Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shadows of Unseen Objects

It's easy to understand why so many filmmakers have been inspired to depict the Allegory of the Cave, from Plato (428 BC - 348 BC) . This version, featuring John Grigsby's claymation, is the best I've seen.

Book VII of The Republic

The Allegory of the Cave

Here's a little story from Plato's most famous book, The Republic. Socrates is talking to a young follower of his named Glaucon, and is telling him this fable to illustrate what it's like to be a philosopher -- a lover of wisdom: Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance. We are even comfortable with that ignorance, because it is all we know. When we first start facing truth, the process may be frightening, and many people run back to their old lives. But if you continue to seek truth, you will eventually be able to handle it better. In fact, you want more! It's true that many people around you now may think you are weird or even a danger to society, but you don't care. Once you've tasted the truth, you won't ever want to go back to being ignorant!

[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]

[Socrates:] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:] I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rescue the Natives

The North Carolina Native Plant Society was formed in response to the threats posed by development. So it was appropriate the symposium hosted by the Asheville chapter last weekend featured a presentation on plant rescue.

Alan Mizeras, coordinator of the Henderson County Native Plant Rescue Group talked about some rescues in which he had participated. His group has worked with private landowners and developers so that wild plants in the path of the bulldozer can be transplanted.

With the economic slowdown, the group has had more time than expected to retrieve plants from areas on the verge of destruction. Mizeras has worked on sites of tremendous biological diversity and abundance from which thousands of plants representing dozens of species have been saved.

A similar group is active in Transylvania County and a recovery project is underway at Trillium Ridge in Haywood County.

One person in attendance (who should know) reported that Balsam Mountain Preserve did some plant rescue on its 4000 acres – and then proceeded to sell the plants back to its lot buyers.

I was interested to learn that rescues of shortia (Oconee Bells) took place before the flooding behind Keowee and Jocassee Dams in the 1970s, resulting in massive redistribution of the species throughout the region. Mizeras says he has observed two distinct strains of shortia, one larger and one smaller.

Not to be overlooked for rescue are mosses. Since they grow on the surface of the ground (and rocks) transplanting is often easier for mosses than for other native plants.

Mizeras recommended one book for making the strongest case for native plants, “Bringing Nature Home,” by Douglas W. Tallamy. The book’s subtitle is “How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”.

(Looking up this book on Amazon - - I was delighted to see a review written by a reader of this blog, so I’ll take the liberty of borrowing a few comments from James Golden:

Simply put, the book's message is this. All life on earth, except for some recently discovered, relatively rare forms that take energy from volcanic vents in the ocean floor, depend on energy from the sun that plants convert into food through photosynthesis. Most of that solar energy is made available to higher life forms through insects that eat plants. With the exception of a few direct herbivores such as cows, all other higher forms of life either eat insects (most birds) or eat other animals that eat insects (hawks eating sparrows), and so on up the food chain. The productivity of an environment, literally the weight of biomass produced in a given area, is directly related to the insect population, and the variety of wildlife - number of species of birds and so on - is also directly related to the numbers and varieties of insects living there.

I’m going to interrupt here. Sometime during the symposium, one of the speakers raised and answered the question of which organism comprises the greatest biomass in the Southern Appalachians. I don’t know if he was joking, but his answer of “salamanders” is hard to believe. I’d like to find independent verification of that claim....
Back to the review:

Tallamy's statistics support his message. Native oaks, for example, support 517 lepidoptera species, willows, 456, birches, 413. In contrast, alien Clematis vitalba supports 40 species of herbivores in its homeland, but only 1 in North America. Another example, Phragmites australis supports 170 species in its homeland, but only 5 species on this continent. Unfortunately, insects can't evolve to adapt to alien species in time to save our threatened populations. Evolution takes place over millions of years. Although the Norway maple has been on the North American continent for going on 300 years, and has become the predominant shade tree here, it still has not become a productive part of our native ecosystem. Instead, it is rapidly displacing native species of maple.

Tallamy urges readers to do what they can to eliminate invasive alien species, to use native plants, to replace sterile lawns, which consist of two or three alien grass species that support little more than Japanese beetle grubs, with sustaining native plant refuges. He urges those who live in suburbia to plant native shade trees, possibly groves, to plant natives along lot lines to begin reestablishing productive areas where insects can successfully reproduce and live, and where their predators can find security and cover.

That mention of invasives reminds me of a instance of esprit d'escalier in my own life. Several months ago, I dropped by the fancy produce stand near the crossroads in Cashiers. A customer was buying one of the many lovely vines wreaths for sale there.

As soon as I saw the berries on the wreaths I should have chimed in with a dire warning (but didn't).

The vines were oriental bittersweet, an especially virulent invasive plant. If even one of those wreaths ended up as a discard in the woods behind the house, it would be one too many. The merchant was too busy making sales and counting out change to educate his customers about the risks of those pretty wreaths.

But I digress.

Here are some thoughts from Douglas Tallamy, himself:

For the past century we have created our gardens with one thing in mind: aesthetics. We have selected plants for landscaping based only on their beauty and their fit within our artistic designs.

Yet if we designed our buildings the way we design our gardens, with only aesthetics in mind, they would fall down. Just as buildings need support structures—girders, I-beams, and headers—to hold the graceful arches and beautiful lines of fine architecture in place, our gardens need native plants to support a diverse and balanced food web essential to all sustainable ecosystems.

To me the choice is clear. The costs of increasing the percentage and biomass of natives in our suburban landscapes are small, and the benefits are immense. Increasing the percentage of natives in suburbia is a grassroots solution to the extinction crisis...

Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby.

As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered—and the ecological stakes have never been so high.

~ Douglas Tallamy

[Photos - more wildflowers from Spring 2009 - from top, Rue Anemone, Painted Trillium and Purple Phacelia]


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frontiers of Biology in the Southern Appalachians

All the topics on the agenda of the native plants symposium at the NC Arboretum last Saturday looked interesting to me, and one presentation even exceeded expectations.

Linville Gorge

Gary Walker, a professor at Appalachian State University, spoke on cliff face ecology in the Southern Appalachians. Walker caught my attention right away when he explained that cliffs are a relatively new and unexplored frontier for botanical research due to their difficult access.

Walker and his students have been on the cutting edge of this research in the Linville Gorge, the White Rocks at Cumberland Gap and the Obed River Gorge in the Big South Fork Wilderness. These areas contain relict plants, disjunct populations of species from the far north. And even more amazing, some of these cliffs host the oldest of the old growth forests in the southern mountains.

The northern white cedar and associated plants are relict plants from the last glacial age, found today in Canada, and on a few rock faces in the southern mountains. Growing alongside the northern white cedar is the showy lady slipper, a huge boreal bog plant with saucer-sized blooms, and not growing in the south except on a few cliff faces.

The same cliffs might be the last place you would look for old growth forests, but the northern white cedars, relatively small, gnarled, bonsai-like trees are ancient. Walker examined one such tree and found it was over 600 years old.

Research is revealing how the composition of botanical communities changes greatly from the top to the bottom of a cliff face. A great variety of plants that thrive on the rim of a cliff are not present on the vertical face.

The populations on the cliff face are a factor of more limited exposure to light, buffering from temperature extremes, thin or no soil, little root space and limited competition from other plants.

White Rocks, Cumberland Gap

On the talus at the base of cliffs you find plant communities of an entirely different mix compared to those on the face and the rim.

Because the study of cliff faces is so new, Walker’s students have been discovering new species of plants and animals, including many microscopic arthropods and gastropods on the walls of Linville Gorge. According to Walker, those gastropods viewed under a microscope have as wide a range of colors and shapes as a fine collection of sea shells.

The current state of cliff face research owes something to the difficult balance between outdoor sports and natural preservation. Rock climbers have an impact on the ecology of cliff faces by using brushes to scrape away lichens, moss and other plants in their path. While some species suffer, crustose lichens thrive in the wake of climbers, because they adhere to the rock more tightly than other species and thus resist being scraped off. With their competitors removed, the crustose lichens flourish.

Obed River Gorge, Big South Fork

Due to the popularity of rock climbing, park officials have been required to evaluate the environmental impact of the sport and respond with effective management plans to minimize the destruction of rare and sensitive ecosystems. So this has been driving, and funding, much of the research on Southern Appalachian cliff faces. Qualified rock-climbing biologists can find employment these days.

On occasion, after research suggested that some areas needed to be declared off-limits, cries of protest arose from individual climbers and organizations representing the industry. On the other hand, at some locations, research is contributing to solutions that protect the flora and fauna while demanding only small changes in climbing methods or routes.

No doubt, adventurous biologists will continue to make more discoveries on the frontiers of biological research, the cliff faces of the Southern Appalachians.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.
-Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

By the end of next month, I’ll be out in the woods slithering around on my belly to take pictures of early spring wildflowers.

I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again. Throughout this cold winter, though, I’ve seen them in my mind’s eye. Just beneath the surface of the frozen ground, they’ve been there all along. Knowing that, even on the bleakest days, I’ve looked out on hills covered with the bright colors of spring.

Last year, I began to get serious about learning the wildflowers. I regret waiting so long. It could be a lifelong quest, no matter how long your life, and I’ve learned just enough to recognize how little I know. It’s one thing to identify individual specimens in bloom, but quite another to understand them in a fuller context.

Over the winter, I’ve considered how to approach those botanical explorations this year - by finding a different frame through which to view the world. I got some help with this by attending a native plant symposium over the weekend, hosted by the North Carolina Native Plant Society, Asheville Chapter. By the end of the day, I had some ideas for new perspectives on the upcoming woodland rambles. More on that later this week.

For now, back to the symposium…

Tom Baugh, a biologist and former poetry editor of Rapid River magazine, began the day with a discussion of life on earth and our human connection to other life. Baugh shared the quote from E. O. Wilson that I used at the beginning of this post.

E. O. Wilson, a Harvard University entomologist, coined the term "biophilia" referring to our innate affinity with nature. Wilson’s hypothesis is that humans evolved as creatures deeply enmeshed with the intricacies of nature, and that we still have this affinity with nature ingrained in our genotype.

His book, Biophilia, The Human Bond with Other Species, includes essays on his own journey of understanding:

I have argued in this book that we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions.

Among those inspired by Wilson’s eloquent argument is social ecologist Stephen Kellert who has applied biophilia to the design of buildings and communities, as described in the book Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life:

This book offers a paradigm shift in how we design and build our buildings and our communities, one that recognizes that the positive experience of natural systems and processes in our buildings and constructed landscapes is critical to human health, performance, and well-being. Biophilic design is about humanity's place in nature and the natural world's place in human society, where mutuality, respect, and enriching relationships can and should exist at all levels and should emerge as the norm rather than the exception.

Wilson and Kellert co-edited The Biophilia Hypothesis, a collection of invited papers supporting & refuting the biophilia hypothesis

Here are a few thoughts from E. O. Wilson:

The great philosophical divide in moral reasoning about the remainder of life is whether or not other species have an innate right to exist.

Biodiversity is the most information-rich part of the known universe. More organisation and complexity exists in a handful of soil than on the surfaces of all the other planets combined.

Biodiversity of a country is part of its national inheritance - the product of the deep history of the territory extending long back before the coming of man.

Humanity needs a vision of an expanding and unending future. This spiritual craving cannot be satisfied by the colonisation of space. The other planets are inhospitable and immensely expensive to reach. The nearest stars are so far away that voyagers would need thousands of years just to report back. The true frontier for humanity is life on earth, its exploration and the transport of knowledge about it into science, art and practical affairs. Again, the qualities of life that validate the proposition are: 90% or more of species of plants, animals and micro organisms, lack even so much as a scientific name; each of the species is immensely old by human standards and has been wonderfully moulded to its environment. Life around us exceeds in complexity and beauty anything else humanity is ever likely to encounter.

The manifold ways by which human beings are tied to the remainder of life are very poorly understood, crying for new scientific enquiry and a boldness of aesthetic interpretation.

Wildflower photos from Spring 2009 include (from top):
Geranium maculatum
Trillium erectum
Sanguinaria canadensis
Erythronium americanum

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Story of Creation

As mentioned in a recent post, John Howard Payne collected a substantial amount of information on the Cherokee and their beliefs in the years just prior to the Removal. For whatever reason, though, his work has been overlooked.

In his notes on the daughter of the sun and the origin of death, James Mooney referred to a version of the story collected by Payne, and quoted by Ephraim George Squier in the 1851 book, The Serpent Symbol, and The Worship of the Reciprocal Principles of Nature. Since Payne’s work is not readily available, here’s the entire passage from Squier:

The Cherokees state that a number of beings were engaged in the creation. The Sun was made first. The intention of the creators was that men should live always. But the Sun, when he passed over, told them that there was not land enough, and that people had better die. At length the daughter of the Sun, who was with them, was bitten by a snake and died. The Sun, on his return, inquired for her, and was told that she was dead.

He then consented that human beings might live always, and told them to take a box, and go where the spirit of his daughter was, and bring it back to her body; charging them that when they got her spirit, they should not open the box until they had arrived where her body was. However, impelled by curiosity, they opened it, contrary to the injunction of the Sun, and the spirit escaped; and then the fate of all men was decided, that they must die.

It is also stated that anciently the Cherokees supposed a number of beings (more than two, some have conjectured three) came down and made the world. They then attempted to make a man and woman of two rocks. They fashioned them; but while endeavoring to make them live, another being came and spoiled their work, so that they could not succeed. They then made a man and woman of red clay; but being made of clay, they were mortal. Had they been made of rock, they would have lived for ever.

These beings, having created the earth and man and woman, then made the Sun and Moon, and constituted them gods, to have the entire control of all things thus made, and to proceed in the work of creation until all was complete. Having done this, they returned to their place above, and paid no further attention to the world they had created. Of their place above, no one has any knowledge except themselves.

It was by others declared that the supreme creators, having in seven days created the sun and moon, and given form to the earth, returned to their own abode on high, where they remain in entire rest, —leaving the sun and moon to finish and to rule the world, about which they gave themselves no further concern. Hence whenever the believers in this system offer a prayer to their creator, they mean by the creator rather the Sun or Moon. As to which of these two was supreme, there seems to have been a wide difference of opinion.

In some of their ancient prayers, they speak of the sun as male, and consider, of course, the moon as female. In others, however, they invoke the Moon as male, and the Sun as female: because, as they say, the moon is vigilant, and travels by night But both Sun and Moon, as we have before said, are adored as the creator. A prayer to the Moon as creator will be found in a future page, among the ceremonies in conjuring against drought, in which he (the Moon) is supplicated to cast certain beads around the neck of his wife, the Sun, and darken her face, that clouds may come from the mountains.

While in one of the most ancient prayers, to be repeated early in the morning, when going to the water, the Sun, under the title of creator, is implored to grant them a long and blissful life; and in many cases a request is added to take their spirits and bear them with him until he has ascended to the meridian, that is until noon, and then restore them. The same prayer, with the exception of the latter clause, was also repeated at night. The expression ' Sun, my creator,' occurs frequently in their ancient prayers. Indeed the Sun was generally considered the superior in their devotions. To him they first appealed to give efficiency to the roots and herbs they sought for medicine.

If, however, the plants failed to cure, they considered that the Moon and not the Sun had occasioned the sickness, and so turned for succor to the Moon. Besides the Sun and the Moon, they had many inferior deities, all of which were created by, and subject to the direction of the former. Special duties were assigned to each.

The most active and efficient agent appointed by the Sun to take care of mankind, was supposed to be Fire. When therefore any special favor was needed, it was made known to Fire, accompanied by an offering. It was considered as an intermediate being nearest the Sun, and received homage from the Cherokees, as the same element did from the Eastern Magi.

It was extended to smoke, which was esteemed Fire's messenger, always ready to convey the petition above. A child immediately after birth was waved over the fire; children were brought before it, and its guardianship entreated for them. Hunters waved their moccasins and leggins over fire, to secure protection against snakes.

There are old Cherokees who consider fire as having first descended direct from above; others speak of it as an active and intelligent being, in the form of a man, and dwelling in distant regions, beyond wide waters, whence their ancestors came. Some represent a portion of it as having been brought with them, and sacredly guarded.

Others say that after crossing wide waters they sent back for it to the Man of Fire, from whom a little was conveyed over by a spider in his web. It was thenceforth, they aver, kept in their sacred enclosure, or rather in a hole or cave dug under it; but this structure being captured by enemies and destroyed, the fire was lost; although some suppose it only sunk deeper into the ground, to avoid unhallowed eyes, and still exists there.

Since its disappearance, new fire has been made at particular times, and with various ceremonies, which practice has been continued to this day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Latest Poop on "The Tuck" ( "It's No Big Deal")

The North Carolina Division of Water Quality has released its draft 2010 list* of impaired waters throughout the state and, once again, Jackson County waterways have earned a place on the list thanks to fecal coliform contamination.

A proud angler displays his catch, hauled from the Tuckasegee River

Two major tributaries of the Tuckasegee River (13.4 miles of Savannah Creek and 15.3 miles of Scotts Creek) make the roster, along with 2.6 miles of the Tuckaseegee starting upstream from Dillsboro.

(New to the list this year is Sugarloaf Creek, flowing from Balsam Mountain Preserve, and listed as impaired due to "ecological/biological integrity" issues.)

I remember when straight piping was an even bigger problem than it is today, but between straight-piping and failed septic systems, the local streams are still suffering. Of course, last time I checked, the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority was cited for more water quality violations than any other polluter in the county, due to their propensity for straight-piping untreated sewage into the river.

When will it all end?

Somehow, while marketing our paradisical La-La land to outsiders, the travel and tourism folks have failed to pick up on the aforementioned facts and continue to entice visitors to splash around in our nasty streams and rivers.

Those slick brochures baiting tourists should, like a pack of cigarettes, bear a label warning that the product "could be hazardous to your health."

To assure truth in advertising, I propose changing the name of the Tuckasegee to the Fecal Coliform River. Then, people would have fair notice about what they're (literally) getting into.

"Come an' Git It" - The TWSA treatment plant on "The Feek." Note the large pipe dumping effluent into the river. I'm told that if you get by when they're dispensing raw "fish food" you'll find hundreds of trout clustered around the pipe - "goin' for the good stuff." Fresh trout dinner, anyone? Trout sushi, perhaps?

Take, for instance, those happy blurbs (appropriately edited) on the website:

The Fecal Coliform River is the largest body of water in Jackson County, and was called “Western North Carolina’s best trout stream for fly anglers,” by the Charlotte Observer. Fishermen have had good success in their search for rainbow, brown and native brook trout, bass, bream, walleye and crappie.

Crappie? Well, yes, I guess that's right.

Or how about this promotional pitch:

Family friendly rafting, kayaking, ducking, & tubing on the Fecal Coliform River. Fun for all ages.

But if you tip over and get a snout full of river water, don't - I repeat, DON'T - swallow.

No doubt, the same smarmy glibsters who have insisted on truncating the name of the river to "The Tuck" would shorten the name of the Fecal Coliform River to "The Feek."

"Rafting The Feek!"

"Tubing The Feek!"

"Fishing The Feek!"

"Fun for all ages!"

The following video demonstrates how, if we really dedicated ourselves to it, a cleanup of the Tuckasegee (or "The Feek" if you prefer) could happen. To quote Bill Murray, "It's no big deal."

As long-time readers are aware, fishing regulations on the Tuckasegee were revised after the 2008 impaired waters list came out.

Given the latest status report from the Division of Water Quality, I assume those regs will remain in effect again this year. So as a public service to eager anglers and others who plan to play in "The Feek" here's that report from February 2008:

The opening day of trout season will be here before we know it. For me, that’s always an exciting sign of the arrival of spring. All up and down the Tuckasegee, we’ll see folks out to catch a pan full of delicious trout.

But things will be different this year. With the “impaired water” designation on the Tuckasegee River and some of its tributaries new fishing regulations will take effect.

Unfortunately, there is not much time left to inform the public of the new rules, but I understand that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and Western Carolina University are working together on an information campaign leading up to opening day.

I’ll give you the heads-up on what I’ve learned at this point.

All fishermen along the Tuckasegee River will be required to wear latex gloves and surgical masks while fishing in the river, or within ten feet of the banks of the river.

Also, hip-waders or any other waders must be certified as capable of protecting the fisherman from fecal coliform. Waders with the proper certification have not been available in past years so it is important that fishermen make sure they purchase waders that comply with the new requirements.

CITATIONS WILL BE ISSUED to any fishermen along the Tuckasegee River and its designated tributaries, if they are fishing without the required safety gear. Again, that’s latex gloves, surgical mask and waders certified to protect against fecal coliform.

It’s sad to see the need for these new rules, but I understand that the health of the public is at stake. It’s great to know that local organizations will be cooperating to educate fishermen, but I’m sure that they won’t be able to reach everyone prior to opening day.

So I intend to help out by providing latex gloves and surgical masks to any fishermen who arrive without the required items. I’d hate to see them get cited. More importantly, I’d hate to see them get sick.

You’re invited to join me for this volunteer effort, opening day 2008, on the Tuckasegee River.

* Written comments on the draft 2010 list are being accepted until March 3. They may be sent to: Jennifer Everett, NC DWQ, Planning Section, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617 or

Mountain WILD! and the Western North Carolina Alliance are hosting a talk on water quality in the French Broad River watershed 7 p.m. Tuesday at the WNC Nature Center, 75 Gashes Creek Road, Fletcher.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

After the Dam

I took a little ride today and joined the other gawkers examining the Tuckasegee River minus the Dillsboro Dam.


You wouldn't know a dam had ever been there.

After seeing the raging sluice of whitewater gushing past the half-demolished dam last week, I was surprised at the relatively tame stretch of river today.

No wonder those kayakers were so eager to shoot the rapids, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I feel very fortunate to have gotten a photo of it:

That Class IV stuff was extremely short-lived.

Oh well. It looks nice now, eh?

Dam or no dam, you're looking at "impaired waters" according to the latest evaluation from the state Division of Water Quality. When I first heard that phrase a couple of years ago, I thought "impaired waters" was a cute euphemism for "hard likker."

But I was wrong.

In the case of the Tuckasegee as it flows through Dillsboro, "impaired waters" is a synonym for "fecal coliform."

More on that fun subject ahead...


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Photographing the Negro in the South"

Big Brother, by John H. Tarbell, 1897

Recently, I discovered the photography of John H. Tarbell, who moved to Asheville, North Carolina in the 1890s and stayed through the first years of the twentieth century.

Despite his obvious talent as a photographic artist and technician, I’ve found precious little about his background:

John Henry Tarbell was born in Groton, Massachusetts, in 1849. Neither he nor his brother Frank ever married. They were the last of their line.

John Henry Tarbell, 1849-1929

When Frank died in 1921 he left John his Phi Beta Kappa key, which you see in the photograph. When John died in 1929 there was no one left to bury him except the family's lawyer.

( Thanks to Bill Fields for the biographical information and use of the restored Tarbell portrait: )

While in Asheville, Tarbell photographed the newly constructed Biltmore Mansion, President McKinley on an 1897 visit, and many local scenes for inclusion in tourist-oriented booklets. "A Souvenir Directory to the Land of the Sky" (1898) features Tarbell's work. A pdf is available at

It is possible that his photo titled “Great Expectations” was taken in Asheville:

In 1904, The New England Magazine published Tarbell’s article, “My Experiences Photographing the Negro in the South.” Since so little is available on Tarbell, I am posting extensive passages from that magazine story. While Tarbell produced images we would regard as offensive stereotypes (" Stop. Thief!"), he also achieved work of sensitivity and graceful beauty. Unfortunately, the available image file for "Children of the Soil” (below) doesn’t convey just what a fine photo it is. In the article, Tarbell attempts to justify his staged portrait of a watermelon thief and explains many other photos taken in the Asheville area and the South.

One of my goals is to share fragments of our region's cultural heritage that you would not otherwise find. And I don't know of anyone else who would touch this with a ten-foot pole, which is why I must. Here are excerpts and photos from Tarbell's story in The New England Magazine:

Editor's Note:—There is probably no photographer in the country who has made such a success in photographing the Southern negro in his home surroundings as has Mr. Tarbell. His artistic taste shows itself in his clever selection and posing of subjects, while the results give an admirably correct portraiture of life as it actually exists among these people, so interesting in their quaint and homely ways.

DURING a period of nearly seven years spent in the Southern States and elsewhere, but principally in that region known as the Asheville Plateau, North Carolina, I became photographically interested in the characteristics of the negroes, and made a specialty of portraying them in their various occupations as well as in endeavoring to represent pictorially the humorous aspect of their nature. It is my intention in the following article to give some of my personal experiences in that direction, though my endeavor must, necessarily, be fragmentary, covering, as it does, several years’ residence in the South.

My greatest difficulty has always been to persuade the colored people to be photographed in their picturesque, every-day costumes, and it has always required the greatest tact to convince them that it was not from a desire to ridicule any peculiarities of the race; but their suspicions are easily aroused and only by the most persuasive eloquence has it been possible, in many cases, to overcome their native distrust.

In this respect, however, the negro does not differ materially from some of his white neighbors of the poorer class, and being to a large extent imitative, he tries to copy the habits and dress of the white people especially on those occasions when he is desired for photographic purposes. Perhaps it is safe to say that the average negro does not differ essentially from his white neighbors, some being obliging, friendly and intelligent, while others are sullen, suspicious and ignorant.

Possibly it may not be generally known that the colored people are difficult to please in the matter of portraiture, that is to say, when taking a portrait solely to satisfy the individual, and not making any effort to please one's personal fancy. As a rule, they think the photograph looks “too dark,"—consequently great care has to be exercised to make as light a print as possible,—the mouth, too, is a source of annoyance (perhaps my white reader has experienced similar difficulty), while the nose is also an offending member. In fact, the greatest skill of the retoucher's art is often required in smoothing out coarse features, shortening objectionable mouths and in making a flat nose more aquiline.

It has been said that the negro is imitative; this is often seen in the little pleasantries vouchsafed to the photographer, both before and after sitting for a portrait, stale witticisms and obsolete jokes, which must be received pleasantly and with an approving grin, although the same man's chatter may have been heard for the five-hundredth time. Fortunately for me, it was seldom that I attempted to produce anything that would prove satisfactory to the ladies of color themselves, my preferences being for the "old-time mammies," now so rapidly passing away, but strange to say it was often with the greatest difficulty that I could persuade them to pose for me in the attitude which seemed to me the most characteristic, especially if it was for the purpose of depicting any occupation or any menial attitude. The request for such a pose usually aroused suspicion, and it was at once inferred that they were being "guyed."

During one of my rambles for subjects, I chanced to see a picturesque old negress sitting on the porch of her cabin. Her head was decorated with a gaily colored handkerchief. The other garments were worn but charmingly effective and appealed strongly to my sense of the artistic value of such a scene. In fact, the whole scheme of color, from the vine-covered porch, with flowers of various hues interspersed, together with the striking figure of the old woman, as the centre and point of interest, impressed me as being unusually pleasing.

I approached timidly and said: "Aunty, will you allow me to take your picture on that porch? I'll pay you for your trouble."

Immediately her head went up in the air, and with a snort of indignation she replied: "No, boss, when I has my likeness took, I'se g'wine to a gallery, I is."

Neither persuasion nor entreaty was of any avail, and I was obliged to relinquish my attempt.

At another time I chanced to run across a woman in the act of washing clothing. She was standing near a huge iron kettle, under which was a fire, and she occasionally moved the clothes around with a long stick,—the water in the kettle, of course, being kept at a high temperature by the fire underneath.

I ventured to ask her to allow me to photograph her in that particular attitude, to which she demurred, but said she would be willing to stand beside the kettle and be "took." By dint of much urging, however, and the offer of money she at last overcame her repugnance, and grasping the long stick, bent over the kettle in the correct position, being photographed in the act.

It is only fair to state that while many of the negroes are averse to being photographed, there are a few to be found now and then who seem to understand the whys and wherefores of illustrative art, and who are willing to do all in their power (for a consideration) to aid the photographer in his endeavors. Some of my best models have been discovered among the more intelligent class, who entered with great zest into the spirit of the occasion, and did their utmost to represent the ideas intended to be conveyed.

A negro preacher, and it need hardly be added, an admirer of the great Lincoln, made an excellent model for a study which has been entitled, "A Page of History." The accompanying illustration represents the aged preacher, examining two portraits of the martyr President in McClure's Magazine,—the history being that written by Miss Ida M. Tarbell some years since.

The negro minister, as a rule, is uneducated, but it sometimes occurs that he possesses a most wonderful power over his hearers. One in particular is recalled at the present time: viz.. Pastor Rumley, who preached an extraordinary sermon on "De Valley ob de Dry Bones." This discourse brought him quite a reputation in his native town, and he was in the habit of repeating it at various times and with many embellishments.

Unfortunately, it was not my good fortune to hear this remarkable sermon, but I attended another of his services on a certain Sunday and witnessed the most emotional proceedings which it has ever been my lot to see. During the sermon the preacher worked himself up into a frenzy of excitement. His hearers shouted, howled and yelled unintelligible jargon, they danced and grew hysterical, while one woman, with a wild scream, suddenly rushed across the aisle of the church, almost displacing the long piping of the stove as she continued her gyrations.

Swaying backward, she flopped into the lap of one of the colored brothers, while another coolly re-adjusted the stove funnel. At this stage of the proceedings, one of the sisters approached the demonstrative member, and dragged her back to her former seat, where she remained, limp and exhausted, until the close of the service.

Soon a voice started the familiar strain of "Roll, Jordan, Roll." Immediately it was caught up and sung by the congregation with a wild freedom, pathos, and melody. After the singing, a collection was taken up, the hats being passed, and when the first round had been made the money was counted, but not considered sufficient; so the hats were passed the second time, and the collection counted as before, but again the amount was considered insufficient.

After an urgent appeal from the pastor, the hats were sent around for the third time, and the change having been carefully counted, the sum was declared enough and to spare. Another hymn was sung, the benediction given, and the audience dispersed….

Children of the Soil, JHT, 1901

The children there [in the Southern States], as a rule, are less averse to being photographed than the older people,—this seems to be the case in all sections of the country, though it frequently occurs that the least picturesque specimens are the most anxious to be "tooken." The two little waifs in the act of emerging from the hollow trunk of a tree were willing subjects, but doubtless their parents, had they been present, would have objected strongly to their being taken in any such position. Their desire, probably, would have been to have their young offspring dressed in the latest fashion, and either sitting or standing in the conventional attitude and staring at the camera—this of course to be accompanied by one of the usual horrors, a fantastically painted background.

Here, again, we see the imitative faculty of the race, for how often the fond white parents are satisfied only when their second editions are represented in frills and feathers or in stiff, starchy clothing, which must all be done in the conventional studio with a "skylight."

As has been intimated before, the colored people are very anxious to appear as light as possible in their pictures, and after I had learned this fact, it was seldom that I ventured to show any of my studies to those who had posed for me. During the earlier portion of my visit to the South, I had made the mistake of freely exhibiting my pictures to my dusky models.

I have in mind the mother of a most interesting little pickaninny, whose portrait I had taken solely to please myself, and which I afterward showed to its mother.

A look of disappointment overspread her face and she remarked with a sigh, "Oh, so dark, I don't want it."

Frequently a crowd of colored urchins have followed me long distances, earnestly requesting to be photographed, and with such remarks as, "Say, boss, draw me off, will yer?" "Say, Mister, wan't ter take me standin' on my head?" "G'wine sketchin', boss?" and the like.

It may sometimes happen that an unusually tattered but picturesque specimen in the crowd is selected, and is requested to serve as a model, but very likely he or she will obstinately refuse, while a dozen perhaps of the least desirable will spring forward, earnestly requesting to be "tooken."

Occasionally the ill-dressed urchins will shout, "You uns wants ter put my likeness in a winder and sell it, you does!"

This is a crusher, and is supposed to annihilate the aspiring and perspiring photographer.

While, as a general rule, it has been my practice to portray the negro at his best, or rather as representing him engaged in some honorable occupation, I must frankly admit that it has seemed necessary, now and then, to depict him at his worst, both to please a certain public taste, and for pecuniary reasons as well.

When this has been attempted, it has been found desirable to make a diligent search for models who had no objection to being represented in any scene I might select, provided they were well paid for their services.

In the illustration entitled "Stop. Thief!" an attempt has been made to represent the weakness that some members of the colored race have for the luscious watermelon, and the scene is supposed to portray a sneak thief in the act of escaping through a fence surrounding a yard which contains the juicy fruit.

The next scene shows the culprit after his arrival home, where he ravenously devours the stolen melons. His little brother gazes longingly but sadly at the disappearing melon, not being allowed to share a single morsel.

These records of my work would seem to be incomplete without an attempt to illustrate the negro from a sentimental point of view, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to do this.

On one of those rare spring mornings, often seen in the sunny South, there called at my studio a young negro of perhaps eighteen years of age. He was accompanied by a young colored girl of about the same age. Both were the darkest specimens of their race that I had ever seen, and gave their names as Tom and Lily.

After some little conversation, they admitted that they intended to get married in a few weeks, and wanted to know if I would take their "likenesses'' for them, "togedder, if yer please, boss."

Seeing that they were admirably adapted to picture a scene which I had often longed to portray, viz., the old, old story of love, I agreed to give them a picture if they would allow me to photograph them just as I wished, for my own especial purpose. They readily consented to this, and they were posed in the attitude of two bashful lovers,—the youth gazing rather sheepishly at his sweetheart, and she responding by a similar glance.

The result is seen in the illustration entitled, "The Wooing O't." After various poses of a similar character, several exposures were made, of a nature calculated to suit their own personal wishes, care being taken to have the resultant prints several shades lighter than the subjects appeared in nature! The results were highly pleasing to Tom and Lily; and it is perhaps needless to say that the pictures designed especially for my own satisfaction were never shown to them!

Tom and Lily were very friendly after this episode, and used to call frequently at my studio,—especially the former. On one occasion, when coming alone to borrow (?) a nickel, he frankly related to me the story of his courtship, which was substantially as follows, told in Tom's own words:

''I says to her, says I, 'Lil', I'se got right smart ob a leetle patch o' ground ober yander. an' I'se got a good many sweet 'taters, a good many beans, an' a lot o' corn, an' I reckon I'se g'wine to get married nex' fall,—an'—an'—I'll marry you if you like.'''

Lil' did not blush, but like a wise woman, she reflected,—then she replied: "Tom, you'se mighty suddent, an' I'se g'wine to study ober it for a spell."

And study over it she did.

Tom came the second time and pressed his suit.

"Now, Lil'," said he, "I specs you'se g'wine ter gib me an anser today."

But Lil' only assumed an air of reserve and simply replied, "Oh, I don't know."

Tom was in despair and went away. However, he returned to the attack for the third time, on this occasion using strategic measures to accomplish his purpose.

"Lil'," said he, "if you'se don't anser to-dav, I'se g'wine ter marry Rosie."

This vigorous action on Tom's part was entirely successful, and Lil' surrendered, only stipulating that she should be presented with a new calico dress, ''with yaller flowers on it," in time for the marriage ceremony.

A few weeks after this occurrence they were united in the holy bonds of matrimony, but I am unable to state whether their union has been a happy one, my duties having since called me to another section of the country.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Carl Jung on Mandalas

The "squaring of the circle" is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness.
- C. G. Jung, Mandalas

1.8.2010, mixed media

The goal of contemplating the processes depicted in the mandala
is that the yogi shall become inwardly aware of the deity.
Through contemplation, he recognizes himself as God again, and
thus returns from the illusion of individual existence into the
universal totality of the divine state.

[mandalas] ... are all based on the squaring of a circle. Their
basic motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a
kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is
related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a
source of energy. The energy of the central point is manifested
in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what
one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that
is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances.

Mandala by C. G. Jung

This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may
so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented
by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing
everything that belongs to the self -- the paired opposites that
make up the total personality. This totality comprises consciousness
first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an
indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose
archetypes are common to all mankind.

1.3.2010, mixed media

... the fundamental motifs are repeated so often that marked similarities occur in drawings done by the most diverse patients. Most mandalas have an intuitive, irrational character and, through their symbolical content, exert a retroactive influence on the unconscious. They therefore possess a "magical" significance, like icons, whose possible efficacy was never consciously felt by the patient.

Tibetan Sand Painting

... there must be a transconscious disposition in every individual which is able to produce the same or very similar symbols at all times and in all places. Since this disposition is usually not a conscious possession of the individual I have called it the collective unconscious, and, as the bases of its symbolical products, I postulate the existence of primordial images, the archetypes. ... the identity of conscious individual contents with their ethnic parallels is expressed not merely in their form but in their meaning.

Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:
'Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind's eternal creation'
(Faust, II). And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality,
which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate
-C. G. Jung, Concerning Mandala Symbolism

Mandala by C. G. Jung

I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. ... I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point -- namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation... I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate. - C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Monday, February 15, 2010

Johnson, Walter; houseboat where family resides

The old Tennessee Valley Authority photographs from the 1930s and 1940s pose a challenge. The ones I've been examining are not thoroughly documented.

Johnson, Walter; houseboat where family resides, TVA

Only that brief caption accompanied the photograph. However, through an East Tennessee genealogy website I found a couple of related photos:

Walter Johnson

This photo is of the houseboat on which the Johnson family lived. Pictured are Walter and Leona Evans Johnson and their children, with the exception of their youngest son, born after this photo was taken. (Mid 1930's)

That genealogy site provides some details on the Johnsons:

Mary Leona Evans was born on 10 Apr 1904 in Loudon County, TN. She died on 10 Oct 1993 in Knoxville, TN and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Loudon Co., TN.

Mary married Walter Johnson, son of Mary Elizabeth Johnson, on 25 Sep 1921 in Loudon County, TN. Walter was born on 10 May 1893 in Loudon County, TN. He died on 14 Mar 1957 in Loudon, TN and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Loudon Co., TN.

Here's another TVA photo...and is it a little closer to home?

Barkers Creek Church, TVA

Although I've not researched it, this might be have been taken along the Tuckasegee. Very possibly, though, it could be another Barkers Creek, far from Jackson County.

One more old photo:

Fontana Mining Railroad train in the mountains, TVA

This was likely taken prior to the start of construction on Fontana Dam. Several mining villages were operating in that vicinity near the Little Tennessee. The photo, from Eagle Creek (?), shows the rail line connecting the mines with Copper Hill, TN.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Peacocks on Gingercake Mountain

I've always admired hermits.

It's funny how the hermits of the nineteenth century became such well-known figures. Of course, we probably wouldn't have heard about the ones who weren't well-known. Still, why would solitary souls living in the sparsely populated backcountry gain notoreity? You'd think it would have been easier to fade into the woodwork (or the woods) back then.

Today's hermits don't have nearly as much trouble maintaining their obscurity.

Or so it seems.

During his travels through Western North Carolina in June of 1848, Charles Lanman heard stories of one legendary hermit who had lived near the Linville River:

The Ginger Cake Mountain derives its very poetical name from a singular pile of rocks occupying its extreme summit. The pile is composed of two masses of rock of different materials and form, which are so arranged as to stand on a remarkably small base. The lower section is composed of a rough slate stone, and its form is that of an inverted pyramid; but the upper section of the pile consists of an oblong slab of solid granite, which surmounts the lower section in a horizontal position, presenting the appearance of a work of art. The lower section is thirty feet in altitude, while the upper one is thirty-two feet in length, eighteen in breadth, and nearly two feet in thickness. The appearance of this rocky wonder is exceedingly tottleish, and though we may be assured that it has stood upon that eminence perhaps for a thousand years, yet it is impossible to tarry within its shadow without a feeling of insecurity.

The individual who gave the Ginger Cake Mountain its outlandish name was a hermit named Watson, who resided at the foot of the mountain about fifty years ago, but who died in 1816. He lived in a small cabin, and entirely alone. His history was a mystery to every one but himself, and, though remarkably eccentric, he was noted for his amiability. He had given up the world, like his brother hermit of the Bald Mountain, on account of a disappointment in love, and the utter contempt which he ever afterwards manifested for the gentler sex, was one of his most singular traits of character. Whenever a party of ladies paid him a visit, which was frequently the case, he invariably treated them politely, but would never speak to them; he even went so far in expressing his dislike as to consume for firewood, after the ladies were gone, the topmost rail of his yard-fence, over which they had been compelled to pass, on their way into his cabin.

That old Watson "fared sumptuously every day" could not be denied, but whence came the money that supported him no one could divine. He seldom molested the wild animals of the mountain where he lived, and his chief employments seemed to be the raising of peacocks, and the making of garments for his own use, which were all elegantly trimmed off with the feathers of his favorite bird. The feathery suit in which he kept himself constantly arrayed he designated as his culgee*; the meaning of which word could never be ascertained; and long after the deluded being had passed away from among the living he was spoken of as Culgee Watson, and is so remembered to this day.

(*From what I've learned, a "culgee" is a jeweled plume worn in India on the turban.)


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Go West, Old Geezer

I never spent much time in Middle Tennessee. When I was a kid we went hunting for geodes near Woodbury. And then, one weekend during grad school, I did the standard Nashville tour: the Parthenon, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, and the Grand Ole Opry. Once was enough for Music City.

But I’d like to revisit Middle Tennessee.

In particular, I’m interested in the Duck River.

The February 2010 issue of National Geographic has a nice article on biological diversity, and the Duck River is one of several featured habitats. The premise of the story – “how much life could you find in one cubic foot?”

To answer the question, photographer David Liittschwager took a green metal frame, a 12-inch cube to disparate environments – land and water, tropical and temperate. At each locale he set down the cube and started watching, counting, and photographing with the help of his assistant and many biologists.
In some ways, this represents the opposite extreme of the marvelous All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – an effort to catalog every species of life in the half-million acre park.

Littschwager was inspired by a sentence from E. O. Wilson’s book, Biophilia:

It is possible to spend a lifetime in a magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree.

Wilson, by the way, supplies an essay to complement the Liittschwager photos.

The Duck River is described as one of the most biodiverse waterways in the U.S.:

Evidence of 32 fish species, more than a hundred non-native Asian clams, and seven species of mussels, three of them endangered, further hints at the prosperity of this old man river.

Photo galleries, videos, the E. O. Wilson essay and much more, online at:

The headwaters of the Duck River flow from the “Barrens”, an area with enough rainfall to support woodlands but which white settlers found already deforested upon their arrival.

Located at the forks of the Duck River and the Little Duck River, is the place I’d most like to visit in Middle Tennessee – the Old Stone Fort - a huge structure between the two rivers and believed to be nearly 2,000 years old.

Stone walls averaging four to six feet in height enclose an area of approximately fifty acres.

This was one of the stone structures attributed (by some) to Prince Madoc.

Big Falls on the Duck River at Old Stone Fort

Excavations undertaken by the University of Tennessee in 1966 indicate that it was constructed over a period of several hundred years, and may have served a religious or ceremonial purpose rather than a defensive military function.

And here’s the part that really piques my curiosity – “excavations turned up almost no cultural artifacts within the walls, which implies that the enclosure was kept clean, and was probably never continuously inhabited by its builders.”
So, maybe this year I'll go west and take some time to explore the diverse mysteries of the Duck River.