Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Emaline's Painter

Here’s a panther tale...from very close to home.

What a beauty!

One of the pioneering families of the Cullowhee area used to own the land where I now live. Andrew and Pollie settled hereabouts in the 1840s and are buried on a hill nearby (a hill I can see without getting up from typing this).

Anyhow, their first child was a daughter named Emaline.

In the Jackson County Heritage Book, Ada Wall Lemmings wrote:

The small white lilies bloomed everywhere beside the Indian trail they were following, in the vast, untamed wilderness that was western North Carolina. The Indians called them Cullowhee, meaning white lily, in the Cherokee language.

[Emaline] would visit us and tell about her life as the daughter of one of the first settlers in that sparsely settled, remote, rugged area where they were miles from their closest neighbor. She told us what her father had said about the Cullowhee lilies. They were kept in our family and handed down, a living antique.

Aunt Emaline told us of the wild animals they shared the mountains with. One occasion she and her younger sister had been sent to a new ground far back in the dense woods, for a farming tool someone had left there. On their way home a huge, tawny colored cat leapt over their heads and landed in front of them.

They were too young to be afraid of it and tried to make friends.

It happened on these misty hills

Suddenly it leapt over their heads again. They turned around and kept trying to make friends. The cat disappeared in the woods as silently as it had come.

They rushed home to tell about the pretty cat. Only then, they knew they had met the dreaded mountain lion called “Painter” by the settlers and had miraculously survived without a scratch.

Emaline (1847 - 1933)

I would hope that if I ever encounter a "painter" in the woods around here, it would show me the same mercy...and give me enough time to grab the camera for a few shots!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Heaven is Eternal

From Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu (Walker translation)


Heaven is eternal, earth everlasting.
They endure this way because they do not live for themselves.
In the same way, the wise person puts himself last, and thereby finds himself first;
Holds himself outside, and thereby remains at the center;
Abandons himself, and is thereby fulfilled.



Can you marry your spirit and body to the oneness and never depart from it?
Can you ride your breath until your entire being is as supple as the body of an infant?
Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see heaven in every direction?
Can you love the people and govern them without conniving and manipulating?
Can you bear heaven's children in all that you do and are?
Can you give the wisdom of your heart precedence over the learning of your head?
Giving birth, nourishing life, shaping things without possessing them, serving without expectation of reward, leading without dominating: These are the profound virtues of nature, and of nature's best things.



Knowing others is intelligence; knowing the self is enlightenment.
Conquering others is power; conquering the self is strength.
Know what is enough, and you'll be rich. Persevere, and you'll develop a will.
Remain in the center, and you'll always be at home. Die without dying, and you'll endure forever.



When the world practices Tao, horses fertilize the fields.
When the world ignores Tao, horses are bred for war.
There is no greater calamity than desire, no greater curse than greed.
Know that enough is enough, and you'll always have enough.


"Tao" Ideogram


English language translations of the Tao Te Ching -

Friday, August 27, 2010

Guys Gone Wild


Slate reports on “the most isolated man on the planet.”

Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, he is probably the last survivor of a tribe that was never contacted by the outside world. Officials detected his presence about fifteen years ago and in 2007 declared a 31 square mile area off-limits to trespassing and development in order to protect him from the logging and ranching that is closing in on his home.

After some disastrous efforts to assimilate isolated indigenous people into modernity, Brazil is now observing a policy of no contact. Before establishment of the safe zone around this man, at least one of his camps was bulldozed and one well-meaning individual approaching him took an arrow in the chest.


Reading of this survivor in the Amazon, I immediately thought of “Ishi,” the last remaining member of the Yahi people in California.

In August of 1911, an emaciated man walked into a slaughterhouse near Oroville, California, where he was discovered and turned over to the local sheriff. Nobody could understand his language, but anthropologist Alfred Kroeber began working with Ishi, who became something of a live exhibit at a San Francisco museum.

Theodora Kroeber, who met and married Alfred long after Ishi’s death in 1916, wrote an account of his life, Ishi – Last of His Tribe, fictionalized but compelling nevertheless. I understand that her other book, Ishi in Two Worlds is the better of the two.

Inspired by the story, Thomas Merton wrote Ishi Means Man, a book of essays on Native Americans. I’ve not read Merton’s musings on Ishi, but have always found his words valuable.



I’m a map fanatic and found this one via Human Flower Project. Showing the 48 coterminous United States, it is color-coded to indicate the distance from any location to the nearest road.

In our area, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would appear to be the place to get the farthest distance possible from a road. But where in the Park would that be?

I unrolled my big map of the Smokies and grabbed a dinner plate. After studying the map, I found one space where the dish would fit without covering any roads. The center of that space was near Bone Valley, west of Hazel Creek. Even there, you’re probably no more than six miles – as the crow flies – from the closest road.


Arley Phillips, the so-called “Wild Man of Cataloochee” died in January, aged 76. He lived in a rough house without running water or electricity in Haywood County’s White Oak community. Neighbors and friends said he would cut his own hair, pull his own teeth, avoid doctors and ignore most offers of help. Others recalled chance encounters with him in the woods near his home and the area around Cataloochee, and spoke fondly of his independent spirit.


Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, an account of Timothy Treadwell’s life and death among the grizzly bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park, is brilliant.

Timothy Treadwell - 1957-2003

The takeaway for me was this:

Treadwell exchanged the prospect of a long and safe life for several incredible summers that carried a high degree of risk. All said, he got the better end of the deal.

Herzog has made several films in which obsession ends in disaster and this is no exception.

Counterpoint to Treadwell's bubbly faith in the possibility of connecting with nature, Herzog interjects:

And what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.


Wilburn Waters, the Hermit Hunter of White Top, was a legend in northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia. Born in 1812 to a French Huguenot father and half Catawba mother, Wilburn was orphaned at the age of three. Later, he was apprenticed to a saddler, then his time was sold to the Wilkes County sheriff and at age seventeen, he ran away to the mountains.

Wilburn received his introduction to hunting dangerous game by trapping and killing a wolf that experienced trappers thought uncatchable. In 1832, Wilburn settled on White Top Mountain where he hunted bears, deer, and wolves. Of the latter he sometimes pursued entire packs, one time returning from his winter's hunt with forty-two wolves killed.

His life story was told in several books, including The Life and Adventures of Wilburn Waters published by his friend, Charles B. Coale, in 1878

Coale described how Waters lived in his tent on White Top Mountain:

This was his habitation for four years, where he lay at night with his feet to the fire on the outside, often lulled to rest after a hard day's hunt, by the howls of wolves and the screams of catamounts, which would prowl around but were too much afraid of the fire to approach very closely.

The Life and Adventures of Wilburn Waters is online at http://www.newrivernotes.com/ww/wwaters.htm

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Woodland Mysteries

A walk through the woods this time of year yields some interesting sights.

For instance, this fungus (?) on a tree trunk resembles wet noodles…or mucous membrane.

I wish I could tell you what it is.

One pretty, but rather unassuming, wildflower from this past weekend also has me mystified. The feature that caught my attention was the spiral arrangement of the blooms running up the stem.

You might not know this, but in the Northern Hemisphere, such blooms always run in a clockwise pattern. If you go wildflowering south of the equator, however, you’ll see that any spiral of blooms runs in a counter-clockwise pattern.

Amazing, eh?

But back to the weekend mystery flower. I’ve decided that it is some type of goldenrod (Solidago genus). It is not what I picture when I think of goldenrod. Here's the typical goldenrod:

This large specimen from my pasture is the Common Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis). Or at least I think it is. Upon researching the possible identity of my weekend goldenrod, a much smaller plant, I considered and then ruled out some possibilities like the Roan Mountain Goldenrod (S. roanensis) and the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (S. caesia).

At times like this, I really need to move beyond the wildflower guides and start using a key to help with identification. Maybe next year.

By the way, I was only joking about the clockwise and counter-clockwise arrangement of blooms…in a lame attempt at some wildflower humor. On this subject, I did find a reference to an article by H. A. Allard, The Ratios of Clockwise and Counterclockwise Spirality Observed in the Phyllotaxy of Some Wild Plants, (Castanea, The Journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Club, March 1951). http://www.jstor.org/pss/4031467

That’s certainly one citation to add to my library list and perhaps I’ll pick up a copy of the article this week. Comparing Allard’s information with some of my texts on sacred geometry sounds like an evening’s entertainment to me.

Concerning the spiral goldenrod, I felt a little better about my trouble identifying the plant after finding this note in Gray's Manual of Botany:

Solidago is one of our most difficult genera. Natural hybridization frequently occurs. For proper study, full specimens, showing subterranean parts and basal leaves as well as the whole flowering stem, are essential.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


If you ever have the good fortune to sit down with Joe Hollis, he might explain that the molecules of hemoglobin and chlorophyll share an uncanny similarity. Look around his place and you’ll see that Joe has found a thousand ways to honor the connection between plants and people suggested by that bit of biochemical lore.

Forty years ago, Joe Hollis moved off the grid and onto two acres of land bordering the Pisgah National Forest, where he started building a collection of useful plants. He didn’t stop with common plants or plants native to this area, but sought plants from similar habitats on other continents.

The closest analog to the botanical diversity of the Southern Appalachians is found in the mountains of China. The plants growing in a Smokies cove are mirrored by plants of the same genus, if not the same species, in a Chinese mountain cove:

Over 50 such genera of plants include magnolias, hickory, sassafras, ginseng, mayapple, skunk cabbage, several orchids, jack-in-the-pulpit, coffee-tree, stewartia, witch hazel, dogwoods, persimmons, hollies, sumacs, maples, and yellowood. Several animal taxa also show unique affinities with East Asian relatives, including copperheads (Agkistrodon spp.), hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchidae family), some land snails, and paddlefish (Polyodon spathula).
[Source - http://www.eoearth.org/article/Appalachian-Blue_Ridge_forests]

In the course of gathering useful plants from around the world, Hollis put together what may be the richest collection of Chinese medicinal plants growing in the United States. On my quick tour of his gardens, I saw flowers and plants I’ve never seen and might never see again. He doesn’t merely grow the plants but has assembled a significant research library of books on the subject and has processed the plants into tinctures and dried form. For a small fee, anyone can pick and choose from the neatly arranged shelves of natural medicines grown onsite to fill a customized prescription of botanical remedies.

Interns initiate and carry out many projects at the gardens, including the construction of yurts and graceful earth-sheltered cob dwellings fashioned from little more than sticks and mud. Some might say Joe Hollis lives in the past. I would say he is a pioneer of our future.

But enough of that. Here’s more from Joe, in his own words:

Although I am always up for 'reasoning together', because only upon the bedrock of a solid understanding of where we're at will we be able to build a new world (the Greeks called this ataraxy), my real purpose here is to reach out to like-minds and reason together how to get out of this mess.

Because we are all part of the cancer.

We were born into it, it is our world, even more real to us than the real world Gaia. For all of us, 'making a living' means 'making money' - and money is the life blood of the cancer. We turn to nature for beauty, inspiration, solace; but our life support system is civilization, the State/Economy, which grows by eating away and poisoning Gaia. To recognize this is one thing (actually, a very big thing), but it's not the answer; it's just accurately defining the problem.

All we can do is walk away from it, which means, at the simplest and most obvious level, making less money every year. Without being any less (actually, in my experience more) happy and healthy. This is accomplished by fulfilling the needs formerly satisfied with money directly from the earth, like every other living creature. This activity, properly conceived, I call Paradise Gardening. In the world which I imagine, each family or, better, band, or even small village, would be the nucleus of a Paradise Garden cell.

I believe we are right now at a point where we change - or bust. We began as hunter-gatherers, from which happy and healthy state we were shanghied by greedy men ("Civilization begins in conquest and continues in repression" - until by now most have no idea how repressed they are). Since then we have come a long way and done a lot of damage - to Gaia, to each other, to ourselves. New York City perhaps approaches in complexity the disappearing Amazon rain forest. But at least some of us have learned a lot from our mistakes.

So now, or never, the next step in human evolution, the New Age. Hunter-gatherer (who we really are) plus what we have learned from Civilization generates Paradise. The gradual development of a Paradise cell around you equals your gradual withdrawal from the cancer. I'm not talking about a way to live on earth, I'm talking about the way to live on earth, the way that is in our bones and genes: occupying our rightful and ordained niche. Of course these Paradise cells will be all different, varying with bioregions and topography and personal proclivities. What they will share is richness of diversity and fertility.

This, at the simplest and most obvious level, is the 'purpose' of Gaia: ever increasing diversity and inter-connectedness, an ever denser web of life woven around the planet. (Of course there are many other levels on which to consider the 'purpose' of Gaia, and of humans within her, and in the future which I imagine many of us would devote much of our abundant 'leisure time' to such considerations, and to practices opening ourselves to conscious communication with Gaia, but right this minute the house is on fire.) We must walk - don't run - away. Calmly, considerately, and immediately, we must begin to walk away.

We must begin to get and spend less (it wastes our powers anyway) and enjoy life more.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Kirk Franklin, Revolution

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cullowhee Road - 1913

From “The State,” March 10, 1951:

Sylva. – If you care for old pictures, here’s one which was made in 1913 on a day that started Jackson County’s “good roads” movement.

At that time, every man, woman and child in the county was asked to contribute one day’s labor to this program. As a result, all schools were suspended for the day, the bank and all other business houses closed and everyone did his or her part.

The accompanying photograph shows one of several groups of ladies who participated in the project. They were working on the highway leading from Sylva to what is now the Western Carolina Teachers College at Cullowhee.

-C.C. Buchanan

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay
-Robert Frost (1923)

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn descends to day.
Nothing gold can stay

Video bv Honeycombs91, music: Opus #7 by Dustin O'Halloran

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lonesome Valley

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a garden that was both humble and magnificent, confirming the essential need to nurture the human-plant connection. I hope to post something on that soon.

Along those lines, I just learned of an upcoming event that doesn’t match up with my schedule or budget, but looks quite worthwhile.

The Highlands Biological Foundation will hold the Eleventh Annual Conference on Landscaping & Gardening with Native Plants and Native Plant Auction, Friday and Saturday, September 10-11, 2010 at the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands. Details and registration information online at http://www.wcu.edu/hbs/NPC.pdf

The field trips look excellent. I’ve never been to Lonesome Valley, “the most magnificent box canyon east of the Rockies.”

I’ve also heard of, but never visited, the Southern Highlands Reserve. The Reserve, located at the summit of Toxaway Mountain, contains a 20 acre display garden planted with native species and their cultivars including a Woodland Glade, Azalea Walk, Wildflower Labyrinth, Vaseyi Trail and Pond, and Grassy Bald. More at http://www.southernhighlandsreserve.org/

Other workshops include:

The Living Soil: How Billions of Microbes Support Life

A Gardener's Guide to Southeastern Native Plants

Nurturing the Ecosystem in your Backyard

The presenter for the last program on that list is Dr. John Pickering, faculty member at UGA's Odum School of Ecology and creator of Discover Life, a web-based interactive encyclopedia of life, that I’ve consulted quite often: http://www.discoverlife.org/

I don’t think the Lonesome Valley near Whiteside Mountain inspired the old song. Maybe the song inspired the naming of the valley. In any event, I was thinking about the song and found a nice performance of it by Mississippi John Hurt.

Two other folk singers were present for the Hurt session, Pete Seeger and Hedy West. You can see West in the background during this song. Coincidentally, both Seeger and West have Jackson County connections.

Hedy West spent some time at Western Carolina University and Gary Carden has written about this at:


Seeger has a more indirect link to Jackson County. In the 1930s, a very young Pete Seeger attended the Mountain Folk Festival in Asheville where he was so inspired by a banjo picker that he took up the instrument himself. That banjo player was Jackson County’s Aunt Samantha Bumgarner. But that's another story for another day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A New Tower on Mount Mitchell

I had not been to Mount Mitchell since the completion of the new observation tower. The mountain was as pretty as I've ever seen it. The turtleheads were blooming pink under the spruce and fir, surrounded by ferns and white flowers.

I wasn't sure what to expect, although I had seen renderings and photos of the new tower. My first impression was positive. Though not as high as the old tower, it seems to provide a more sweeping view of the surroundings.

A helpful feature - the signs identifying distant mountains (for the times that distant mountains are visible).

The newly improved trail to the summit.

NC Map on the observation deck.

Here's a re-posting from August 12, 2007:

After a long trip up the Parkway from Asheville, I was ready for the short walk to the observation tower on Mount Mitchell, elevation 6684'. But a sign at the botton of the trail said "CLOSED". The old tower on the summit was gone!

That started me thinking about the various structures that have stood atop the mountain.

In 1835, Dr. Elisha Mitchell became the first person to measure the mountain, the tallest peak in the United States. He made several return visits and fell to his death while exploring the mountain in 1857.

In 1888, a 12-foot-tall monument marked the grave of Dr. Mitchell, who had been buried on the mountain bearing his name.

Several years later, visitors erected a 15-foot-tall platform perched on poles at the summit.

After Mount Mitchell became North Carolina’s first state park in 1915, the state built a covered wooden platform about the same height.

In 1926, a stone tower of a medieval design was constructed atop Mount Mitchell.

In 1959, it was replaced by the 30-foot-tall tower that was demolished last year. Engineers had determined that the 1959 tower was structurally unsound.

A tower now under construction will be 10 feet tall and 36.5 feet in diameter, with a curved and gently sloping ramp for access. The 135-foot ramp, supported by circular columns will make the platform fully accessible.

In addition to the architect’s rendering of the new tower shown here, is a photo of the actual construction as of July 2007. For more, you can click on the Vaughan and Melton website for photos of the Mount Mitchell tower as construction proceeds.

Charles Dudley Warner visited Mount Mitchell in September of 1885, before any markers or towers were built upon the mountaintop, and here’s what he saw:

In the center of the stony plot on the summit lie the remains of Mitchell. To dig a grave in the rock was impracticable, but the loose stones were scooped away to the depth of a foot or so, the body was deposited, and the stones were replaced over it. It was the original intention to erect a monument, but the enterprise of the projectors of this royal entombment failed at that point. The grave is surrounded by a low wall of loose stones, to which each visitor adds one, and in the course of ages the cairn may grow to a good size.

The explorer lies there without name or headstone to mark his awful resting-place. The mountain is his monument. He is alone with its majesty. He is there in the clouds, in the tempests, where the lightnings play, and thunders leap, amid the elemental tumult, in the occasional great calm and silence and the pale sunlight. It is the most majestic, the most lonesome grave on earth.

As we sat there, awed a little by this presence, the clouds were gathering from various quarters and drifting towards us. We could watch the process of thunder-storms and the manufacture of tempests. I have often noticed on other high mountains how the clouds, forming like genii released from the earth, mount into the upper air, and in masses of torn fragments of mist hurry across the sky as to a rendezvous of witches.

This was a different display. These clouds came slowly sailing from the distant horizon, like ships on an aerial voyage. Some were below us, some on our level; they were all in well-defined, distinct masses, molten silver on deck, below trailing rain, and attended on earth by gigantic shadows that moved with them. This strange fleet of battle-ships, drifted by the shifting currents, was maneuvering for an engagement.

One after another, as they came into range about our peak of observation, they opened fire. Sharp flashes of lightning darted from one to the other; a jet of flame from one leaped across the interval and was buried in the bosom of its adversary; and at every discharge the boom of great guns echoed through the mountains.

It was something more than a royal salute to the tomb of the mortal at our feet, for the masses of cloud were rent in the fray, at every discharge the rain was precipitated in increasing torrents, and soon the vast hulks were trailing torn fragments and wreaths of mist, like the shot-away shrouds and sails of ships in battle. Gradually, from this long-range practice with single guns and exchange of broadsides, they drifted into closer conflict, rushed together, and we lost sight of the individual combatants in the general tumult of this aerial war.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Who Said It?

1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely - improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion - faith - tradition - and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth - beauty - love - seeking harmony with the infinite.
10.Be not a cancer on the earth - Leave room for nature - Leave room for nature.

The (Partial) Answer

The ten precepts are engraved on the stone tablets of the Georgia Guidestones, in northeastern Georgia’s Elbert County. Ever since I heard of these a couple of years ago, I’ve wanted to go see them. After all, it is not that far from Cullowhee to Elbert County.

Upon learning more, I feel a sense of urgency to see the Guidestones while they are still there. Domestic terrorists have targeted the installation due to its “socialist, New World Order” message, so I doubt it will survive much longer as vandalism escalates.

We don’t know for sure who is responsible for the Guidestones:

In June 1979, an unknown person or persons under the pseudonym R. C. Christian hired Elberton Granite Finishing Company to build the structure. One popular hypothesis is that the patron's pseudonym may be a tribute to the legendary 14th-century founder of Rosicrucianism, Christian Rosenkreuz

Apparently, the arrangement of the stones has some astronomical significance. One article explaining the meaning of the stones is at http://vanshardware.com/2009/12/decoding-the-georgia-guidestones/

One conspiracy theory site interprets the stones and has photos of the recent vandalism:

The message of the American Stonehenge also foreshadowed the current drive for Sustainable Development. Any time you hear the phrase “Sustainable Development” used, you should substitute the term “socialism” to be able to understand what is intended.

Yeah, “socialist.” Of course. Fortunately, the teabaggers are overusing that word into meaninglessness.

The article continues:

What is the true significance of the American Stonehenge, and why is its covert message important? Because it confirms the fact that there was a covert group intent on
(1) Dramatically reducing the population of the world.
(2) Promoting environmentalism.
(3) Establishing a world government.
(4) Promoting a new spirituality.

Item 1, mentioning global population, seems to generate the most controversy among the domestic terrorists. Despite their "concerns" I don’t believe any nefarious conspiracy will be necessary to reduce population. Human behavior has already resulted in one of the most severe waves of extinction the world has ever suffered, and I don’t know why some people think humans will escape the consequences of actions that have wiped out so many of our fellow species on this little sphere.

One loudmouth has uploaded a Youtube video in which she boasts of defacing the Guidestones. I don’t know if authorities have dealt with her.

Where is "Obama's Death Panel" when you need it? The same fashion-challenged agent happened to be in Waynesville last summer, shrieking at befuddled tourists and locals shuffling along Main Street:

With its mysterious origins, speculation swirls around the identity of R. C. Christian, who some believe is actually Ted Turner.

An "Age of Reason"? Now, that's a radical proposal!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"sombre depths beneath the dark boughs"

Margaret Morley was one of the greatest pioneering photographers in Western North Carolina. Not only that, her 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains is a classic.

She had a knack for describing the geography of the mountains in a precise and vivid way, romantic and yet accurate. This week I experienced the joy of a little time on Mount Mitchell. Upon my return, I re-read Morley’s chapter on Mount Mitchell and was not disappointed:

Nowhere is the rounded contour of the Southern mountains so striking as in the high balsam-covered summits. Mitchell's High Peak, as it is now called, used to be the Black Dome, a name poetical and profoundly descriptive. When near enough, perhaps on some neighboring slope or summit, the balsam covered mountains are impressive to solemnity. The dark, unbroken mantle of fir trees covering all heights and hollows throws back the light with singular depth and softness, the color varying from deepest green to inky black, in which lie intense indigo shadows.

The range of the Black Mountains, which is only fifteen miles in length, has, it will be remembered, thirteen summits above six thousand feet high. This short, high range, standing on a base less than five miles wide, its slopes sweeping up from either side to the crests more than three thousand feet above the surrounding valley bottoms, is, wherever visible, the most notable feature in the landscape.

There is the same glorious wildness in the Black Mountain country that one feels in the regions of the Smokies and the Balsams; and whoever ascends the Black Mountains, excepting perhaps over the trail to Mount Mitchell, unless he is a mountaineer of experience, must take a guide or run the risk of getting lost in the rhododendrons that heavily clothe the slopes of the mountain. To get lost in the rhododendron on one of these big mountains, where the foliage is too dense for one to see the sky, and where the strong, twisted limbs form a labyrinth in places utterly impassable, is an experience none would court, for, besides the trap woven by the rhododendron limbs, wild streams rush down, ledges and chasms obstruct the way, and fogs, the real danger in the mountains, are frequent.

But on a pleasant summer day what is more delightful than a climb to the top of Mount Mitchell! One can easily get to the Black Mountain country by way of the railroad that now crosses the Blue Ridge a few miles to the north of there; or one can follow the old route from the Black Mountain Station in the Swannanoa Valley, taking a long ride to the summit of Mount Mitchell and spending the night in a cave; or there is that two days' drive from Asheville to the foot of the mountain, over roads which, speaking after the fashion of the Italians, are carriageable — though barely so. The road, good enough for some miles out of Asheville, runs northward to the Ivy River up which it follows through the "Ivy Country," so named because of the luxuriance with which the mountain laurel or "ivy" densely covered this region.

Ascending through the balsam forests one seems under the spell of the Black Dome. The Black Mountains have received their baptism. No matter how delicately blue and ethereal distance may paint them, to think of them or to see them must ever after recall these sombre depths beneath the dark boughs. The path is wet and muddy in places, and also steep, but at last you pass up out of the dark balsams into a sunny meadow where blue eyebrights look up from the grass, and from which a stony trail bordered with rose-bay leads through stunted firs to the open top, where a monument standing alone on the very summit of the mountain gives a feeling of solemnity to the place. It was erected here in 1888 to the memory, as the legend on the side reads, of the "Rev. Elisha Mitchell, D.D., who, after being for thirty-nine years a professor in the University of North Carolina, lost his life in the scientific exploration of this mountain, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, June 27th, 1857."

The extreme top of Mount Mitchell is bare of trees excepting a few stunted firs; but yellow St. Johns wort blooms in cheerful profusion over the rocks that are daintily fringed with saxifrage and sedum, a few twisted rose-bays show traces of earlier bloom, and prickly gooseberry bushes are maturing fruit for the birds, while sounds in the leaves and a flutter of wings betray the presence of a flock of juncos. On all sides the dark fir-clad slopes descend into the shadows below, where streams rush through ravines choked full of rhododendrons, and mossy slopes are impenetrable with laurel. Below the firs glorious hardwood trees cover the mountain-sides, the ravines, and the valleys, their intermingling hues of green blended and lost in tremendous depths of blue or purple spaces.

The view from the summit, off over the ocean of land that rolls in stormy waves to the far horizon, is stupendous. Beyond the impressive and dark masses of the near heights, the great mountains of the region, from the Grandfather to the Smokies, crowd the scene, melting as they recede into blue and misty shapes. Past the strong headlands of Craggy and the Blue Ridge, the mountains towards the south subside to rise again in far blue domes and pinnacles. Cultivated valleys, beautiful balds, uprising slopes, long curving lines, overlapping summits, — it is difficult to disengage individual forms from the wonderfully blended whole. And here as elsewhere that which most moves the senses is the sweep of the near majestic slopes down into the deep blue spaces.

The cave near the top of the mountain is formed by an overhanging ledge, and here it is customary, for those wishing to watch the sunrise from the summit, to spend the night. And it is worth the effort, even if one only sees the mountains emerge from the clouds for a moment to be again swallowed up by them, for it is seldom that the visitor gets more than a glimpse of the whole world at one time, from Mitchell's cloud-capped peak. It was in this cave on top of Mount Mitchell that one once arrived in a pouring rain, after a perilous climb up the eastern slope, to find, as sole trace of former visitors, a little can partly full of condensed milk, which saved, not one's own life, but that of a young squirrel rescued on the way up, and who became the hero of many pleasant subsequent adventures.

The Black Mountain Country is very wild, and also very beautiful, the ascent of Mount Mitchell being but one of many reasons for going there. The streams are crystal clear, and everywhere picturesque houses are hidden away in the coves and valleys from which one gets superb views of the cloud-capped mountains that lie on all sides. There is no more romantically beautiful valley in the mountains than that of Cane River, which, in its upper part, is over three thousand feet high, and nowhere falls below twenty-five hundred feet. It runs along the whole western base of the Black Mountain Range, and from it one sees round-pointed mountains delightfully grouped in the landscape, and quaint houses placed in a superb setting of mountains and streams.

Margaret Morley, 1858 - 1923

Cane River is named from the heavy canebrakes that clothe its banks in places, supplying fishpoles, pipestems, and reeds for the loom, but the river valley is more noted for the products of its farms — grain, grass, and apples. No one can visit this region in the summertime without noticing the orchards loaded with handsome apples, fruit of so fine a quality that it took a prize at the Paris Exposition, the people tell you with pride. The land in the Cane River Valley is valuable, not only because it is fertile, but because the people love it so. One man we were told refused a hundred dollars an acre for his farm because "he was that foolish over it." And the inhabitants of the valley are fine and friendly, as you would expect of people who so love their homes.


Photographs of mountain scenes by Margaret Morley

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Foraging for Sochan

Eventually, the food movement had to go this far. As soon as a lot of people started buying organic, locally grown farmers'-market fare, food snobs had to do something else to feel superior. They had to look down on the masses' reliance on the whole modernized "growing food on purpose" thing. They had to go back to a more honest, preagricultural method: foraging.
Time Magazine, July 26, 2010

I was on my way home from a weekend of permaculture study.

With no reason to be in a hurry, I turned from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Craggy Gardens and walked the trail to the summit. Always one of my favorite short hikes, it was no exception this time. I nibbled on wild blueberries and watched the roiling fog obscure and reveal range upon range of mountains, looking like waves in the ocean.

When I got to the observation deck at the top, a man and his teenage son were enjoying the sky show. One second, the quickly dropping sun gilded a row of clouds, and then the fog would take away the view of the sun completely.

They both had some good stories, and the three of us talked for a while. I mentioned “permaculture” and explained it in brief, and that I’d just been briefed in the culinary potential of native woodland plants. Coincidentally, the dad had just read a Time article on high-end chefs using foraged ingredients. I told him I’d look it up and read it, and he said he’d find out more about permaculture. After I got home, I did find the Time story, Joel Stein’s “Into the Woods.”

…searching the woods or parks or even cracks in the pavement for edible plants has become the latest culinary obsession. In June, forageSF's Iso Rabins gathered 70 vendors and 2,000 customers in San Francisco for his once-a-month Underground Market for foraged food. There's a restaurant in Los Angeles called Forage that lets people take in stuff they find (or, for slackers, grow in their gardens) to exchange for credit toward their dinner. Meanwhile, menus across the land are listing wild leeks, fiddlehead ferns, stinging nettles and berries you've never heard of.

Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., often goes foraging and explains its appeal: "You can pursue a bunch of b_______ cooking like sous vide this or sous vide that or foam this or foam that, but to celebrate wild, foraged things and get back to an elemental place is an intellectually much more interesting place for me as a chef." In early summer his customers can order a completely foraged dessert. "It freaks them out," he says. "The flavors are intense. They're unique. They're not like a cultivated strawberry."

…Tyler Gray of Oregon-based Mikuni Wild Harvest sometimes rides the New York City subway with $50,000 worth of foraged truffles in his backpack. "It's such a crazy subculture," he says of food finders, who speak in "traveling-gypsy code," as he puts it. "You don't want anyone to know where you're foraging," says Gray, whose truck has been shot at while he was out searching for food.

Ava Chin, who blogs about urban foraging for the New York Times, won't say where in the city she once found nearly 100 morels. She recently tapped a maple tree near her Brooklyn apartment, which upset her neighbors. "In New York, everyone freaks out and figures you must be hurting the tree," she says. "I don't know where they think maple syrup comes from."

Even with its many jumps around the map, the Time article leaves out a lot. The story succeeded in bringing a worthwhile topic to broader awareness, while it came close to trivializing the subject.

Actually, foraging can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. We could talk about it from the perspective of anthropology, biology, spirituality, economics, ecology....or as a pop culture fad.

Euell Gibbons told us how to fry up a batch of elderberry blossom fritters. The question is, why would you want to? A new generation of wild foodies is advancing the concept of knowing when to pick, and how to prepare, native plants so they aren’t merely edible, but delicious. Among the books to emerge from this new wave is Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate, by John Kallas.

Green-headed Coneflower

Here in the Southern Appalachians, one wild plant that happens to be blooming right now, is considered by many the number one native plant deserving a place on the plate. If you know it by the flower, you might call it green-headed coneflower. But if you treasure it for the spring greens from the young plants, then you might call it sochan. Several years ago in the Smoky Mountain News, George Ellison described it.

Sochan (“Rudbeckia laciniatum”), called green-headed coneflower by non-Indians, is one of the most prized spring greens the Cherokees gather. They sometimes call it “sochani.” Many of their gardens have semi-cultivated patches of the plant in protected areas. Closely related to black-eyed Susan (“Rudbeckia hirta”), it grows to 10 feet tall in wet areas and along damp woodland borders. The flower heads that appear in mid-summer are about three inches wide with drooping yellow rays and a center disk (unlike the purple disk of black-eyed Susan) that’s greenish-yellow.

The Cherokees recognize sochan as soon as it comes out of the ground in mid-spring by its distinctive irregularly divided leaves and smell. Consult your wildflower field guides for flower and leaf-shape diagrams of green-headed coneflower. Then you will be able to locate the plant this summer along backcountry roadways when it’s in full bloom. Mark the spot and return next spring for greens. Prepare the young shoots and leaves (boiled with several changes of water) have a rich texture and zesty flavor. It’s even good cold as a snack with a little vinegar added. In the opinion of many - this writer included - sochan is the very finest of the traditional potherbs gathered in the Blue Ridge region.

Though you certainly would not have to go that far to find it, the walk to the top of Clingman’s Dome takes you through acres of green-headed coneflower blooms...or next year’s sochan patch. Considering how these things go, I wouldn’t be surprised to find sochan on the menu of any hip restaurant in Asheville or Sylva come next spring.

As permaculture makes more inroads into the culture, what’s old is new again. (After thinking further on this, I'm not sure it is a matter of permaculture making inroads. Permaculture reflects the deepest and most eternal laws of nature, and nature has plenty of self-correcting strategies to deal with anyone who would defy those laws.)

For more links on this - http://lifeisfare.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/the-latest-culinary-obsession-foraging/

Friday, August 6, 2010


Earlier this week, I posted a story on copperhead bites in North Carolina.

And earlier this week, I saw a story on Matt Jenkins, aka "The Barefoot Runner," completing his 740-mile run across the state to raise funds for the Western Youth Network in Boone.

Later, those two stories converged…almost in my own backyard!

The Barefoot Runner must have passed within hollerin’ distance of my house Tuesday afternoon going up the mountain to Cullowhee Gap and Macon County. By the time he descended to the level land along Ellijay Creek, it was dark.

He had seen one snake earlier. Then, continuing carefully on the dark road, he felt a sting on his foot. Looking back, Jenkins saw a snake glide away.

Hemmed in by tall ridges, he didn’t have a cell signal, and faced the unfortunate need to start knocking on doors at 10:30 PM. Aargh!

Help and hospitality awaited at the first house he called on, though. The sting turned out to be a copperhead bite. Even with prompt treatment, his leg is painful and swollen and he could be off the road for a couple of weeks.

More on The Barefoot Runner, from Karen Chavez with the Asheville Citizen-Times:

He said he has 88 miles left until the run from Manteo, which he started July 14, to Murphy, is completed.

So far, the WYN has raised $4,000, a drop compared to the more than $150,000 lost from state budget cuts, but Matt said he is grateful for every penny that people have donated.

"It's a great thing," he said of his snake bite. "It's one of the greatest things that's happened on the run. It has renewed interest from the media and increased sympathy donations. It's not about me. It's about the Western Youth Network. I'm just the village idiot."

For more information, or to donate to the WYN, visit http://www.westernyouthnetwork.org/.

I have to wonder if it was the same copperhead I saw on that same stretch of road, on a mild November afternoon. It was the prettiest copperhead I’d ever seen.

Frank Fraboni reported this for WLOS, and the video lets you see the damage a copperhead can do:


All in all, I’m thankful we have “village idiots” like Matt Jenkins on this planet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Minstrel of the Appalachians

I've posted clips of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973) filmed in the 1960s, but this rarity is from the early 30s. Great stuff!

Those old timers could make music that sounded like a mountain stream.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Strange Wailing Sound

North Carolina leads the nation in copperhead snake bites:

In 2009, 499 snake bites were reported to Carolinas Poison Center. Of those, 228 were identified as copperhead bites. About 30% of all reported snake bites are “dry,” which means venom is not injected.

Most bites can be treated with wound care and pain management. Some serious bites require antivenom. July and August are the most common months for people to get bitten.

North Carolina has five venomous snakes that cause the majority of snake bite poisonings (copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern diamondback, pygmy, and timber), but it’s the copperhead that causes the most bites. Copperheads are not usually aggressive snakes, but they will bite to protect themselves or to secure food. Children who are playing outdoors and adults who are gardening are especially at risk for snake bites.

( Asheville Citizen Times, 8/2/10, http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20100802/NEWS/308020044 )

The photos are of my 2009 neighborhood copperhead, which I’ve not seen this year. I’d like to think I’m a devout pacifist regarding venomous snakes, but I might make an exception depending on the circumstances.

However, I must say that a story related by James Mooney in Myths of the Cherokee has influenced my response to snake encounters:

58. The Rattlesnake's Vengeance

One day in the old times when we could still talk with other creatures, while some children were playing about the house, their mother inside heard them scream. Running out she found that a rattlesnake had crawled from the grass, and taking up a stick she killed it. The father was out hunting in the mountains, and that evening when coming home after dark through the gap he heard a strange wailing sound. Looking about he found that he had come into the midst of a whole company of rattlesnakes, which all had their mouths open and seemed to be crying. He asked them the reason of their trouble, and they told him that his own wife had that day killed their chief, the Yellow Rattlesnake, and they were just now about to send the Black Rattlesnake to take revenge.

The hunter said he was very sorry, but they told him that if he spoke the truth he must be ready to make satisfaction and give his wife as a sacrifice for the life of their chief. Not knowing what might happen otherwise, he consented. They then told him that the Black Rattlesnake would go home with him and coil up just outside the door in the dark. He must go inside, where he would find his wife awaiting him, and ask her to get him a drink of fresh water from the spring. That was all.

He went home and knew that the Black Rattlesnake was following. It was night when he arrived and very dark, but he found his wife waiting with his supper ready. He sat down and asked for a drink of water. She handed him a gourd full from the jar, but he said he wanted it fresh from the spring, so she took a bowl and went out of the door. The next moment he beard a cry, and going out he found that the Black Rattlesnake had bitten her and that she was already dying. He stayed with her until she was dead, when the Black Rattlesnake came out from the grass again and said his tribe was now satisfied.

He then taught the hunter a prayer song, and said, "When you meet any of us hereafter sing this song and we will not hurt you; but if by accident one of us should bite one of your people then sing this song over him and he will recover." And the Cherokee have kept the song to this day.

In Sacred Formulas, Mooney shares more on the subject, beginning with a Cherokee song used in the treatment of snake bite:


1. Dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa (song).
Sgĕ! Ha-Walâ´sĭ-gwû tsûnlû´ntani´ga.
2. Dayuha, dayuha, dayuha, dayuha dayuha (song).
Sgĕ! Ha-Usugĭ-gwû tsûn-lûn´-tani´ga.
(Degâ´sisisgû´nĭ).—Kanâgi´ta nâyâ´ga hiă´ dilentisg´ûnĭ. Tă´lĭ igû´nkw’ta‘tĭ, ûlĕ´ talinĕ´ tsutanû´nna nasgwû´ tâ´lĭ igû´nkw’ta‘tĭ´. Tsâ´la aganû´nlieskâĭ´ tsâ´la yikani´gûngû´âĭ´ watsi´la-gwû ganûnli´yĕtĭ uniskûl‘tsû´nĭ. Nû´‘kĭ nagade´stisgâĭ´ aganûnli´esgûnĭ. Akskû´nĭ gadest´a‘tĭ, nûû‘kĭ nagade´ sta hûntsatasgâ´ĭ. Hiă-‘nû´ i´natû akti´sĭ udestâ´ĭ yigû´n‘ka, naski-‘nû´ tsagadû´lăgisgâ´ĭ iyu´stĭ gatgû´nĭ.



1. Dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa, dûnu´wa.
Listen! Ha! It is only a common frog which has passed by and put it (the intruder) into you.
2. Dayuha, dayuha, dayuha, dayuha, dayuha.
Listen! Ha! It is only an Usu´‘gĭ which has passed by and put it into you.

(Prescription.)—Now this at the beginning is a song. One should say it twice and also say the second line twice. Rub tobacco (juice) on the bite for some time, or if there be no tobacco just rub on saliva once. In rubbing it on, one must go around four times. Go around toward the left and blow four times in a circle. This is because in lying down the snake always coils to the right and this is just the same (lit. “means like”) as uncoiling it.


This is also from the manuscript book of Gahuni, deceased, so that no explanation could be obtained from the writer. The formula consists of a song of two verses, each followed by a short recitation. The whole is repeated, according to the directions, so as to make four verses or songs; four, as already stated, being the sacred number running through most of these formulas. Four blowings and four circuits in the rubbing are also specified. The words used in the songs are sometimes composed of unmeaning syllables, but in this case dûnuwa and dayuha seem to have a meaning, although neither the interpreter nor the shaman consulted could explain them, which may be because the words have become altered in the song, as frequently happens.

Dûnu´wa appears to be an old verb, meaning “it has penetrated,” probably referring to the tooth of the reptile. These medicine songs are always sung in a low plaintive tone, somewhat resembling a lullaby. Usu´‘gĭ also is without explanation, but is probably the name of some small reptile or batrachian.

As in this case the cause of the trouble is evident, the Indians have no theory to account for it. It may be remarked, however, that when one dreams of being bitten, the same treatment and ceremonies must be used as for the actual bite; otherwise, although perhaps years afterward, a similar inflammation will appear on the spot indicated in the dream, and will be followed by the same fatal consequences. The rattlesnake is regarded as a supernatural being or ada´wehi, whose favor must be propitiated, and great pains are taken not to offend him.

In consonance with this idea it is never said among the people that a person has been bitten by a snake, but that he has been “scratched by a brier.” In the same way, when an eagle has been shot for a ceremonial dance, it is announced that “a snowbird has been killed,” the purpose being to deceive the rattlesnake or eagle spirits which might be listening.

The assertion that it is “only a common frog” or “only an Usu´‘gĭ” brings out another characteristic idea of these formulas. Whenever the ailment is of a serious character, or, according to the Indian theory, whenever it is due to the influence of some powerful disease spirit the doctor always endeavors to throw contempt upon the intruder, and convince it of his own superior power by asserting the sickness to be the work of some inferior being, just as a white physician might encourage a patient far gone with consumption by telling him that the illness was only a slight cold.

Sometimes there is a regular scale of depreciation, the doctor first ascribing the disease to a rabbit or groundhog or some other weak animal, then in succeeding paragraphs mentioning other still less important animals and finally declaring it to be the work of a mouse, a small fish, or some other insignificant creature. In this instance an ailment caused by the rattlesnake, the most dreaded of the animal spirits, is ascribed to a frog, one of the least importance.

In applying the remedy the song is probably sung while rubbing the tobacco juice around the wound. Then the short recitation is repeated and the doctor blows four times in a circle about the spot. The whole ceremony is repeated four times. The curious directions for uncoiling the snake have parallels in European folk medicine.