rituals and legends later became attached to the Christian Saint Brigid,

In Irish mythology, Brigit or Brighid ("exalted one") was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán. She had two sisters, also named Brighid, and is considered a classic Celtic Triple Goddess.

Triple Goddess Brigid (Pagan)

This equates to something like a Holy Trinity. The Triple Goddess is one of the two primary deities found in the neopagan religion of Wicca. She comprises three separate goddesses united; a Maiden Goddess, a Mother Goddess and a Crone Goddess, each of which symbolises a separate stage in the female life cycle. She represents the feminine part of the religion's duotheistic theological system, the other part being the male Horned God.


Happy Groundhog Day, Candlemas, or Imbolc.

Whichever suits your fancy.