Is there another region in the United States that has had more flourishing towns and villages disappear than the one along the Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee rivers in Swain and Macon counties? Almond, Japan, Judson, Bushnell, etc., in Swain went under when the Fontana reservoir was flooded in the 1940s. And there’s yet another “lost” town farther south up the Little Tennessee near the Macon County line that was sacrificed in the name of electric power but never actually went under water. Left high and dry to wither and die, the place is named Needmore.

mtn voicesWhen I was a boy my favorite sport was baseball. I was a pitcher. I didn’t have any idea where the ball was going … or care … but I could throw hard. I liked the game and I liked the language associated with the game: “high hard one” … “powder river” … “chin music” … “circus catch” … “ rhubarb” … “dying quail” … “frozen rope” … “blue darter.”

mtn voicesBecause they seem so delicate and vulnerable, we go out of our way to feed birds that overwinter here in the southern mountains. This no doubt helps maintain bird populations at a higher level than would otherwise be the case, but our feathered friends long ago devised basic strategies for withstanding wind and cold, which are both effective and ingenious.

mtnvoicesKathryn Stripling Byer lives in Cullowhee. Poet Laureate Emeritas of North Carolina for a number of years, she was this year inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. I’ve known her since 1973 … so I’m going to call her Kay. The lines quoted below are from the opening and closing stanzas of “Morning Train,” the first of 26 poems in her absolutely remarkable new collection titled Descent (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).

In regard to floral diversity, the Southern Appalachian region is unsurpassed by any other temperate region in the world. Whenever I’m conducting a plant identification workshop for the North Carolina Arboretum, Smoky Mountain Field School or other venue, I try to remember to mention nature gardens, plant nurseries, self-guided trails, natural history exhibits, etc., that might be of interest. At the head of my list is the Highlands Botanical Garden (HBG), which features 500 native moss, fern, grass, sedge, herbaceous wildflower, vine, shrub, and tree species (approximately 350 of which are labeled).

This is a bear story. Unlike many bear stories, this one is true.

Tourism started in Western North Carolina during the post-Civil War era, but it wasn’t a huge factor in the region’s economy until the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded in 1934. All of the communities in WNC were influenced by tourism, but none more than the lands held by the Eastern Band of Cherokees on the North Carolina boundary of the park.

All too often, we tend to think of flowering plants as something beautiful put on this earth to stimulate human sensibilities.

Nothing, of course, could be less true.

Plants produce flowers to attract pollinators or otherwise distribute pollen in order to achieve fertilization — preferably cross-fertilization — and produce fruit (or seed) so as to assure the viability and continuation of a given species.  Beauty, as we perceive it, is a mere side-product of this essential process. Beauty is as beauty does.

mtn voicesWe are attracted to water. Mountain paths always wind down to water ... down to springs, creeks and rivers. Water is the essence of our very being. Old-time mountaineers picked home sites according to the location and purity of springs. Long before the first Europeans arrived, the Cherokees had developed ceremonials focused on the spiritual power of running water. One of the prized sites for such purification ceremonies was a waterfall. It was there that the Cherokees could hear the Long Man speaking to them in the clear voice of the raging current.

mtnvoicesMigrating rose-breasted grosbeaks have been appearing at feeders throughout the Smokies region in recent weeks.

Those birds that migrate hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America to nest in the United States and Canada are known as the neotropical migrants. Each spring a number of these migrants breed here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. No other bird in our avifauna is more striking in appearance.

mtn voicesIt’s Oct. 7 as I write this. The first hard frost hasn’t as yet arrived. But it won’t be long coming. By the time you read this it may well have occurred throughout Western North Carolina.


The first hard frost serves as a given year’s most distinctive dividing line. It’s dificult to pinpoint just when winter becomes spring, when spring become summer, or when summer becomes fall. But the winter season has been initiated when the first frost appears.

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