Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whistleblower Fired After Exposing Ponzi Scheme

At long last, here's some more coverage of the Village of Penland disaster. Thank goodness for courageous people like Amy Stroupe, willing to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.

More at:

In December 2007, Tim Simmons with the News and Observer (Raleigh) reported on the case:

A former corporate investigator for BB&T filed suit Thursday against North Carolina's third-largest bank, saying the company fired her in June for refusing to participate in the coverup of a $20 million loan fraud.

Amy Stroupe, a sheriff's detective before she was hired by BB&T in 2005, said the loans were made as part of a failed real estate development in western North Carolina.

The development, the Village of Penland, collapsed in May [2007] with investors owing banks an estimated $120 million.

The banks involved in the development said they were duped, but Stroupe claims BB&T participated in the fraud by lending money for lots that were clearly overvalued. She said more than 120 BB&T loans used the same appraiser and lawyer and a picture of what appeared to be the same mountain lot.

She alleges that she was fired, in part, for contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation and insisting that all details be turned over to them. Stroupe said she knew her investigation had upset some supervisors but that she was still shocked by their reaction.

Monday, September 28, 2009

fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail

(From The Outermost House, by Henry Beston)

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.

Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion.

We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves.

And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man.

In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.

They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jumpin' Jive with Cab

I don't know if it gets any better than this!

Cab Calloway!

Here's a clip from the movie "Stormy Weather" (1943) featuring Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing "Jumpin Jive". The Nicholas Brothers [thanks, '74] cut loose with some mighty fine dancing. Fred Astaire called this one of the greatest dance scenes ever filmed.

Next is the 1934 short, Hi-De-Ho. It starts off slow, but about 62 seconds in, the music explodes. And Cab does some wondrous, frenzied dancing of his own while leading the band. The plot takes a suspenseful turn toward the end.

Michael who?

I'd bet that most people know Cab Calloway for "Minnie the Moocher."

"A truly hallucinatory animated interpretation." That was one description of the Betty Boop cartoon featuring Cab's performance of "St. James Infirmary Blues." (Check out the background as it scrolls by. Did I see five aces back there?)


He can't leave without a little of that Reefer Man.

Hit it, Cab!

Yes, it is.

The "Jumpin' Jive" number from "Stormy Weather," but in this version Fayard Nicholas (60 years later) is watching himself dance. Great reactions...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Maps to Panthertown

Two maps of Panthertown Valley, 2009 and 1845

I’ve been perusing two very different maps of Panthertown Valley.

One is Burt Kornegay’s new, expanded, waterproof edition of A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown. For anyone who has the first edition, this is a complete revision of the old map. Burt really did a superb job with this guide. I look forward to putting it to the test on a hike soon, but as a map lover, I’m already enjoying the vicarious travel it affords. The map is available at City Lights in Sylva, or you can order it from

The other Panthertown map is much older and I almost missed it because it was listed under historic maps of Haywood County in the online collection, North Carolina Maps.

Until Jackson County was created in 1851, Panthertown Valley was part of Haywood County, and the 1845 map is especially interesting:

This map is a fair representation of that part of the gold region which has been surveyed in the county of Haywood and made by order of court this the 17th day of March 1845.

The map identifies landowners with acreage and the location of gold mines. Some of the family names on the map include Reeves, Francis, Hooper, Bumgarner, Bryson, Vickers and Shelton.

Western North Carolina was never much of a gold-producing region in this state. During the 1840s, the Southern Piedmont was gold country in a big way. Panthertown happened to be one of the few locations in the mountains that showed some promise for the precious metal, but it never panned out.

In a previous story, I shared an account of my search for the legendary Gold Spring of the Tuckasegee:

I haven’t found that gold spring yet, but I'm still looking.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Restore / Re-Story

We figure and find stories, which can be thought of as maps or paradigms in which we see our purposes defined; then the world drifts and our maps don't work anymore, our paradigms and stories fail, and we have to reinvent our understandings...
-William Kittredge

At River Rock, September 2009

Gary Paul Nabhan opens his book, Cultures of Habitat, with a story of two maps. A colleague had torn out maps from two different issues of the Atlantic Monthly and placed them before Nabhan for his consideration.

One map was entitled “Staying Put,” and the other was “The Geography of Endangerment.” Both displayed color-coded data, by county, for the entire continental United States, one depicting the relative duration of residency within each county, the other documenting which counties contained the most threatened or endangered species.

Nabhan describes his reaction:

Suddenly I went goggle-eyed: the fit was not perfect, but the correlation between the two patterns was undeniable. Where human populations had stayed in the same place for the greatest duration, fewer plants and animals had become endangered species; in parts of the country where massive in-migrations and exoduses were taking place, more had become endangered.

Of course, correlation is not causation, but Cultures of Habitat goes on to explore the many implications of those maps:

Why are naturally diverse regions also culturally diverse? What allows certain communities to resist harmful economic and social change? Do these communities retain more intact habitats in their homeland because of this resistance?

At the end of the book, Nabhan concludes:

To restore any place, we must also begin to re-story it, to make it the lesson of our legends, festivals, and seasonal rites. Story is the way we encode deep-seated values within our culture. Ritual is the way we enact them. We must ritually plant the cottonwood and willow poles in winter in order to share the sounds of the vermilion flycatcher during the rites of spring. By replenishing the land with our stories, we let the wild voices around us guide the restoration work we do. The stories will outlast us.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MacArthur Geniuses, NOT!

Twenty-four recipients of the MacArthur "genius grants" were announced today. I’m looking forward to learning about them, as it always helps me to regain a little faith in humanity.

One of the previous winners, the ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, spoke in Highlands last summer and I was certainly inspired by his work and his message.

Though I don’t know yet who made this year’s list of MacArthur geniuses, I’m quite certain of a few names that WON’T make the list.

Manny Wall, for one.

Thanks to the Southern Highland Reader for featuring a link on this dude.

Manny Wall was cruising through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with his 100-pound dog in the back of the truck. The beast got a whiff of something irresistible, leapt from the truck and ran down a 130-pound buck, injuring it so badly it had to be euthanized. Fortunately, Manny is facing federal charges.

Rosie the Pitbull Pinup, by Stuart Swartz. I didn’t paint it, so don’t blame me if you’re offended. This is exactly the kind of thing I see far too often in the GSMNP.

Geniuses! You don't find them behind every tree in the forest.

Take, for instance, a disturbing report posted on the NC Lookouts website today.

The Wayah Bald lookout tower near Franklin, NC was firebombed by a half dozen mischievous imps so proud of their work they posted it on You Tube. Fortunately, they’re facing felony charges…and rock doesn’t burn.

Tower on Wayah Bald

In any event, Ryan Charles Douglass, Martin Douglas Murray and Nicholas William Ford are more names that I don’t expect to find on the MacArthur genius list.

To meet those who ARE in the 2009 class of MacArthur Fellows:

Very cool, indeed!

Toccoa Torrent

Years ago, I read Dam Break in Georgia, about the November 6, 1977 flood that killed 39 people at Toccoa Falls College. The book made a strong impression on me, and when I heard about the heavy rain in Toccoa this week, I could imagine the traumatic time it's been for many of the good folks that live there.

Toccoa Falls is a beauty. I photographed it (above) last winter on a rainy day, but nothing like the recent rainy days.

The Weather Channel has a video of Toccoa Falls during this week’s storms. The waterfall is transformed from an elegant beauty into a raging monster. Awesome stuff at:

If there’s one thing that people dislike, it’s 19th century American poetry. All the more reason to reprint this selection that I had the pleasure of reciting while visiting Toccoa last winter. You should have been there to hear it.

Composed by Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809-1870) and published in 1834.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

(Lots of) Waterfront Lots

It was a September evening when the sky was dark and grey
Raging wind and water battled Hell in its sway
The rich folk in the mansions and the poor ones in the dell
Were swept into eternity the story left to tell
-Galveston Flood



Gitch 'yer waterfront lots - while they last - at the Cove at Flat Gap (not quite on the Highlands - Cashiers Plateau).

The Best of Mountain Living!

Cullowhee Creek flooding, shots taken about 5:15 this evening, just upstream from the Jackson County Recreation Center and Speedwell General Store.

(Above) From "The Gap" entrance looking back toward Speedwell Store and Rec Center Pavilion.

(Above) Looking downstream from the upper bridge on Park Farm Loop.

Water was out of the banks over the field across from Speedwell Store, but not up to the road level.

Galveston Flood

It was a September evening when the sky was dark and grey
Raging wind and water battled Hell in its sway
The rich folk in the mansions and the poor ones in the dell
Were swept into eternity the story left to tell

Wasn't that a mighty time
Wasn't that a mighty time that evening
Wasn't that a mighty time
When the storm winds struck our town

The men left home that morning with hearts cheerful and bright
With hopes of home returning, but their hopes weren't raised that
They kissed their wives that morning ands their little ones so
And the skies were cloudy that morning, but no other grief or
It was a September evening when the storm clouds struck our town
It seemed like God up in the Heavens above looked down at us and
The town was all in a motion, the men with hearts so brave
Prayed to God to have mercy their helpless lives to save

There's an engineer and a fireman, engineer had a heart so brave
He thought about his wife and his little child
and their helpless lives to save
Says Jack, the tide is rising and we must get across
So they drove the train on over and both those men were lost

It was a September evening when the storm was a raging wild
I saw a woman clinging, Lord, to her husband and her child
The man he battled faithful their helpless lives to save
But they soon were beneath that rolling tide
They had met a watery grave

Well they had a sea wall at Galveston to hold those waters down
But the high tide from the ocean, Lord, put water onto the town
The trumpets gave them warning, they had better quit that place
But they weren't meant to leave their homes till death stared
them in the face

Now the year was nineteen and hundred, just sixteen years ago
Death throwed a stone at my mother, Lord, and with death she had
to go
The cruel sea was a raging and the ships they could not land
I heard a captain crying, Lord, won't you save this dying man

Now death, the cruel master, when the winds began to blow
Came down on a train of horses, I cried, Death won't you let me
The town was all in a motion and the houses gave away
And the people they strived and drowned, Lord, they died most
every way

Now the storm was over next morning and when the waters backward
A thousand souls were drowned, Lord, What a sight it was to
You can talk about your Brazos and your Johnstown flood of old
But the story of the Galveston flood will never, ever be told

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the Face of the Earth

Fisher Creek, September 2009

Human features are everywhere: in the shapes of the earth, in rock, ice, and cloud formations, in plants and trees, in the markings of living creatures. If, as the alchemists said, all metals are aspiring to be gold, so does nature constantly strive to re-create the human form.

Opposing this fanciful view is the fact that we are pre-programmed to recognize our own image. Tests show that a new-born baby, before it could have learnt by experience to interpret what it sees, responds to the pattern of a human face. Anthropomorphism is built into us and conditions our view of nature.

-John Michell, author of Natural Likeness, Faces and Figures in Nature

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sky Ships Over River Rock

Up on the house of freezing, the house of freezing steel.
I made my mind up then to get me to the wheel
I made the cabin door, the pilot turned around
He said we're Venus bound.
- Cat Stevens

Earlier this year, I was hiking near Cashiers when I had an irresistable urge to point my camera skyward and snap the shutter, despite seeing nothing unusual.

Oddly enough, the resulting image (above) was filled with mysterious orbs. While visiting the very cool website, Sky Ships Over Cashiers, a short time later, I happened to find an explanation of the luminous circles. Rather than give you an inadequate paraphrase, I suggest you read the whole discussion of the phenomenon at:

After studying the rest of the website, I began to recognize the connection between the appearance of Sky Ships over Cashiers and the development of the River Rock communities by Legasus. The timing of these events was not mere coincidence.

Perhaps the most valuable feature of the Sky Ships Over Cashiers is a series of messages that have been received since the Sky Ship sightings became so noticeable. Although River Rock and Legasus are not mentioned by name, it is apparent that they are the subject of many of these warnings. Take for instance, a transmission (to us) from "Your Sky Brothers" on September 10, 2008 which begins “We are not your enemy.” Immediately following that reassuring statement is the first River Rock reference:

Your enemy is the clan of old dynastic families that early on grabbed up the money and have never stopped stuffing it into their vaults.

Those of us who have lived in Jackson County for any length of time know exactly who Our Sky Brothers are talking about. It is so obvious that I don’t even need to name names.

Your enemy is the bevy of politicians who can be bought for a few coins and a song to do the bidding of those who lust for power and control.

Again, no explanation needed.

Your enemy is a multi-headed dragon that must be slaughtered so that kind and loving human beings will not be vaporized by the dragon’s breath.

There’s nothing obscure about this revelation. The dragon is River Rock and its multiple heads are Tuckasegee, Trout Creek, Summer Sail, Bear Pen, and Webster Creek.

As you read more of the messages, you’ll have no doubts about the connection I’m revealing here. For instance, a message dated September 6, 2008 explains the illogically oversized bridge being constructed on Grassy Creek:

Members of the powerful Dynastic Families…continue to amass fortunes and power for themselves without any concern or compassion for the masses of mankind upon whom they trample…

Those Dynastic Ones and those elitists in the tiers just beneath them have built elaborate and quite comfortable underground survival bunkers to which they plan to retreat after they have set fires to rid their world of the human locusts. When this is accomplished, it is their plan to start afresh without the annoying locusts.

As soon as the Grassy Creek bridge is completed, thereby allowing unimpeded retreat by the Dynastic Ones and their associated elitists, I would urge my fellow “annoying locusts” to be on a heightened state of alert…for fires.

"The Bridge to Nowhere"

I could go on, but I won’t. The meaning is clear.

Mysteries continue to emerge, however.

Just this week, an anonymous source sent me this photo of a strange metallic vessel (Sky Ship?) that had (reportedly) landed on the River Rock development.

I have no idea what it indicates or where it originated (although a message from September 4, 2008 suggests it may have originated from the Pleiades). It would be a misnomer to call it a UFO since it wasn’t seen while in flight (as far as I know), so I'll call it a UO (unidentified object). I would be curious to know if anyone else has seen this (huge) vessel in the sky or docked at other nearby sites. Perhaps someone has ridden in this craft? I'd love to hear more about it.

I suspect this “Sky Ship” (assuming that’s what it is) is very much like the “House of Freezing Steel” of which Cat Stevens sang many years ago:

I've flown the house of freezing, the house of freezing steel
And though my body's back I know it can't be real
'Cause I've been on that house without a guiding wheel
The house of freezing steel.

M51 Galaxy from Hubbell Telescope

Friday, September 18, 2009

Appalachian Walkabouts

If the Lizard Man were dragging his heels across the saltpans of Lake Eyre, you could expect a succession of long flats, like Chopin’s "Funeral March". If he were skipping up and down the MacDonnell escarpments, you’d have a series of arpeggios and glissandos, like Liszt’s "Hungarian Rhapsodies".
-Bruce Chatwin, from The Songlines

Months ago, I collected several fragments of what should cohere into one larger story. I just couldn’t figure out how to put them all together to exceed the sum of the parts. Since the potential of the material surpasses my ability to do it justice, I'll simply submit the original notes.

In Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail, Ian Marshall reflects upon some classics of Appalachian literature while hiking the AT from Georgia to Maine. It’s a great concept and Marshall is up to the task. The opening of the book caught my attention:

As I sit in the train station in Wilmington, Delaware, backpack at my side, I am finishing Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines. Chatwin writes of his quest to learn about the Dreaming-tracks of the aboriginal peoples of Australia.

These Dreaming-tracks – the “Songlines” of Chatwin’s title – are trails walked by the “Ancestors,” who in the “Dreamtime” long ago fashioned themselves out of clay and sang the earth into existence, naming items in the landscape as they progressed on their journeys, recording their paths in songs whose melodic contours echo the geologic forms of the land.

To this day aboriginals learn the songs of their ancestors, and every so often they set out on ritual journeys called walkabouts, following in the footprints of their ancestors and recreating in song the emergence of the land.

Songlines, by Connie Rovina, Queensland

Around the same time I was reading Story Line, I found a USA Today article on hut-to-hut hiking along Oregon’s Rogue River:

As he makes his way along the narrow path hovering hundreds of feet above a rush of white water, David Chesluk recites the contents of his fanny pack, a veritable miracle of supply. "Duct tape. Aleve. Bandages. Insect repellent. Sunscreen. An extra water bottle. Antibiotics. Batteries. Windbreaker/poncho. Plastic bags. And a medical kit. I could take out your appendix, if needed," says the retired psychiatrist, only half in jest.

But what's more impressive is what Chesluk and six companions aren't packing on this four-day hike into one of America's most serene and remote wilderness areas. Absent are cook stoves and pots, sleeping bags and pads, tents and ground covers and any sustenance beyond a few energy bars. By day, they're enjoying an unburdened walk in the woods, relishing riverside lunches prepared for them while seated comfortably in roomy canvas chairs. At day's end, they're indulging in hot showers, hearty dinners and snug beds in backcountry lodges where their personal gear, floated in via raft, awaits them.

While it has long been a favorite of European travelers, hut-to-hut hiking is a rarity in America. If Mellinger Henry’s proposals had been realized, we might be enjoying that option in the Southern Appalachians today. Henry was a frequent visitor to the region during the early twentieth century; the Asheville Citizen endorsed Henry’s ideas about hiking in an editorial published October 9, 1923:

Mr. Henry tells more about the trails, the mountain scenery available to the hiker, and about the lack of lodges and inns than most of the natives have learned, excepting, of course, the men who carry on the work of the United States Forest Service. There is little hiking through these mountains, or comparatively so, judging from the popularity of this pastime in other sections of the country.

For years, the Forest Service has been marking out trails and urging the people to give aid in opening lodges for the entertainment of travelers overnight. But even yet an inexperienced hiker would soon get lost in the woods, and if he doesn’t, he wants a comfortable place when darkness falls.

When Western North Carolina, Inc, begins its work, there will be common efforts put forth in twenty-five counties, at least, to mark trails, establish inns and advertise to the whole country the attractions of the trails through the mountains of this region. And then many will come in response to this invitation, just as Mr. Henry comes and finds more than enough to repay him for the extra efforts now required in locating trails and points of interest.

Kangaroo Dreaming, by Jamie Eastwood, New South Wales

Henry was not only a hiker, but a collector of traditional mountain songs. I discovered his Folk Songs of the Southern Highlands while looking for photographs of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee. The 1939 song book includes a photo of the falls, and other mountain scenes, to supplement the many ballads and folk tunes in the work. The author explained the history of the songs and shared anecdotes about the mountaineers he had befriended to learn about the music, including John Oliver of Cade’s Cove.

Mellinger Henry died in 1946, but I can imagine talking with him about explorations of music and place. I would ask if he found songlines in the Smokies, like those described by Bruce Chatwin:

In theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that could not or had not been sung. One should perhaps visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that, in which every episode was readable in terms of geology.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Way to Run a Culture

Gregory Bateson tells the story of New College in Oxford, England.

The great hall was built in the early 1600s with oak ceiling beams forty feet long and two feet thick. Around 1970, an entomologist examined the timbers and found them weakened by an infestation of beetles.

The College Council was distressed to receive this news as they were aware how difficult it would be to obtain replacements of that enormous size. They brought in the College Forester and asked if suitable trees might be found on any of the tracts endowed to the College.

The Oaks on Satulah, October 2007

“I’ve been wondering when you would ask,” replied the Forester, “for when the hall was constructed 350 years ago, the architects specified that a grove of trees be planted and maintained for the sole purpose of replacing those beams, as they always get beetly in the end. This plan has been passed from one Forester to the next through all these years, to save the oaks for College Hall.”

Bateson’s response to the story:

“That’s the way to run a culture.”

I remembered hearing this told many years ago and was happy to rediscover it recently after a long search. A more detailed account of the New College oaks is found at:

What an inspiring story of prudent forethought!

However, it is my sad duty to report that New College dismisses the tale as rubbish:

The affair of the oak trees. This is another hoary tale [and] nonsense. For one thing, the roof has already been rebuilt once, by a local builder named James Pears in 1786. He used pitch pine timbers and Westmorland slate... The Buckinghamshire woods where the mature oaks were felled did not come into the hands of the college until 1441. The truth is that the oaks came from the college woods in Great Horwood, Akeley and Whaddon Chase, where they had indeed been maturing for several hundred years. Yet, if you think back to a society where hardwood was the principal construction material, it is obvious that some trees in every wood had to be left to grow on, while the others yielded a crop of coppiced poles every fifteen years or so.

Despite the debunking, I still concur with Bateson’s sentiment.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Future of the Forests?

I enjoy reading the old accounts of the forests I call home. What a kaleidoscopic picture emerges from four centuries of conquistadors, traders, military men, botanists, speculators, prospectors, loggers, fugitives and poets.

And now, here’s one more view of the forests, through the eyes of a California software engineer. This gentleman has spent tens of millions of dollars purchasing property in Jackson County. (But how could such a rational man put so much faith in partners who are convinced that merely invoking the name of a sports star can add value to the land?)

Despite that, I would not underestimate our friend from California. He relied on more than puffery and slick marketing to amass his fortune. He knows the energy industry. He knows the forest products industry. He knows how to analyze data and make sense of the trends.

As a result, he has an informed perspective on the forests I call home. In his words:

…you also have in NC some potential for energy generation, there are no good wind or solar resources in your area but you have great biomass (e.g. > > > cellulosic ethanol) that can be farmed in a sustainable fashion - however this is a highly technical field that is largely blocked by current regulations in the US and will require community action not reaction…

With that sentence, he has broadened my view. Looking upon the tree-covered hills, I now see vast amounts of biomass waiting to be converted into cellulosic ethanol.

What a revelation!

Experts say the U.S. could produce cellulosic biomass equivalent to four billion barrels of crude oil a year, or 65% of American oil consumption. In Georgia, Range Fuels is already developing a cellulosic ethanol plant to use wood waste.

If America can justify turning Central Appalachia into a moonscape, then it can justify giving Southern Appalachia a close shave, if that’s what it takes to fill our gas tanks on the cheap.

Debates have raged in Congress about the fate of downed trees, trimmings and brush on federal land. Opponents of a ban on the use of National Forest biomass as feedstock for ethanol production argue that slash piles represent a squandered resource. “Why let it rot when we could run our cars on it?” they ask.

I can thank that absentee land owner from California for opening my eyes to the possibilities. If there’s one thing we have plenty of around here (besides unsold lots in golf course developments) it is…



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chopin Recital

Chopin has always been a favorite of mine.

Valentina Igoshina was born into a family of musicians in Bryansk (Russia) in 1978. Her mother was a teacher of piano, and Igoshina first took lessons at home at the age of four. At age twelve, she was sent to Moscow where she studied piano with Sergei Dorensky and Larissa Dedova at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow State Conservatory. Unless she is performing at concerts or recitals, she presently divides her time between Moscow, Russian Federation and Paris, France.

Igoshina is generally considered to be one of the most outstanding of modern-day classical pianists. She is particularly known for her interpretations of Chopin and Rachmaninov.

In 1993, at age 14, she won first prize at the Rubinstein International Young Pianist Competition in Poland.

Regarding the Atlanta Competition, reviewer Keely Brown wrote: "Russian pianist Valentina Igoshina played Chopin's Preludes with heartbreaking nuance. Those who doubt Chopin's intentions to have all 24 played at one sitting would have had their doubts dispelled by hearing how she subtly strung them together, with perfect control and dynamic shading and phrasing. It was the artistic performance of the day. Her Rachmaninov B-flat Minor Sonata was likewise idiomatic and meltingly phrased. Igoshina's performance showed the difference between being a good pianist and being an artist." (Creative Loafing Media, Atlanta, May 2002)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Gathering of Hermits

The instinctive act of humankind was to stand and listen, and learn how the trees on the right and the trees on the left wailed or chaunted to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral choir; how hedges and other shapes to leeward then caught the note, lowering it to the tenderest sob; and how the hurrying gust then plunged into the south, to be heard no more.
-Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

Robert Harrill, The Fort Fisher Hermit


I’ve just finished reading a novel that will hit the shelves next month, and I can already anticipate the withering reviews. Years ago, a critic who read the manuscript described the “banality and triteness” of the work.

I must confess that I enjoyed it.

Admittedly, my taste in fiction is unsophisticated. Forthcoming reviews of the trite and banal novel will condemn its one-dimensional characters and contrived plot, but it had enough going for it to keep me turning the pages.

That’s just me, though. I’ll pick up ten books of essays before I’ll pick up one novel. And I can stay up half the night reading newspapers from the 1850s, when a work of fiction would put me to sleep after two pages. This unworthy novel was an exception. The author set the story in 1920s Swain County, creating a world where I felt surprisingly at home. To me, it was far more recognizable, hospitable and comprehensible than America 2009 spinning frenetically all around me.

Observing contemporary culture and considering myself in relation to it, I can only conclude that one of us is sane and the other is not. I would not presume to say which is which.

It might be more than coincidence that the author of the novel had fled from the mainstream normality of his own time to find a home, and to find himself, in these mountains. His well-known account of that process resulted in a (non-fiction) book that remains controversial a century later for reasons I don’t fully understand.

The soon-to-be-published novel and the old classic both reveal a great deal about their creator. He was, at times, what you might call a hermit. He had tried to live in a world where he did not belong. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to live with one foot in that world and one foot in a world that made sense to him.

Eventually, it was impossible for him to do anything but leave that divided existence behind and start anew in the Smokies. Whatever the rewards he found here, he continued to struggle with the pain and the complications of his chosen path (if you can even call it a matter of choice).

He had exchanged the impossible for the extremely difficult.

The Hermit (Tarot)


I grew up hearing vague legends about the “Hermit of the Uwharries.” And while hiking the many trails that snaked around near the Yadkin River, I would often imagine him lurking in the woods and, perhaps, watching me from a safe distance until I passed by. That could be ME up there on the hill, I would say to myself, cultivating a rosy view of the hermit’s life. I was young and naive back then.

In his account of the Hermit of the Uwharries, Fred Morgan reports:

The Hermit had a message for the world, but he froze to death not far from his shack before he could give it.


Over in Madison County lives a couple I know only from their website, where they’ve posted this statement:

Raven’s Bread Ministries is dedicated to serving the needs of a small but growing band of people who are dedicating themselves to an ancient calling - that of the spiritual solitary or hermit. In the 1950’s, a revival of the eremitic life began as more and more people discovered their need to live a life of dedication in silence, solitude and simplicity. Seeking the solace of God to counteract the fragmentation of modern life, one by one, individuals began to withdraw from the “madding crowd”. Some dared to call themselves hermits; others simply followed the attraction of the Spirit luring them into a lifestyle which healed their hearts and nourished their spirits. Many feel they are the only person in the world to find the noise, confusion and stress of present-day culture unbearable. They are not - in truth, they are part of an ever-expanding company of people who are embracing eremitical life.

I have nothing but admiration for Raven’s Bread and those who contribute to the journal. They exemplify spirituality, rather than religiosity. Yes, many of us “find the noise, confusion and stress of present-day culture unbearable”...but finding a lifestyle that would heal the heart and nourish the spirit? Ah, there’s the rub!

Peter the Hermit Meeting the Byzantine Emperor


The life of a hermit is a tough life. Take the case of a Pennsylvania hermit, Matthias Berger. On July 20, 1890, the New York Times published a story under the headline “An Old Hermit Murdered – The Recluse First Robbed and Then Killed Near His Cabin.” One sentence jumped out at me:

He was a frequent visitor to Reading and Hamburg, and many people here predicted that he would meet with a tragic end if he persisted in remaining a hermit on the mountain.

In recent years, Charles J. Adams has written about “The Hermit of Hawk Mountain,” calling him:

…an original and an enigma. He was fluent in German and English, known to be skilled in old German calligraphy, and was a fine carpenter…he was a voracious reader and, by all accounts, hardly anti-social.

Matthias was, by all accounts, a gentle and congenial man. When they reached the roughly 60-feet square clearing in the woods and called on the mud hut, they found Matthias Berger quite eager for the visit.

His hovel was about 7 feet square, and as many feet high. A wood stove, a bunk just large enough to accommodate Matthias’ 5-foot-6-inch frame, and a small chest were all the furnishings. Books and various papers were filed in every crack and crevice of the structure, and some tools and utensils were grouped in one corner.

As the visitors marveled at Matthias’ humble abode, their host told them how he had left his native Germany in 1846 after both of his parents had died, how he had hoped to ply his trade as a carpenter in America, and how he found no such work here.

He was unclear about the specific reason he decided to shun society and live a solitary existence on that particular mountain, but he did know and tell that it was Aug. 5, 1861, when he arrived at what would become his home in the thick mountainside forest.

Matthias baked his own breads, gathered fruits and herbs from the woods, and carted fresh water from the nearest spring, a quarter-mile away.

He made friends in the city, but was quick to return to his mountain because the noise in the city gave him headaches.

Despite all that, his killing in the summer of 1890 came as no great surprise to the townspeople.


In North Carolina, Robert Harrill became known as “The Hermit of Fort Fisher” in the 1960s. And while Harrill attracted thousands of visitors, he was also the victim of occasional beatings and other harassment.

Born in Gaffney, SC in 1893, Harrill worked at various jobs in the Carolinas, married and raised a family, but after his wife left him, he was admitted to the state mental hospital in Morganton. While there, he discovered the writings of Dr. William Marcus Taylor, who taught “Bio-Psychology” courses in Spruce Pine, NC. Dr. Taylor’s teachings convinced him to start a new life and, in 1955, he found his way to the marshes near Fort Fisher. He moved into an abandoned ammo storage building, gathered seafood, raised a small garden and conducted sessions of his “School of Common Sense.”

In a 1968 interview, Harrill explained his popularity:

Everybody ought to be a hermit for a few minutes to an hour or so every 24 hours, to study, meditate, and commune with their creator...millions of people want to do just what I'm doing, but since it is much easier thought of than done, they subconsciously elect me to represent them, that's why I'm successful.

The Fort Fisher Hermit was found dead in June 1972, under mysterious circumstances. Although the evidence suggested that he had been beaten, or was the victim of a cruel prank, officials ruled the cause of his death a heart attack.

The epitaph on his grave marker - “He Made People Think.”

Not a bad legacy for any hermit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Double Voice

San Juan Mountains, September 1997

All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call "aware" - an almost untranslatable word meaning something like "beauty tinged with sadness." Some days we have to shoulder against a marauding melancholy. Dreams have a hallucinatory effect: in one, a man who is dying watches from inside a huge cocoon while stud colts run through deep mud, their balls bursting open, their seed spilling into the black ground. My reading brings me this thought from the mad Zen-priest Ikkyo: “Remember that under the skin you fondle lie the bones, waiting to reveal themselves.” But another day, I ride in the mountains. Against rimrock, tall aspens have the graceful bearing of giraffes, and another small grove, not yet turned, gives off a virginal limelight that transpierces everything heavy.

-Gretel Ehrlich, from The Solace of Open Places

SJM, September 1997

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Pastures

When he visited North Carolina in September 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt was at the height of his popularity. Senator Josiah Bailey rode in the presidential motorcades and witnessed the outpouring of affection for FDR. Bailey wrote to the President’s secretary that people “have great expectations of him and he always adds to them.” The senator wanted FDR to know “that his visit to Western North Carolina was the best thing that has happened to that section of our State in a hundred years.”

One day after he traveled through Cherokee and Sylva, FDR was in Asheville [September 10, 1936]. Most stores and businesses closed and 50,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him. Around midday, he made a few extemporaneous remarks:

Yesterday and today I am carrying out a promise to myself made nearly thirty years ago, because it was nearly thirty years ago that I was last in Asheville. In those days I said to myself that I wanted to come back. I wanted to see all this marvelous country and go up into these Great Smoky Mountains. I suppose in those days I could not have gotten there in an automobile or even in a horse and buggy.

So I came on this pleasure trip, and it has been a pleasure every single minute. I have been tremendously impressed with what we are doing in opening up the Smokies through this great national park. I am not the only one impressed, because the number of visitors up there in the park has so far outstripped road building and facilities that it is a problem as to how to handle the people.

As some of you perhaps know, there is nothing in Nature I am as fond of as a tree. Here in North Carolina and across the line in Tennessee we have without question the most wonderful tree growth in all the United States—trees that perhaps are not quite so big as some of the trees of the Pacific Coast, but I am told by all the experts and scientists- you might call them brain trusters—that there are more varieties of trees and shrubbery and flowers down here than anywhere else.

I hope to come back in the years to come, either as a Government servant or as a private citizen—it makes very little difference which. I want to come back and spend some time seeing the new roads that are going to be opened, seeing more of this wonderful part of the United States. And I am quite sure that millions of other Americans are.

En route to the Green Pastures Rally in Charlotte, via Lake Lure, the Presidential party saw thousands of people lining the roads to cheer him on. In North Carolina During the Great Depression, Anita Price Davis relates the “disaster” that occurred in Shelby. Thousands of people had been waiting for hours along Warren Street, where Signs and banners had been plastered along Warren Street, and thousands of people had been waiting for hours to greet the President. At the last minute, though, the motorcade took an unexpected detour along Marion Street, avoiding the crowds.

Afterwards, Shelby native and former governor Max Gardner asked FDR what had happened. Roosevelt explained that while approaching Shelby, he notified the patrolman in the lead escort that he needed to “void his kidneys” in a bottle that he always carried in the car, and so, they took the first street that would allow FDR some privacy. While he must have felt greatly relieved, the citizens of Shelby felt greatly disappointed and bewildered.

Finally, arriving in Charlotte and taking the podium at Memorial Stadium, FDR used Biblical references to inspire the crowd:

Notice that the rainbow shines in the sky; and it is a fitting climax to two of the most delightful days that I have ever spent in my life. …

I am told that this meeting is a Green Pastures Meeting. And the showers that we have passed through today prove that the pastures of North Carolina are green.

Green pastures! What a memory those words call forth! In all our schooling, in every part of the land, no matter to what church we happen to belong, the old Twenty-third Psalm is in all probability better known to men, women and children than any other poem in the English language.

And in this great lyric, what do we best remember? Two lines:
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters."
Green pastures! Millions of our fellow Americans, with whom I have been associating in the past two weeks, out on the Great Plains of America, live with prayers and hopes for the fulfillment of what those words imply. Still waters! Millions of other Americans, with whom I also have been associated of late, live with prayers and hopes either that the floods may be stilled—floods that bring with them destruction and disaster to fields and flocks, to homesteads and cities—or else they look for the Heaven-sent rains that will fill their wells, their ponds and their peaceful streams. …

My friends, it is because I have spent so much of these latter years in this Southland, and because l have come to know its fine people, its brave history, its many problems, that I speak not as a stranger to you who are gathered here from seven States.

I have seen the denuding of your forests; I have seen the washing away of your topsoil; I have slid into the ditch from your red clay highways. I have taken part in your splendid efforts to save your forests, to terrace your lands, to harness your streams and to push hard-surfaced roads into every county in every State….

No man, no woman, no family can hope in any part of the country to attain security in a city on starvation wages any more than they can hope on a farm to attain security on starvation crop prices. I do not have to tell you, who live in any of these Southern States, all of which have factories in them, that a family that tries to subsist on a total wage income of three or four hundred dollars a year is just as much a drag on the prosperity of America as the farm family that seeks to subsist on a yearly cash income of a hundred or two hundred dollars a year. …

I speak to you today as common-sense American men and women. You will agree that from the material aspect, based on the sound concept of restoring purchasing power and prosperity to the great mass of our citizens, this Nation's consuming power has been and is being rapidly restored. I trust, therefore, that you will likewise agree that better conditions on the farms, better conditions in the factories, better conditions in the homes of America are leading us to that beautiful spiritual figure of the old psalmist—green pastures and still waters.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

FDR Comes to Sylva, 9/9/36

FDR on Main Street, Sylva, September 9, 1936

It is an iconic image of Jackson County history – the photograph of President Franklin Roosevelt’s motorcade rolling down Main Street. But FDR’s visit to Sylva was not a part of his trip to dedicate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Instead, he passed through here on September 9, 1936. As was the case with a stopover at the National Park four years later, FDR was just a couple of months away from re-election. His 1940 Smokies speech reflected the nation’s concern with war, but in 1936 the theme was economic recovery.

Roosevelt had just completed his 4000 mile “drought tour” through nine hard-hit states in the Great Plains, and that was the subject of a fireside chat on September 6, 1936:

I saw livestock kept alive only because water had been brought to them long distances in tank cars. I saw other farm families who have not lost everything but who, because they have made only partial crops, must have some form of help if they are to continue farming next spring.

I shall never forget the fields of wheat so blasted by heat that they cannot be harvested. I shall never forget field after field of corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves, for what the sun left the grasshoppers took. I saw brown pastures which would not keep a cow on fifty acres.

Yet I would not have you think for a single minute that there is permanent disaster in these drought regions, or that the picture I saw meant depopulating these areas. No cracked earth, no blistering sun, no burning wind, no grasshoppers, are a permanent match for the indomitable American farmers and stockmen and their wives and children who have carried on through desperate days, and inspire us with their self-reliance, their tenacity and their courage. It was their fathers' task to make homes; it is their task to keep those homes; it is our task to help them with their fight.

His address to the nation came on the eve of Labor Day and he alluded to the observance:

There are those who fail to read both the signs of the times and American history. They would try to refuse the worker any effective power to bargain collectively, to earn a decent livelihood and to acquire security. It is those short-sighted ones, not labor, who threaten this country with that class dissension which in other countries has led to dictatorship and the establishment of fear and hatred as the dominant emotions in human life.

All American workers, brain workers and manual workers alike, and all the rest of us whose well-being depends on theirs, know that our needs are one in building an orderly economic democracy in which all can profit and in which all can be secure from the kind of faulty economic direction which brought us to the brink of common ruin seven years ago.

There is no cleavage between white collar workers and manual workers, between artists and artisans, musicians and mechanics, lawyers and accountants and architects and miners.

Tomorrow, Labor Day, belongs to all of us. Tomorrow, Labor Day, symbolizes the hope of all Americans. Anyone who calls it a class holiday challenges the whole concept of American democracy.

FDR in Cherokee, 9/9/36

I’ll resist the temptation to use the old cliché that history repeats itself, but we do live in a day when even a President’s pep talk to school kids is blasted as socialist indoctrination. Back then, Roosevelt caught flak for "socialist leanings" and being “too political.” He did maintain the wonderful capacity to laugh at himself. Time magazine reported on his 1936 swing through Western North Carolina:

Dr. Ross T. Mclntyre, the White House physician, last week pronounced President Roosevelt physically "in the pink" after his 4,000-mile Drought tour. That his spirits were also tiptop appeared when White House correspondents filed into their first press conference after his return, primed to josh him about his "nonpolitical" campaign.

Would his speech at New York's Democratic State Convention later this month be "political," asked one? Franklin Roosevelt threw up his hands, widened his eyes in mock horror. "Oh, no!" cried he.

Of course, there was a political agenda behind the trip that brought FDR here, as the Time article explained:

To counteract Gene Talmadge's anti-Roosevelt convention of "Goober Democrats" at Macon last winter, Southern New Dealers had for months been planning to demonstrate their loyalty at a "Green Pastures" rally in Charlotte, N. C. On his way to address it with a "nonpolitical" speech, President Roosevelt left his train at Knoxville, climbed into an open automobile and headed a caravan of Democratic Governors and Congressmen up a new 140-mile highway through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its woodsy peaks and valleys "thrilled and delighted" him. Caught in a thunder shower at lunch time, he wriggled into a slicker, washed down fried chicken and caviar sandwiches with a bottle of beer.

The National Park showcased one of the great successes of the New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1933, FDR had signed a bill providing $1.5 million to develop the park, and the CCC was integral to that effort. At its peak, the CCC ran 16 camps in the park housing more than 4,300 men building fire towers, trails, walls and other infrastructure.

The 1936 article continued:

At a Cherokee Indian Reservation near Sylva, N. C., Chief Standing Deer (Jerry Blythe) capped the President with a headdress of eagle feathers, mumbled some Cherokee which made him the tribe's Chief White Eagle. White Eagle got his feathers off before photographers could snap.

"Chief White Eagle" NOT wearing a feathered headdress

The brief stop in Cherokee, just before FDR came to Sylva, was a milestone of sorts. Several sources identify it as the last time that a sitting President (no pun intended) would visit an Indian Reservation…until the presidency of Bill Clinton six decades later!

After leaving Sylva, FDR continued on to Asheville, where he spent the night of September 9 at the Grove Park Inn.

Tomorrow - FDR speaks in Asheville and Charlotte

Links -

Fireside Chat, September 6, 1936

Time Magazine article on FDR's southern tour, September 1936,9171,756652-2,00.html

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Presence of the Past

It is possible to roam these mountains without feeling the presence of the past. It is not possible for me, though.

Yesterday, I was sitting on a front porch in Webster, the same front porch that was mentioned in the New York Times almost 120 years ago. But that is another story for another time.

In September of 1776, General Griffith Rutherford led a frontier militia of 2,400 men on an expedition against the Cherokees. The army departed from Old Fort on September 1, and followed the Swannanoa River, Hominy Creek and Richland Creek as they made their way west in the following days. They sighted their first Indians on September 6, not long before they crossed Balsam Gap.

Some years later, David Swain wrote about the events that occurred west of the Balsams, on Scott’s Creek:

The latter stream obtains its name from John Scott, a trader among the Cherokees – a negro of whom was shot by Rev. James Hall, the Chaplain [of the expedition], as he ran, mistaking him for an Indian.

One week later, the same Rev. Hall would deliver a sermon from atop the Nuquassee (Nikwasi) mound in present-day Franklin.

September 7, 2009 was a quiet and pleasant day in Webster. Had I been occupying the same spot on September 7, 1776, I would have seen something remarkable. One thousand of Rutherford’s soldiers marched through what is now Webster. They forded the Tuckasegee and continued up Savannah Creek. As they ascended the Cowee Mountains, they encountered a small party of Cherokees waiting in ambush.

In his diary, Lieutenant William Lenoir recorded:

[We] marcht to a little Town on Tuckeyseagey River [and] 8 miles from thence towards watauger [Watauga] saw some indians walking up a mountain & we was attacked by about 20 indians on the top of the mountain at 3 o’clock within about 7 miles of said Town. William Alexander was wounded in the foot and no visible Dammage done to the Indians only a few kettles taken & c. then marcht within 2 miles of the said Town and lay on a small Emanance – 20 [miles marched that day].

The village and mound of Watauga were located along the Little Tennessee River near where you would find Lake Emory today. But when the militia arrived there September 8, the town was already deserted. The systematic destruction of Cherokee villages on the Little Tennessee was about to begin.

On September 10, the violence intensified:

A detachment of 300 men was sent to destroy a town called Sugartown immediately above the junction of the [Little] Tennessee & Sugartown [Cullasaja] rivers. The ground on which the town was situated was flanked on 2 sides by the rivers in the form of a triangle, & the remaining angle on the third side was enclosed by a strong work of brush and timber. When the soldiers had finally entered the town a fire was opened upon them by the indians from the riverbanks and the brush works, & finding themselves surrounded by a invisible foe they took shelter in the cabins and remained there for about 3 hours, at which time they were relieved by a strong detachment from the main army from about 4 miles below, where the firing of the small army had been distantly heard. The detachment lost 18 men killed and 22 wounded. The indians did not sustain any loss that was discovered.

A prisoner, whom they had taken, upon the promise of his life, proposed to lead the army to what was called the hidden town, where their women, children, & a large number of cattle were collected. This was 7 miles distant from Nuquassee in a narrow valley on the Sugartown river and surrounded at all points by mountains and was very difficult to approach from the fact that the mountains jutted in abruptly upon the river, in many places leaving scarcely room for a foot path.

However, on reaching the town there was not an indian to be found save a few very old & decreped men and women, the other indians being discovered some hundreds of feet above them on the crests of the mountains apparently looking down & taking a calm survey of them from their secure situations. They achieved nothing but the destruction of this town & some few beef cattle by that day’s adventures.

[This account of the Sugartown excursion was based on an 1850 letter from Silas McDowell, who lived in the Cullasaja Valley just down river from the gorge. The details he had heard and subsequently shared in his letter contradict other reports. According to some histories of the Rutherford expedition, the militia suffered only a few casualties.]

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"spell" and "spell"

The Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah

In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram writes:

Perhaps the most succinct evidence for the potent magic of written letters is to be found in the ambiguous meaning of our common word “spell.” As the roman alphabet spread through oral Europe, the Old English word “spell,” which had meant simply to recite a story or tale, took on the new double meaning: on the one hand, it now meant to arrange, in the proper order, the written letters that constitute the name of a thing or a person; on the other, it signified a magic formula or charm. Yet these two meanings were not nearly as distinct as they have come to seem to us today. For to assemble the letters that make up the name of a thing, in the correct order, was precisely to effect a magic, to establish a new kind of influence over that entity, to summon it forth!

To spell, to correctly arrange the letters to form a name or a phrase, seemed thus at the same time to cast a spell, to exert a new and lasting power over the things spelled. Yet we can now realize that to learn to spell was also, and more profoundly, to step under the influence of the written letters ourselves, to cast a spell under our own senses. It was to exchange the wild and multiplicitous magic of an intelligent natural world for the more concentrated and refined magic of the written word.

As soon as I read this, I began wondering about Sequoyah, credited with inventing the Cherokee alphabet.

The many versions of his name suggest that the man was an enigma:

George Gist
George Guess
ᏍᏏᏉᏯ Ssiquoya
ᏎᏉᏯ Se-quo-ya

Accounts of his life are as varied as his names. But, consistent with David Abram’s discussion of “spell” in both its meanings, it turns out that Sequoyah faced accusations of sorcery for his creation of written letters. Here are several different versions of the story:

Once, in the year 1809, the conversation in Sequoyah's shop turned on the ability of the white man to send messages from one to the other by means of "talking leaves." The majority considered it to be the work of sorcerers, others thought of it as a special gift, and some considered it mere imposture. Sequoyah had listened in silence, but at length remarked that he did not consider it a divine gift, an act of magic or mere imposture, but that the marks on the paper stood for words….

Sequoyah began work to create a system of writing for the Cherokee language. At first he sought to create a character for each word in the language. He spent a year on this effort, leaving his fields unplanted, so that his friends and neighbors thought he had lost his mind. His wife is said to have burnt his initial work, believing it to be witchcraft….

Despite ridicule by friends and family members, and accusations of insanity and practicing witchcraft, Sequoyah devoted the next decade of his life to creating "talking leaves" in his native tongue….

Assimilationist Cherokees accused Sequoyah of witchcraft, branded and mutilated him, and forged his name on treaties surrendering tribal land….

The Cherokee General Council convicted Sequoyah for witchcraft. The conviction was an excuse by the ruling leaders to set an example before the Cherokee people of the power of the New Order adopted from the white man’s Christian civilization program. Sequoyah was branded on the forehead and back. So was his wife. His fingers on both hands were cut off between the first and second joints, leaving the stubs and his thumbs. His ears were cropped off, the mark of a traitor to the Cherokee Nation in the southeast for anyone desiring, and encouraging removal of the people to the West….

Major Ridge was called on, as leader of the Lighthorse Patrol, to punish Sequoyah for practicing witchcraft, in trying to create the syllabary. The leaders of the tribe felt that this written language was the work of the devil, and to force him to stop, they ordered Major Ridge to remove the tops of Sequoya’s fingers. There is some question as to if this punishment was ever carried out.…

Saturday, September 5, 2009

summer sweets and autumn redolence

"Down the Road" - August 2009

Many poplars and many elms shook overhead, and close by, holy water swashed down noisily from a cave of the nymphs. Brown grasshoppers whistled busily through the dark foliage. Far treetoads gobbled in the heavy thornbrake.

Larks and goldfinch sang, turtledoves were moaning, and bumblebees whizzed over the splashing brook.

The earth smelled of rich summer and autumn fruit: we were ankle-deep in pears, and apples rolled all about our toes. With dark damson plums the young sapling branches trailed on the ground.

~Theokritos (Theocritus) - 316-260 BCE

...and another translation...

He courteous bade us on soft beds recline,
Of lentesch and young branches of the vine;
Poplars and elms above their foliage spread,
Lent a cool shade, and waved the breezy head.
Below, a stream, from the nymph's sacred cave,
In free meanders led its murmuring wave;
In the warm sunbeams, verdant shrubs among,
Shrill grasshoppers renew'd their plaintive song;
At distance far, conceal'd in shades alone,
The nightingale pour'd forth her tuneful moan:
The lark, the goldfinch, warbled lays of love,
And sweetly pensive coo'd the turtle-dove;
While honey-bees, for ever on the wing,
Humm'd round the flowers, and sipp'd the silver spring:
The rich, ripe season gratified the sense
With summer's sweets and autumn's redolence.
Apples and pears lay strew'd in heaps around,
And the plum's loaded branches kiss'd the ground.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Comment on FDR's Smokies Speech

I received the following comment which would not fit in the space allotted for comments. There's plenty of food for thought here.

When I reread the words of FDR's speech in this post it made me cry for the simple honesty he expresses about the purpose and value of our country. Today it is fashionable for some to decry our government, to wear t-shirts extolling revolution watered by the blood of patriots, to shout louder and cynically cry for our lost country. What time shall we return to? Perhaps when we hung our darker citizens from trees? Or, when we discarded our elderly without substance or care? Or when those who sought equity and justice in the workplace were slaughtered by thugs as in Calumet or Homestead? Maybe it is to a time when we treated out natural gifts and beauty as meaningless things to discard without care or stewardship?

It has become a Conservative mantra to quote Ronald Reagan: Government isn't the solution, it's the problem.

No statement could be less conservative for is it not reactionary and radical to treat our cherished institutions with such disrespect? Those who hold to Mr. Reagan's cynicism are often those who worship the Constituion as if it were an idol instead of a life giving and affirming document.


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

There is no us and there is no them, there is only "we", altogether, bound to an ideal of justice, tranquility, defence, welfare and blessings - all common and all united. We are the government and if Mr. Reagan is correct then we, not some but all of us, are the problem. Those who would turn partisan differences of political philosophy into inviolable lines of exclusion do the ultimate disservice to the ideal that is US.

The speech opening the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a precursor, a preview to one of FDR's most famous speeches. It is a speech that evokes the spirit of our Constitution and calls us to remember what a great source of hope our Founders saw for this nation.

From the "Four Freedoms" speech:

The basic things expected by our people of their political
and economic systems are simple. They are :

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a
wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be
lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of
our modern world. The inner and abiding straight of our
economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree
to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for
immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age
pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or
needing gainful employment may obtain it.

I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of
the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that
call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more
money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that
a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for
from taxation than we are paying for today. No person
should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program,
and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability
to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our

If the congress maintains these principles the voters,
putting patriotism ahead pocketbooks, will give you their

In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look
forward to a world founded upon four essential human

The first is freedom of speech and expression --everywhere
in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his
own way-- everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world
terms, means economic understandings which will secure to
every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants
--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into
world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to
such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation
will be in a position to commit an act of physical
aggression against any neighbor --anywhere in the wold.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite
basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and
generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of
the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators
seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

FDR's Smokies Speech - September 2, 1940

Sixty-nine years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Following is the text of his speech delivered at Newfound Gap, including his extensive remarks on the war that was simmering around the world. For the audio recording of the entire address by FDR, a link is included at the end of this story. (I was surprised to find that it had been recorded.) It's worth hearing, for he was one heck of a speaker:

Secretary Ickes, Governor Hoey, Governor Cooper and our neighbor, Governor Maybank of South Carolina, and my friends from all the States:

I have listened with attention and great interest to the thousands of varieties of plants, trees, fishes and animals that Governor Cooper has just told us about, but he failed to mention the hundreds of thousands of species of human animals that come to this Park.

Here in the Great Smokies, we have come together to dedicate these mountains, streams, and forests, to the service of the millions of American people. We are living under governments that are proving their devotion to national parks. The Governors of North Carolina and of Tennessee have greatly helped us, and the Secretary of the Interior is so active that he has today ready for dedication a number of other National Parks-like Kings Canyon in California and the Olympic National Park in the State of Washington, the Isle Royale up in Michigan and, over here, the Great Cavern of Tennessee—and soon, I hope, he will have another one for us to dedicate, the Big Bend Park away down in Texas, close to the Mexican line.

There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them. In this Park, we shall conserve these trees, the pine, the red-bud, the dogwood, the azalea, the rhododendron, the trout and the thrush for the happiness of the American people.

The old frontier, that put the hard fibre in the American spirit and the long muscles on the American back, lives and will live in these untamed mountains to give to the future generations a sense of the land from which their forefathers hewed their homes.

That hewing was hard. The dangers were many. The rifle could never be far from the axe. The pioneers stood on their own feet, they shot their own game and they fought off their own enemies. In time of accident or misfortune they helped each other, and in time of Indian attack they stood by each other.

Today we no longer face Indians and hard and lonely struggles with nature—but today we have grown soft in many ways.

If we are to survive, we cannot be soft in a world in which there are dangers that threaten Americans—dangers far more deadly than were those that the frontiersmen had to face.

The earth has been so shrunk by the airplane and the radio that Europe is closer to America today than was one side of these mountains to the other side when the pioneers toiled through the primeval forest. The arrow, the tomahawk, and the scalping knife have been replaced by the airplane, the bomb, the tank, and the machine gun. Their threat is as close to us today as was the threat to the frontiersmen when hostile Indians were lurking on the other side of the gap.

Therefore, to meet the threat—to ward off these dangers-the Congress of the United States and the Chief Executive of the United States are establishing by law the obligation inherent in our citizenship to serve our forces for defense through training in many capacities.

It is not in every case easy or pleasant to ask men of the Nation to leave their homes, and women of the Nation to give their men to the service of the Nation. But the men and women of America have never held back even when it has meant personal sacrifice on their part if that sacrifice is for the common good.

FDR enroute to the dedication

We have come to realize the greatest attack that has ever been launched against freedom of the individual is nearer the Americas than ever before. To meet that attack we must prepare beforehand—for the simple reason that preparing later may and probably would be too late.

We must prepare in a thousand ways. Men are not enough. They must have arms. They must learn how to use those arms. They must have skilled leaders—who, in turn, must be trained. New bases must be established and I think will be established to enable our fleet to defend our shores. Men and women must be taught to create the supplies that we need. And we must counter the agents of the dictators within our Nation.

There is, moreover, another enemy at home. That enemy is the mean and petty spirit that mocks at ideals, sneers at sacrifice and pretends that the American people can live by bread alone. If the spirit of God is not in us, and if we will not prepare to give all that we have and all that we are to preserve Christian civilization in our land, we shall go to destruction.

It is good and right that we should conserve these mountain heights of the old frontier for the benefit of the American people. But in this hour we have to safeguard a greater thing: the right of the people of this country to live as free men. Our vital task of conservation is to preserve the freedom that our forefathers won in this land, and the liberties that were proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution.

In these centuries of American civilization, greatly blessed by the bounties of nature, we succeeded in attaining liberty in Government and liberty of the person. In the process, in the light of past history, we realize now that we committed excesses which we are today seeking to atone for.

We used up or destroyed much of our natural heritage just because that heritage was so bountiful. We slashed our forests, we used our soils, we encouraged floods, we overconcentrated our wealth, we disregarded our unemployed—all of this so greatly that we were brought rather suddenly to face the fact that unless we gave thought to the lives of our children and grandchildren, they would no longer be able to live and to improve upon our American way of life.

In these later years we have tried sincerely and honestly to look ahead to the future years. We are at last definitely engaged in the task of conserving the bounties of nature, thinking in the terms of the whole of nature. We are trying at least to attain employment for all who would work and can work, and to provide a greater assurance of security throughout the life of the family.

From hard experience we know that the process is a long one, but most of us realize that if we can continue our effort without serious setbacks, the ideals of the American way of life can and will be attained by working everlastingly for the good of the whole and not for the good of any one privileged group.

So, from within our own borders, liberty through democracy can, I believe, be preserved in future years if we want to preserve it.

But there is a second danger—a danger from without. I hope, for example, that one hundred years from now the Great Smoky National Park will still belong in practice, as well as in theory, to the people of a free nation. I hope it will not belong to them in theory alone and that in practice the ownership of this Park will not be in the hands of some strange kind of Government puppet subject to some strange kind of an overseas overlord. I hope the use of it will not be confined to people who come hither on Government specified days and on Government directed tours. I hope the trees will not be slaughtered by the axe in order that a Government may conduct wars of aggression against other nations. I hope that roads and paths and trails will still be built in the cause of the liberty of recreation, and not confined to the ulterior purposes of a war machine controlled by an individual or by an oligarchy.

That there is a danger from without is at last recognized by most of us Americans. That such a danger cannot longer be met with pitchforks and squirrel rifles or even with the training or the weapons of the war of 1917 and 1918, is equally clear to most of us Americans.

It is not a change from the American way of life to advocate or legislate a greater and a speedier preparedness. It is a positive protection to the American way of life. You and I know that in the process of preparing against danger we shall not have to abandon and we will not abandon the great social improvements that have come to the American people in these later years. We need not swap the gain of better living for the gain of better defense. I propose that we retain the one and gain the other.

But to conserve our liberties will not be easy. The task will require the united efforts of us all. It will require sacrifices from us all.

The pioneers survived by fighting their own fight and by, standing together as one man in the face of danger. If we, their descendants, are to meet the dangers that threaten us, we too must be ready to fight our own fight and stand together as one man. In hours of peril the frontiersmen, whatever their personal likes or dislikes, whatever their personal differences of opinion, gathered together in absolute unity for defense. We, in this hour, must have and will have absolute national unity for total defense.

What shall we be defending? The good earth of this land. our homes, our families-yes, and far more. We shall be defending a way of life which has given more freedom to the soul and body of man than ever has been realized in the world before, a way of life that has let men scale whatever heights they could scale without hurting their fellows, a way of life that has let men hold up their heads and admit no master but God.

That way of life is menaced. We can meet the threat. We can meet it with the old frontier spirit. We can forge our weapons, train ourselves to shoot, meet fire with fire, and with the courage and the unity of the frontiersmen.

It is our pride that in our country men are free to differ with each other and with their Government and to follow their own thoughts and express them. We believe that the only whole man is a free man. We believe that, in the' face of danger, the old spirit of the frontiersmen that is in our blood will give us the courage and unity that we must have. We need that spirit in this hour. We need a conviction, felt deep in us all, that there are no divisions among us. We are all members of the same body. We are all Americans.

The winds that blow through the wide sky in these mountains, the winds that sweep from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic—have always blown on free men. We are free today. If we join together now— men and women and children -to face the common menace as a united people, we shall be free tomorrow. So, to the free people of America, I dedicate this Park.

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Audio of entire speech: