Sunday, January 30, 2011

Old Black Joe

Do much shopping for vintage postcards and you'll find plenty along the lines of Old Black Joe. As soon as I saw this one, I thought about the line in a Leonard Cohen song:

I'm really not sure if LC had a specific reference in mind, other than the popular nineteenth century Stephen Foster song (performed here by Paul Robeson):

Friday, January 28, 2011

America's Forgotten City

Thanks to the Professor for this tip - a National Geographic article about Cahokia, "America's Forgotten City."


awesome photos

Four centuries before Columbus, Cahokia (near present-day Saint Louis) was the metropolis of North America. The circumstances of its sudden fall remain a mystery.

Cahokia had an influence, direct or indirect, on the society inhabiting the southern Appalachians at that time. The surviving evidence point to Cahokia's connections to trade and technology exchange here in the Southeast.

One writer on Cahokia discussed its role in "chungke," a high-stakes sport played throughout much of North America (and, eventually, I'll be posting a story on the subject).

At 4000 acres, Cahokia Mounds is the largest archaeological site in the United States.

Cahokia may have been the origin for the Mississippian culture that emerged around 1000 AD and peaked around the 13th century.

One Cahokia mound, Monk's Mound, is ten stories tall and larger at its base than the Great Pyramid of Egpyt.


See also: From Caney Fork to Cahokia,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sacred Groves - 3

The concept of sacred groves hasn’t caught on so well in America, if by “sacred groves” you mean patches of forest dedicated to folk deities, groves protected by local communities over the course of generations.


While there may be hundreds of such sacred groves in India, I’m not sure where you would find the equivalent in the USA. Perhaps the National Parks and National Forests are as close as you’ll come. One thing’s for sure: without those tracts of protected land, life in the Southern Appalachians would be very different from what it is today. Those of us who seek refuge in these special places owe a tremendous debt to the people who preceded us by a century and overcame the objections of powerful moneyed interests.

The year 2011 marks an important anniversary, the centennial of the Weeks Act. This federal legislation authorized the purchase of forest lands in the eastern United States and was part of an interesting turning point in American history. Up until that time, the government had been granting public lands to private individuals, (and in the West, reserving parks and forests from lands that had never left the public domain) but as the population of the country grew, there was a recognition of the need to acquire private lands for the public good.

At the turn of the twentieth century, timber interests (enabled by the recent extension of rail lines) ravaged the southern mountains. During the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt several reports examined the damage generated by poor logging and farming practices customary throughout the region. The reports featured photographic evidence, for example:

Severely eroded steep rocky slope, the result of bad crop farming, along Scotts Creek, Jackson County, west of Asheville, N.C., after heavy rains of May 21, 1901. Scattered hardwoods and pitch pine are visible on hillside. (NA:95G-23515).

Message from the President of the United States Transmitting a Report of the Secretary of Agriculture in Relation to the Forests, Rivers, and Mountains of the Southern Appalachian Region (1902) was a landmark document. This report (which includes some stunning photographs) can be viewed online at

The report described the various river basins of the region, including the Little Tennesse (and the Tuckasegee):

[1,018,054 acres; 91 per cent wooded.]

All of the land available for tillage has been cleared. Corn is the staple crop on both alluvium and upland, the yield of small grain, grass, and apples being much smaller than in other mountain counties farther north....

Orchards have been planted, but are much neglected, and only a few apples are produced for market....

Much of the best valley land has been badly washed, especially on Tuckasegee River and Scott Creek. There are also many badly worn steep slopes on these streams and elsewhere....

The best timber has been much culled for 20 miles from the Southern Railway, which crosses the middle of the basin. Repeated forest fires, started with a view to improve the pasturage, have destroyed much timber on dry south slopes, and by continued suppression of the young growth have greatly reduced the density....

By describing the abysmal treatment of forests and farmlands in this region and proposing a plan for responsible management, this report set the stage for the Weeks Act. Passage of the legislation was far from easy, however. A headline in the April 1908 edition of the timber industry trade paper, The Southern Lumberman, gleefully announced “Appalachian Forest Bill Dead.” But news of its demise was greatly exaggerated. Three years later, the Weeks Act was passed, authorizing the acquisition of forest lands in the east, including what would become the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

The unlikely rationale for forest protection was stated in a forest service document published shortly after passage of the Weeks Act:

The general purpose of this law is to secure the maintenance of a perpetual growth of forest on the watersheds of navigable streams where such growth will materially aid in preventing floods, in improving low waters, in preventing erosion of steep slopes and the silting up of the river channels, and thereby improve the flow of water for navigation.

(In fact, this was the argument advanced to establish a constitutional basis - under the commerce clause - for the Weeks Act. Until 1911, the legislation had been successfully suppressed due to constitutional concerns.) The forest service document continued:

While the improvement of the flow of navigable streams is the fundamental purpose, other benefits incidental in character but nevertheless important will be kept in view. Among these are (1) protection against disastrous erosion of the soil on mountain slopes and against the destruction of the soil and soil cover by forest fires; (2) preservation of water powers, since, like navigation, they depend for their value upon the evenness of streamflow; (3) preservation of the purity and regularity of flow of the mountain streams, with a view to their use for the water supply of towns and cities; (4) preservation of a timber supply to meet the needs of the industries of the country; (5) preservation of the beauty and attractiveness of the uplands for the recreation and pleasure of the people.

The report outlined the areas that were of the highest priority for purchase by the federal government, including these nearby locations:


Lands in North Carolina situated in Haywood County north and west of Jonathan Creek and west of Pigeon River below the mouth of Jonathan Creek; in Swain County north of the Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee Rivers; lands in Tennessee in Cooke County south of Denny Mountain and the Big Pigeon River; in Sevier County south of Chestnut Ridge, Galtinburg post office, and Cove Mountain; and in Blount County south of Roundtop Mountain and Tuckaleeche post office and east of Hesse Creek and Abram Creek.

Lands situated in Jackson County north of Little Hogback Mountain, Laurel Mountain, Sheep Cliff, and Shortoff Mountain, and east of Buck Knob, East Laport post office, and Carver Mountain, and south of the Asheville and Murphy Branch of the Southern Railroad; lands in Haywood County south of Pinnacle Knob, Snaggy Ridge, and the post offices of Three Forks, Cecil, Retreat, and Cruso; lands in Buncombe County south of Dunsmore post office and Stony Knob; lands in Henderson County west of Seniard Mountain and Buck Knob; and lands in Transylvania County north of the Hendersonville and Lake Toxaway Branch of the Southern Railroad, and Lake Toxaway, and west of the Boylston Creek.

Yes, the Weeks Act and its aftermath reflect a utilitarian view of the forests. Still, if I were to set off in search of a “sacred grove” I’m not sure I could find a better place to start.

Though I’ve not gotten my hands on it, the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of Appalachia features a story by Tom Wagner, Public Land Conservation in the East: The Weeks Act Story

There will be various observances and exhibits celebrating the Weeks Act centennial all this year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Right On

...walking like the lost boys of Sierra Leone / the trail of tears what they got me like a Cherokee on...-From Walk Alone by The Roots

Right On, The Roots, featuring Joanna Newsom, from How I Got Over - "...contains a subtle, somber sound that incorporates musical elements of soul, jazz, indie rock, and gospel music, and features lyrics concerning themes of existentialism, perseverance, and modern society..."

Walk Alone

Trapped, no shield, no sword
The unbeaten path got my soul so sore
Allured by the lust, something money can't cure
The Devil want me as is, but God he want more
Eyes closed, eyes open, great another day, here we go
like a nigga woke up late in The Truman Show
Living life without a care, mean pokerface
But I'm forced to play solitaire till I get up out of here
Move like a wanted man with a bounty on his head
Work alone, sleep alone, eat alone, daily bread
Counting till my fingers red, how you gon' judge a man
walking in the shoes of a man with a broken leg?
Flame on the trail headed for the powder keg
Last place in the race I ain't never led
Like I ain't never bled, time to get up out of bed
Serving in the army of one, it's on again

Walk alone, I walk alone, you know I walk it alone
I always been on my own, ever since the day I born
So I don't mind walking alone

I'm in a chess match, I'm in a death trap
I'm tryna find out where the eggs in the nest at
I'm one blood when the sky turns jet black
No love in the world can correct that
I'm in a slow lane, I'm on my Cobain
I'm in the new spot tryna run a old game
I got a new chick, put out my old flame
No peace, no sleep, no love for a young beast
You can put me in a cage
You can put me in the jungle where the lion get blazed
There ain't no hell like the hell I raise
I'd die in the bed I made 'fore I lay with a love I loathe
I'm a snake in the garden of bones
I'm a loner in a world of clones
I'm the piece that don't belong, see I roam
where the the Reaper roam till they put my name on a stone

The longest walk I'll probably ever be on
The Road to Perdition, guess I'm finna get my plea on
I pray these wings strong enough to carry me on
I promise every second felt as if it took an eon
Walking like the lost boys of Sierra Leone
The trail of tears what they got me like a Cherokee on
Between the ears something I require therapy on
for the working the bone like my name Robert Dion
I go above and beyond, the duty called, truly y'all
Even though they kind of blew me off like a booty call
Asked me if I'm just another muli or a movie star
Forced to face the +music+ like a graduate of Juilliard
Walk alone, talk alone, get my Charlie Parker on
Make my make alone, shed light upon the dark alone
Get my sparkle on, it's a mission I'm embarking on
A kamikaze in the danger zone far from home


Saturday, January 22, 2011

More Postcards

A couple of finds, located in Haywood County:

The Hotel Lefaine was, in its day, one of the most popular hotels in Waynesville. Apparently, it was removed for construction of the justice center in downtown Waynesville.

The Skyland Camp for Girls started in 1917 and is still operating in Clyde. Surprisingly, the old building depicted on this postcard is still there.

And just a little farther from here, near Mount Pisgah, one of Vanderbilt's hunting lodges:

This brings to mind to an old story about Carl Schenck, the pioneering forester and educator who opened the forestry school on George Vanderbilt's forest. When Vanderbilt decided to build a huge hunting lodge near the summit of Mount Pisgah, enormous trees were required for the construction. As Schenck described it, "The walls were to consist of chestnut logs, and about a thousand logs of that species, ten feet in diameter and up to forty feet long, had to be supplied." I don't know if he was exaggerating, or not. I would like to see the pictures, though.

(From Cradle of Forestry in America, by Carl Schenck)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reynolds Price, 1933-2011

Reynolds Price, 1933 - 2011

Life is short and often stingy; feast the heart with what it craves, short of cruelty, and let the world wonder.

I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern.

From the age of six I wanted to be an artist. At that point I meant a painter, but it turned out what I really meant was I was someone who was very interested in watching the world and making copies of it.

What I still ask for daily - for life as long as I have work to do, and work as long as I have life.

Even now, after whatever gains feminism has made in involving fathers in the rearing of their children, I still think virtually all of us spend the most formative years of our lives very much in the presence of women.

Strength just comes in one brand - you. Stand up at sunrise and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.

I said to one of my students a couple of years ago, what is it with you people? You never get off the phone to one another, you travel through whole continents to be with one another for 14 hours. And he said, Mr. Price, we had to invent families of our own, our own families disappeared.

Almost all of my really good times have been silent but have had to end.

In a 1999 commentary on NPR, Price considered as an epitaph two lines from Homer:

Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had the fingers of no heir will ever hold.


Reynolds Price obit from New York Times:

Price was born in Macon, NC a little town in the northeastern part of the state. It was a quiet place when I drove through there three years ago and snapped these pictures:

This was memorably odd - the grand old schoolhouse in Macon about to fall in, while the grounds were still tended carefully:

Price desribed his hometown as "227 cotton and tobacco farmers nailed to the flat red land at the pit of the Great Depression.”

Price's 1992 Founder's Day speech at Duke ruffled a few feathers:

...while I encounter in my classes each year a nexus of extraordinary students who keep me teaching, I likewise encounter -- and all my classes are elective -- the stunned or blank faces of students who exhibit a minimum of preparation or willingness for what I think of as the high delight and life-enduring pleasure of serious conversation in the classroom and elsewhere.

Disturbingly often I'm left wondering why a particularly lifeless student -- one so apparently vacant of Mr. Duke's "real ambition for life" -- is present in a university that affirms its luxury of choice and its stringent standards. Whose rightful place is that dullard usurping? My baffled curiosity is by no means eccentric in me.

If we are getting the students we claim to deserve -- our earned share of the most intelligent, original and ambitious American high-school graduates -- then why do I hear so many colleagues whom I know to be dedicated teachers sharing the same puzzlement; and why do so many long-time members of the faculty agree that our standards of grading have steadily inflated in recent years? A teacher who grades the students of the '90s as realistically as he did in the 1950s or '60s will face a roomful of empty desks at the start of the next term.

Anyone present here today who has not recently spent sustained time in a Duke classroom and who doubts my word owes him or herself an unobtrusive campus tour. Before I suggest a few stops on your route, let me forestall any question of my devotion to the place by stating the obvious -- that I've happily chosen to spend my life here and that I'm certain you'll find rewarding sights. You'll witness many probing enlightening, even pleasing investigations of the urgent mysteries of Homo sapiens -- investigations conducted by alert and communicative men and women. You'll likewise witness, among all ages, exchanges of magnanimous courtesy and mutual profit.

But you'll find other sights that breed concern. Visit especially those classes in which a teacher encourages student discussion and is frequently met by a speechless majority who are either lost in riveting meditations of their own, too precious to expose, or have simply never bothered learning to talk in a challenging forum. You'll also note occasional teachers who waltz alone in self-intoxication before their ready but unfed students.

Then walk your attentive self through the quads. Stand at a bus stop at noon rush-hour; roam the reading rooms of the libraries in the midst of term and the panic of exams. Lastly, eat lunch in a dining hall and note the subjects of conversation and the words employed in student discussion. (I'm speaking mostly of undergraduates, but not exclusively.)

Try to conceal your consternation at what is often the main theme of discourse -- something much less interesting than sex and God, the topics of my time. If for instance you can eat a whole meal in a moderately occupied Duke dining hall without transcribing a certain sentence at least once, I'll treat you to the legal pain reliever of your choice. The sentence runs more or less like this, in male or female voice -- "I can't believe how drunk I was last night."

Considering that the social weekends of many students now begin -- indeed are licensed by us to begin -- at midday on Thursday and continue through the morning hours of Monday (as they never did in the old days of "country club" Duke), maybe the sentence is inevitable -- at least in the bankrupt America we're conspiring to nurture so lovingly and toward which we blindly, or passively anyhow, wave our students.

But how vehemently I doubt that we ought to accept such a message as normal fare in a place as honored as this by a huge gift for doing better with our botched genes. And how bitterly that impoverished sentence in the mouths of students flies as the banner of the university's remaining enormous failure to them and to J.B. Duke's intention....

As I debated a theme for today and asked a number of current undergraduates for a personal list of local hits and misses, their all but invariable refrain come to this -- With our many causes for gratitude, still the thing that holds us back by the minute at Duke is the prevailing cloud of indifference, of frequent hostility, to a thoughtful life. If the students are truthful, and I'm sure that they are, we've partly wasted years of their lives; and we owe them recompense -- if not at once, then at least to their younger siblings and children.

Grant, for the moment, that those students are more than half right, where do we turn to redeem the wrong? And what do we do by way of repair? The question has defeated generations of us; and though I've participated here since I was 18 in numerous student- and faculty-conceived discussion groups, coffees, wine and cheese parties, dorm courses, picnics, overnight seminars beside Lake Michie, I've seen such initiative die for lack of commitment or continuity on the part of all involved. I'm long since certain that our failure proceeds from a lack of courage to confront the failure.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Owassee Prophecy

The most recent installment from E. G. Paine follows. Or, follow this link for all episodes to date.

Chapter Fifteen

Daniel was frustrated in his efforts to locate the archaeological sites listed in the Cyrus Thomas report. He did know of one mound that had been destroyed: the one on the campus of Owassee State University, the one excavated by the mustachioed man whose photograph was at the library.

During a time of expansion in the 1920s, the college planned to build dormitories on the ancient site. But after the devastating flood, the plans changed and the area was graded for athletic fields. Questions still nagged at Daniel, “What happened to the inscribed stone in the photograph? Had it been washed away by the floodwaters? Did the archaeologist haul it away in the middle of the night?”

The Mulberry Creek mound had been a more promising possibility, if only he had been out to explore before the dozers scalped the area for a racetrack. Now it was probably too late. And the mound was a small concern compared with what Lola and Winona stood to lose from a race track across the road. He wondered how people like Pam Jackson and Dewaine Dewitt could sleep at night.

Daniel had a detailed topo map of the Owassee Valley and studied how Cyrus Thomas’s descriptions corresponded to features on the modern map. He knew that some of the place names had changed. Besides that, some of the listings were too vague to be of much help. A few were relatively easy to pinpoint. For instance:

Mound on south bank of Mill Creek one mile above junction with Cockrills Creek

He found it on the map, but he knew he couldn’t go there. Several hundred acres deep in the hills east of town were enclosed by a ten-foot-tall razor wire fence, securing a facility developed during the Cold War. The satellite tracking station was a world unto itself, surrounded by national forest. For Congressman Ray Quigley, Sr. (Big Ray) this was a pork project during the glory years of NASA in the 1960s. Later it was transferred to the National Security Agency for reasons never disclosed, but easily surmised.

Although several rows of enormous satellite dishes were the most visible feature of the tracking station, the primary operational center extended at least seven stories underground. A series of tunnels connected the operational center with other auxiliary units underground. Onsite housing and a small commissary and recreation centers served the technicians and researchers at the facility.

The only reason Daniel knew this much was because his uncle was employed during the construction of the station. Since it had opened, people needed proper security clearance to get waved through the gate without proper security clearance. Hospitality was not a hallmark of the station. Hunters who had lingered too close to the fences reported that armed security guards would appear out of nowhere and tell them to move on.

The Mill Creek vicinity had achieved some notoriety long before the tracking station was constructed there. For many years, people had reported hearing a buzzing or humming sound, similar to the sound heard near high-voltage power lines. However, the noise was present long before rural electrification reached Owassee County. In fact, mysterious low-frequency hums have been reported at many locations around the world. The seaside town of Puponga on the northwest tip of New Zealand's south island is one example. Closer to Owasse County, strange buzzing sounds have been heard in Rabun County, Georgia and Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Travel writer Henry Colton wrote about his investigation of the Roan Mountain hum in 1878:

Several of the cattle tenders on the mountain and also General Wilder had spoken to us about what they called Mountain Music. One evening they said it was sounding loud, and Dr. D. P. Boynton, of Knoxville, Hon. J. M. Thornburg, and myself accompanied General Wilder to the glen to hear it. The sound was very plain to the ear, and was not at all as described – like the humming of thousands of bees – but like the incessant, continuous and combined snap of two Leyden jars positively and negatively charged.

I tried to account for it on the theory of bees or flies but the mountain people said it frequently occurred after the bees or flies had gone to their winter homes or before they came out. It was always loudest and most prolonged just before there would be a thunderstorm in either valley, or one passing over the mountain.

I used every argument I could to persuade myself that it was simply a result of some common cause and to shake the faith of the country people in its mysterious origin but I only convinced myself that it was the result from two currents of air meeting each other in the suck between the two peaks where there was no obstruction of trees, once containing a greater, the other a less amount of electricity, or that the two currents coming together in the open plateau on the high elevation, by their friction and being of different temperatures, generated electricity.

The ‘mountain music’ was simply the snapping caused by this friction and this generation of electricity. Many have noted the peculiar snapping hum to be observed in great auroral displays, particularly those of September, 1859 and February, 1872.

As the amount of electricity in the air currents became equalized or surcharged, they, descending to the other side caused the thunder storm daily in the valleys near the mountain and sometimes immediately on the edge of the timber surrounding the great bald top. The air currents of the Western North Carolina mountains and the East Tennessee valley form an aerial tide, ebbing and flowing.

The heated air of the valley rises from nine in the morning until three or four in the afternoon, making a slight easterly wind up and over Roan Mountain. As night comes on the current turns back into the valley, almost invariably producing a very brisk gale by three or four o’clock in the morning which, in its turn, dies down to a calm by seven and commences to reverse by nine o’clock. This continual change of currents of air makes it an impossibility for any great malarial scourge to exist in the East Tennessee valley, especially its northeastern end.

And with that definitive answer from Henry Colton, the people of East Tennessee could rest easy in knowing they had nothing to fear from low-frequency humming sounds…or malaria.

In the 1990s, the feds prepared to abandon the tracking station. By then, Ray Quigley, Jr. (Little Ray) was serving in Congress, having inherited the seat once held by Big Ray. Thanks to Little Ray, a private consortium took possession of the facility and continued to operate it under the strictest security. Local folks still had no idea what sort of research was being conducted there.

Daniel wondered if the Mill Creek mound remained intact, but he knew there was no chance of his hiking around to investigate. So far, he wasn’t having much luck finding traces of the archaeological sites cataloged by Cyrus Thomas.

[to be continued]

From The Owasssee Prophecy, by E. G. Paine

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sacred Groves - 2

And when the sun sets dimmed in eve, and purple fills the air,
I think the sacred hazel-tree is dropping berries there,
From starry fruitage, waved aloft where Connla's Well o'erflows;
For sure, the immortal waters run through every wind that blows.

-from Connla's Well by George William Russell

I can’t get very far into this topic without thinking about a composition by John Williams, something quite different from the film music for which he is best known.

His Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (Five Sacred Trees) is comprised of five movements, each representing a tree from ancient Celtic mythology. The work was commissioned in 1995 for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, and was premiered by bassoonist Judith LeClair. The subsequent
recording featuring LeClair and the London Symphony is lovely, and also features works by Hovhaness and Picker, (modern and yet accessible compositions, all). The Williams concerto really is a sound track to the sacred grove.

Here are the liner notes by Jamake Highwater (and I especially appreciate his summation):

As we become increasingly aware of the damage done by the destruction of our forests, it is illuminating to discover that our ancestors, many thousands of years ago, prayed to the spirits before felling a tree. One prayer was appropriate for a maple, another for the elm, the ash, and so on.

The English poet, Robert Graves, writes of these prayers, which I have been unable to find, but which nonetheless, have moved me to compose this music featuring the bassoon, itself a tree.

This is all the result of a request for a concerto by the great bassoonist Judith LeClair, whose unparalleled artistry is a mystery and a wonder in itself.

Eó Mugna, the great oak, whose roots extend to Connla's Well in the “otherworld,” stands guard over what is the source of the River Shannon and the font of all wisdom. The well is probably the source of all music, too. The inspiration for this movement is the Irish Uillean pipe, a distant ancestor of the bassoon, whose music evokes the spirit of Mugna and the sacred well.

Tortan is a tree that has been associated with witches and as a result, the fiddle appears, sawing away, as it is conjoined with the music of the bassoon. The Irish Bodhrán drum assists.

The Tree of Ross (or Eó Rosa) is a yew, and although the yew is often referred to as a symbol of death and destruction, The Tree of Ross is often the subject of much rhapsodizing in the literature. It is referred to as "a mother's good," "Diadem of the Angels" and "faggot of the sages". Hence the lyrical character of this movement, wherein the bassoon oncants and is accompanied by the harp!

Craeb Uisnig is an ash and has been described by Robert Graves as a source of strife. Thus, a ghostly battle, where all that is heard as the phantoms struggle, is the snapping of twigs on the forest floor.

Dathi, which purportedly exercised authority over the Poets, and was the last tree to fall, is the subject for the close of the piece. The bassoon soliloquizes as it ponders the secrets of the Trees.

Somewhere in a forgotten land and a forgotten time, the wind mingled with the leaves of sacred trees. Dumbfounded by a melodious sound, humankind paused in amazement to listen. Out of silence music was born.

There are many different tales about the magic and majesty of trees-stories more ancient than our longest memories. In the legends of almost every culture there is a sacred tree standing at the center of the world. In the dawn of the Near Eastern cosmos the tree of Eden stood at the heart of paradise. At the center of the world of the ancient Maya there was another sacred tree called the ceiba. And on the African veldt there are other sacred trees, standing alone and knurled in the midst of dusty villages.

Even in the lore of pre-Christian Europe, there arc many Celtic legends about a grove of five sacred trees. In every hallowed land there are still holy people who sit beneath wind-blown branches. They are the prophets, the soothsayers, and the storytellers of their people. In the shadow of the sacred trees they tell the tales of their tribes, stones that flow from generation to generation like a vase and ancient river. The enure history of humankind resounds with the miraculous music of wind among the branches of sacred trees.

Composer John Williams has heard this rustling music of the leaves. Startled into his own awakening by stories about the mythic Five Sacred Trees, he created an exceptional musical tapestry for orchestra and bassoon, an instrument that Williams believes is "haunted" by the spirit of the tree from which it is made. His music reflects the composer's profound veneration of the forest. "Within the tree community," he tells us, "there lies more music than anywhere else in the Western world. It is impossible to stand under the high arching boughs of ancient trees and not wonder if [he architecture of cathedrals was not born of just such an experience."

The Five Sacred trees, in the form of a Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, consists ot five contrasting movements that eloquently evoke each of the legendary trees of Celtic myth: Eò Mugna. a symbol of the Sturdy oak, begins with solo bassoon, a deep throated voice that lends a somewhat solemn mood to this lyrical homage to the enduring oak. Tortan is John Williams' tribute to the mythic tree associated with witchcraft, which he interprets with a spritely dance tune for fiddle and bassoon, Eò Rossa, or the Tree of Ross-the yew, which summons the rhapsodic powers of destruction and recreation, begins with a delicate theme for solo harp followed by a long, lean line for bassoon over harp accompaniment. Craeb Uisnig, the Celtic name for the ash, a tree that is often a symbol of strafe, brings on an agitated theme, punctuated by drum beats, glissandos, and a rousing series of plucked rhythms in the strings. Finally, there is Dathi, a tree that is The muse of poets and, significantly, is also the last tree to fall in the legendary Forest of Celtic mythology, expressed as a lyrical, somewhat, melancholy duet for bassoon and flute.

John Williams has created a work of great lucidity, marked by the radiant clarity of chamber music-a lacework of delicate melodies that transcend the prosaic world and invite the listener to experience that strange, illusive music that can be heard only amidst the community of trees that still survives in the deepest forest.

Composer Williams discovered the tales of The Five Sacred Trees in the writings of the British poet and mythologist Robert Graves, whose landmark studies of pre-Christian lore and religion celebrate the primordial rites that joined the everlasting and ominous powers of nature with the fragile lives of humankind. In Graves' writings, John Williams found descriptions of prehistoric Celtic rituals that demonstrated a reverence for nature that has become increasingly rare in industrial nations. Among the ancient Celts, it was necessary to recite a specific prayer Before felting a tree-a ritual reminiscent of the lore of many other primal peoples, like Native Americans who recited prayers and wept before killing any creature.

John Williams' The Five Sacred Trees was commissioned in 1995 by the New York Philharmonic in celebration of its 150th anniversary. A brilliant performance by bassoonist Judith LeClair lends a mysterious and lyrical intimacy to this premiere recording by the London Symphony Orchestra.

From the outset of his musical career, composer Toru Takemitsu reflected the unique veneration of nature that is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture-visible in the poetic immediacy and sensuality of poets like Bosho and painters of minimalist Zen landscapes such as Tawaraya Sotatsu. Even today, when the influence of the West is virtually inescapable, the people of Japan do not have to discover their kinship with nature by searching into a forgotten past. In fact, their acquaintance with the natural world is something of an obsession. Takemitsu has carried this Japanese tradition of nature worship into twenti-eth-century music, creating a repertory of highly transparent and evocative tonal experiences in which color and light, rather than musical line, provide a uniquely poetic musical idiom. In this way, Takemitsu perpetuates the cosmic vision; of Japan at the same time that he mingles Eastern and Western influences due, at least in parr, to his strong affinity for the music of Claude Debussy, whose colorist compositions were, ironically, greatly influenced by Asian music. Tree Line, composed in 1988, is a perfect representation of Takemitsu's musical voice. As the composer explained, the tree line of the title refers to a row of acacia trees that stood near the mountain villa that served as his workshop. Takemitsu composed the work as an homage to the dauntless serenity of the trees and their power to inspire an overwhelming sense of time and endurance. For, as the composer noted in a collection of essays (From the Space Left in Music), trees symbolize the visualization of time through their annual rings that are always subtly different, year by year, marking the silent passage of time. Tree Line is a perfect miniature, delicately spinning, note by note, its own vision of time as an element of sound.

The highly layered and luminous music of Alan Hovhaness, with its distinctive Armenian and Far Eastern flavor, is a singular example of composition wrought in the isolation of the West Coast, far from the influences of main-stream musical life. Composed in 1955, Symphony No 2, "Mysterious Mountain," was strikingly ahead of its time, having far more in common with the visionary compositions of late twentieth-century composers like Arvo Part and Henryk Gòrecki than the nationalistic works of Hovhaness' American contemporaries, Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland. By far the most popular of the repertory composed by Hovhaness, "Mysterious Mountain" recalls the so-called "painters of the sublime"-those American painters of the nineteenth century, such as Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School-whose passionate images of unbounded landscapes expressed an American idealism and mystique, an envisioning of a nature that is far larger than life. Like those painters, he uses a massive canvas, a fervently romantic brush stroke, and the inspiration of a greatly outsized natural world devoid of human presence. "I named the symphony," Hovhaness explained, "for the mysterious feeling chat one has in the mountains-not for any special mountain, but for the whole idea of mountains."

For all of its unlimited industrialization, the United States has retained a keen delight in the out-of-doors which is, doubtlessly, one of the reasons Europeans are somewhat perplexed by the persistent American tradition of setting aside precious land as national parks rather than creating more industrial parks, And, yet, the paradox of American industrialism and American conservationism is doubtlessly symbolic of a unique sensibility found in the United States. Composer Tobias Picker reflects this American paradox, in his propulsive and urbane works that contrast markedly with his highly romantic and nostalgic pieces like Old and Lost Rivers (1986). This native of New York City comfortably straddles two worlds: an internationalism that is rarified and highly cosmopolitan, and, on the other hand, a far more intimate and personal affinity with the natural world that conveys an accessible and romantic spirit. Old and Lost Rivers was one of a series of works created by a group of renowned composers for the "Fanfare Project"-short pieces commissioned by the Houston Symphony in celebration of the Texas Sesquicentennial year (1986). Many of the composers invited to participate in the Project-conceived by Tobias Picker, then Composer-in-Residence of the Houston Symphony - inevitably wrote rather grandiose fanfares, but Picker himself decided to compose a piece that is marvelously tranquil. As Picker explains, the name Old and Lost Rivers derives from a natural phenomenon-the network of bayous that lie east of Houston near the vast Trinity River, which snakes down from Dallas to the Gulf of Mexico. The bayous arc traces of the Trinity River that have been left on the land when the great river has shifted from time to time. In this way, the bayous are ghost rivers, curling lazily over the landscape-green and bird-filled when the weather is dry, and full of sluggish- brown water during the rainy season. The two main bayous are called Old River and Lost River. Where they converge, there is a sign that reads: Old and Lost Rivers.

All the music of this album is dedicated to a celebration of the world of nature that lies beyond human frailty. It is music that denies the Western idea that nature is only a resource rather than an integral part of our lives. The composers of this music represent a small group of visionaries, who evoke the drama of the world rather than the drama of ourselves, and who have created a different kind of musical sensibility, one that is shamelessly melodic and profoundly touching.

-Jamake Highwater

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Light in the Sky

The planet Jupiter, from the Voyager

During January, that bright light after sunset in the southwestern part of the sky is the planet Jupiter.

I'm impressed.

Methane hurricanes? Holy cow!

Jupiter and Thetis, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1811

I wasn't sure why Jupiter was depicted with a belly button, but now I understand. If I ever knew, I forgot, but now I know again. (In other words, his parents were Saturn and Ops.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Postcards from Cherokee

Some more postcards of various vintages, from Cherokee:

I didn't even know they had (have?) a chairlift in Cherokee.

Things were a little different way back when.

The Cherokee Tavern? I think I recognize the building, but never knew it was a tavern.

The fine looking gentleman on these two cards is Moses Walkingstick.

Frontier Land (1962-1982?) in its hey-day. And am I correct that it was located on the site now occupied by the Casino?

And, a postcard of the lovely Oconaluftee.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whiteside by Scadin

I just stumbled upon another image from one of the fine early photographers in our region, Henry Scadin. This is a view of the southeast profile of Whiteside Mountain (ca. 1900) and, yes, the little speck at the top of the rock is a person.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Owassee Prophecy

The most recent installment from E. G. Paine follows. Or, follow this link for all episodes to date.

Chapter Fourteen

Daniel made sure he had picked up an extra copy of the archaeological site report and set off for Mulberry Creek. He had always been fond of Lola, and he could tell that Winona had survived fame and fortune remarkably well, so he looked forward to the walk and dinner. He was bringing a bottle of wine and, as a housewarming gift, two carvings he had just completed: a pair of chipmunks.

He arrived at 5:04, just as Jamie Olson was leaving. Jamie was the reporter for the Owassee Sentinel and had written an article several weeks earlier about the sisters’ plans to establish a therapeutic equestrian camp for children with autism. The story was done well and featured several local parents who talked about what a difference it could make for their children.

Daniel collected the items he’d brought and got out of the truck. When Lola stepped from the porch he could see she was distraught.

“Bad news, Daniel. You will not believe what’s happening across the road.”

Winona suggested, “We can walk over there and you’ll see what they’ve done so far.”

The three of them walked up Mulberry Creek Road and around a sharp bend. Daniel was shocked. It looked like a bomb had been dropped. Jagged, broken trees were strewn in every direction along a rough path dozed deep into the woods.

“Are they starting to log this land?”

“If only,” Lola said ruefully.

Winona pointed to a big sign just up the road:

Future Site Owassee Motorsports Park
Thunder Holler Partners, LLC
Opening Summer 2001

Winona continued, “The dozers showed up yesterday morning and they’ve been going non-stop. We had no idea anyone had plans for something like this.”

Daniel shook his head. “That explains the new bridge. Now it adds up.”

Lola agreed, “You were right about Clayton Thorpe. We called Jamie Olson as soon as we saw the sign and he’s been asking lots of questions. Thunder Holler Partners has an option to purchase the land if it’s suitable for a track. They're digging around to see how much rock is in the way. They want to build an oval speedway for the cars and a several other tracks for dirt-bikes.”

“This is terrible. Horses don’t do well with all that noise and commotion, do they?”

“Not at all,” said Winona. “If these people come in and do what they’re talking about, there’s no way we could run a camp here.”

“After all the hard work you’ve put into the old farm. Tell me, who’s behind this? Thunder Holler Partners? Who’s that?”

Lola said, “Jamie found out that it’s Dewaine Dewitt, Pam Jackson and at least one other partner from out-of-town: Leonard Reynolds. Apparently, Reynolds has all kinds of connections in the racing business, grew up with the Waltrips, that kind of thing.”

Winona added, “They have until the end of the year to complete the purchase. There’s a chance they could run into rock, and the site preparation would become so expensive that they’d just walk away from the deal. But they wouldn’t be spending all this money unless they were fairly certain it would work out.”

“We’ve already talked to some of the people who’ve been helping us with the farm. They’re organizing a meeting next week and looking into the possibility of a court injunction or environmental regs we could use to stop this.”

Daniel thought for a minute. “There aren’t any county restrictions against race tracks, I assume. I know those folks on Sweetwater Branch couldn’t stop the asphalt plant from setting up shop in their neighborhood back in ’95.”

Winona broke in, “That’s all we know so far. Let’s go back to the house and enjoy our supper. I’ve been cooking all afternoon, and it won’t take me much longer to have everything ready.”

[to be continued]

From The Owasssee Prophecy, by E. G. Paine

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sacred Groves - 1

The National Conference on Conservation of Sacred Groves to Protect Biodiversity is scheduled for February 12-14, but I don’t think I’ll be attending. The registration deadline has passed. Not only that, the conference will be held in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

Satulah, 2006

Nevertheless, I’ve been reading about the sacred groves of India for some time now and have tried to imagine something analogous in our own culture. The investigation raises many issues.

For background, there’s no way I can summarize things more concisely than what is included in the conference brochure:

Sacred groves comprise patches of forested natural vegetation – from a few trees to forests of several hundred hectares – that are usually dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits. These spaces are protected by local communities because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through several generations. They are known by different names in different parts of India.

Sacred groves are important repositories of floral and faunal diversity that have been conserved by local communities in a sustainable manner. They are often the last refuge of endemic species in the geographical region. The groves are associated with ponds, streams or springs, which help meet the water requirements of the local people. The vegetative cover also helps in recharging the aquifers and in maintaining the soil stability. With rapid urbanization, cultural diffusion of tribal and rural communities has been taking place over the last hundred years.

The values and taboos associated with traditional belief systems are rapidly changing throughout India. As a result, sacred groves have slowly started losing their status and are regarded as sources of revenue and encroached upon. Sacred groves are felled to raise commercial plantation, due to which several groves have disappeared. As a result, these repositories of ancient wisdom and diversity are being reduced to small pockets of trees and plants. As part of the UN Decade of Biodiversity, CPREEC is organizing a Conference on Conservation of Sacred Groves to Protect Local Biodiversity at Chennai on February 12, 13, and 14, 2011.

The major objectives of the conference are
❖ To promote scientific documentation and conservation efforts in the light of the cultural ethos
❖ To popularize sacred groves as ecological heritage sites
❖ To prepare a road map for sacred grove conservation in the broad canvas of biodiversity conservation
❖ To bring about synergy between culture, heritage, science and conservation
❖ To function as a pivotal point for future researchers in sacred groves and ecological heritage
❖ To create a knowledge bank and to disseminate relevant information
❖ To bring about policy initiatives and revitalize existing legislation to protect natural heritage sites
❖ To explore ways and means to identify sacred groves as “National Ecological Heritage Sites”

Over the millennia, sacred groves have been important to people around the world and a rich history is associated with the sites.

Lex Spoletina

For now, let’s shift from India to Italy to examine this tradition. The Lex Spoletina (Spoleto Law) tablets dating from 315 BC were set as markers to protect the Bosco Sacro (Sacred Forest) dedicated to Jupiter, located near the town of Monteluco. The tablets warned:

Let no one damage this grove. No one must cart or carry away anything that belongs to the grove, or cut wood in it, except on the day when holy worship takes place every year. On that day, person may without offence cut wood as required for the procedure of worship. If any one does damage, he shall make sin-offering to Jupiter with an ox; if any one does damage knowingly and with wrongful intent, he shall make sin-offering to Jupiter with an ox, and moreover let there be a fine of 300 as-pieces. The duty of exacting the said sin-offering and fine shall be with the dedicator.

Centuries later, St. Francis of Assisi frequented the same sacred grove. The Lex Spoletina tablets are now on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Spoleto.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Haunted Cullowhee

It has been a while since I've shopped for vintage postcards. But I've been browsing various sources recently, and have come across views I'd not seen before. It is unusual to find old postcards of Cullowhee showing anything besides the Baptist Church, but this one from 1927 features Moore Dormitory:

What? No "orbs"?

The Virtual Blue Ridge website discusses the one-time dorm on the campus of Western Carolina University:

The Moore Building has many rumors around it regarding the haunting. The actual story is this: A young woman, enrolled in the teaching program, was murdered in the mid-sixties by a local resident when she refused his romantic advances. The man was caught, however, due to his mental capacity and well-respected family connections, he served only a few years at Broughton Hospital in Morganton.

The 3rd floor began experiencing a haunting shortly after the girl's death. It is true that students began refusing to live on the 3rd floor due to the sounds of crying, screaming and pacing. Moore was converted to classrooms in the 1980's, yet strange things continued to happen. The man convicted of the girl's murder died in 1997, and the paranormal activity seems to have stopped, although students on the 3rd floor often report getting "the creeps" or feeling like they are being watched.

I found an article by Russell Conover that described other ghosts on campus. The story appeared in the Western Carolinian, (November 10, 2006):

Scott and Harrill Residence Halls may seem like just two more dorms on the campus of Western Carolina University. However, each building has a reputation for being haunted because of some mysterious events that occurred in the past. Current and prospective students of WCU should keep these stories in mind when they select a dorm in which to live.

The early 1990s was the time that Scott Hall began its conversion to "the dark side." During this time, it is said that a female student hung herself in the East Wing of the building. Her motives for suicide are not known, but the legend lives on. The floor was closed for many years afterwards because numerous people reported to have seen the young lady there.

Unusual happenings in the dorm occurred as well, such as bathroom lights going on and off randomly, doors opening and closing when no one is there, and water running for no reason. The spirit of this young lady still seems to reside in Scott Hall, so residents and visitors should exercise caution there.

The fifth floor of Harrill Hall has a similar history of unusual occurrences. According to legend, a girl died of an asthma attack while having a sleepover with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she suffocated in her sleep. Her ghost is now said to haunt the fifth floor of Harrill, along with the building's elevators. The elevators sometimes open only on the first and fifth floors, but other times they open on all floors when no one is aboard. People on the fifth floor have reported strange occurrences and the feeling of being watched, as well. This girl seems to have influenced numerous parts of Harrill Hall, of which the WCU community should take note.

So, just what makes a certain place "haunted"? Writers Brad and Sherry Hansen Steiger provide some insight about how to tell if a location might be one to avoid. According to the Steigers, "signs of a haunted building include knocks and rappings throughout the building, doors opening and slamming, cold drafts, and ghostly figures." They continue, "Genuine haunted houses soak up emotional unpleasantness from their former occupants." Locations with these characteristics should caution visitors that some unusual things happen inside. The residents of a particular building have much to do with whether it is haunted. "Almost any place could be haunted since most places have lots of human emotion in them," say the Steigers. "Hauntings occur from a merging of two figures: the original occupants in the past merge with the new occupants in the present day," they continue. "Collective emotions or thought processes of people who have lived somewhere in the past may have intensely 'charged' the psychic atmosphere of the place," say the Steigers.

As a result, whether a location is haunted depends largely on the people that spend time there. The Steigers also provide information on ghosts. "Ghosts could be manifestations of past events that resurface in the present day." However, ghosts are nothing to be concerned about, as the Steigers detail, "There is nothing paranormal about seeing a ghost; once we figure out the emotions behind a ghost, it is easy to 'de-haunt' a certain place." Although many people think of ghosts negatively, the Steigers suggest that they are not as frightening or awful as society may believe. Whether in residence halls on the campus of Western Carolina University or in any other building, strange things happen to people. However, wouldn't life be so much more boring and uneventful if nothing ever changed from day to day? While the reports from Scott, Harrill, and society are not always happy-go-lucky, the events that occur there certainly keep people on their toes.

Casting a wider net, I found a couple of iterations of one local school tragedy. Though the elementary school was never precisely identified, I pictured the Canada School (I visited the school once when classes were in session and it was a truly wretched place). I have my doubts about this one (as if I don't have doubts about all these tales):

In Jackson County, NC, the story is that 15 or 16 little kids got detention at an Elementary school and were locked in the boiler room. The boiler exploded and killed the kids.

Now if you go late at night then you can hear screams, sometime you will see little kids, if you take pictures and get developed you will see orbs and strange smoke that is in the shape of people. But when you look at the spots in person there is nothing, but in the picture there is freaky stuff. On the walls in the boiler room, there are child size hand prints burned into the wall.

In 2005, no screamings were detected but strange paranormal stuff. A well-defined shadow of a little kid was seen through one of the glass doors in the school. The investigators watched this figure move from side to side of the door and then it walked toward them through the door and stood still for around 30 seconds.

All of the sudden it bent down and got into like a 3 point stance and then jumped toward them. They turned the lights on there was nothing there.

They placed a voice recorder in the boiler room as well and got what sounded to be a heart that kept getting faster and louder and then made one loud beat and stopped.

Also there was a loud moaning through tout the whole school house from the pipes but there was no heat going through the pipes so I have no clue why that would be making noise.

An update to make on the school was that, it was demolished a year ago and made into a park for the community.

Ever since they made the park where the old middle school was, other sightings have been reported.

Again, this is a true story.

I love that if we needed convincing. Finally, here's one from Dillsboro Road, Sylva:

A shadow looking like a man and the feeling of not being alone and watched, voices and strange screams have been reported. There are spots along the road that are warm at first then they become ice cold a few steps further. Years ago there was a murder of a woman and her husband. There have also been numerous accidents involving both humans as well as animals on this road. These accidents have been rumored to be caused by the man and woman that were murdered.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

From John O'Donohue:

The more I've been thinking about this, the more it seems to me actually is that the visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world. ...And that in some way the poignance of being a human being is that you are the place where the invisible becomes visible and expressive in some way....

Well, I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you....

We do live in a culture which is very addicted to the image, and I think that there is always an uncanny symmetry between the way you are inward with yourself and the way you are outward. And I feel that there is an evacuation of interiority going on in our times. And that we need to draw back inside ourselves and that we'll find immense resources there....

Well, I think that the threshold, if you go back to the etymology of the word "threshold," it comes from "threshing," which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness. And I think there are huge thresholds in every life....

Much more at:

Beannacht [the Gaelic word for blessing]

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The 1960 Sno-Melter

From one of my favorite blogs, Paleo-Future

The Sno-Melter, "Closer Than We Think," January 3, 1960

Snow piles and drifts on highways and turnpikes may soon be a thing of the past. Esso Research and Engineering Company has already devised a system for clearing urban roadways that is reported to be cheaper than under-pavement steam or electric coils. A trough is built alongside the road and kept half-filled with water which is heated by oil and air fed units at the bottom. Snow channeled into the trough melts instantly.

Variations of this system can be evolved for cross-country roads. Flame-belching snow-melting highway equipment is even now on the drawing boards.

Much more at

Les Baxter - "World Music" 1950s-style

Ah, the good old days, the good old day that never were, the good old days of flame-belching snow-melting highway equipment.

And to get into the era a little more:
Museum of Mid-Century Illustrated

The 1960 Sno-Melter is a great reminder of growing up through the Golden Age of Petroleum in America. Knowing nothing but that, we took it for granted. I'm not sure the Baby Boomers were well-served by pumping 30-cent-a-gallon gas into 10 MPG automobiles. In one sense, we were likely well-served, since the full service lane was the only lane. Now, it would feel quite odd to pull up to a gas pump and just sit there and wait for someone to fill the tank, wash the windshield,and check the oil and tires. But that's how it was, and I had no reason to think it wouldn't always be like that.

I remember a family vacation to the Southwest when I was five. As we drove along Route 66 in Oklahoma, I was fascinated with the oil pumps scattered along the plains. Watching them rock away, I thought of small dinosuars or large grasshoppers. One other thing about the West caught my attention: it was festooned with signs for a lot of gas stations I'd never seen before in North Carolina, and other parts of the Southeast.

Yes, nostalgia is easy. But there's nothing like a 1960 Sno-Melter to illustrate what a ridiculously decadent era it was.

Assuming there are human survivors to what we’ve wrought, I can only imagine them looking back on us with a mixture of amusement and disgust: amusement at our stupidity and disgust at the carelessness with which we’ve squandered our inheritance and mistreated the planet.

The Golden Age of Petroleum - it was fun while it lasted.


Back then, lots of Les Baxter's music fell into the "Exotica" category. You don't hear those artists much anymore. There was the Peruvian songstress Yma Sumac:

This Baxter number features the unforgettable "Bas Sheva" on vocals:

Finally, Nelson Riddle dabbled in exotica, but for today, there's only one choice from Nelson and his orchestra:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feathered Friends

At the end of the nineteenth century, ornithologists studied birds in the way they had studied them since the time of John J. Audubon: they took their shotguns and slaughtered them.

In his history of American birding, Of a Feather, Scott Weidensaul uses the term “Shotgun Ornithology” to refer to the firmly held belief of that time: “the path to ornithological wisdom issued from the muzzle of a shotgun.” The idea was to collect all the skins you could, fifty or a hundred of any given species. For Audubon himself, the shotgun was as indispensable as the paint brush.

I find it a tad ironic that the Audubon Society is named after such a gunslinger. But fortunately, times change. On Christmas Day 1900, Frank Chapman took a different approach. He began a tradition of counting the birds instead of hunting them. His idea caught on and, now, birders throughout the western hemisphere get out on Christmas (or sometime thereabouts) to watch and listen and count. I wonder if any other organized volunteer effort has collected as much scientific data as has the Christmas Bird Count, just completing its 111th cycle.

The Audubon Society has a wealth of information on how the CBC has helped birds and our understanding of their lives:

Now, I’m not a bird expert. Far from it. I did go out with the birders a few times, because I was curious to observe them observing the birds, to see how it might be possible to encounter 40 or 50 different species of birds in one morning. Perhaps I encounter that many different species of birds when I go out, but I’m lucky to identify a small fraction of them. Before the last big snow, I put out the feeder again, stocked with black oil sunflower seeds. As in previous years, at least 90% of the visitors are chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

I enjoy watching all of them come around, but the rare visits from other birds are always special. Several years ago, I wrote about one of those exceptional visitors, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

On the morning of New Year's Day, while I was still half-asleep, I stepped onto the deck and glanced at the feeder. Normally, birds will scatter as soon as I open the door, but this individual stayed on the perch and gave me a look as if to say, “What the heck do you want?”

“I want to take your picture,” was the thought that came to mind. And the bird stayed there while I went to retrieve a camera. It stayed there when I came back outside, and I managed a so-so shot (above). I really didn’t know what kind of bird I had just seen, but as it returned that morning, I took careful note of its markings. Later, looking it up in my bird book, I figured out that it was a Downy Woodpecker. I might have guessed it was some type of woodpecker, except it had no red markings at all. However, that identifies it as a female Downy.

Anyhow, local birders have been out conducting the Christmas Bird Count in our neck of the woods. One group scoured the Highlands area on December 17, 2010 and tallied 37 species, with the Carolina Chickadee and the Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco being the most numerous. Here’s their list:

Hooded Merganser
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
Northern Cardinal
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

There was also a Balsam area CBC on January 1, 2011. The inhospitable weather made for a relatively low count, by Balsam standards, but it was a larger group and their territory included the bird haven of Lake Junaluska. Their species count was 65, with the most numerous birds being American Coots and European Starlings:

Canada Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Ruffed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Great Blue Heron (Blue form)
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

For detailed tables on these and other bird counts:


When a dead tree falls, the woodpeckers share in its death.
-Malayan proverb

Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts.
-Coleman Cox

My father told me all about the birds and the bees, the liar - I went steady with a woodpecker till I was twenty-one.
-Bob Hope

Lawyers and woodpeckers have long bills.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Golden Pipes

Meet Ted Williams:

I like this guy. What a story...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Two Leopolds

When Leopold and Leopold met, they were two teenagers who enjoyed taking pictures with their Brownie cameras. The friends, Leopold Godowsky, Jr. (1900 - 1983) and Leopold Mannes (1899 - 1964), went on to become highly-accomplished professional musicians, but are best known for their collaborative effort to invent and improve the color film, Kodachrome. Along the way, their colleagues came up with nicknames for the two Leopolds: “God and Man.”

Godowsky and Mannes, ca. 1940

The two inventors shared a love of music and played violin and piano together. Godowski studied violin at UCLA, where he also studied physics and chemistry. He performed as a soloist and first violinist with the San Francisco and Los Angeles Symphonies, and despite his eventual success as an inventor, music remained his great passion, especially chamber music performed with the most illustrious musicians of his day: Heifetz, Primrose, Feuermann, and Piatigorsky.

Mannes studied music at Julliard and Harvard and earned a Guggenheim fellowship for composition.

According to the Inventors Hall of Fame:

In 1916 the pair started experimenting with the complex, awkward methods of producing color images by taking multiple black-and-white exposures through filters of various colors. For years they worked in their families' kitchens and bathrooms, often in total darkness and measured the developing times of film by whistling the last movement of Brahms' 1st Symphony at a metronomic pace of two beats per second.

By 1924, they secured financial backing* to build a dedicated laboratory and were taking out patents on their work.

Kodachrome, as conceived and realized by Godowsky and Mannes, is quite unique in one regard. In other color films, color dyes are a part of the film as it is leaves the factory. With Kodachrome, the dyes aren’t incorporated into the film until it is developed. This allows the multiple layers of emulsion making Kodachrome to be much thinner, which makes for less diffusion of light when the film is exposed while taking a picture.

To be more specific, Kodachrome film was coated with three layers of ordinary black-and-white silver halide gelatin emulsion. Each layer was sensitive to only one-third of the spectrum of colors: red, green or blue. During processing of the film, the complimentary colors cyan, magenta or yellow dye images were generated in the respective layers of emulsion as the black-and-white silver images were developed. Then the silver images were chemically removed, leaving only the three layers of dye images suspended in gelatin.

One way to identify a developed Kodachrome is to examine the emulsion side (reverse of the shiny side) of film. Because of the process unique to Kodachrome the images will stand out in relief, compared to other color films. For this and other reasons, successful digital scanning of Kodachrome film is more challenging. Often, the scanned Kodachrome image will take on a bluish cast.

Photographers recognized several desirable characteristics of Kodachrome including greater contrast, blacker blacks, more saturated reds, and pleasing skin tones. Also, for archival purposes, Kodachrome had a much longer lifespan than other color films which would deteriorate in quality relatively quickly.

Both men were active in music, both during and after their time devoted to the invention of Kodachrome. In 1930, Leopold Godowsky married the younger sister of George Gershwin, Frances Gershwin, who was a sculptor and painter. But Godowsky stuck with the film research in the 1950s as he improved the process for Kodak from his own lab in Westport, Connecticut.

Leopold Godowsky and Frances Gershwin

Leopold Mannes continued his work in music as a pianist and composer of musical scores, in addition to serving as president of Mannes College of Music, founded by his parents.


Gene Gable wrote a very personal tribute to Kodachrome in 2005 and does an excellent job of describing the technical aspects as well:

Eric Schulmiller tells the story of the two Leopolds inventing Kodachrome and even works in a lesson in Jewish theology:

"Man and God" ca. 1935

* Writing in Jewish World Review, Herb Geddul explains how the inventors secured funding for their first dedicated lab:

While on his way to perform in Europe in late 1922, Mannes made the chance acquaintance of a senior partner in the investment firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Co. and enthralled him with his enthusiastic prospects for color photography. Some months later, much to the surprise of Mannes and Godowsky, Kuhn-Loeb sent one of their junior associates, Lewis L. Strauss (30 years later to become chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission) to the Mannes apartment to view the progress on their color process. A Charlie Chaplin-like scenario ensued during which Mannes and Godowsky took turns playing Beethoven sonatas to their guest while they dashed back and forth to their darkooom/kitchen to develop their photographs. The process took an extraordinarily long time because of the cold temperature in the apartment. The final results were impressive enough, however, for Kuhn-Loeb to invest $20,000 in the process -- one of the most profitable investments the company ever made.

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