Our southern mountains are old and relatively sedate when compared with the Himalayas, Rockies, and other “young” mountain ranges. But as any backcountry ranger, hunter, or rescue worker will attest, there’s still plenty of rough, steep and potentially dangerous terrain here.

It’s a dog’s life

A new book has been published that will be of particular interest to area hunters, outdoorsmen, and dog lovers. It will also be of considerable value to those concerned with the region’s human history.

Until I started birding seriously as an adult, I didnÕt know that snipe actually existed. For years that bird was categorized in my mind with other mythic critters that included hoop snakes, side-hill winders, and dragons.

In living colour

Cedar waxwings and American holly are with us year round. The waxwings wander around a lot in extended family groups, but they can be spotted in any season here in the Smokies region. Holly trees don’t wander around, of course, but they are evergreen and — unlike deciduous trees — present the same general appearance all of the time. But waxwings and holly don’t really — in my opinion — come into their own until winter. The birds are so named because sexually mature males and females display a waxy-like red spot on each wing that juveniles lack. The first part of their common name indicates their fondness for the fruits that cedar trees bear.

The second soul, that of physiological life, is located in the liver, and is of primary importance in doctoring and in conjuring. This soul is a substance, is not anthropomorphic in any, has no individuality, and is quantitative, there is more or less of it. Its secretions are yellow bile, black bile, gastric juice, etc. Destruction of the liver substance produces lassitude, the “yellows” (jaundice or hepatitis, or cirrhosis) or the “black” (deep depression or gall bladder attacks or acute pancreatitis). Exhaustion of the liver substance (absence of the soul) produces physiological death. This soul may be attacked by the conjuror, producing false “yellows” or “black” as “simulation diseases,” reproducing the symptoms of witch-attack, or it may be actually consumed by witches to produce the standard form of liver-gall-pancreas diseases. The witch lengthens its life by extra supplies of liver-soul.

— Frans M. Olbrechts, editor, “The Swimmer Manuscript” (1932).

A plant’s purpose

There are more than 300,000 plant species in the world. Some are edible, some can be used for their medicinal properties, and many are poisonous. The latter category is defined by Nancy J. Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski in Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1991) as “plants and parts of plants that contain potentially harmful substances in high enough concentrations to cause chemical injury if touched or swallowed.”

A honey of a locust

Every few years, there will be a bumper crop of long flat strap-shaped honey locust pods, many up to two inches wide and a foot or more in length. Hanging in abundance along roadsides, they always bring back childhood memories.

Rocking out

Here in the southern mountains there are magical habitats to be explored in every direction and at every elevation. Periglacial boulderfields are among the most unique of these. I learned about them some years ago when I happened upon this description in Charles E. Roe’s A Directory to North Carolina’s Natural Areas (Raleigh: N.C. Natural Heritage Foundation, 1987):

As cool dark nights descend upon us to signal the onset of winter, the great horned owls have commenced their annual “singing” along the dark ridges above our home. These great birds don’t sing, of course, in the manner of true songbirds like warblers and orioles — but the quick cadence of four or five hoots (“hoo, hoo-oo, hoo, hoo”) given by the male, or the lower-pitched six to eight hoots (“hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-oo, hoo-oo”) of the female serve the same purpose.

When late November finally arrives, my wife, Elizabeth, and I go into another mode. Her busy season in the gallery-studio she operates here on the town square in Bryson City pretty much comes to an end. The Elderhostel programs, workshops and lectures that keep me on the road from mid-March into November come to an abrupt halt. From now until early spring we get to spend more time together at our home place in a little cove four miles west of town. Winter is our time of the year.

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