Certain place names in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have become iconic: Gregory Bald, Thunderhead, Chimney Tops, Jump-off, Mt. Le Conte, Alum Cave, Charlies Bunion, High Rocks, Bryson Place, Cataloochee, Huggins Hell, and more.
Naturalist Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964) was born in Chicago. In his autobiography The Road of a Naturalist (1941), Peattie recalled his first extended visit to the North Carolina mountains in 1906 as a time when he “saw the world of people fall away, grow small, grow hazy blue, forgotten. In seven months upon that isolated summit of the Appalachians, I began to discover a world older and greater. It is the world now of my established habitation, my working days and holidays, and it lies open to all men, in valleys as on mountains, by any road you choose to enter.”
As you read this it may well be freezing or even icy outside. But before long you’ll be outside working in the garden or searching for early spring wildflowers.
How do I know? Well, for one thing, it always happens doesn’t it? Spring follows winter. Yes, but certain early signs — harbingers of spring — also assure me that things are on track.
Where have all the opossums gone? People worry about cerulean warblers and frogs and honeybees and ash trees and hemlocks and snail darters and so on … as they should. But is anybody out there besides me worried about ‘possums? I doubt it.
Tuckaseigee, Oconaluftee, Heintooga, Wayah, Cullasaja, Hiwassee, Coweeta, Stecoah, Steestachee, Skeenah, Nantahala, Aquone, Katuwah, and on and on. Our place names here in the Smokies region are graced throughout with evidence of the Cherokee culture that prevailed for more than 700 years. Wouldn’t it be nice if Clingmans Dome was correctly designated as Mount Yonah (high place of the bears)?
Is there another region in the United States that has had more flourishing towns and villages disappear than the one along the Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee rivers in Swain and Macon counties? Almond, Japan, Judson, Bushnell, etc., in Swain went under when the Fontana reservoir was flooded in the 1940s. And there’s yet another “lost” town farther south up the Little Tennessee near the Macon County line that was sacrificed in the name of electric power but never actually went under water. Left high and dry to wither and die, the place is named Needmore.
When I was a boy my favorite sport was baseball. I was a pitcher. I didn’t have any idea where the ball was going … or care … but I could throw hard. I liked the game and I liked the language associated with the game: “high hard one” … “powder river” … “chin music” … “circus catch” … “ rhubarb” … “dying quail” … “frozen rope” … “blue darter.”
Because they seem so delicate and vulnerable, we go out of our way to feed birds that overwinter here in the southern mountains. This no doubt helps maintain bird populations at a higher level than would otherwise be the case, but our feathered friends long ago devised basic strategies for withstanding wind and cold, which are both effective and ingenious.
This is a bear story. Unlike many bear stories, this one is true.
Tourism started in Western North Carolina during the post-Civil War era, but it wasn’t a huge factor in the region’s economy until the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded in 1934. All of the communities in WNC were influenced by tourism, but none more than the lands held by the Eastern Band of Cherokees on the North Carolina boundary of the park.
Samuel J. Hunnicutt was one of the original characters of the Smokies region before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded in 1934. He is far less well known than Quill Rose, Horace Kephart, or Mark Cathey, but he was in their mold: eccentric, amusing and competent in all things having to do with outdoor life.