On one level, the natural history of a region consists of its terrain, habitats, plants, animals and how they interrelate. I also believe that no full understanding of the natural history of a region can be realized without coming to terms with its spiritual landscape. And when we consider the spiritual landscape of the Smokies region, we enter the realm of the ancient Cherokees.
This past weekend, May 6-7, was the 34th annual installment of the Great Smoky Mountains Birding Expedition (GSMBE.) The expedition began in 1984 as the brainchild of author, naturalist George Ellison of Bryson City, master birder Rick Pyeritz of Asheville and East Tennessee State University ornithologist and field guide author Fred Alsop.
All this spring, golden birch catkins were dangling throughout the woodlands of the Smokies region. These are the male, pollen-carrying part of the sweet birch (Betula lenta), also known as black, cherry, or mahogany birch.
In the natural world here in the Blue Ridge, there are certain visual images that rivet the attention of human beholders. One such is a timber rattlesnake suddenly encountered in the wild. That sight literally galvanizes the senses. The vibrating rattle-tipped tail sounds its uncanny almost-musical warning … you freeze in mid-step, holding your breath but unaware that you are doing so … the hair on the back of your neck stands on end … the event remains imprinted in your memory bank.
One never tires of discovering special places here in the southern mountains. Through the years, such places readily become old and reliable friends.
I have files in my computer containing articles I’ve forgotten that I wrote until, by chance, I run across them while looking for something else. This one appeared in the Smoky Mountain Neighbors, a weekly tabloid published in the late 1980s into the 1990s by the Asheville Citizen-Times in the counties west of Asheville. It will interest those old enough to remember when Bennett’s Drug Store in Bryson City was the place you went to for drugs and just about anything else you might require.
“The line runs down the meander of the ridge to where Bossy dropped her first calf.”
“The line runs to where a block of ice stood in the road.”
“Proceed for about the distance it takes to smoke two cigarettes.”
The worldwide annual production of “high conductivity copper” had by 1899 risen to 470,000 tons, of which 300,000 tons were used in the burgeoning electrical industry to produce various types and gages of copper wire.
The setting for Horace Kephart’s posthumous novel Smoky Mountain Magic (2009) is the Cherokee Indian Reservation, Bryson City and Deep Creek — places familiar to most readers of this column. The main character, John Carrabus, spends much of his time camped in a hideaway named Nick’s Nest (a real place adjacent to the well-know Bryson Pace) where there’s a rock overhang he calls “The Alcove” and an immense cavern in which he becomes trapped.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in January 2011.
Are there boardinghouses still operating here in the Smokies region? There are, of course, hotels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and motels galore. But I’m wondering about the true, old-fashioned boardinghouse, which flourished throughout the region until the middle of the 20th century.