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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.

mtnvoicesDuring the breeding season a number of birds that belong to the flycatcher family appear in the southern mountains: eastern kingbirds and wood peewees, as well as great crested, olive-sided, least, arcadian, willow, and alder flycatchers. As their name implies, these birds hawk insects from perches and are great fun to watch. They will start arriving here in April from Central and South America.

Names of places throughout the Blue Ridge country pay tribute to the familiar wildlife of the region: Bear Wallow Stand Ridge, Beaverdam Creek, Buck Knob, Fox Gap, Wild Boar Creek, Coon Branch, Wildcat Cliffs, Possum Hollow, Polecat Ridge, Raven Rocks, Buzzard Roost, Eagle Heights, Rattlesnake Mountain, and so on.

It’s always entertaining to get back off main-traveled roads and poke around in the little villages here in the mountains. Each such place has its own story. And Balsam — just off the four-lane between Waynesville and Sylva — is no exception. For such a pretty little place it has a pretty big story; indeed, it has a ghost story. More about that later.

mtn voicesA large buckeye tree overhangs and supports the swinging gate leading into our property. Thereby, we have the opportunity to observe buckeye in all seasons. The year 2014 is a big one for buckeye seed production — the most prolific I’ve ever observed.  

The story of the initial meeting between Horace Kephart and Granville Calhoun has as many twists and turns as a short story by O. Henry. 

mtnvoicesThe meeting between Granville Calhoun and Horace Kephart (the quintessential highlander and outlander, respectively) is a noteworthy event in this region’s cultural history. Janet McCue and I are especially interested in events associated with that encounter for the Kephart biography we are writing. The ongoing exchanges in the pages of this newspaper have been more than informative.   

Editor’s note: George Ellison’s column this week is a sort of fable based on one of the seldom-seen (almost mythical) rodent species found in the Smokies region that climbs trees with acrobatic ease and builds platforms from twigs that it rests on while watching the world go by far below.

In a letter to the editor of the Smoky Mountain News published several weeks ago, Gwen Franks Breese took exception to a Back Then column of mine originally published in SMN in November 2013. 

That column went into considerable detail as to Horace Kephart’s “condition” (in November 1904) at the time Granville Calhoun (her great-uncle) escorted the writer from Bushnell to an abandoned cabin on the Little Fork of the Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek.

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