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.)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The notoriety of hermits reminds me of two stories.

Once, while Gandhi was living in austere simplicity, wearing loincloth and robe, spinning yarn for himself, Nehru said to him "It's costing me a fortune to keep you in poverty".

Carl Sandburg was to speak in a small town in New England. A young admirer, smitten by his lack of pretense or affectation, agreed to be his helper during his stay.

Just before the time for the appearance, the youngster edged up to his door and cracked it, about to alert the sage, only to find him carefully disarranging his hair.