mtnvoices“The cascading, four foot, doubly-compound leaves of devil’s walking stick, bunched near the end of long crooked thorny stems reaching as tall as 20 feet, give this plant a decidedly tropical look — it’s a plant that might fit in nicely on the set of Jurassic Park.

Unfortunately, more undeserved prejudice exists about bats than any other animal, except, of course, serpents. 

In European lore, vampires (a word derived from the Serbian “wampir”) were bloodsucking ghosts, dead men’s souls that siphoned blood from sleeping victims.

Purple rhododendron is the most admired flowering plant in the Southern Appalachians. Ginseng is the most celebrated medicinal plant. And ramps are the most sought-after culinary plant — a fact that has led to its overharvesting in the wild.

As I write this on Tuesday morning there are five or so inches of snow covering the ground outside my window. The forecast on the Internet is for more snow. By Thursday there may be upwards of 10 inches. 

My wife and I protect ourselves from the elements by having an artificial structure (our house) to live in. We can put on additional clothing. We keep the woodstove in the living area stoked up. Bedroom, bathroom, and office doors can be closed so as to maintain warmth in the living area. Soup is simmering in a crock pot. This is our version of hunkering down.

“A countryman’s tree is the Butternut, known to the farm boy but not his city cousin. One who takes thoughtful walks in the woods may come to know and admire it for the grand old early American it is.”

— Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Trees (1949)

mtnvoices“Two or more Families join together in building a hot-house, about 30 feet Diameter, and 15 feet high, in form of a Cone, with Poles and thatched, without any air-hole, except a small door about 3 feet high and 18 Inches wide. In the Center of the hot-house they burn fire of well-seasoned dry-wood; round the inside are bedsteads sized to the studs, which support the middle of each post; these Houses they resort to with their children in the Winter Nights.”

— John DeBrahm, “Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America,” ed. Louis de Vorsey, Jr., (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1971)

mtnvoicesSince 1976 we’ve resided in a cove about four miles west of Bryson City. Using various old deeds my wife, Elizabeth, and I have located tree slashes, stones, stakes, etc., which delineate the cove’s boundaries. We have found that old-time Appalachian surveys and deeds can be confusing and informational and amusing at the same time.

mtnvoicesNow is the time to make resolutions, order seeds for the coming year’s garden and buy an almanac for 2015. Just doing those things will make you feel better.

My almanac of choice this year is titled “Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac for the use of farmers, planters, mechanics and all families for the year of our Lord 2015 being the first year after the bissextile, or leap year, and until the Fourth of July, the 237th year of American Independence containing the astronomical calculations for Northern, Southern and Middle States, weather forecasts, planting tables and a variety of matter useful and entertaining.” 

mtn voicesThe custom of decorating with mistletoe goes back to the ceremonials of the Druids. It is a reminder of the ancient custom of keeping green things indoors in winter as a refuge for the spirits of the wood exiled by the severities of cold. The European mistletoe was a different species than the one that occurs in our part of the world. But the early settlers soon located the American look-a-like and adopted it as one of their most important ceremonial evergreens.

mtnvoicesOne of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of the 70 or so species that have been documented in the southern mountains, perhaps a fourth are evergreen. These would include walking fern, rockcap fern, resurrection fern, intermediate wood fern, several of the so-called “grape fern” species, and others.

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