Monday, August 31, 2009

Nag Mani and the Uktena, IV

Part 4 of 4

Toad, August 2009
The toad was also thought to hold a jewel within its skull referred to as a toadstone. Once extracted, the toadstone was believed to be capable of detecting the presence of poison and thus warn its owner by becoming warm to the touch, or when set into a ring it would become paler in color. Contrarily, the toad itself was held to be highly poisonous. Today, we know this to be true as the toad secretes indole alkaloid bufotenine from its skin.
- House Shadow Drake

An early authority, Thomas de Cantimpre, says of the toad-stone:

If one take the stone from a living and still quivering toad a little eye can be seen in the substance; but if it be taken from a toad that has been some time dead, the poison of the creature will have already destroyed this little eye and spoiled the stone.
If the toad-stone be swallowed at meal-time it passes through the system and carries off all impurities. Here the substance may have been one of many concretionary materials,--bauxite, impure pearls, concretionary limestone, stalagmite, or even the eye-stones from the crawfish; indeed, any material, white or gray, that had a semblance to a toad color, and was then sold by the vendor of charm stones as coming from a toad's head.
Lupton, in his "Book of Notable Things," instructs his readers how to procure the toad-stone:

You shall knowe whether the tode stone be the ryghte or perfect stone or not. Holde the stone before a tode so that he may see it, and if it be a ryght and true stone, the tode will leape towarde it, and make as though he would snatch it. He envieth so much that none should have that stone.

Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, a “historical grammar of poetic myth,” takes this full circle:

The hundred-headed serpent watching over the jewelled Garden of the Hesperides, and the hundred-clawed toad wearing a precious jewel in his head both belonged to the ancient toadstool mysteries…


The European mysteries are less fully explored than their Mexican counterpart; but Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Wasson and Professor Heim show that the pre-Columbian Toadstool-god Thaloc, represented as a toad with a serpent head-dress, has for thousands of years presided over the communal eating of the hallucigenic toadstool psilocybe: a feast that gives visions of transcendental beauty. Thaloc’s European counterpart, Dionysus, shares too many of his mystical attributes for coincidence; they must be versions of the same deity; though at what period cultural contact took place between the Old World and the New is debatable.

And then there's The Book of Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges, wherein he discusses the carbuncle. The Spanish conquistadors named this animal, and in 1602, poet-priest Martin del Barco Centenera claimed to see one in Paraguay:

...a smallish animal, with a shining mirror on its head, like a glowing coal.

Borges quotes the Etymologies of the Isidore of Seville (ca. 600 AD) regarding the precious stone from the dragon's head: is taken from the dragon's brain but does not harden into a gem unless the head is cut from the living beast; wizards, for this reason, cut the heads from sleeping dragons. Men bold enough to venture into dragon lairs scatter grain that has been doctored to make the beasts drowsy, and when they have fallen asleep their heads are struck off and the gems plucked out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nag Mani and the Uktena, III

Part 3 of 4

Uktenas by the artist Herb Roe, based on a shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.

I’ll conclude this with one more eighteenth century account of the Cherokees’ talismanic stone that originated from a monster living in the Tuckasegee, and a New York Times article on a similar phenomenon in India.

James Adair was a trader among the tribes of the Southeast and published his History of the American Indians in 1775. James Mooney clarified one point of Adair’s account of the Uktena:

With pardonable error he confounds the Uktena with the Chief of the Rattlesnakes. The two, however, are distinct, the latter being simply the head of the rattlesnake tribe, without the blazing carbuncle or the immense size attributed to the Uktena.
Here is how Adair described the home of the Uktena and its sacred stones:

Between the heads of the northern branch of the Lower Cheerake River, and the heads of that of Tuckaschchee, winding round in a long course by the late Fort Loudon, and afterwards into the Mississippi, there is, both in the nature and circumstances, a great phenomenon. Between two high mountains, nearly covered with old mossy rocks, lofty cedars and pines, in the valleys of which the beams of the sun reflect a powerful heat, there are, as the natives affirm, some bright old inhabitants, or rattlesnakes, of a more enormous size than is mentioned in history.

They are so large and unwieldy, that they take a circle almost as wide as their length, to crawl round in their shortest orbit; but bountiful nature compensates the heavy motion of their bodies; for, as they say, no living creature moves within the reach of their sight but they can draw it to them; which is agreeable to what we observe through the whole system of animated beings. Nature endues them with proper capacities to sustain life: as they cannot support themselves by their speed or cunning, to spring from an ambuscade, it is needful they should have the bewitching craft of their eyes and forked tongues.

The description the Indians give us of their colour is as various as what we are told of the carnelian, that seems to the spectator to change its colour, by every different position he may view it in; which proceeds from the piercing rays of the light that blaze from their forehead, so as to dazzle the eyes, from whatever quarter they post themselves—for in. each of their heads, there is a large carbuncle, which not only repels, but they affirm, sullies the meridian beams of the sun. They reckon it so dangerous to disturb these creatures, that no temptation can induce them to betray their secret recess to the prophane. They call them and all of the rattlesnake kind, kings, or chieftains of the snakes, and they allow one such to every different species of the brute creation.

An old trader of Cheeowhee told me, that for the reward of two pieces of stroud cloth, he engaged a couple of young warriors to shew him the place of their resort, but the head-men would not by any means allow it, on account of a superstitious tradition—for they fancy the killing of them would expose them to the danger of being bit by the other inferior species of that serpentine tribe, who love their chieftains, and know by instinct those who maliciously killed them, as they fight only in their own defence and that of their young ones, never biting those who do not disturb them.

Although they esteem those rattlesnakes as chieftains of that species, yet they do not deify them, as the Egyptians did all the serpentine kind, and likewise Ibis, that preyed upon them; however, it seems to have sprung from the same origin, for I once saw the Chikkasah Archimagus to chew some snake-root, blow it on his hands, and then take up a rattlesnake without damage; soon afterwards he laid it down carefully, in a hollow tree, lest I would have killed it.

Vishnu, reclining on a Shesh-Nag
While I shouldn't be surprised that this story is a universal story, I am amazed at how it is. The New York Times, on August 18, 1889, published the story of “A Jewel in a Serpent’s Head”:

It is doubtful whether Shakespeare’s toad, “Ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head,” but there is a belief current in all parts of India that a certain variety of snakes, called Shesh Nag, when it attains the age of 1,000 years, has a precious jewel formed it its head.

This jewel, it is affirmed, possesses the quality of sucking up the poison of the deadliest snake, if applied to the wounded part. Strangely enough, a Parsee gentleman is reputed to possess this invaluable jewel, according to a correspondent of a Gujarati weekly published in Wadhwan, in Gurajat.

The correspondent says that when the present owner – who, by the way, is now sixty-three – was twenty-three years old he lighted upon a snake of the above-mentioned variety, which he killed. Then he found the jewel in his head.

It has already saved several lives. Last year, when Mr. Vidal, the collector of the district, was there it was shown to him, too. The jewel is said to contain a thin, crescent-like fibre, which unceasingly oscillates in the centre.

His Highness the Gaikwar of Baroda, his Highness the Maharajah of Kolhapur, and several other native Princes are said to have offered several hundred thousand rupees for this unique jewel. The name of the owner is Mr. Framji Dadabhai Govekar, Tarapur, Bombay Presidency.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Odd Tomatoes

Can you believe it?

Cullowhee's own Rick Bennett made it onto Letterman tonight.

Rick was featured for his odd tomatoes.


That's what Dave said. "Rick Bennett of Culla-HWHEE."

Rick wasn't really a guest on the show. But Letterman held up his picture for a segment on men and their vegetables.

Way to go, Rick! You're famous now!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nag Mani and the Uktena, II

Part 2 of 4

Much of what I know about the Uktena comes from the anthropological research of James Mooney who worked among the Eastern Cherokee in the 1880s. Mooney referred to old accounts of the talismanic stone found in the head of the serpent, similar to the stone in the head of the Algonquin Gitchi-Kenebig, or the Nag Mani of the Southeast Asian cobra.

In 1762, Lt. Henry Timberlake of Virginia was on a peace mission in the Overhills settlements of the Cherokee, along the lower Little Tennessee, where he heard of this special stone. From Timberlake's Memoirs:

They have many beautiful stones of different colours, many of which, I am apt to believe, are of great value; but their superstition has always prevented their disposing of them to the traders, who have made many attempts to that purpose; but as they use them in their conjuring ceremonies, they believe their parting with them or bringing them from home, would prejudice their health or affairs.

Among others there is one in the possession of a conjurer, remarkable for its brilliancy and beauty, but more so for the extraordinary manner in which it was found. It grew, if we may credit the Indians, on the head of a monstrous serpent, whose retreat was, by its brilliancy, discovered; but a great number of snakes attending him, he being, as I suppose by his diadem, of a superior rank among the serpents, made it dangerous to attack him.

Many were the attempts made by the Indians, but all frustrated, till a fellow more bold than the rest, casing himself in leather, impenetrable to the bite of the serpent or his guards, and watching a convenient opportunity, surprised and killed him, tearing his jewel from his head, which the conjurer has kept hid for many years, in some place unknown to all but two women, who have been offered large presents to betray it, but steadily refused, lest some signal judgment or mischance should follow.

That such a stone exists, I believe, having seen many of great beauty; but I cannot think it would answer all the encomiums the Indians bestow upon it. The conjurer, I suppose, hatched the account of its discovery; I have however given it to the reader, as a specimen of an Indian story, many of which are much more surprising.

"A Priest and a Conjurer" from Robert Beverley, ca. 1705

Around 1890, James Mooney wrote of the stones associated with the Uktena:

The Southern Alleghenies, the old Cherokee country, abound with crystals of various kinds, as well as with minerals. The Ulunsu-ti is described as a triangular crystal about two inches long, flat on the bottom, and with slightly convex aides tapering up to a point, and perfectly transparent with the exception of a single red streak running through the center from top to bottom. It is evidently a rare and beautiful specimen of rutile quartz, crystals of which, found in the region, may be seen in the National Museum at Washington.

Other small stones of various shapes and color are in common use among the Cherokee conjurers to discover lost articles or for other occult purposes. These also are frequently called by the same name, and are said to have been originally the scales of the Uktena, but the Ulunsu-ti—the talisman from the forehead of the serpent—is the crystal here described, and is so exceedingly rare that so far as is known only one remained among the East Cherokee in 1890. Its owner, a famous hunter, kept it hidden in a cave, wrapped up in a deerskin, but refused all inducements to show it, much less to part with it, stating that if he should expose it to the gaze of a white man he could kill no more game, even were he permitted to live after such a sacrilege.

The possession of the talisman insures success in hunting, love, rain making, and all other undertakings, but its great use is in life divination, and when it is invoked for this purpose by its owner the future is mirrored in the transparent crystal as a tree is reflected in the quiet stream below.

When consulting it the conjurer gazes into the crystal, and after some little time sees in its transparent depths a picture of the person or event in question. By the action of the specter, or its position near the top or bottom of the crystal, he learns not only the event itself, but also its nearness in time or place.

Many of the East Cherokee who enlisted in the Confederate service during the late war consulted the Ulunsu-ti before starting, and survivors declare that their experiences verified the prediction. One of these had gone with two others to consult the fates. The conjurer, placing the three men facing him, took the talisman upon the end of his outstretched finger and bade them look intently into it. After some moments they saw their own images at the bottom of the crystal. The images gradually ascended along the red line. Those of the other two men rose to the middle and then again descended, but the presentment of the one who tells the story continued to ascend until it reached the top before going down again. The conjurer then said that the other two would die in the second year of the war, but the third would survive through hardships and narrow escapes and live to return home. As the prophecy, so the event.

When consulted by the friends of a sick man to know if he will recover, the conjurer shows them the image of the sick man lying at the bottom of the Ulunsu-ti. He then tells them to go home and kill some game (or, in these latter days, any food animal) and to prepare a feast. On the appointed day the conjurer, at his own home, looks into the crystal and sees there the picture of the party at dinner. If the image of the sick man rises and joins them at the feast the patient will recover; if otherwise, he is doomed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nag Mani and the Uktena, I

Part 1 of 4

Pearl of Red CobraThis week I received a fascinating comment in response to a story that was first posted here June 2, 2008. I'll start off with the new comment from Arun Gopal:
I first read and became aware of Uktena stories about 2 years ago when digging up writings of Algonquins and peoples of the Appalachians. My ancestry is from India and the legends of the Uktena and other Serpents with light giving gems in their foreheads are absolutely identical to stories found all over S East Asia. The stone in the head of a serpent is called a Nag Mani (Nag - serpent / Mani - gem). It is reputed to contain great power, is able to give its own light, even in daylight and enable it's bearer to live an unsually long time. It has so many properties many unwritten. The favourite of Tantrics and Shamans, they have been known to quest after such objects. The Mani is available by splitting open the skull. Once removed the serpent will die and one then accrues the Karma of killing a serpent, which is paid for by Kaal Sarp Yog in one's next life.

Once a cobra or other serpent reaches a ripe age of 100 years, it is said to develop a Mani inside itself.

The Uktena would seem to be an actual Naag of great power, size and strength, not just a ordinary snake.

I come from a Brahmin lineage, and have met many Swamis, Gurus and Brahmins. However I always dreamed of being in the presence of learned older Native American teachers, Masters, Yogis and Mystics. I feel as if they are somehow my own, like family I havent seen for a long long time...

There are some things we need to share, possibly to complete a cycle... There are many things in the Hindu Dharma which are not discussed, made available or spoken of. Actually a very large amount of ceremony is ever only shared amongst an inside group - I think the holders of such stories are also part of that inside group... I hope one day...

I will interject, at this point, that if you do a google image search on "nag mani" or "nagamani cobra pearls" things get very intriguing, very fast.

That search led me to one site that provided this:
Sri Nagamani

A pearl found in the hood of a cobra or king cobra is round in shape and emits a dazzling effulgence from its own natural seat. After copious washing such a pearl assumes the lustre of a well-polished sword. The possessor of a cobra or serpent pearl meets with rare good fortune, and becomes a pious and illustrious king in time, with a treasury full of other species of precious gems. - GARUDA PURANA ( Ch.69 )

Sri Nagamani is the sacred divine pearl and it is also known as cobra jewel. Sri Nagamani comes in range of colours like blue, black, red, golden yellow and white.

The serpents of the lineage of taksaka and vasuki and those that move at will, have bright, black-tinged and glossy pearls on their hoods between the fangs. A pearl born of the serpents, being worn by kings, destroy their misfortune and enemies, enhance their reputation and bestow victory. Such a gem is to be known as of inestimable value. One who wears such a serpent - gem will never have troubles arising from poison and diseases. - BRIHAT SAMHITHA OF VARAHAMIHIRA

With all that by way of introduction, here's the story from last year, as it appeared under the title "Gitchi-Kenebig and the Uktena."

I often think about the civilizations that occupied this continent before us. We know so little of their rise and fall. It’s not easy to connect the dots and create a meaningful picture when you can barely find the dots. Once in a while, though, something happens to shine a light upon the dark mysteries.

Many months ago, I posted “gravity is the source of lightness” recounting my meanders along the Tuckasegee River to contemplate ancient fish weirs and recent stacks of stones. In that story, I mentioned Peter Waksman, who had discovered arrays of stacked stones in Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, I had the good fortune to hear from Mr. Waksman and to learn about his Rock Piles blog, which reports on unusual assemblages of rocks in New England.

A couple of weeks ago, Waksman described a recent discovery that had reminded him of something I had mentioned in my story about the Tuckasegee. I had included a photograph of the place in the river that the Cherokee called “Datleyastai” or “where they fell.” As I went on to explain, the “they” in this case were:

…two Uktena tangled as though in combat, rose from the river, and fell back into the water. Uktena, in case you’ve not seen one lately, is a monstrous snake, as big around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, a bright, blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. Whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.
The arrangement of rocks that Waksman found near Westford, MA bore a resemblance to the Uktena with a horned head and a contrasting piece of quartz in the neck. Upon further examination, Waksman found a smaller creature following the first and it, too, had a strategically placed piece of quartz in its body.

After studying his story and photos, I consulted James Mooney (1861-1921), the anthropologist who recorded much of what we know about the Uktena. Mooney stated:

Myths of a jewel in the head of a serpent or of a toad are so common to all Aryan nations as to have become proverbial. Talismanic and prophetic stones, which are carefully guarded, and to which prayer and sacrifice are offered, are kept in many tribes.
Since it is likely that some of the Algonquin tribes were active in what we now call Massachusetts, this comment from Mooney really caught my attention:

The Uktena has its parallel in the Gitchi-Kenebig or Great Horned Serpent of the northern Algonquin tribes.
The effigy discovered near Westford just might be an Uktena, or more accurately, Gitchi-Kenebig. The piece of quartz in its head could be the magical Ulunsuti sought by the conjurer. It is fascinating to read the accounts of the earliest European travelers through Cherokee country, who wrote accounts of the talismanic stones treasured by the natives.

If you want to visit the home of the Uktena, then you should travel to Gahuti, or Cohuttta Mountain, in Murray County, Georgia. This was the place where the Shawano captive, Aganunitsi, attacked the Uktena. (Could this explain the enormous stone wall built upon the nearby Fort Mountain?) Mooney tells us:

The Shawano, who at one time occupied the Cumberland region of Tennessee immediately adjoining the Cherokee, were regarded as wizards by all the southern tribes.
Finally, D. G. Brinton explains how the Shawano shared the news of the Great Horned Serpent:

Among the Algonkins the Shawnee tribe did more than all others combined to introduce and carry about religious legends and ceremonies. From the earliest times they seem to have had peculiar aptitude for the ecstacies, deceits, and fancies that make up the spiritual life of their associates. Their constantly roving life brought them in contact with the myths of many nations, and it is extremely probable that they first brought the tale of the horned serpent from the Creeks and Cherokees.
So, do I believe there is a more-than-coincidental connection between the Uktena of the Tuckasegee and the Gitchi-Kenebig of Westford, MA?

Of course I do.

["Accounts of the talismanic stones" among the Cherokee was mentioned above. I'll be posting a story from the 1760s that describes such stones. Soon...]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Sunset views from Cowee Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway

Dawn and sunset are the times when Nature herself is unstable and in flux. The nocturnal world and the daytime world are meeting, and for a brief time coexisting. It's not a neat hard cut, but a blurred, irregular dissolve. These moments are the seams in existence through which we can get a glimpse of the deeper, fundamentally random, chance workings of a system in which we are only a small, insignificant player.
-Bill Viola

Doubletop Mountain


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sex, Drugs and Rockahomine, Three

Part 3 of 3

Drawing by John White

During the first years of the eighteenth century, John Lawson became familiar with the customs of the Native Americans in the Carolina backcountry. In the midst of a long list of native foods, Lawson mentioned:

Rockahomine Meal, which is their Maiz, parch'd and pounded into Powder.

In other words, hominy grits.

A classic of southern cuisine.

Here’s the entire paragraph, the whole menu, from “An Account of the Indians of North Carolina” in A New Voyage to Carolina:

Venison, and Fawns in the Bags, cut out of the Doe's Belly; Fish of all sorts, the Lamprey-Eel excepted, and the Sturgeon our Salt-Water Indians will not touch; Bear and Bever; Panther; Pole-cat; Wild-cat; Possum; Raccoon; Hares, and Squirrels, roasted with their Guts in; Snakes, all Indians will not eat them, tho' some do; All wild Fruits that are palatable, some of which they dry and keep against Winter, as all sort of Fruits, and Peaches, which they dry, and make Quiddonies, and Cakes, that are very pleasant, and a little tartish; young Wasps, when they are white in the Combs, before they can fly, this is esteemed a Dainty; All sorts of Tortois and Terebins; Shell-Fish, and Stingray, or Scate, dry'd; Gourds; Melons; Cucumbers; Squashes; Pulse of all sorts; Rockahomine Meal, which is their Maiz, parch'd and pounded into Powder; Fowl of all sorts, that are eatable; Ground-Nuts, or wild Potato's; Acorns and Acorn Oil; Wild-Bulls, Beef, Mutton; Pork, &c. from the English; Indian Corn, or Maiz, made into several sorts of Bread; Ears of Corn roasted in the Summer, or preserv'd against Winter.

Through his travels and his writings, John Lawson promoted cultural understanding and peaceful cooperation with native people, but fellow Europeans paid little attention to his message. Ironically, during a 1711 uprising near the Neuse River, Lawson was taken prisoner by the Tuscaroras and was later burned alive by his captors.

He was 37 years old.

In the closing pages of “An Account” Lawson expressed his opinion on relations with Native Americans:

They naturally possess the Righteous Man's Gift; they are Patient under all Afflictions, and have a great many other Natural Vertues, which I have slightly touch'd throughout the Account of these Savages.

They are really better to us, than we are to them; they always give us Victuals at their Quarters, and take care we are arm'd against Hunger and Thirst: We do not so by them (generally speaking) but let them walk by our Doors Hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with Scorn and Disdain, and think them little better than Beasts in Humane Shape, though if well examined, we shall find that, for all our Religion and Education, we possess more Moral Deformities, and Evils than these Savages do, or are acquainted withal….

Thus we should be let into a better Understanding of the Indian Tongue, by our new Converts; and the whole Body of these People would arrive to the Knowledge of our Religion and Customs, and become as one People with us. By this Method also, we should have a true Knowledge of all the Indians Skill in Medicine and Surgery; they would inform us of the Situation of our Rivers, Lakes, and Tracts of Land in the Lords Dominions, where by their Assistance, greater Discoveries may be made than has been hitherto found out, and by their Accompanying us in our Expeditions, we might civilize a great many other Nations of the Savages, and daily add to our Strength in Trade, and Interest; so that we might be sufficiently enabled to conquer, or maintain our Ground, against all the Enemies to the Crown of England in America, both Christian and Savage….

Whilst we make way for a Christian Colony through a Field of Blood, and defraud, and make away with those that one day may be wanted in this World, and in the next appear against us, we make way for a more potent Christian Enemy to invade us hereafter, of which we may repent, when too late.

The Death of John Lawson, a drawing by Baron Christoph Von Graffenried

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sex, Drugs and Rockahomine, Two

Part 2 of 3

Watercolor drawing "Indian Conjuror" by John White (created 1585-1586).

In “An Account of the Indians of North Carolina” (from A New Voyage to Carolina) by John Lawson (1709), we find detailed instructions on how to “husquenaugh” the youth with hallucinogenic drugs and harsh treatment. “Psychosis builds character” seems to be the idea behind this rite of passage.

There is one most abominable Custom amongst them, which they call Husquenawing their young Men; which I have not made any Mention of as yet, so will give you an Account of it here.

You must know, that most commonly, once a Year, or, at farthest, once in two Years, these People take up so many of their young Men, as they think are able to undergo it, and husquenaugh them, which is to make them obedient and respective to their Superiors, and (as they say) is the same to them, as it is to us to send our Children to School, to be taught good Breeding and Letters.

This House of Correction is a large strong Cabin, made on purpose for the Reception of the young Men and Boys, that have not passed this Graduation already; and it is always at Christmas that they husquenaugh their Youth, which is by bringing them into this House, and keeping them dark all the time, where they more than half-starve them.

Besides, they give them Pellitory-Bark, and several intoxicating Plants, that make them go raving mad as ever were any People in the World; and you may hear them make the most dismal and hellish Cries, and Howlings, that ever humane Creatures express'd; all which continues about five or six Weeks, and the little Meat they eat, is the nastiest, loathsome stuff, and mixt with all manner of Filth it's possible to get.

Lawson's 1709 map of Carolina

After the Time is expired, they are brought out of the Cabin, which never is in the Town, but always a distance off, and guarded by a Jaylor or two, who watch by Turns. Now, when they first come out, they are as poor as ever any Creatures were; for you must know several die under this diabolical Purgation. Moreover, they either really are, or pretend to be dumb, and do not speak for several Days; I think, twenty or thirty; and look so gastly, and are so chang'd, that it's next to an Impossibility to know them again, although you was never so well acquainted with them before.

I would fain have gone into the mad House, and have seen them in their time of Purgatory, but the King would not suffer it, because, he told me, they would do me, or any other white Man, an Injury, that ventured in amongst them; so I desisted.

They play this Prank with Girls as well as Boys, and I believe it a miserable Life they endure, because I have known several of them run away, at that time, to avoid it. Now, the Savages say, if it was not for this, they could never keep their Youth in Subjection, besides that it hardens them ever after to the Fatigues of War, Hunting, and all manner of Hardship, which their way of living exposes them to.

Besides, they add, that it carries off those infirm weak Bodies, that would have been only a Burden and Disgrace to their Nation, and saves the Victuals and Cloathing for better People, that would have been expended on such useless Creatures.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sex, Drugs and Rockahomine, One

Part 1 of 3

I’ve been re-reading a book published three hundred years ago, John Lawson’s A New Voyage to Carolina (1709). John Lawson (1674-1711) never made it into Cherokee country, but he did explore the Carolina Piedmont and wrote of the Native Americans that he met on his travels.

Until Lawson published his natural history, the Carolina backcountry was virtually unknown to Europeans. In 1701, Lawson led a party of ten on a two month trip through the colonies. Starting north of Charleston, they paddled up the Santee River, crossed the Catawba near present-day Charlotte, passed through the Uwharrie Mountains, and after turning eastward, followed the Tar River to the North Carolina coast.

Lawson was a keen observer and an engaging writer; this excerpt from “A Journal of a Thousand Miles Travel” displays his sense of humor. Examples of misogynist racism are found throughout early American travel writing and Lawson is no exception. But if one wants an eyewitness account of sex trade in the Carolina backcountry, circa 1701, Lawson is the source:

We pass'd by several Cottages, and about 8 of the Clock came to a pretty big Town, where we took up our Quarters, in one of their State Houses, the Men being all out, hunting in the Woods, and none but Women at home.

Our Fellow Traveller of whom I spoke before at the Congerees, having a great Mind for an Indian Lass, for his Bed-Fellow that Night, spoke to our Guide, who soon got a Couple, reserving one for himself. That which fell to our Companion's Share, was a pretty young Girl.

Tho' they could not understand one Word of what each other spoke, yet the Female Indian, being no Novice at her Game, but understanding what she came thither for, acted her Part dexterously enough with her Cully, to make him sensible of what she wanted; which was to pay the Hire, before he rode the Hackney.

He shew'd her all the Treasure he was possess'd of, as Beads, Red Cadis, &c. which she lik'd very well, and permitted him to put them into his Pocket again, endearing him with all the Charms, which one of a better Education than Dame Nature had Bestow'd upon her, could have made use of, to render her Consort a surer Captive. After they had us'd this Sort of Courtship a small time, the Match was confirm'd by both Parties, with the Approbation of as many Indian Women, as came to the House, to celebrate our Winchester-Wedding.

Every one of the Bride-Maids were as great Whores, as Mrs. Bride, tho' not quite so handsome. Our happy Couple went to Bed together before us all,and with as little Blushing, as if they had been Man and Wife for 7 Years.

The rest of the Company being weary with travelling, had more Mind to take their Rest, than add more Weddings to that hopeful one already consummated; so that tho' the other Virgins offer'd their Service to us, we gave them their Answer, and went to sleep.

About an Hour before day, I awak'd, and saw somebody walking up and down the Room in a seemingly deep Melancholy. I call'd out to know who it was, and it prov'd to be Mr. Bridegroom, who in less than 12 Hours, was Batchelor, Husband, and Widdower, his dear Spouse having pick'd his Pocket of the Beads, Cadis, and what else should have gratified the Indians for the Victuals we receiv'd of them.

However that did not serve her turn, but she had also got his Shooes away, which he had made the Night before, of a drest Buck-Skin. Thus dearly did our Spark already repent his new Bargain, walking bare-foot, in his Penitentials, like some poor Pilgrim to Loretto.

After the Indians had laugh'd their Sides sore at the Figure Mr. Bridegroom made, with much ado, we muster'd up another Pair of Shooes, or Moggisons, and set forward on our intended Voyage, the Company (all the way) lifting up their Prayers for the new married Couple, whose Wedding had made away with that, which should have purchas'd our Food.

[Drawing by John White, 1540 - 1593 ]

Friday, August 21, 2009


Hans Sylvester's photographs of the people of the Omo River in Ethiopia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Landscape of Neurological Nets Underfoot

The universe, and in particular planet Earth, is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.
-Thomas Berry

I love a challenge and saving the Planet seems like a good one....

I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes.
-Paul Stamets

I’m still sorting through the many wildflowers I’ve photographed this year, and intend to devote some study time this winter to be a better taxonomist next year. Even so, I recognize that learning to identify individual plant species unlocks only a few of the secrets of the Southern Appalachian forest.

This week I hiked a couple of miles on the Sugarland Mountain Trail, between Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome. In a place like this, it’s not unusual to find an abundance of epiphytes like mosses and lichens growing on trees. But at one point on this trail, you can look up and see red spruce trees that have sprouted and are growing from the broad limbs of the yellow birch trees.

Twenty feet up, red spruce trees have sprouted on the limb of a yellow birch.

That’s just a tiny example of the complex, and sometimes unexpected, relationships among the organisms of the high elevation forest. If I didn’t already recognize how little I know about forest ecology, the various mushrooms that I observed along the trail were constant reminders. As I learned only recently, mushrooms are no longer classified as plants but are included in the separate and distinct Kingdom of Fungi.

Looking at the forest as a mere collection of trees and flowers is to overlook the crucial role of saprobes and mycorrhizae. Paul Stamets calls the web of fungi that pervades the forest "a neurological net."

Recently, I read an article on myco-forestry, or “the cultivation of fungi as part of forest agriculture.” In the New Life Journal story, Zev Friedman drew the connection beween fungi and the hemlocks disappearing so rapidly from the Southern Appalachians. One mushroom, the Appalachian Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) grows on dead hemlock trees.

According to the Friedman, the closely related Chinese Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is known as the "mushroom of immortality" because of its pharmacologic value:

Clinical trials have verified many effects of reishis, including potent anti-tumor (sarcoma and hepatoma) action, adaptogenic and immune stimulating qualities, and spleen cell regeneration. Reishis also seem to possess anti-hypertensive and anti-allergenic properties.

He explains how Ganoderma tsugae could be cultivated in the forest garden:

Dying hemlocks can be cut down, inoculated with reishi mycelium in May or June, and staked along the topographic contours of hills as retaining edges for paths or native medicinal plant beds, simultaneously decreasing erosion and runoff while building topsoil. The fungus decomposes the log more quickly into mulch and soil than would occur without human intervention, while producing highly valuable medicinal and edible mushrooms for many years.

The entire article is at:

Paul Stamets has a fine article on "Permaculture with a Mycological Twist" at

A visionary mycologist, Stamets is one of the heroic geniuses of our day:

I see the mycelium as the Earth's natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day exchange information with these sentient cellular networks. Because these externalized neurological nets sense any impression upon them, from footsteps to falling tree branches, they could relay enormous amounts of data regarding the movements of all organisms through the landscape.
-Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

And here's Stamets from 2007, discussing his five inventions to help save the planet. Brilliant!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Coolness of a Wood

What we love, when on a summer day we step into the coolness of a wood, is that its boughs close up behind us. We are escaped, into another room of life. The wood does not live as we live, restless and running, panting after flesh, and even in sleep tossing with fears. It is aloof from thoughts and instincts; it responds, but only to the sun and wind, the rock and the stream – never, though you shout yourself hoarse, to propaganda, temptation, reproach, or promises. You cannot mount a rock and preach to a tree how it shall attain the kingdom of heaven. It is already closer to it, up there, than you will grow to be. And you cannot make it see the light, since in the tree’s sense you are blind. You have nothing to bring it, for all the forest is self-sufficient; if you burn it, cut, hack through it with a blade, it angrily repairs the swathe with thorns and weeds and fierce suckers. Later, there are good green leaves again, toiling, adjusting, breathing – forgetting you.

-Donald C. Peattie, The Flowering Earth

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Praise of Limestone

In Praise of Limestone
- W. H. Auden

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child's wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times
Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged
On the shady side of a square at midday in
Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think
There are any important secrets, unable
To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral
And not to be pacified by a clever line
Or a good lay: for accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed;
Adjusted to the local needs of valleys
Where everything can be touched or reached by walking,
Their eyes have never looked into infinite space
Through the lattice-work of a nomad's comb; born lucky,
Their legs have never encountered the fungi
And insects of the jungle, the monstrous forms and lives
With which we have nothing, we like to hope, in common.
So, when one of them goes to the bad, the way his mind works
Remains incomprehensible: to become a pimp
Or deal in fake jewellery or ruin a fine tenor voice
For effects that bring down the house, could happen to all
But the best and the worst of us...
That is why, I suppose,
The best and worst never stayed here long but sought
Immoderate soils where the beauty was not so external,
The light less public and the meaning of life
Something more than a mad camp. 'Come!' cried the granite wastes,
"How evasive is your humour, how accidental
Your kindest kiss, how permanent is death." (Saints-to-be
Slipped away sighing.) "Come!" purred the clays and gravels,
"On our plains there is room for armies to drill; rivers
Wait to be tamed and slaves to construct you a tomb
In the grand manner: soft as the earth is mankind and both
Need to be altered." (Intendant Caesars rose and
Left, slamming the door.) But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
"I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad."

They were right, my dear, all those voices were right
And still are; this land is not the sweet home that it looks,
Nor its peace the historical calm of a site
Where something was settled once and for all: A back ward
And dilapidated province, connected
To the big busy world by a tunnel, with a certain
Seedy appeal, is that all it is now? Not quite:
It has a worldy duty which in spite of itself
It does not neglect, but calls into question
All the Great Powers assume; it disturbs our rights. The poet,
Admired for his earnest habit of calling
The sun the sun, his mind Puzzle, is made uneasy
By these marble statues which so obviously doubt
His antimythological myth; and these gamins,
Pursuing the scientist down the tiled colonnade
With such lively offers, rebuke his concern for Nature's
Remotest aspects: I, too, am reproached, for what
And how much you know. Not to lose time, not to get caught,
Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these
Are our common prayer, whose greatest comfort is music
Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,
And does not smell. In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

May 1948

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eye of the Needle

In response to my friends' comments, I'll confess I'm woefully ignorant of that vast swath of the Park from Newfound Gap to the Sugarlands. I've never been to LeConte or the Chimneys, though I have walked to Charlie's Bunion a couple of times. It's a surreal place with those razor-edged ridges all around.

Eye of the Needle, Little Duck Hawk Ridge, seen from Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN, 8/11/2009.

After looking at the maps again, here's a full day hike that I would like to take. This itinerary would require a shuttle with a drop at Newfound Gap and pickup at Alum Cave Trailhead.

From Newfound Gap, hike east (north) on AT to Charlies Bunion. From there, backtrack to Boulevard Trail which goes to Mt. LeConte, and then take Alum Cave Trail for the descent.

Total distance is about 16 miles, but a very do-able full day hike. I'm up for it. Any takers?

Charles Lanman is always one of my favorite WNC travel writers. From Charles Lanman's account of his visit to Alum Cave in the 1830s:

On my arrival in this place, which is the home of a large number of Cherokee Indians (of whom I shall have much to say in future letters), I became the guest of Mr. William H. Thomas, who is the " guide, counsellor, and friend," of the Indians, as well as their business agent. While conversing with this gentleman, he excited my curiosity with regard to a certain mountain in his vicinity, and, having settled it in his own mind that I should spend a week or two with him and his Indians, proposed (first excusing himself on account of a business engagement) that I chould visit the mountain in company with a gentleman in his employ as surveyor. The proposed arrangement was carried out, and thus was it that I visited Smoky Mountain.

This mountain is the loftiest of a large brotherhood which lie crowded together upon the dividing line between North Carolina and Tennessee. Its height cannot be less than five thousand feet above the level of the sea, for the road leading from its base to its summit is seven and a half miles long. The general character of the mountain is similar to that already given of other southern mountains, and all that I can say of its panorama is, that I can conceive nothing more grand and imposing. It gives birth to a couple of glorious streams, the Pigeon river of Tennessee, and the Ocono lufty of North Carolina, and derives its name from the circumstance that its summit is always enveloped in a blue or smoky atmosphere.

But the chief attraction of Smoky Mountain is a singular cliff known throughout this region as the Alum Cave. In reaching this spot, which is on the Tennessee side, you have to leave your horses on the top of the mountain, and perform a pedestrian pilgrimage of about six miles up and down, very far up and ever so far down, and over every thing in the way of rocks and ruined vegetation which Nature could possibly devise, until you come to a mountain side, which is only two miles from your starting place at the peak. Roaring along, at the base of the mountain alluded to, is a small stream, from the margin of which you have to climb a precipice, in a zigzag way, which is at least two thousand feet high, when you find yourself on a level spot of pulverized stone, with a rocky roof extending over your head a distance of fifty or sixty feet. The length of this hollow in the mountain, or " cave," as it is called, is near four hundred feet, and from the brow of the butting precipice to the level below, the distance is perhaps one hundred and fifty feet. The top of the cliff is covered with a variety of rare and curious plants, and directly over its centre trickles a little stream of water, which forms a tiny pool, like a fountain in front of a spacious piazza. The principal ingredients of the rock composing this whitish cliff are akim, epsom-salts, saltpetre, magnesia, and copperas, and the water which oozes therefrom is distinguished for its strong medicinal qualities. This strange and almost inaccessible, but unquestionably very valuable cave, belongs to a company of neighbouring Carolinians, who have already made some money out of the alum, but have not yet accomplished much in the way of purifying and exporting the various products in which it abounds.

The scenery commanded from this cave interested me quite as much as the cave itself. From the most comprehensive point of view two mountains descend abruptly into a kind of amphitheatre, where the one on the right terminates in a very narrow and ragged ridge, which is without a particle of vegetation, while far beyond, directly in front of the cave, rises a lofty and pointed mountain, backed by three or four others of inferior magnitude. The ridge which I have mentioned is itself very high, but yet the cave looks down upon it, and it is so fantastic in its appearance that from different points of view you may discover holes leading like windows entirely through it, while from other places you might fancy that you looked upon a ruined castle, a decayed battlement, or the shattered tower of an old cathedral. To gaze upon this prospect at the sunset hour, when the mountains were tinged with a rosy hue, and the immense hollow before me was filled with a purple atmosphere, and I could see the rocky ledge basking in the sunlight like a huge monster on the placid bosom of a lake, was to me one of the most remarkable and impressive scenes that I ever witnessed; and then remember, too, that I looked upon this wonderful prospect from a frame-work of solid rock, composed of the stooping cliff. It was a glorious picture, indeed, aud would have amply repaid one for a pilgrimage from the remotest corner of the earth.

The ordinary time required to visit the Alum Cave is two days; but, owing to bad weather, my friend and myself occupied the greater part of four days in performing the same trip. To give a minute account of all that we met with would occupy too much time, and I will therefore only record in this place the incidents which made the deepest impression on my own mind.

On the following morning we travelled to the foot of Smoky Mountain, and having obtained a guide, who happened to be one of the proprietors of Alum Cave, we resumed our journey. In the immediate vicinity of the cave we came across an Indian camp, where were two Indians who were out bear-hunting. We were admitted under their bark roof, and spent the night with them, sleeping upon the ground. We remained a sufficient length of time to enjoy one supper and one breakfast; the first was composed of corn bread and bear meat, and the second of trout (caught in a neighbouring stream) and a corn cake fried in the fat of a bear.

On questioning our Indian landlords, as we sat around our watch-fire, with regard to the Alum Cave, I could only gather the fact that it was originally discovered by the famous chief Yo-na-gus-ka, who happened in his youth to track a bear to one of its corners, where he had a den. Disappointed on this score, I then turned to our guide to see what he could tell me about the cave that was not connected with its minerals, and the substance of his narrative was as follows:— " I hav'n't much to say about the cave that I knows of, excepting one or two little circumstances about myself and another man. The first time I come here it was with my brother and two Indians. The sight of this strange gash in the mountain and the beautiful scenery all around made me very excited, and I was for climbing on top, and no mistake. The Indians and my brother started with me up the ledge at the north end of the cave, but when we got up about half way, just opposite to an eagle's nest, where the creatures were screaming at a fearful rate, they all three of 'em backed down, and said I must not keep on. I told 'em I was determined to see the top, and I would. I did get on top, and, after looking round awhile and laughing at the fellows below, I began to think of going down again. And then it was that I felt a good deal skeered. I found I couldn't get down the way I got up, so I turned about for a new place. It was now near sundown, and I hadn't yet found a place that suited me, and I was afraid I'd have to sleep out alone and without any fire. And the only way I ever got down was to find a pine tree that stood pretty close to a low part of the ledge, some three hundred yards from the cave, when I got into its top, and so came down among my friends, who said it was a wonder I hadn't been killed. . "

I generally have had to pilot all strangers to the cave since that time, and I remember one circumstance that happened to a Tennessee lawyer, who caused us a good deal of fun; for there a party of young gentlemen there at the time. "We had a camp "right under the cave, where it's always dry, and about midnight the lawyer I mentioned suddenly jumped up as we were all asleep, and began to yell in the most awful manner, as if something dreadful had happened. He jumped about as if in the greatest agony, and called on God to have mercy on him, for he knew he would die. O, he did carry on at a most awful rate, and we thought he must have been bitten by some snake or was crazy, so we -tore off his clothes to see what was the matter; and what do you suppose we found? Nothing but a harmless little lizard, that had run up the poor man's legs, all the way up to his arm-pits, thinking, I suppose, that his clothes was the bark of a dead tree. After the trouble was all over,'the way we laughed at the fellow was curious."

Our second day at the Alum Cave (and third one from home) was a remarkably cheerless one; for a regular snow-storm set in, mingled with hail, and, before we could reach our horses and descend the Smoky Mountain, some three or four inches of snow had fallen. We spent that night under the roof of our good friend and worthy man, the guide, and it was with difficulty that we could induce him to receive a quarter eagle for all his trouble in piloting us and treating us to his best fare. On that night we ate our supper at nine o'clock, and what rendered it somewhat peculiar was the fact that his two eldest daughters, and very pretty girls they were, waited upon us at table, holding above our heads a couple of torches made of the fat pine. That was the first time that I was ever waited upon in so regal a style, and more than once during the feast did I long to retire in a corner of the smoky and dingy cabin to take a sketch of the romantic scene. At sunrise on the following morning my companion and myself remounted our horses, and in three hours were eating our breakfast in Qualla Town.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Impatiens capensis

Hyla Brook

By June our brook's run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)--
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat--
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Robert Frost

Orange Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis. Touch-me-not family. Also known as spotted touch-me-not, snapweed, silver leaf, and lady's eardrops.

Its fragile orange (sometimes gold or yellow) blossoms remind me of tiny snapdragons. It’s the juice in the thick icy-green stems, however, that you rub on your skin, should you have stumbled into poison ivy’s ‘leaflets three’ or nettles’ inescapable prickles. - Betty Lies

And by Betty Lies from


We call it touch-me-not, this wildness

tense as a spring: Hands off,

it seems to say, but I know

something wound up

in the heart’s green coils

is crying Touch me. Touch me.

Touch me now. All fall

I have been drawn and drawn again

to one tall stand of jewelweed,

to touch the pendant seedpods,

feel them burst with life.

I understand it’s not just botany

that gives me such delight

running my fingers over their plumpness,

warming them till they explode

and scatter seed.

I have seen hummingbirds

bury their beaks in jeweled cups,

the bees delving so deep

you only know they’re inside

by the flower’s orange tremblings.

This autumn, when my body

keeps its secrets from me,

hiding something deep within,

it pleases me to feel

the life stored in those pods,

waiting for release, first now,

and then again to rise,

to rise after a slow cold winter.

- Betty Lies

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Appeal of a Place, Three


Place may be the first of all concepts; it may be the oldest of all words.
-N. Scott Momaday

What we call the landscape is generally considered to be something “out there.” But, while some aspects of the landscape are clearly external to both our bodies and our minds, what each of us actually experiences is selected, shaped, and colored by what we know.
-Barrie Greenbie

The place-maker’s main objective is to speak the past into being, to summon it with words and give it dramatic form, to produce experience by forging ancestral worlds in which others can participate and readily lose themselves.
-Keith Basso

In The Location, The Luxury, The Life, Elizabeth Adams “lays bare the tactics used to motivate the purchase” of resort real estate. Although the book is a case study of her work for the Intrawest resorts, the same tactics were employed on behalf of another Adams client, Legasus of North Carolina and its River Rock development in Jackson County.

Adams devotes a chapter to several of the most powerful means of persuasion available to Intrawest. Reviewing the “fantasy lifestyle brochures” created for River Rock, you’ll find almost a carbon copy of the strategies used at Intrawest.

On Adams’ list, the first requirement in promoting a luxury resort is a stunning natural environment. Beyond that, Intrawest saw its role as transforming and improving upon such “diamonds in the rough.”

Book One of the “River Rock Story” opens with an account of the primal splendor of the Southern Appalachians. We learn that these mountains are “older, and once higher than the Himalayas…with hints of the tropics flirting with rainforests within a few miles of sub-alpine shrubs and evergreens….”

Man enters this “vast and unforgiving wilderness…is seized by the beauty, and awakened by the layered expanses of lush possibility,” suggesting that this diamond in the rough has not yet realized the potential that the River Rock developers recognize in it.

Adams identifies the next attraction of the themed resort development, the concept of a village and the experience of community. River Rock, like Intrawest, meets the need for something missing from the lives of the resort’s target audience:

It’s a place where the landscape connects rather divides households, where children play under the watchful care of the entire community, and despite its newness, where a strong and deep, or “thick” style of neighboring is practiced.

Purchase of a lot is not a lavish indulgence, but a way to bolster civilization:

The nature of River Rock as a community grew from the intangible beliefs and moral guidelines that have always drawn people here. Together, these form the values, or cornerstones of the community – the pillars that any civilization requires to be able to respond to the needs of its residents.

Adams explains how Intrawest creates several neighborhoods within its resort, “multiple places within a place.” This allows the developers to serve many different market segments at once, as each neighborhood appeals to a certain target audience at a certain phase in life. The concept is carried over in the neighborhoods that comprise River Rock:

Five fingers of property. One hand that joins them. Five different places that are really one place, a single community. Your house is at Bear Pen, mine is at Trout Creek, but River Rock is our home.

Real estate project names and themes, according to Adams, are chosen to resonate with potential customers. Generally, these take their inspiration from local culture and heritage or employ “the romance and strength of natural symbols to evoke atmosphere or status.”

Restricting this to the names of dining facilities at River Rock, we find:

Eyrie (‘eagle’s nest’), the Mountain Fusion Restaurant with adjoining culinary school at Grand Tuckasegee Lodge.

Lula Bar, the bistro adjoining Orion

At Trout Creek, in charming Skillet Gap, Copper John

The River Rock Clubhouse at Webster Creek is home to the Bear & Bridle

King’s House, the small diner at King’s Grant

Azalea’s serves Southern gourmet delicacies

Finally, Adams considers the emotional power of language and imagery. Intrawest was selling “an ideal of happiness” as much as it was selling real estate, allowing a person to invest in “both their financial and emotional futures.” Despite their children and their wealth, the target audience still felt a void, and sought:

emotional return on investment….For no matter how great the expected financial return…emotion drives the majority of sales, a realization most evident when one begins to browse the pathos-riddled brochures that turn prospects into homeowners.

River Rock reaches for the pathos by reprinting a song lyric from the band, Cullowhee:

So when my boys get old
Enough, and learn how to
Bait a hook and how to wade

I think I’ll take ‘em fishin’ and
Show ‘em where God stays

‘Cause they’ll never feel
more whole

Than when the whitewater
Rushes round their legs and
The mountains fill their souls

In a final chapter, Adams considers luxury living in the 21st century. How is the upper class changing? What will it demand in the future? To what degree will the bourgeois taste for fantasy shift to a desire for greater authenticity? Nothing in this discussion anticipates the imminent bursting of the real estate bubble. But a recent posting on Elizabeth Adams’ blog updates events:

When I first conducted this study of the new upper class and why they found the world of Intrawest resorts so appealing, the network was at its peak. That was 2004, before Intrawest founders sold the company to Fortress (August 11, 2006) and laughed all the way to the bank. The last chapter in the book deals with the whole authenticity debate; whether Intrawest’s signature ‘fantasy’ aesthetic could possibly have any staying power. Critics like David Boyle predicted a return to the real - a shift back toward the handcrafted, the handmade, the natural and imperfect.

Perhaps the reason for Fortress’s shares dropping from 18.5 when it went public in February 2007 to 5.5 by October 2007, then to an all-time low of 1.87 by December 2008 is more related to an imperfect economy. Still, I think Boyle has a point. I can’t help but wonder, when thousands of years from now a new civilization digs up the area where Tremblant resort once stood and finds all these brightly coloured bits of rooftop and whatnot amid such an obviously stunning landscape, what will they make of it? of us?

This mention of “authenticity” reminded me of that recent lecture on Cherokee ways of naming places. Considering their respective ways of talking about place, it’s tempting to view a strategic storyteller like Elizabeth Adams as the antithesis of the ancient Cherokee storyteller.

On the other hand, they both use language to describe the appeal of a place. They both use language to add meaning that enhances the appeal of a place. What we call Chattanooga was, to the Cherokees “Atsadi anugv’i,” or “a good place to fish.” Initially, the name identified how that particular location met physical needs for subsistence. Inevitably, the name carried connotations with emotional and even spiritual significance.

Is that so different from the way that Elizabeth Adams takes a trout stream in Jackson County and finds the words to give it a greater significance than it would otherwise possess?

It’s not simply a place to catch fish.

The native storyteller of old and the strategic storyteller of today would agree on that point.

Elizabeth Adams opened her book with a quote from Aristotle, the quote appearing at the beginning of The Appeal of a Place, Part 2. I’ll close with another reference to Aristotle, in a fine
article by Amy Langstaff, Silver Tongues and Other Sideshows”:

Aristotle wrote his seminal text on rhetoric partly as a rebuke to assumptions like these. He saw rhetoric being dismissed as an essentially fishy art, when in fact it could do noble work. "And if it be objected," he wrote, "that one who uses such power of speech unjustly may do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest injuries by using them wrongly." For Aristotle, the fact that rhetoric could cut both ways was precisely why it deserved careful attention.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Appeal of a Place, Two


It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is happiness and its constituents.

Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!
-P. T. Barnum

Forty years ago, I devoured the books of Vance Packard, including The Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers. Packard (1914 – 1996) was a journalist and social critic whose non-fiction works became bestsellers in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. His pop sociology explored how motivational research and depth psychology were used to create ad campaigns that exploited every vulnerability of the American consumer.

If they were still around, P T. Barnum and Vance Packard would find plenty to catch their attention in The Location, The Luxury, The Life, by Elizabeth Adams (2004). With its revelations of carefully crafted hucksterism, this slim volume more than lives up to the blurb on the back cover:

What compels people to spend vast sums of money to own a sliver of status or the promise of a dream? In the world of resort real estate, status and dreams are prized possessions, packaged and sold in fanciful brochures and detailed floor plans, often before the actual property they represent is even erected….

This book is a rhetorical study of what made Intrawest Corp “the world’s largest developer of village-centred destination resorts.” From the history of the notion of luxury, to the values of the new upper class, this study lays bare the tactics used to motivate the purchase, and the dreams and desires of those eager to pay the price.

A self-described “strategic storyteller,” Adams ran the Intrawest resort campaign and also created promo pieces for the River Rock (Legasus) development locally. She describes her work in these words:

I am a creator of fantasy lifestyle brochures designed to sell millions in "luxury" resort real estate across North America. In essence, I am a ghostwriter, one of several Sophists spinning fantastic tales for a faceless corporate entity.

Essentially, her book is a response to a challenge:

I felt compelled to develop a firmer grasp on the particular type of rhetoric I was creating, and why.

To analyze the developers’ efforts to reach the modern upper class, Adams considers “The World of Intrawest” as a rhetorical creation, based on the classical rhetorical theory of Aristotle and contemporary theorists such as Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz.

Bitzer, on the one hand, views rhetorical discourse as a response to a pre-existing need. Thus, the fantasy-based reality of the Intrawest resort is aimed at satisfying specific needs such as “escape, reconnection with nature and family, greater social status, a legacy to pass on…”

Vatz, on the other hand, believes that rhetorical discourse doesn’t merely respond to specific needs, but actively brings those needs into existence.

Bitzer might argue that Intrawest rhetoric reflects reality, while Vatz would counter that it creates reality.

Or, to borrow their own words on the matter:

“Exigence (a need of some kind) strongly invites utterance.” (Bitzer)

“Utterance strongly invites exigence.” (Vatz)

Adams raises this “chicken and egg” conundrum early. She concludes, 120 pages later, that both theories contribute to understanding “the complexities surrounding today’s need for luxury living.”

In the first chapter, Adams examines the evolving concept of luxury from ancient times to the 21st century. The book's publication coincided with the peak of the high-end resort developments. From that pre-collapse perspective, Adams writes, “the right to luxury items and leisure activities is affordable for more people than ever before.”

Chapter Two focuses on the specific strategies behind the Intrawest resort rhetoric. Once again Adams quotes Aristotle:

Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.

The author outlines six of the most important means of persuasion available to Intrawest:

1. Location, or natural setting
2. The Intrawest “village” as a rhetorical creation
3. Intrawest neighborhoods
4. Real estate project names and themes
5. Materials and textures used in sales materials
6. Language and imagery

Adams describes these in the context of Intrawest and, as we shall see, the same tactics reappear in the fantasy-based reality of the River Rock campaign.

next - river rock's rhetorical discourse and the language of place

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Appeal of a Place, One


Whenever the members of a community speak about their landscape – whenever they name it, or classify it, or tell stories about it – they unthinkingly represent it in ways that are compatible with shared understandings of how, in the fullest sense, they know themselves to occupy it.
-Keith Basso

Isn’t it strange how this castle changes as soon as one imagines that Hamlet lived here? As scientists we believe that a castle consists only of stones, and admire the way the architect put them together. The stone, the green roof with its patina, the wood carvings in the church, constitute the whole castle. None of this should be changed by the fact that Hamlet lived here, and yet it is changed completely. Suddenly the walls and ramparts speak a different language. The courtyard becomes an entire world, a dark corner reminds us of the darkness of the human soul, we hear Hamlet’s “To be or not to be.” Yet all we really know is that his name appears in a thirteenth-century chronicle. No one can prove he really lived here. But everyone knows the questions Shakespeare had him ask, the human depths he was made to reveal, and so he too had to be found in a place on earth, here in Kronberg. And once we know that, Kronberg becomes a quite different castle for us.
-Neils Bohr

Having mapped a few Cherokee place names myself, I wasn’t about to miss the recent program in the Zahner Conservation Lecture Series in Highlands.

At last week’s session, Heidi Altman and Tom Belt spoke on “Cherokee Ways of Naming Places. ” Heidi Altman is a linguistic anthropologist and an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University. In addition to teaching at Georgia Southern, she works with Cherokee speakers in North Carolina and Oklahoma to revitalize and renew their language. Tom Belt (Oklahoma Cherokee) is the community coordinator and language instructor for Western Carolina University's Cherokee Language Program. He is a native speaker of Cherokee and, although from Oklahoma, he has lived in the North Carolina Cherokee communities for almost 20 years.

Heidi Altman commented on what makes Cherokee an unusual language:

It is an Iroquoian language surrounded by Muskogean and Siouan languages. The other Iroquoiain languages are in the Northeast and Cherokee has been separated from them for 3500 years or so.

The level of complexity in the language is beyond what you would expect in almost any language. It has all the complicating features that you look at when you classify languages according to levels of complexity.

Every syllable is packed with information and meaning. You can line up these syllables and have words that are extremely long and have the meaning of a paragraph in English. They tell you everything.

This [complexity] has been the greatest challenge for me as a linguist...and in terms of language revitalization, this is one of the greatest challenges in teaching the language. Some people estimate that you can conjugate any Cherokee verb up to 20,000 different ways.

In and of itself it’s special and unique linguistically.
In and of itself it’s special and unique historically.
And in and of itself it’s special and unique because of the worldview that goes along with it.

Tom Belt explained why the study of Cherokee place names is important:

It wasn’t just a name, like “the big stone place” or “the big tree place.” If it had a name, then there was a deeper story and a deeper meaning. We gave it a name to indicate its importance both in our cosmology and in our social life, with an understanding of how things are supposed to be in the natural sense.

We might embellish them a little bit to give the idea of its importance. For example, a stream that is completely inundated with the turtles doesn’t exist. But it tells you how important the turtle was and it tells you how important the stream was. [It is believed that Tuckasegee, or Daksi-gi, means “inundated with turtles.”]

The Tuckaseegee corridor - from the top of Toxaway all the way to its confluence with the Little Tennessee – that whole area is a very, very old sacred site and the turtle is one of our most important and sacred icons. So it’s not just that we’re making a comment that there are lots of turtles there. There’s a deeper and more profound meaning.

That’s why these names are important. That’s why these places need to be looked at. They need to be noted. They need to be saved.

There was a time just 170 years ago when people in our tribe had the names of every plant that grows in these mountains, and this is the most biologically diverse place on the face of the North American continent. Our people lived here for thousands of years and they lived with these things. These things were important. You would be very careful about how you named places, because the names of these places are keys to knowledge and wisdom. It’s a key, at this point, to revitalizing the language and also a key to understanding our environment a little better. It’s not just a funny sounding eight syllable word.

For example, the word Cullasaja was our word for honey locust tree. Later on, because of that, it became our word for sugar. But if you know that, you automatically know that, at some point or another, there were great groves of honey locust trees along the Cullasaja basin.

When you say the words and know what they mean, it puts you in touch with the place and you understand it better. The words indicate a balance in the world – a balance in the way things are supposed to be. And we’ve forgotten that.

next - wordsmithing the real estate brochures

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lubricity, or Fishing the Cullasaja

Not only have I read Robert Strange's 1839 novel Eonoeguski, or the Cherokee Chief, but I can say I enjoyed it. I don't know of many people who could answer affirmatively on both counts! Strange was a Superior Court judge who rode the mountain circuit. Inspired by The Last of the Mohicans, Strange crafted an epic story set on the frontier of Cherokee country.

Strange had befriended the Macon County Renaissance man, Silas McDowell, who shared much of the historical background that the author used in his book. McDowell lived near the Cullasaja, and Strange told an amusing tale concerning McDowell's efforts to catch a fish from that river for the judge. (To conceal the identity of his informant, Strange referred to him as Mr. McDonald.)

In a moment more he was in the water, turning over the large rocks, with as much earnestness as if he had expected to find a bag of gold beneath each of them. I looked on, puzzled what to think of my new acquaintance. At length he succeeded in slightly shaking a very large rock, which defied all his efforts to turn it over, when instantly there dashed from beneath it what, at first, appeared to me to be a perfect monster.

Mr. McDonald immediately rushed in pursuits, and a more amusing spectacle I never witnessed for twelve or fifteen minutes. The water was splashed about in every direction, so as to leave not a dry garment upon the pursuer, as a large fish darted from one hiding place to another, with fruitless efforts to avail himself of it. Sometimes the hand of the extraordinary fisherman was upon him, but the lubricity of his scales would save him, and afford him another chance for escape.

At length, however, when nearly exhausted with his bootless exertions, Mr. McDonald succeeded in dexterously thrusting his hand into the gills of the fish, which now lashed the water into a perfect foam, and sent the spray in every direction, like a shower of rain. But the relentless foe held on, with tenacious grasp, and dragged him to the shore.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dry Falls - 1873 (Revisited)

Dry Falls, August 2009

Lazy me. I'm going to repost this one from last year in honor of the reopening of Dry Falls. I'm attempting to get some stories together that demand a little more preparation than my usual stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Not that they won't be gibberish, too, but anyhow... The theme for those stories, you might say, will be the language of place. In that regard, this Dry Falls narrative from Mr. King is a good lead-in to the pieces that will follow.

[From September 26, 2008]

For about a year now, one of the most memorable waterfalls of the Southern Appalachians has been inaccessible. The Forest Service is rebuilding the parking area and trail leading to Dry Falls on the Cullasaja River between Franklin and Highlands and the site will remain closed for a few more months.

Edward King and several of his companions traveled up the Cullasaja Gorge in 1873, and he wrote in considerable detail about their visit to Dry Falls:

By and by, in the afternoon, the reunited party, as it crept skyward, plunged, Indian-file, into the forest, and took its way to the " Dry Falls." A silence, not of gloom but of reverence, seemed to fall upon all as we entered the aisles of the grand wood, and climbed the knolls which rose like whales' backs every few hundred yards. …

After two miles of climbing, sometimes where the hills were so steep that in descending a misstep of the horse would have cost one a broken limb, we came to a long line of laurel thicket. Here, taking our oil capes, we scrambled into the bushes, and, stooping, worked our way to a cliff, down which rugged steps were cut, and stood where we could overlook the canon into which the upper fall of the Sugar Fork sent its leaping water.

The Hibernianism by which this glorious cascade gets its designation of the "Dry Falls," was suggested by the possibility of passing beneath the giant shelf, over which it pours, without severe wetting, although the spray is at times blinding. The river, coming to a dizzy height, leaps out with such force, that the water is projected far from the rock, and the beholder seems to see a lace veil, at least sixty feet long, dependent from the hoary walls of the canon.

Passing under it, along the slippery rocks, one comes out upon another stone under beetling precipices, from which little streams run down, and around which the mist and spray rise, and can note the changing gleams of the sunshine as they play on the immense mass of foam suspended between earth and sky.

Below, the stream passionately clutches at the rocks, and now and then throws them down into the chasm; there are hollows in the stones, which have been worn to a considerable depth by the pattering of the spray upon them for hundreds of years. Here a mass of wall rises dozens of feet from the chaos of rocks which is huddled at the fall's bottom. Many of the rude figures seem to have human resemblances, and one might imagine them giants rising from the canon's depths to tear away the veil which has been drawn across the entrance to their cavern.

A hundred and fifty feet below the summit of the falls, the stream runs on in whirlpools and eddies, now forming into inlets in which reeds, ferns and blossoms flourish, and now making a deep, steady current, cold and crystal clear. The pines and spruces seventy feet high seem but toys by the sides of these immense walls ; the light, too, in the gap through the mountain, is strange and fantastic, and seems to cast a glamour over every minute object. Even the pebbles, and the ferns and tiny grass-sprouts in the soil beneath the shelf over which the fall pours, are purple.

Then the voice — the voice of the fall! Heard from the laurel thicket, it seems to come from the very ground under your feet ; heard from the cavern into which you pass, it is sombre and complaining, like the winter Wind about the house chimneys ; and its echoes from the foot of the rapids, to which you may descend if you have firm nerves and a quick step, are like those from some unseen choir in a cathedral gallery, — some chant of priests at High Mass, monotonous, grand, inspiring ; " the height, the glow, the gloom, the glory," all blended, shock and awe the soul.

Here is a fall upon whose virgin rocks no quack has painted his shameless sign ; whose precipices have not been invaded by the mob of the grand tour ; whose solitary magnificence thrills and impresses you as if in some barren land you came upon the dazzling lustre of a priceless diamond. But to this, and its brother a few miles below, the feet of thousands of the curious will hereafter wander.