Pristine shmistine says the curmudgeon-naturalist

First let me get this disclaimer out of the way. I am thrilled to hear that Congressman Heath Shuler has joined Sen. Lamar Alexander and others from North Carolina and Tennessee on Capitol Hill to officially ask for a cash settlement to Swain County, in lieu of a North Shore Road. I’m especially happy to see that Sen. Elizabeth Dole has finally quit waffling and signed on.


But surfing through the various press releases, I kept seeing that same old lame, grandiose phrase – “pristine” wilderness. Come on, princess trees growing through the rusted bodies of discarded automobiles is not pristine.

A forest rife with human-introduced invasive exotics like the princess tree, multiflora rose, mimosa, kudzu, wisteria, bittersweet and others is not pristine.

Don’t take my word for it. Look it up. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary pristine means “1: belonging to the earliest period or state - 2 a: not spoiled, corrupted, or polluted (as by civilization): PURE b: fresh and clean as or as if new.”

The truth is the majority of the North Shore, especially the North Shore Road “corridor,” had been cut to the ground by the late 1920s.

According to historian and author Duane Oliver, “By 1910, timbering had begun in earnest in this part of the Smoky Mountains. With the arrival of the Ritter Company on Hazel Creek, Proctor developed into a boom town that housed over a thousand people and included a depot, barber shop, boardinghouses, a movie theatre, and pool hall. The lumber company employed a number of local people, some finding public work for the first time, but also attracted a number of workers from elsewhere in the region.”

Oliver goes on to state: “The timbering by the big companies in any given area was short lived, and the ready jobs did not last. As timber companies pulled out, they left behind dramatically altered landscapes and communities. While radically transforming the life and landscape of Hazel Creek, the era of the Ritter Company was relatively short. In 1928, Ritter left Hazel Creek, taking with it the railroad, many of the businesses, and much of the itinerant (and some of the permanent) population.”

It is this regenerating 80-year-old “dramatically altered landscape,” with all its human-induced warts, that welcomes wilderness seekers to the North Shore.

Go to the North Shore, take a hike, and drink in this regenerating wilderness. It is quite beautiful.

Then go a few miles south and west to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Hike the short loop trail in this 3,800-acre tract that includes one of the largest remnants of old growth in the East.

Stop and lean against one of the 500-year-old tulip trees. Put your ear to the trunk and listen. You can hear the constant thudding of the axe, the interminable rasping of the crosscut, and the deafening crash of its brethren from across the ridge.

Listen, you can hear the great rending tear that split this country between North and South. You can hear the tears that fell on the trail that led to Oklahoma.

Listen, you can hear the Revolutionary canons. And if you listen hard enough you can hear the wind in the first great white sails approaching the eastern shore, and you just might feel a tremble of foreboding.

Look around at the surrounding forest; this is as close to “pristine” as you will get in the East.

It is important to preserve the North Shore. In another 400 years, it will approximate a pristine forest. Today it is an adolescent.

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