I like “old time rock and roll” too. And I recently got some of my old time records, CDs, iPods, etc., off the shelf. But what I‘ve been listening to are bird calls and songs. The birds are getting ready for the breeding season — and so am I, in my own way.   

I forget most everything from season to season, if not from day to day. Wildflower names have to be relearned. Bird calls and songs fade. So I return each year to self-imposed and self-taught remedial Bird Song 101.

In the natural world there are certain experiences that rivet our attention and remain stored in our memory banks. Through the years, I’ve written about my own encounters with rare plants, endangered landscapes, copperheads and timber rattlers, coyotes, skunks, eagles, red and gray foxes, box and snapping turtles, and so on. Not infrequently, I’ve received feedback from readers reporting that they have had similar experiences.

About once a year or less, I work up the nerve to publish poems in this space. Head for cover. It’s that time of the year again.

mtn voicesSurprisingly, a recent column about wood-burning cookstoves attracted as much attention as anything I’ve written for years. Folks who live in The Smoky Mountain News distribution area and can pick up the print edition were the most numerous e-mail correspondents, of course. But a lot of people outside of the region must read the publication online as well because at least 10 people living in different parts of the country contacted me to reminisce about their woodstove experiences.

I wrote a tribute to the black locust tree some time back. It’s time to take another look. This time around we’ll incorporate the perspectives of a French arborist who visited America during the mid-nineteenth century.

Locust is a winter tree. Outdoors, it’s durable in extreme weather and indoors, it makes superb firewood. When I refer to locust, it’s to black locust (Pseudoacacia robinia), not one of the several other species in that genus such as honey locust.  

“The opportunistic nature of the species and its partial indifference to constraints of time and space make it an intriguing subject.”

— E.W. Dawson, North American Birds Online


Volcanoes “erupt,” birds “irrupt.” We haven’t experienced any eruptions of that sort lately, but we do have periodic irruptions of bird populations. This year at our feeders and probably yours, too, the species is the northern pine siskin. If you don’t know the siskin, you ought to. It’s a small goldfinch-like bird that comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

mtn voicesFor some, graveyards are morbid places. When I was a boy, I never liked to pass by or walk through one … especially in the dark. These days I rather enjoy visiting them ... for awhile. They are generally quiet. And unlike most modern cemeteries, which don’t have any trees at all, graveyards usually have a variety of old sometimes ancient trees.

mtn voicesWhere 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)?

“I am developing a taste for walking in cemeteries.”

– Jules Renard, “Journals” (December 1909)

Like Jules Renard, a turn-of-the-century French novelist, not a few of us are attracted to cemeteries. When looking for a quiet place, I often visit the one on Schoolhouse Hill next to the old Swain High football field in Bryson City. There’s a good view, in places, of the town and surrounding mountains. A grove of massive oaks shade the burying ground. It’s a good spot to have lunch.

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