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Wednesday, 04 May 2016 02:24

32 years and counting for birding expedition

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This past weekend marked the occasion of the 32nd annual Great Smokies Birding Expedition. Fred Alsop, the ornithologist at East…
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 14:09

Changing a flat in a rising creek

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Forty years ago this coming July 5, my wife, Elizabeth, and I and our three children moved into a small…
Wednesday, 06 April 2016 15:01

Graceful ferns a fiddling

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“Marvel for a moment at the fern fiddlehead. It stands like a watch spring coiled and ready to unwind ……
Wednesday, 23 March 2016 16:29

Time for spring migrants in the mountains

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The cove we live in has been alive with birds for several weeks now. As alive with birds as it’s…
Wednesday, 09 March 2016 17:13

Always questions about the fiddlehead fern

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In the early 1700s British astronomer and mathematician Edmund Hillary, of comet fame, called [the spiral formed by a fern’s…
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 16:56

This year’s flowers, last year’s berries

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Last summer while I was walking along the creek below our home, small splotches of red and white at the…
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 16:41

Hogs have long been an Appalachian staple

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Hog Holler, Hog Branch, Hog Camp Branch, Hog Cane Branch, Hog-eye Branch, Hogback Gap, Hogback Holler, Hogback Knob, Hogback Ridge,…
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 16:27

Ironwood is piquing the interest of WNC residents

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There seems to be an upsurge of interest in ironwood in Western North Carolina of late. It’s curious how reader…
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 16:48

Plants and animals who choose to hunker down

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The evergreen plants and birds that overwinter here in the Southern Appalachians have made fundamental “choices” in how their lives…
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 17:29

The smelly truth about stink bugs

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Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later. Our house has been invaded by a herd of pygmy rhinoceroses,…
“As for the Horseshoe Rock, it is one of those curving balds of solid rock. The depressions found on the…
In 1900 about 35 percent of the deciduous forest in the Southern Appalachians was comprised of American chestnut (Castanea dentata).
Wednesday, 04 November 2015 15:42

Ferns stand out this time of year

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One of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of…
Wednesday, 21 October 2015 17:00

Observing the outside world with inward eyes

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Looking back I can remember that 1975 was a wildflower sort of year.   1980 was a tree sort of year. 1984 was…
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 17:46

The secret of ministry of frost

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It’s Oct. 6 as I write this. The first frost hasn’t as yet arrived. But it won’t be long coming.…
Wednesday, 23 September 2015 15:12

Dealing with the dreaded writer’s block

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In the June 14, 2004, issue of The New Yorker magazine, there is an essay titled “Blocked! Why Do Writers…
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 16:15

My favorite literary opening paragraphs

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I don’t like to talk or write about writing — but when forced to do so by, say, an approaching…
“It’s football time in Tennessee!” is what John Ward, the long-time announcer for the University of Tennessee, used to declare…
Wednesday, 29 July 2015 16:18

Plant gall formation is somewhat of a mystery

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When it rains it pours. Within the past week or so, I received two emails about plant galls. That’s two…
When my son, now grown, was about 9 or 10, he queried me one summer day about the foamy bubbles…
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 15:04

Old-time mountain hogs were essential livestock

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Hog Holler, Hog Branch, Hog Camp Branch, Hog Cane Branch, Hog-eye Branch, Hogback Gap, Hogback Holler, Hogback Knob, Hogback Ridge,…
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 15:43

Trumpet vine is tenacious and beautiful

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It’s mid-June again … the time of the year when certain plants can be relied upon to do their thing…
Certain questions inevitably pop up during plant identification outings. One has to do with whether or not eastern hemlock trees…
A friend of mine who is a veteran backcountry explorer in the Smokies sent a recent email to me and…
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 17:18

Shelving books is a very personal task

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For awhile everything was in control. But that didn’t last. It never does. Once again my books are in total…
“The cascading, four foot, doubly-compound leaves of devil’s walking stick, bunched near the end of long crooked thorny stems reaching…
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 14:53

Batting away undeserved prejudice

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Unfortunately, more undeserved prejudice exists about bats than any other animal, except, of course, serpents.  In European lore, vampires (a…
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 15:55

Celebrating the odiferous ramp

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Purple rhododendron is the most admired flowering plant in the Southern Appalachians. Ginseng is the most celebrated medicinal plant. And…
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 15:31

Adaptation helps plants weather the cold

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As I write this on Tuesday morning there are five or so inches of snow covering the ground outside my…
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 15:50

The butternut is a country boy’s tree

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“A countryman’s tree is the Butternut, known to the farm boy but not his city cousin. One who takes thoughtful…
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 16:22

Cherokee knew how to handle the chill of winter

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“Two or more Families join together in building a hot-house, about 30 feet Diameter, and 15 feet high, in form…
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 15:34

The creative code of old-time surveyors

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Since 1976 we’ve resided in a cove about four miles west of Bryson City. Using various old deeds my wife,…
Now is the time to make resolutions, order seeds for the coming year’s garden and buy an almanac for 2015.…
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 16:33

Mistletoe’s link to romance goes way back

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The custom of decorating with mistletoe goes back to the ceremonials of the Druids. It is a reminder of the…
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 16:35

Stop and smell the … ferns

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One of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of…
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 16:29

Flycatcher family of birds is fun to watch

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During the breeding season a number of birds that belong to the flycatcher family appear in the southern mountains: eastern…
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:23

Ancient hunters had some mammoth prey

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Names of places throughout the Blue Ridge country pay tribute to the familiar wildlife of the region: Bear Wallow Stand…
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 15:53

Balsam was once bustling railroad community

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It’s always entertaining to get back off main-traveled roads and poke around in the little villages here in the mountains.…
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 15:57

A prolific year for buckeye productions

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A large buckeye tree overhangs and supports the swinging gate leading into our property. Thereby, we have the opportunity to…
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 21:37

More on the meeting of Kephart and Calhoun

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The story of the initial meeting between Horace Kephart and Granville Calhoun has as many twists and turns as a…
The meeting between Granville Calhoun and Horace Kephart (the quintessential highlander and outlander, respectively) is a noteworthy event in this…
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 14:37

The Golden Mouse: A Children’s Poem for Adults

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Editor’s note: George Ellison’s column this week is a sort of fable based on one of the seldom-seen (almost mythical)…
In a letter to the editor of the Smoky Mountain News published several weeks ago, Gwen Franks Breese took exception…
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 14:08

Getting at the nitty gritty of history

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Regional histories are my favorite literary genre. It’s in them that the nitty-gritty of everyday life is most clearly portrayed.…
Wednesday, 02 July 2014 13:43

Sourwood honey is a favorite among connoisseurs

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Now is sourwood time. From late June into mid-August sourwood trees will be flowering throughout Western North Carolina, from the…
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 14:22

Confederates pushed road over Newfound Gap

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On Jan. 12, 1864, a Confederate battery of artillery and about 650 men under the command of Gen. Robert B.…
Everywhere you go in Western North Carolina there are secluded places reputed to have been used as hideaways by the…
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 14:43

The black sheep of the blackbird family

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2014 seems to be a banner year for cowbirds. I saw them in large numbers in southeastern Arizona two weeks…
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 15:24

A few poems as spring awakens the mountains

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Since the year 2000, I have written going on 750 Back Then “columns” for The Smoky Mountain News. I am…
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