Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Railroad That Never Was

Who was this man…

…and what was he doing in Cullowhee?

Back in 1836, a major railroad line extending from Charleston, South Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio passed right through Cashiers and Cullowhee, North Carolina.

At least it did in a plan proposed by John C. Calhoun.

The powerful politician, who resigned as Vice President of the United States to take a seat in the Senate, advocated a rail line to connect the docks and warehouses of Charleston with the farms and markets of the Ohio Valley.

One of the technical problems with such a railroad was the crossing of the formidable Blue Ridge. After examining the mountains of Western North Carolina in 1836, Calhoun believed that he had found an ideal route, and he discussed his proposal in a September 22, 1836 letter to the Pendleton Messenger newspaper.

Essentially, the rail line would have followed an old Indian trading path from Charleston toward the mountains. From the vicinity of Pickens, SC it would have proceeded along the edge of the Keowee River to the Whitewater River, and thence along the current route of NC 107 as it heads north through Cashiers and across the continental divide. From there it was to continue along the Tuckasegee River to its confluence with the Little Tennessee, and from there, northwest toward the Ohio Valley.

On his search for a gap through the Blue Ridge, Calhoun was accompanied by Colonel James “Gadsden Purchase” Gadsden, William Sloan, and James McKinney. They spent more than a week exploring the mountain region, travelling the entire length of the Tuckasegee River on their trip.

Starting their journey from South Carolina, the men reached the Whitewater River as they ascended the southeastern face of the Blue Ridge. Calhoun described Whitewater Falls and noted that the river had the potential to provide power (using a system of waterwheels and cables) to assist locomotives climbing the relatively steep grade:

At this point the White Water, one of the branches of Keowee, which rises on the summit of the mountain, (a stream about the size of the Eighteen Mile), after cutting down and turning the Chatuga mountain, leaps from the top of the Alleghany in two perpendicular falls near to each other, about 45 or 50 feet, and then continues its rapid descent to the valley below. The length of the section is bout 29 miles; and, from the best information we can obtain, the elevation to be overcome will not exceed 30 feet to the mile. The line of ascent may be conveniently lengthened or shortened to any considerable extent, to suit the grading, so as to diminish the rise probably below what I have estimated; or if it should be thought advisable to reduce it to the lowest rate, it may be effected with little expense or delay, and without a stationary engine, by using the power which the waters of the White Water afford, which is more than sufficient to elevate the heaviest train.

Calhoun described a route across the Cashiers Plateau of about 16 miles in length:

It passes through two valleys of nearly equal length and extent, divided by a low narrow ridge of about 150 feet high. The two valleys are nearly on the same level. The one on the east of the ridge is called Cashier's, and that on the west Yellow valley, from the brownish yellow which the decayed fern gives to it….

The White Water collects its waters in the eastern, and the Tuckasiege in the western valley. The sources of both are on the top of the low ridge that separates them, and but a few feet apart. The two valleys form the gap, which we named the Carolina gap to distinguish it from the Rabun or Georgia gap, which is 35 or 40 miles to the south west of it.

Calhoun suggested that a tunnel was the best way to cross the continental divide north of Cashiers:

The low ridge, or the crest of the Alleghany, as it may be called, that separates the valleys, may be easily passed at a low angle, by gradually ascending on the slopes on the south west side of Cashier's to its summit, and descending in like manner on the opposite side, or the south western slope of the Yellow valley; but it would be both shorter and cheaper in the long run, to pierce the ridge with a tunnel, which would not exceed 200 yards, and which would give a beautiful run, nearly level, for 16 miles on the summit of the Alleghany, from fall to fall.

Portrait of Calhoun as Vice President

Beginning the descent into the Cullowhee Valley, Calhoun stopped to admire the Great Falls (or High Falls) of the Tuckasegee:

The sight is beautiful. The volume of water is greater than that of the White Water. The falls consist of four perpendicular leaps in the space of about a mile. Tbe first was estimated at 50 feet, and the last at 70 or 80. — The slope of the mountain on the west side of the stream was very favorable for grading, as far down as our examination extended, and we were informed that it continued equally favorable all the way down.

The elevation of the fall may be overcome by a rise from below, certainly not greater than that to the top of the Alleghany, which I stated at 30 feet to the mile; or it may be turned, as we are informed, by passing up Shoal creek, which enters the Tuckasiege on the east side, below the falls a stream of considerable size, and which, according to our information, rises in the Alleghany near the eastern sources of the Tuckasiege, at a point where there would be no difficulty to pass from the one to the other, and, passing around the ridge that limits the Yellow valley on the east, descends with a rapid current, but without a leap, to where it joins the Tuckasiege. But, if a grading of still more gradual rise than could be effected by either of the routes should be thought advisable, here, as well as on the eastern slope of the Alleghany, there is the same cheap power to raise or let down gently the heaviest tram.

Calhoun saw little to interfere with construction of the line from Cullowhee to the Little Tennessee River:

The next and last section extends from the termination of the last to the mouth of Tuckasiege.— It is difficult to imagine a pass through a mountain region finer than this section. The river is remarkably straight, and free from all sudden turns. The road would pass along its east side two-thirds or more of the way, on level ground, requiring but little expense in grading. A large portion of the residue, where the hills come in, would be on favorable slopes free from rocks. In the whole length, there were not two hundred yards of rocky cliff to encounter; and, through the whole length, no walling in the river. We did not extend our examination farther, as the survey of captain Bache, under the orders of the war department, gives ample information in relation to the Tuckasiege to the head of steamboat navigation on that river. It is sufficient to say that there is no serious difficulty below.

For those who might have wondered why such a desirable route for the Charleston to Cincinnati Line had never been suggested, Calhoun had these words:

It may be asked how it can be explained that a route, which, on the examination I have given it, appears to possess so many advantages, has attracted, heretofore, so little attention. The only reason that I can assign is, that the gap leads to a portion of North Carolina little known, and which has but lately been acquired from the Indians, and between the two established routes by Asheville and Rabun, through one or the other of which most persons going to the west pass. But it was not so obscure as not to be known by the neighborhood, and to attract the attention of those whose duty it was to explore the mountains, in order to find the best pass over it. General Hayne, whose devotion to the great undertaking is so well known, undertook to examine the gap, but unfortunately his guide was not sufficiently well acquainted with the section of the mountains, to which so many ridges converge, and which on that account is so intricate, as to conduct him through the proper route.

Two decades later, the proposal to run the railroad through the gap at Cashiers had been forgotten. Instead, work had commenced on the Blue Ridge Railroad taking a more westward course through Rabun Gap. The Stumphouse Tunnel, north of Walhalla, SC was started, but never finished. Huge stone towers, intended to support a railroad trestle, still stand along Dicks Creek near the Chattooga River in Rabun County, GA. Financial problems, and the Civil War, doomed the project.

And the great corridor of commerce – the railroad that almost passed through Cashiers and Cullowhee – was never completed.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Up, Up and Away

Over Candler, 10/29/09

Rolling down NC 151 toward Candler this morning I saw something I didn’t expect to see: a hot air balloon floating overhead. When I rounded a curve, I saw another one that had just taken off. It was a colorful sight on a colorful morning. Lots of other drivers had pulled over to the side of the road to enjoy the scene.

I know that people have flown these things since the 1700s. “Surely,” I thought, “the Romantic poets must have mentioned the hot air balloon.”

In a bit of a coincidence, I found that in 1812, Percy Shelley wrote “Sonnet: To a Balloon Laden With Knowledge.” I’ll post the Shelley poem in its entirety. However, he gave the balloon a more metaphorical rather than literal treatment.

Digging a little deeper, I found another Romantic inspired by the graceful aircraft. Mary Alcock wrote “The Air Balloon” in 1784, and it was the only poem she published during her lifetime. It begins:

No more of Phaeton let poets tell,
I care not where he drove nor where he fell;
No more I'll wish for fam'd Aurora's car,
To drive me forth, high as the morning star;
In Air Balloon to distant realms I go,
" And leave the gazing multitude below.”

No more I'll hear of Venus and her doves,
Nor Cupid flying with the little loves;
Nor would I now in Juno's chariot ride
In princely pomp, with peacock by my side;
In higher state, in Air Balloon I go,
I'd have the gods and goddesses to know.

Alcock continues in this vein for quite a few stanzas. I must say that I appreciate her defiant tone at the end of the poem:

No more of judge or jury will I hear,
The laws of land extend not to the air;
Nor bailiff now my spirits can affright,
For up I mount, and soon am out of sight;
Thus, screen'd from justice, In Balloon I go,
And leave th' insolvent multitude below.

How few the worldly evils now I dread,
No more confin'd this narrow earth to tread:
Should fire, or water, spread destruction drear,
Or earthquake shake this sublunary sphere,
In Air Balloon to distant realms I fly,
And leave the creeping world to sink and die.

To read the whole poem, click over to Google Books for "The Air Balloon."

Though I don’t think he measures up to Mary Alcock when it comes to poetry of the hot air balloon, here’s Shelley’s sonnet:

To a Balloon, Laden with Knowledge

BRIGHT ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine ethereal way,
And with surpassing glory dimm'st each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue depths of Heaven,
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shalt thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom,
Whilst that, unquenchable, is doomed to glow
A watch-light by the patriots lonely tomb;
A ray of courage to the opprest and poor;
A spark, though gleaming on the hovel's hearth,
Which through the tyrant's guilded domes shall roar;
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth;
A sun which, o'er the renovated scene,
Shall dart like Truth where Falsehood yet has been.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Breath of Autumn's Being

From Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yiddish Hillbillies

Or – “An Alternate History of Judaism in the Southern Appalachians”

One of my all-time favorite characters from the history of this area is Sir Alexander Cuming. In 1729, the Scottish baronet came to the colonies and then trekked into Cherokee country to fulfill a vision that his wife had in a dream. Perhaps his wife concocted the vision in order to get a break from her eccentric husband.

From the animated feature, Yiddish Hillbillies

On a whirlwind tour of Cherokee villages in the spring of 1730, Sir Alexander passed himself off as an emissary of King George II. His mission culminated in an elaborate ceremony at Nikwasi Mound (present-day Franklin) where he received a crown, actually a possum-hair hat, as a sign of esteem. Cuming even convinced several Cherokees to return to England with him, where they were received as honored guests, or London celebrities, if you will.

Less well known than his Nikwasi visit was Cuming’s proposal to establish a new Zion on the Carolina frontier. He appealed to the British government to relocate 300,000 Jewish families from Europe to the Southern Appalachians. Cuming argued that a large portion of the national debt could be retired by investing in the resettlement program. The Jewish families would escape the crowded ghettos and start a new life in the mountains, where they could farm and produce commodities useful to the British Empire.

James Adair, an Indian trader who worked in this area after Cuming came and went, could have made the case for a Jewish settlement amongst the Cherokees on the basis of reunification. Adair actually did make the case that the Cherokees were a lost tribe of Israel. Much of his 1775 book, A History of the American Indian, is devoted to “23 Arguments as to why the Cherokee are Hebrew.” If you’re not convinced after carefully considering all twenty-three of Adair’s talking points, then it is unlikely you ever will be.

I can’t tell you much more about Cuming’s Zion…except to say it didn’t come to fruition. A 1796 volume, The Environs of London, explains:

Sir Alexander says in his journal, that whilst he was in America in 1729 he found such injudicious notions of liberty prevail, as were inconsistent with any kind of government, particularly with their dependence on the British nation. This suggested to him the idea of establishing banks in each of the provinces dependent on the British exchequer, and accountable to the British parliament, as the only means of securing the dependency of the colonies. But it was not till 1748 (as it appears) that he laid his plans before the Minister who treated him as a visionary enthusiast, which his journal indeed most clearly indicates him to have been.

He connected this scheme with the restoration of the Jews, for which he supposed the time appointed to be arrived, and that he himself was alluded to in various passages of Scripture as their deliverer. He was not, like a late enthusiast, to conduct them to the Holy Land, but proposed to take them to the Cherokee mountains: wild as his projects were, some of the most learned Jews (among whom was Isaac Netto, formerly Grand Rabbi of the Portuguese synagogue) seem to have given him several patient hearings upon the subject.

When the Minister refused to listen to his schemes, he proposed to open a subscription himself to establish provincial banks in America, and to settle 300,000 Jewish families among the Cherokee mountains. From one wild project he proceeded to another; and, being already desperately involved in debt, he turned his thoughts to alchemy, and began to try experiments on the transmutation of metal.

Sir Alexander Cuming appears to have been a man of learning, and to have possessed talents, which, if they had not been under a wrong bias, might have been beneficial to himself and useful to his country.

From: 'East Barnet', The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent (1796), pp. 9-23. URL: Date accessed: 23 October 2009.

And now this...the way it might have been had the Cuming plan succeeded.

But it didn't happen...and that's why we don't have a series of Foxfierstein books today.

While we’re on the subject of Jews in unlikely places, I have to mention Soupy Sales, who died yesterday. I already knew a bit of trivia that some might find surprising: Soupy Sales was a Tar Heel boy, born Milton Supman in 1926. His was the lone Jewish family in Franklinton, North Carolina.

His father was a dry goods merchant in the small town, and sold sheets to members of the Ku Klux Klan. I had to pause for a moment to picture that scene.

Imagine the Grand Dragon and friends strolling into that Franklinton store for a new wardrobe, only to be greeted by Irving Supman:

Sheets? Sheets? Of course, I’ve got sheets. You look like men of discriminating tastes…when it comes to sheets, that is. Look at the fine quality of this merchandise…a thread count of 400…the best Egyptian cotton…and, of course, we can do alterations to give you a perfect fit.

Looking back on those times, Soupy chuckled at the absurdity of the situation, recalling how the Klan members appreciated that his father extended credit. They even invited Irving Supman to join the KKK.

Eventually young Milton, nicknamed "Soup Bone" by his dad, moved on from Eastern North Carolina and became famous for getting smacked in the face with cream pies.

Although he hosted what was ostensibly a children’s program on Channel 5 in New York, it drew a broader audience thanks to his cornball, slapstick humor.

Doing “The Mouse”

With Fess Parker…

Alice Cooper drops by…

And lots of pies…

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Decoding the Heavens

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
-Jonathan Swift

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order.
-William Shakespeare

Left to my own powers of observation, I could not tell you much about the movement of the sun and moon and planets across the sky. On the other hand, I’m always impressed that the people of olden times recognized the regular patterns of celestial events.

This astronomical knowledge was manifest in the arrangement of monoliths, the alignment of earthworks and the observance of seasonal rituals. Add to this list the Antikythera mechanism, termed “the most important single item to come from ancient Greece” and “one of the greatest mechanical inventions of all time.”

In her new book Decoding the Heavens Jo Marchant writes about the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism and the century-long effort to decipher its purpose.

In the year 1900, Mediterranean sponge divers found a Greek shipwreck from 70 BC. One of the items they retrieved was a corroded mass of metal parts. Archaeologists eventually reconstructed the sophisticated assemblage of dials, pointers and more than thirty interlocking gears.

It was unlike anything else ever identified from that era. Researchers speculated it was a clock, or a calculator, or a navigational tool similar to an astrolabe. The complexity of the instrument was unrivalled until the development of astronomical clocks in Medieval Europe 1400 years later.

The Antikythera mechanism was so uncharacteristic of its time that Erich von Daniken, in Chariots of the Gods, contended that it must have been introduced by interplanetary aliens. Somehow, more than 2000 years ago, the Greeks possessed a machine that tracked the movement of heavenly bodies. Marchant explains:

Whoever turned the handle on the side of its wooden case became master of the cosmos, winding forward or backwards to see everything about the sky at any chosen moment. Pointers on the front showed the changing positions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the zodiac, the date, as well as the phase of the Moon, while spiral dials on the back showed the month and years according to a combined lunar-solar calendar, and the timing of eclipses.

Inscribed text around the front dial revealed which star constellations were rising and setting at each moment, while the writing on the back gave details of the characteristics and location of the predicted eclipses. The mechanism’s owner could zoom in on any nearby day – today, tomorrow, last Tuesday – or he could travel far across distant centuries.

For the first time in history it was possible to revisit the past and to predict the future. It was possible to control time itself.

It took decades of intensive study to finally crack the code of this miraculous device. Now we know what it is and how it works. Mysteries remain over who managed to create such a thing. Marchant expresses her wonder and admiration for whoever it might have been:

My lasting impression is not of the similarities between our world and theirs, but the differences. We now understand more about the universe than any previous civilisation could have dreamed. We observe and measure the objects in our solar system by the nanosecond and send spacecraft to visit them. We have photographed the Earth from space, sent men to the Moon and beamed pictures back from Mars. We have caught stardust from the tail of a comet and probed the atmospheres of planets circling distance suns. We understand better than ever the true extent of our universe, how it began and how it will end, and the nature of our place within it.

Have we also lost something? At the very least, we’re missing out on the best light show on the planet. Living in today’s permanently illuminated towns and cities, most of us have little sense of the rhythms of the sky; the intricate dance of the Earth, Moon and Sun, the wandering of the planets or the circles of the stars. Finding out who made the Antikythera mechanism and why also turns upside down any notion we might have had about ancient technology being “primitive” and our own being so “advanced”. After all, where we see practical machinery that can measure time accurately and do work, the Greeks saw a way to gain knowledge, demonstrate the beauty of the heavens and get closer to the gods.

Decoding the Heavens, A 2000 Year Old Computer and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets, by Jo Marchant, De Capo Press, 2009.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking at Nothing

If you want what visible reality
can give, you're an employee.
If you want the unseen world,
you're not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish,
but you'll be forgiven for forgetting
that what you really want is
love's confusing joy.

They pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at see what was there. What they found is amazing! (I recommend viewing this full screen.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Eye in the Sky

A couple of days ago, Jeff Fobes at the Mountain Xpress alerted us to a news story that is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves. Fobes reports:

This winter, planes will crisscross the entire state of North Carolina, photographing virtually every half-foot of the land and its features. The goal: Produce photo-maps of unmatched detail, as part of the state’s 911 emergency-readiness program.

“You will be able to make out individual branches on the trees,” said N.C. forester Andrew D. Bailey.

The project, Bailey noted, will allow 911 offices to map buildings and structures that cannot be seen in older coarse-resolution, or “leaf-on,” photography. The last statewide “leaf-off” aerial photography was much coarser (2-meter) resolution, conducted in 1998.

For a connoisseur of cartography, this is thrilling news. I spend several evenings a month poring over maps, and can hardly wait to see North Carolina in even greater detail. Google Earth just doesn’t provide the high resolution I need for some of my ongoing projects, such as looking for vulnerable spots in the hydroelectric dams of Western North Carolina.

Forester Bailey agrees that the new maps will be of interest to many different users:

“While emergency response is the primary funding driver here, this imagery will be used by lots of state and local agencies, including conservation agencies such as the state Forest Service and [local divisions] of parks and recreation.”

The potential of this thing is limitless! To make the most of their flyovers, the mappers could incorporate related technologies such as thermal imaging and spectrographic analysis.

Why not?

This story, I should warn you, is about to take a turn that many readers will find disturbing. I can hear it already.

“There he goes with that old conspiracy theory stuff again.”

Rumors of my paranoia are greatly exaggerated. As a matter of fact, I don’t wear my tin-foil hat anymore...except for when the black helicopters make their nightly sortees over my home.

So there!

Who says I’m not qualified to express an opinion about warrantless searches and infringements on the Fourth Amendment?

As we concluded just the other day, unless you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing, then you have nothing to worry about from these mapmakers. Right?

Dateline Baltimore:

The Baltimore housing department has a new tool to find homeowners who have been building rooftop decks without a permit: aerial mapping. Baltimore bought aerial photographs of the entire city and used software to correlate the images with databases of address information and permit records. Inspectors have just begun knocking on doors of residents who built decks without permission.

However, if you think something like couldn't happen in North Carolina, you need to read the rest of the Fobes report:

Each North Carolina county will receive, at no charge, a copy of the orthophotography data for use in any capacity it deems appropriate. The data will also be available for distribution as part of the NC OneMap statewide data resource.

Any capacity it deems appropriate? That’s what I call “bang for the buck.” What’ll they think of next to put this data to good use? Ferreting out moonshine stills and marijuana grow rooms? What about the ol’ boys who raise game roosters? You can’t tell me they keep those birds around to hear ‘em sing. This new high-res map should allow us to get a doggone accurate census of game roosters in every county of the state. And you know those people with the gamers are up to no good.

What about those unfortunate counties that call themselves home to one or more “white supremacist compounds” (or for that matter, “black” or “green” or “purple” supremacist compounds)? What vigilant sheriff wouldn’t want to study the maps revealing just what it is that’s squirreled away inside those compounds?

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches but, tell me, what’s reasonable and what’s not? The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that airborne persons snooping on your backyard aren’t necessarily invading your privacy and aren’t necessarily violating the Fourth Amendment. But like we said before, unless you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing you don’t need to fret over a bunch of legal technicalities and constitutional mumbo-jumbo.

Oh well.

Let’s not end on a sour note.

The leaves are still on the trees, which means we still have time to prepare for this winter’s flyover by state officials. With the detailed resolution they’re talking about, it shouldn’t be difficult to make it onto the map in a meaningful and lasting way.

I thought about going down to my pasture and creating a message to greet the airborne snoops. Perhaps something short and to-the-point like:

F*** OFF

But that lacks imagination and subtlety.

Maybe I should create a huge kokopelli in my field. At the very least, the state archaeologist would salivate over the mysterious land art appearing in Jackson County and “visible ONLY from the air.”

Or like any enterprising 21st century American, I could go for the fast buck. Once these maps are completed, they’ll be around for a long time, and lots of people will be viewing them. I have a field that would be plenty big enough for a corporate logo or other advertisement. For a reasonable fee, of course.

So if you’d like to get YOUR message on the map, don’t delay, call me today. The eye in the sky will be here soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ghosts of Straight Fork

Straight Fork, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, October 2009

Among the many eye-witness accounts of the giants of the Appalachian forest, this one, written by Henry Seidel Canby and published in Harper's in 1916, is one of my favorites:

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

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

More at:

And this:

Remote Access

Remote access will never replace Sublime Beauty
It may enhance it some times
And it will never be the Source or define IT
All the cosmic cameras and all the cosmic clowns
Will never find the Source
And are nothing compared to the Artist
Who composed the Living Trees, our elders, the who's
That give us what we breathe to Live with them
And whom I will die with appreciation and love for.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Whiteoak Creek Falls

Whiteoak Creek Falls, Nantahala National Forest

It is a good year for waterfalls.

I’ve driven past this lovely spot many times without knowing it was there. According to Kevin Adams, in his superb book, North Carolina Waterfalls:

[This] is one of the more geologically interesting waterfalls in the region. The rock is stratified and jagged, not worn smooth like most river rock.

A small watermill once occupied the site, but all traces have long since disappeared.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'll Be Watching You

Perhaps some see the cameras not as an intrusion but as a means of catching their performance. I suppose that in the insulated world of self-indulgence it's hard to understand the implications of constant and pervasive observation.
-Ignatz Mucklefutz

Following up on Surveillance in Sylva, here's this from the police:

The following comment was attached to the YouTube version of this song. I think it ties in to this discussion of the mixed attitudes about freedom and security, privacy and exposure, individuality and conformity, submission and resistance, self and other...

It's about stalking. "Sting said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it's about unrequited love (the song was written at the time he and his then wife divorced) about the obsession with the lost lover, the jealousy and surveillance that followed. When asked why he appears angry in the music video Sting told BBC Radio2 "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song."

And here's a good link for you...AXIS (of evil) MEDIA (mind) CONTROL CAMERA view of downtown Sylva:

World War II USA Military Propaganda Poster

I think I know who "he" is. Say "cheese," soldier.

And more from Professor Mucklefutz:

I was listening to an author on NPR last week discuss his book about how the joys of childhood, especially the joys of lone adventure have been stolen by our repressive need for safety and security.

When I was kid I left the house in the morning with the only restriction being an appearance at mealtimes. I wandered the woods without kneepads or helmets or structured play. The year I lived with my granny in the big city really wasn't much different. I went to the ballfield or took the trolley into the center of the city.

I got to explore and use my imagination.

Today we fear all manner of bad consequences and I suppose there are good reasons for that although I'm not sure there are any more molesters or bad people now than there were then.

From our earliest moments we are taught that structure and order will eliminate bad consequences. So now we believe we are somehow entitled to evermore perfect outcomes. This idea pervades our society and takes many forms in both conservative and liberal ideologies.

The imposition of Big Brother may have been imposed but the idea that we should accept that started with an acceptance of the tradeoff of freedom for the security of perfect outcomes.

Gulahiyi, you're probably right that today's youth will accept the intrusion without question or qualm. I was talking to a teacher from our high school today and she said that the latest fad was young women who use their camera phones to take pictures of their own naughty bits and then sell views to the boys.

Now, I'm no prude, in my younger days I tried like many of my cohorts to sneak a peak in the girls' locker room. This strikes me as the normal curiosity of youth. But this newest thing seems miles, not degrees beyond that.

I wonder, is the resistance to health care reform by some merely the acknowledgement that the rest of the world is populated not by fellow human beings but merely actors in our own personal movies? If I am so self-referential as to think this way then why should I care about the quality of someone else's life?

Perhaps some see the cameras not as an intrusion but as a means of catching their performance. I suppose that in the insulated world of self-indulgence it's hard to understand the implications of constant and pervasive observation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Surveillance in Sylva

I heard some interesting news on the radio this morning. The Sylva Police Chief is eager to install Diebold high-definition surveillance cameras on Main Street.

What intrigues me is how this is liable to proceed without much wrangling. Any concerns will likely focus on costs, instead of privacy issues.

Call it a sign of changing times.

A few years ago, say, back in 1984 (just to pick a year at random) surveillance cameras on Main Street might have been perceived as invading the privacy of freedom-loving people.

Not any more.

Recently, Western Carolina University blanketed the campus with surveillance cameras. Students interviewed for a television newscast about it were happy as clams.

Right now, I’m hearing those inevitable words of reassurance from a disembodied voice in the room, “Unless you have something to hide, what are you worried about?”

All I’m trying to say is that I find the cultural shift fascinating. Shift happens. We’ve entered an era when opposable thumbs are vital to interpersonal communication.

Personal identity, it seems, is less and less something inherent in the individual, and more and more derived from one’s highly visible place within a social pecking order. I wonder what Marshall “Medium is the Message” McLuhan would make of MySpace, the social networking medium remarkably devoid of anything I recognize as “content.”

I know, I know. All this speculation is pointless and irrelevant in the year 1984+25, nothing more than the ravings of a dinosaur.


What does it say about us that Diebold high-def surveillance cameras will go up on Main Street…

…without so much as a whimper of protest?


For more on privacy, check out the American Civil Liberties Union –

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From Caney Fork to Cahokia

Many American Indian peoples actively and creatively constructed a universe that radically redefined their history. Such a realization is a major step forward in understanding the story of ancient North America and in mapping the connection between past and present. There may be multiple ways of understanding those connections, but it seems clear that, at one time, they all converged at Cahokia.
-Timothy Pauketat

Judaculla Rock

The petroglyphs on Judaculla Rock remain as puzzling as when I first examined them thirty years ago.

Whenever I travel past the remaining mounds along the Tuckasegee and the Little Tennessee I imagine scenes from long ago.

And I have a list of places to visit, among them Fort Mountain, Track Rock and the Eagle Rock Effigy in Georgia and the Duck River Stone Fort in Tennessee.

They’re all great mysteries, and often viewed as isolated phenomena. It's a challenge to see them in the context of a larger story and discover what, if any, common bonds they share. For a book that might connect the dots, I turned to Cahokia, Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi, by Timothy Pauketat.

While it doesn’t shed much light on the specific sites I just mentioned, it brings to life the great urban center of North America that developed almost a millennium ago. Just downriver from the confluence of the Missouri, Cahokia sprawled across what is now East St. Louis, IL. Pauketat writes:

At one time, there were more than two hundred packed-earth pyramids, or “mounds,” at Cahokia and its suburbs. More than half of these were built in a five-square-mile zone that was designed with reference to the four sacred directions and the upper and lower worlds. The pyramids were arranged around vast open plazas and were surrounded, in turn, by thousands of pole-and-thatch houses, temples, and public buildings. At its height, Cahokia had a population of ten thousand, with at least twenty or thirty thousand more in the outlying towns and farming settlements that ranged for fifty miles in every direction.

Depiction of Cahokia at its peak of development

Pauketat suggests that the giant supernova of July 1054 was of such astronomical significance that it may have been a factor in the creation of Cahokia. As it shone brightly in the sky, people around the world saw the supernova as an omen. At Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a map of the night sky painted on the sandstone cliffs commemorated its sudden appearance.

The archaeological evidence from Cahokia reveals complex celestial timepieces, evidence of a powerful hierarchical society, and signs of ritual human sacrifice. In some ways rivaling the empires of South America, Cahokia was the cradle of a culture that spread toward the Southeast and the Plains. By the year 1400, though, it was abandoned.

Cahokia Today

What were the connections between Cahokia and the monuments marking the Southeast? I’m not certain Pauketat answers that question directly or in much detail, but he does offer at least one helpful perspective for understanding Judaculla Rock:

Like other preindustrial people around the world, most pre-Columbian North Americans did not conceive or quantify time and space the way historians and cartographers do today. Anthropologists and archaeologists have described this in different ways, often counterposing a daily, experiential time to a kind of genealogical or historical time and, beyond that, a mythical, monumental, or, one might say, ritual time. These were never rigidly distinguished, any more than natural forces were distinguished from supernatural ones.

This being the case, ancient maps may not always take an expected form. Not every old map might fit Western cartographic conventions, with a huge X marking the spot where archaeologists will find answers to their questions. Much rock art was thoroughly embedded within the spatial and temporal fields wherein people, places, and nonhuman forces were thought to coincide, meaning that certain Native American maps may not even be found in one place but spread across the landscape like clues in a treasure hunt.

The quest continues!

Caney Fork Creek, near Judaculla Rock

Trouble All Around

Balsam Mountain Preserve is facing foreclosure on a loan from TriLyn LLC.

More at:

And all the other newspapers are on this story. But here's some background. On the TriLyn website, the private equity firm describes the deal they struck with BMP.

Investment Structure: a +/- $20 million investment consisting of $10 million of senior debt and +/- $10 million of mezzanine debt.
The transaction involved a thorough analysis of the intricate equity structure that had evolved during the initial stages of this development as well as the additional complexities resulting from the property-wide 2,840-acre conservation easement.

TriLyn created a senior/sub structure to recapitalize this 4,400-acre private mountain/golf community project, which includes various infrastructure, home-site and amenity components under development, including:

350 homesites,
18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course,
18,000 sq. ft. clubhouse, sports complex with tennis, pool & fitness areas,
Nature center and equestrian facility,
20 miles of bridle paths, hiking & mountain biking trails,
Dining facility, and
40 fractional units in 10 cottages.

TriLyn LLC is a real estate investment advisor specializing in uncovering favorable pricing dynamics on quality assets created by capital market inefficiencies. Formed in 2002, the company's principals have participated in more than $15 billion of transactions over their careers.

I would note that Balsam Mountain Preserve HAS paid their county property taxes for 2008.

The following was originally posted here on June 8, 2007:

Whatever costs the taxpayers have borne to respond to the mess of the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam break...are a pittance compared to the corporate welfare that allowed the developers to take a $20 million dollar tax write-off on the $10 million dollar purchase of the land.

Yes, you read that correctly. Conservation Easements: Developers Find Payoff in Preservation, a Washington Post article of December 21, 2003 contained this interesting tidbit: In the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville, N.C., investors two years ago bought 4,400 acres, placed an easement on 3,000 acres and then began developing 350 home sites and an 18-hole golf course on the remaining property. A master plan for the development, called the Balsam Mountain Preserve, shows that the easement area is broken up by the fairways and home sites, which spot the land like mushrooms on a pizza.
(See BMP site map.)

Investors paid about $10 million for the land and shared in a tax write-off "in the $20 million range," said James A. Anthony, a partner in the South Carolina development firm of Chaffin/Light Associates. The deduction was based, in part, on an appraiser's assessment of how much the land would have been worth had they filled the acreage with 1,400 homes, Anthony said. Far from a liability, the easement has become a marketing tool. Sales literature describes the subdivision as "a community within a park" and the undeveloped portions as maintained "for the quiet enjoyment of members."

Anthony said: "It does add value to the remaining land. Kind of like a limited-edition print -- the fewer you have, the more the value." Appraisers factored any appreciation into their calculations of the tax benefit due the investors, Anthony said. The firm is considering placing an easement directly on the golf course once it is completed, he added.

Monday, October 12, 2009

God's Country

Aquone, NC, 2009

OK, '74, something a little like this ?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rinpa Eshidan




1 Week of Art Works

"Rinpa" is a word created by the founders of the group meaning "to bring people together, while "Eshidan" essentially means "art crew." The Rinpa Eshidan is a team of artists brought together by a common creative expression.

The Rinpa Eshidan core team is made up of Noiz-Davi, Daisuke Yamamoto, D.H.Rosen, Akari Sasai and XOLA . The group's main activities are performing in live-art events and creating videos of art in action. Instead of focusing on the finished project, we believe the process of creation itself is where art comes to life and our videos aim to engage our audience in that process.

Instead of focusing on the finished project, we believe the process of creation itself is where art comes to life and our videos and live art aim to engage our audience in that process. Many people ask us how we can stand to erase the artwork we have worked so hard to create, but our focus is on the process of making art, not the end result. The good news is that the videos we make become a permanent record of the spontaneous artworks created during the filming.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Colors of October

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf's a flower.
- Albert Camus

Near Beech Gap, October 2009

All those golden autumn days the sky was full of wings. Wings beating low over the blue water of Silver Lake, wings beating high in the blue air far above it . . . bearing them all away to the green fields in the South.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.
- Edwin Way Teale

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
- George Eliot

Looking Glass Rock, October 2009

October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.
- Mark Twain

Youth is like spring, an over-praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.
- Samuel Butler

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bombing the Moon

We say we are brilliant with light from the stars that began millennia ago and now burn in our minds.
- Woman and Nature, Susan Griffin

Nuclear Rocketship, Frank Tinsley

They're bombing the moon today. At 7:30 this morning I'll be glued to the NASA channel to watch.

Cosmic Butterfly, Frank Tinsley

This got me thinking about that groovy space art from the Fifties, back around the time we'd go out to watch satellites sailing across the night sky. Frank Tinsley created these illustrations for American Bosch Arma in 1959. It makes me want to go find an old issue of Popular Science.

Lunar Unicycle, Frank Tinsley

More from Susan Griffin:
We play with numbers. Charming and sweet, we play little games with them, these figures. They are pale reflections, without the gravity of being of the potato, the glacier, the growth of lichen, the feather of an egret, the flecks in the iris of an eye, cracks in the dried clay of soil or the shed shell of a turtle, all of which they quantify, from which all they derive, the material forms whose awesome processes these numbers merely imitate, making simpler dramas with which we rest our minds, and in this bloodless theater of mathematics our hearts are eased. We are able to see the inevitability of process, count the days until our deaths, number the generations before and after, calculate the future colors of the eyes of our progeny, for numbers allow us, for moments, to objectify our own existence, which we know we cannot do to the potato or the glacier or the egret, the turtle nor the eye that meets us like our own with all its beautiful and its terrible knowledge of survival, the eye attached by ganglia and arteries through the brain's cortex down the spine even to the flesh of a foot that edges over the earth, feeling the hard outline of a crack on the clay surface.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Miraculous in the Common

Looking Glass Rock

The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty, is solved by the redemption of the soul. The ruin or the blank, that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque. The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. Love is. as much its demand, as perception. Indeed, neither can be perfect without the other. In the uttermost meaning of the words, thought is devout, and devotion is thought. Deep calls unto deep.

But in actual life, the marriage is not celebrated. There are innocent men who worship God after the tradition of their fathers, but their sense of duty has not yet extended to the use of all their faculties. And there are patient naturalists, but they freeze their subject under the wintry light of the understanding. Is not prayer also a study of truth,-—a sally of the soul into the unfound infinite ? No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.

It will not need, when the mind is prepared for study, to search for objects. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

- from Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Graveyard Fields

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hidden Treasures Come to Light

From Carl Jung's "Red Book"

This fall, we are seeing the publication of two manuscripts that have been locked away for the better part of eighty years.

The Red Book, by Carl Jung, is scheduled for release this month. From Amazon:

The most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology. When Carl Jung embarked on an extended self-exploration he called his “confrontation with the unconscious,” the heart of it was The Red Book, a large, illuminated volume he created between 1914 and 1930. Here he developed his principle theories—of the archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the process of individuation—that transformed psychotherapy from a practice concerned with treatment of the sick into a means for higher development of the personality.

While Jung considered The Red Book to be his most important work, only a handful of people have ever seen it. Now, in a complete facsimile and translation, it is available to scholars and the general public. It is an astonishing example of calligraphy and art on a par with The Book of Kells and the illuminated manuscripts of William Blake. This publication of The Red Book is a watershed that will cast new light on the making of modern psychology.

The book will include 212 color illustrations and I’ve included several of them here.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times featured a major review of the book at:

If (and that’s a big “if”) the book measures up to the fanfare, it is something remarkable.

While waiting for the Jung book, I’ve had a chance to read an Appalachian novel that was written in the 1920s, Horace Kephart’s Smoky Mountain Magic. The action takes place on Deep Creek, Big Cove and Bryson City, and is an enjoyable tale that reflects Kephart’s varied interests. I knew that I was not qualified to give the book a proper review so I’m happy to see that Gary Carden has done so at his Holler Notes blog:

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Kuwahi

Because it is not seen, some people think the lake has dried up long ago. But this is not true.
-James Mooney

Sunset, and cold west winds, at Kuwahi

Anyone attuned to such things can tell there’s a special quality about the place called Kuwahi. The people who were here before us said the bears had a townhouse under this mountain, where they would hold a dance before retiring for the winter.

The chief of the bear tribe, the White Bear, resided here. Nearby is Atagahi, the enchanted lake, where wounded bears would go to bathe and heal. The way to Atagahi is so difficult only the animals know how to reach it.

With spiritual vision sharpened by prayer and fasting, a person might see the lake at daybreak, a shallow sheet of purple water fed by springs from the high cliffs. All kinds of fish and reptiles swim through the water while great flocks of ducks and pigeons fly overhead. Around the shores, bear tracks cross in every direction.

Go any place on this planet where bears have lived and you will find old stories, old stories that tell of humans transforming into bears and bears transforming into humans. The belief, ancient and universal, is that bears and people are closely related.

The Smokies, long ago, were home to the Ani-Tsaguhi people. One boy from this clan would leave home every morning and spend his days wandering the mountains. After a while, he stopped eating at home and spent a longer and longer time in the woods each day.

When his parents noticed long brown hair growing all over his body, they asked why he preferred the woods.

“I find plenty to eat there, and it is better than the corn and beans we have in the settlements, and pretty soon I am going into the woods to stay all the time.”

His parents begged him not to leave. He was determined, though, and invited his parents to come along, since there was plenty to eat without having to work for it.

The father and mother considered his offer and consulted the headmen of the clan. At council, it was decided the whole clan would go since scarcity had been the result of their hard labor up until that time.

After fasting seven days and nights, the Ani-Tsaguhi left their settlement for the mountains with the boy leading the way.

The people of the other towns learned of this and rushed to dissuade the clan from going into the woods to live. Messengers who found them observed the Ani-Tsaguhi were already growing hair like that of animals because they had abstained from human food for seven days.

The clan refused to turn back. “Hereafter we shall be called bears, and when you yourselves are hungry come into the woods and call us and we shall come to give you our own flesh. You need not be afraid to kill us for we shall live always.”

They taught the messengers the songs with which to call them, and the groups parted ways, After returning a short distance down the mountain, the messengers looked back and saw a drove of bears going into the woods.

(With apologies to James Mooney)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A LIFE Time Ago

Vitalis Advertisement from LIFE magazine

In my book, Google Books is one of the best things to come down the pike in a long time. Just the other day I learned the entire run of LIFE is now on Google Books.

A quick trip through those vintage magazines reminds you how photojournalism has all but disappeared from the American scene. While it seems almost as anachronistic as the manufacture of buggy whips, photojournalism lives on. One of this year’s MacArthur geniuses, Lynsey Addario, is a Turkish photojournalist. Her work from Darfur and other trouble spots demonstrates why photojournalism is still important.

Out of curiosity, I revisited LIFE magazine from the week I was born. Without a doubt, that very issue was sitting on the coffee table when I was brought home from the hospital. The cover featured one of those classic black-and-white images, a cowpoke and his son on their Arizona ranch:

A couple of articles looked at the new trend of discount houses and how they posed a challenge to traditional department stores:

It began nine years ago, when the great postwar shopping spree set off a series of border incidents between the nation’s big, manorial department stores and a small, night-riding band of price cutters operating establishments known as discount houses.

I didn’t know it until I looked through this issue, but an innovative aircraft launched at practically the same time I did:

The U. S. is in the air at last with its own jet transport, the Boeing 707. Flexibly designed to serve either as a commercial passenger plane or military aerial tanker, the new jet can cross the continent in five hours with a payload of 130 passengers, propelled by the 40,000 pound thrust of its jet engines.

Then, as now, “nukes” and “the Middle East” showed up in the same story:

If the Free World’s position in the Far East is grim, happily some hopeful gains are being made in the equally vital Middle East. …As Churchill knows, the realities of the H-bomb lessen the importance of guarding the Suez with conventional forces…

And LIFE magazine, from the week I was born, included some truly frightening photographs. Amateur inventors Bill Gaffney and Tom Weaver of Long Beach, California combined pogo sticks with stilts to create devices that allowed them to dunk a basketball.

The aluminum "Hoppers" gave them the ability to jump nine feet off the ground straight up and to take 10-foot strides.

Seeing those pictures, I can’t imagine anything other than broken legs.

All the photos above were from LIFE, but I thought I would add one other picture. Unfortunately, I can’t locate a shot of me as a newborn. So for purposes of this nostalgia trip, we’ll have to jump forward just a few months:

This photo suggests there was a brief time in my existence when I actually possessed some small degree of charm. However, that time was far too early for me to even remember!

Oh well, as they always say…

…that’s LIFE!