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Wednesday, 18 July 2007 00:00

Recommended diversions

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Guide to William Bartram’s Travels

There are guidebooks and then there are GUIDEBOOKS. If you’re a Bartram junkie as I have become, following the travels of America’s first great naturalist who came through Western North Carolina for a brief stint in the spring of 1775, you’ll find Brad Sanders’ book to be a modern-day treasure that takes you through the science, history and people of Bartram’s travels. With easy-to-follow maps, photographs, neatly organized biographies and well-written narratives, the book is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about the natural beauty of the Southeast from the Carolinas to Florida and east to Mississippi and Louisiana. At 371 pages, the book is a thoroughly researched supplement to Bartram’s Travels. You get a wonderful tour of the forests, lakes, historic homes and parks that dot the miles where Bartram passed through in his late 18th century travels.

The Biscuit Burners

No, it’s not a kitchen disaster. Just one of Western North Carolina’s finest bands, which will soon be out with a new album after a recent reshuffling of its members. Fiddler and singer Odessa Jorgensen and banjo player Wes Corbett join Mary Lucey on upright bass and vocals, Billy Cardine on dobro and vocals and Dan Bletz on guitar to form one of the hottest bluegrass/Americana acts in the country. After their self-titled debut album was a Top-10 bluegrass hit in 2004, their second release, A Mountain Apart, was named Best Roots Music Album of the Year in 2005. The Biscuit Burners continue to serve up their own home-grown, fiery mountain music stirring in old country ballads with a progressive bluegrass style that has earned them invites to BBC radio, NPR’s Mountain Stage and this summer’s Bonnaroo mega-festival. Last month, I had the pleasure of catching them at Black Mountain’s Town Pump, where they cut their teeth and still draw a hearty crowd. And my, they were tasty! This summer, they’ll be touring out West in Colorado, California and British Columbia, but if you don’t have the duckets to travel that far, you can catch them on WNCW radio or at iTunes. My personal favorite is “Off To The Sea” on A Mountain Apart.

My Antonia

Willa Cather’s coming-of-age classic about life on the Nebraska plains wasn’t exactly what I had in mind as summer reading, but when Rob Neufeld and the folks organizing The Big Read in Western North Carolina recently chose My Antonia as part of an annual nationwide reading program promoted by the National Endowment for the Arts, I was curious. I told a few people I was reading the book, and immediately they gushed, saying it was one of their all-time favorites. I have to say it’s a beautiful story. Young Jim Burden gets shipped off to his grandparents’ house in Nebraska in the late 1800s after his parents’ deaths. He meets Antonia (pronounced An-tuh-NEE-uh) Shimerda, a Bohemian girl from an immigrant family who becomes a larger-than-life figure in a small town with huge fields and tight-knit families. At a time when immigration is still a key issue facing this country, this story cuts a powerful portrait of how we treat those who struggle and endure to find the American Dream. Look for The Big Read events throughout Western North Carolina next year from January through June. For more about The Big Read, go to www.neabigread.org/.

— By Michael Beadle

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