I don’t listen to local radio so much anymore, but the story in last week’s edition about the demise of WRGC in Sylva still struck and emotional chord somewhere inside.
When I say I don’t listen to local radio regularly, I mean the very small, very local AM and FM stations like WRGC in Sylva or WPTL in Canton or similar stations in Franklin and Bryson City. Almost every small town has one or two. When I’m in my car I tune them in, but that’s not a lot of listening. I do love nothing better during night driving in the mountains than to see what kind of AM signals I can pick up by just scanning through the dial, and that method leaves me listening to local stations as well as radio personalities from far-off cities in the Midwest.
No, those super-local stations have become, in many ways, irrelevant. I listen to four radio stations here in the mountains, and in this order — WNCW 88.7, WCQS at 95.3 (a very close second), and 104.9, and on rare occasions the WCU station — 90.5 —when I can pick it up.
We even did business with WRGC a few years back. We were the new kid in town then, and our newspaper was trying to gain an audience in Jackson County. We would sponsor the newscasts of local events, hoping to familiarize its listeners with what we were doing.
Perhaps the closing of another business shouldn’t resonate so heavily. But I’m in the media business. When local radio — or local media of any kind — dies a death related to an unsustainable business model, I start sniffing around for clues to survival. Secondly, I’m a small business owner. Anytime someone else shutters their doors I feel some of their pain, and questions about the recession and what it will take to ride out this storm come front and center.
My description earlier, of these stations being super-local, was in all likelihood wrong. These stations used to be hyperlocal. But to keep costs down, the companies that own many of these little stations program national talk shows and no live disc jockey segments where some engineer in some faraway place is keeping an eye on things. This model takes away the local part of a local radio station.
That’s the first step on the path to irrelevance — trying to do the same thing the satellite and internet stations are doing. That’s exactly what happened to newspapers during their great demise in the 1980s and 1990s. Big corporations bought them all up, and so they quit focusing on their local communities and instead focused on profits. The quality of the product suffered, and much of their news was and remains wire copy, the same stories we get from a dozen different places these days.
And it happened at the same time some very passionate internet bloggers and news sites started, which allowed them to gain a foothold. This sent many good newspapers to their grave, and rendered many others irrelevant.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. We small guys are reporting stories no one else reports. We’re figuring out the internet and even social media, finding ways to grab pieces of those advertising pies. It’s a struggle, but show me companies in any industry — not just media — that aren’t struggling these days.
Here in Western North Carolina, I think we’ll also benefit from the growing realization that it is important to support the local economy. Whether it’s at the farmers market, the local pottery studio, the insurance guy down the street or the dentist you see at the coffee shop, there’s a growing acceptance that if we send our dollars out of the community we are sapping our community’s strength and vibrancy. This only works, though, if the local business produces a quality product. Otherwise, the local side of the equation doesn’t hold up.
We work and live and play in a very unique place. The vacuum created by WRGC’s demise will be filled, and there is a lot of commotion going on right now in Jackson County surrounding the issue of local radio. But we are all better off when there are many media sources doing good work and competing and complementing each other. Well-done local radio can still work. Here’s hoping WRGC finds its way back on the air and into the media mix.
I was pleased to see quite a few people selling meat this past Saturday at the local farmers market in Sylva. That’s a noticeable change from just a year or so ago, when naturally grown meats were hard to come by unless you were willing to raise the animals and slaughter them yourself. These days, however, you can stroll through the farmers market and select from free-range chicken, pasture pork, goat, rabbit, quail and more.
I’ve always struggled with whether to eat meat or not. To date I have accepted I’m a carnivore, except for a brief, six-month period in college when I tried on vegetarianism like another person might try on a shirt. I welcomed the opportunity to be a bit radical and cool, or so I imagined myself, and in a casual, offhand manner made frequent mention to friends about my newfound conversion to tofu and vegetable protein. Not knowing how to cook these items in an appetizing manner, my ardor for protein substitutes lumped on a plate in an unappetizing pile of mush soon subsided, though I soldiered on for a few more weeks out of sheer stubbornness and pride. I without comment one day returned to eating meat, and my friends were kind enough not to notice, or at least not to say anything in front of me about it, anyway.
These days I eat meat on a regular basis. Three or four times a week, sometimes more. I do try to remember Thomas Jefferson’s admonishment to consider meat a condiment, not a main course.
Accepting that I’m a meat eater, my second, more serious struggle has involved killing animals I’ve raised myself — I’ve done that, too, but frankly it leaves me uneasy. I wholeheartedly believe there is a fundamental honesty to eating meat you’ve raised from egg to chicken, kid to goat and lamb to pork chops; but I just hate dropping the hatchet on some poor chicken’s neck or hauling animals down the road to the slaughterhouse.
Cowardly, perhaps; but it’s a hard thing to cut the head off a young rooster that you’ve fed as a chick twice each day, routinely cleaning his little bottom when poopy-butt strikes. It’s also hard to handover for slaughter a goat or lamb you helped birth on a cold March night, remembering all the time how you picked him up and wiped his squirming body down, made sure all his little legs worked, and stayed in the stall long enough to ensure mom gave the tiny, wee thing a good suckle.
These experiences make me very grateful to the farmers market vendors who are willing to raise and kill animals for the rest of us. I know the farmers personally, and I can buy from them confident that the animals they’ve raised have been reared in clean, healthy conditions, with good husbandry and kindness — even love.
Because the truth is, unless your farm gets so large that the numbers overwhelm compassion, or become so hardened that the act of killing leaves one cold, there is indeed love between farmers and their animals.
So how does one kill something they love? That, as I’ve been reflecting on, is very hard indeed. And I know that it’s just as difficult for the farmers involved as it was for me when I was farming for a living. I’m no more sensitive or less squeamish than they, perhaps even less so than some. I’ve just returned to the regular work world and can afford for now to make different decisions. I can skip the struggle of slaughtering and cleaning and simply buy my meat.
I don’t know if I’ll return one day to raising animals for slaughter, either for home use or for the market. If I do not, I’m still thankful that I have experienced exactly what that means, and understand the difficulties of what these farmers are doing for the rest of us. It makes me very grateful for what I receive, and very appreciative of what they do.
And one day soon, I’ll perhaps use this space to explain why it costs so much more to buy a pound of meat that is naturally raised rather than conventionally raised. Just take it on faith for a while, if you will, that these folks aren’t making much profit at what they’re doing. Not once you back out purchase of stock, shelter and feed costs, time and labor, medical care and emotional and mental anguish. In fact, once you’ve experienced these things firsthand, it makes you feel embarrassed that such meat can be bought locally at almost any price at all. Pearls before swine, in a manner of speaking — such bounty should, I think sometimes, actually be priceless.
One night last week, when I was watching what must have been the 500th recounting of the Casey Anthony trial, I suddenly recalled my favorite subject to teach in college — Greek mythology. At first, I wasn’t certain about the connection, but as I listened to Nancy Grace and her tribunal of experts rage and whine while images of luckless little Caylee and her foolish mother flowed across the screen, I suddenly remembered the Furies.
If I remember my Edith Hamilton’s Mythology correctly, the Furies were a host of invisible tormentors that the gods sent to torment mortals who had committed unforgivable crimes ... patricide or infanticide, for example. The immortal Furies pursued their victims for the remainder of their mortal lives, lashing them with whips and relentlessly whispering their sins in their ears.
The marks of the whip caused the victim to age rapidly, and, the victims were troubled by sleepless nights. Of course, this “divine punishment” was an imaginative way of describing the torments of a guilty conscious.
Now, as I watch Casey Anthony flee the Orange County courthouse (again) amid shouts of “Baby Killer” and “Justice for Caylee,” I am struck by similarities to the ancient Furies. Is it possible that our modern equivalent of the Furies resides in those angry citizens who are waving placards in Orlando and Jacksonville? Does a Fury reside in Nancy Grace? As Casey, runs towards a car that will spirit her away to safety, does she hear the shouts? Does she flinch as though struck by an invisible whip?
I’m getting carried away here but I can’t help it. I love good theater, even when it is dispensed by CNN instead of Netflex. Besides, I am suddenly reminded of O.J., who like one of those doomed Greek heroes was first blessed and then cursed by the gods. When I see him now, overweight, getting a bit flabby, with that sheepish grin (like the cat that ate the canary), I get the distinct feeling that O. J. didn’t get away with anything. He will live out the remainder of his life with his crime branded on his forehead.
I liked my theory about the Furies so much, I told a friend of mine about it. He didn’t agree. He said that O. J. and Casey lacked nobility. In effect, he said that their lives were too petty and trivial. Certainly, they didn’t deserve a punishment as awe-inspiring of the wrath of the gods. In other words, only arrogant kings or immoral queens deserved to be tormented by the Furies. Only the chosen have the depth of soul to be guilty of hubris.
Well, I thought about that and I don’t agree. I remember what that grand old expert on living and dead religions, Joseph Campbell, said about those mythical heroes and heroines. He recalled having seen Oedipus boarding a New York subway, Helen of Troy shopping on 5th Avenue, or perhaps Odysseus getting out of a taxi on Broadway. He said that all of the great stories are a kind of template that is destined to be repeated for all eternity.
Today, the great tales are not the sole property of royalty, but belong to all of us. Tristram may be a dishwasher in a Greek restaurant where Iseult is a waitress. Achilles may be a pro-Nazi skinhead in London and Orpheus may be in Nashville where he just released his first CD.
Campbell felt that the petty, mean-spirited, cruel — as well as the gentle, faithful and compassionate — might reenact a story that has been told and then forgotten numerous times. None of them are noble, but they might acquire something akin to nobility by suffering. In other words, selfish, dissembling Casey Anthony may be granted forgiveness at some point in the future. In the tragic story of Oedipus, the old, blind king is only forgiven when he is dying. Then the Furies become his comforters and grant him peace.
So, I am wondering about those who escape earthly justice, evade prison and rush off to complete book/film script deals and become some kind of shady celebrity who is occasionally exhibited like an exotic reptile on TV talk shows ... is that “success in show business” possibly deceptive? What is it like spending the rest of your life knowing what people think when they see you? Does O. J. feel that he really got away with something? Is he not painfully aware that there are places where he can never go again? As for Casey, what is your freedom worth if you must hide?
There is a marvelous way to end this ordeal, both for Casey and O. J. They need to confess. Neither can be arrested or imprisoned again. What if Casey Anthony confessed to David Letterman, sitting right there on the guest couch between say .... maybe Madonna and Elton John? What if O. J. confessed to Oprah? What if those confessions were rerun for a solid month like a mobius strip? How would you feel about these two sinners? Would you forgive them? Would the Furies disappear?
Been to the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino? Even if you don’t gamble, I’d encourage a walk through. My bet is you’d be absolutely astounded at what is happening in Cherokee.
I took a media tour a couple of weeks ago and, honestly, couldn’t believe what I saw. The reality that there is something that huge, that glitzy and that busy juxtaposed so near secluded mountains, vast wilderness areas and all of our very quaint, very small downtowns at first take seems a little odd.
What’s not odd, though, is how Harrah’s has changed the fortunes of the tribe — and the region — for the better. In fact, as this recession lingers, it’s painful to imagine how Cherokee, Swain and Jackson counties would be faring without the casino revenue.
The casino, in what is admittedly an understatement, has blossomed. It now employs more than 2,000, and that will go up to 2,400 once the current expansion project is done. It attracts about 3.6 million gamers annually, making it the state’s largest tourist attraction.
And now the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians wants approval, to use a poker term, to go all in: it wants dealers instead of video machines, a move that it estimates would add at least another 400 jobs. Along with those dealers, say gambling industry insiders, would come tens of thousands of more patrons.
The governor and the tribe are both playing hardball in the dealer negotiations, and reportedly the two are not very close to a deal. The state wants an agreement with the tribe for a percentage of casino revenue for its coffers before allowing dealers. While we agree that the state should gets its fair share, we also hope state leaders take into account what Harrah’s provides for a region that has little industry, few large corporations, and traditionally doesn’t get the attention that is lavished on the coast or the urban centers in the Piedmont. I suspect every leader in this part of the state wants the casino to continue to prosper.
Here’s what leaders in Raleigh need to understand: the casino is the right kind of tourist attraction for the mountain region. It doesn’t pollute like a traditional factory (and thereby spoil the attraction of the mountains), doesn’t add to urban sprawl, doesn’t strain infrastructure, and its patrons come for a few days, spend their money and leave.
The state spends millions on tax breaks to attract jobs in other parts of the state, and yet it could shackle the next planned casino expansion because it wants more revenue than the tribe has so far been willing to relinquish.
It’s been more than a decade since the state let the genie out of the bottle when it comes to gambling. Not only did leaders roll out the welcome mat for the casino, it has since set up a lottery. So there’s no moral or ethical argument for delaying approval of the tribe’s attempt to win approval for dealers. It’s all about the money.
The governor, state leaders and the tribe need to get a deal done so Western North Carolina’s lead economic engine can reach its full potential.
I’ve loved rock and roll music all of my life. When I was a teenager, I listened to Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Bob Seger and other staples of FM radio that most parents were listening to as well, unless they were hopelessly uncool, but I also sought out more “dangerous” music that didn’t just push the envelope of teen rebellion. It stomped all over the envelope and then burned it into ashes. I listened to bands like AC/DC, the Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. When I was 17 years old, my favorite album was “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. Black Sabbath had an album called “We Sold Our Souls For Rock’n’Roll,” and members of Led Zeppelin were said to have been obsessed with occultist Aleister Crowley.
Like a lot of kids, I was attracted to this kind of music for various reasons. It was not music that any parent or teacher would have approved of, which was one big selling point. It offered a place to go for people who didn’t feel they fit in anywhere else, and it gave a sense not only of community but of power to a group that hadn’t had much of either in life. The power was in the power chords, thunderous hooks, music that would rattle the windows in your car, except that your windows were down, because you wanted everybody in your stupid-ass town to know that you were into AC/DC. You were part of that. The normal kids could listen to Peter Frampton and date cheerleaders and go to the prom. You were on “the highway to hell.” Rock on.
I thought of my high school days the first time I saw the documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996. In this documentary, three teenage boys from West Memphis, Ark., were arrested, tried, and ultimately convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys. The essence of the prosecution’s case against the boys was that they committed the murders as part of some occult ritual. They dressed in black, listened to Metallica, and didn’t really fit in with the “normal” kids. One of the boys, the ringleader, was named “Damien,” like the antichrist character in the movie “The Omen.” In the documentary, much is made of his interest in Aleister Crowley. There is an appalling lack of any real evidence in the movie, and most of the prosecution’s witnesses were discredited on cross-examination, even by court-appointed attorneys who would remind no one of Clarence Darrow.
Still, the boys were convicted, and Damien was given the death sentence.
Once the documentary aired, there was an immediate and strong reaction among the many people who saw it and felt a terrible injustice had been done. Even celebrities such as Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, actor Johnny Depp, and “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson — not to mention the members of Metallica — worked to raise money for the boys’ appeals and to raise awareness of the injustice. There were tribute albums, and a web site, and then a sequel to the original documentary.
There were also appeals, but even though the West Memphis Three had become quite literally a cause célèbre and had more resources at their disposal than the boys would have ever been able to imagine, for 17 years it all amounted to nothing in terms of changing their immediate reality. They were in prison, and would remain in prison, year after year after year. Echols spent much of that time in solitary confinement.
Finally, two Thursdays ago in a courtroom in Jonesboro, Ark., the three men — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — entered into a plea agreement called an Alford Plea that essentially means that they are maintaining their innocence but believe there is a strong likelihood that a jury would find them guilty in exchange for being released from prison. It is a complicated legal maneuver that basically gets the state of Arkansas off the hook for a literal witch hunt that cost three innocent boys nearly 18 years of their freedom.
In a press conference shortly after their release from prison, Jason Baldwin said this: “This was not justice. In the beginning we told nothing but the truth — that we were innocent and they sent us to prison for the rest of our lives for it. We had to come here and the only thing the state would do for us is to say, ‘Hey, we will let you go only if you admit guilt,’ and that is not justice anyway you look it. They’re not out there trying to find who really murdered those boys, and I did not want to take the deal from the get-go. However, they are trying to kill Damien, and sometimes you just got to bite the gun to save somebody.”
The third documentary on the West Memphis Three is scheduled to be released in November. There may be a happier ending in this one, but Jason Baldwin is right: don’t dare call it justice. Those boys can’t have back 17 years of their lives, the actual killer (or killers) of three 8-year-old boys got away with it, and the Arkansas legal system essentially resorted to legal blackmail to get itself off the hook.
The West Memphis Three are free, but this is no happy ending.
A number of readers have informed me that the agonizing sting I described in last week’s column was the work of a Japanese hornet. That sent me trotting to my computer, where I read a description of being stung by one. He wrote the sting of a Japanese hornet felt like having a hot nail driven into his leg.
I guess one man’s hot nail is another woman’s hot poker. I had written it felt akin to a hot metal poker being jabbed in my foot.
In actuality, a European hornet probably stung me — the Japanese hornet isn’t present in North America. The European hornet is the largest and, technically, the only true hornet found here. It was first reported in 1840 in New York, and the European hornet has since spread to most of the eastern United States. I certainly don’t remember seeing bees this size while growing up in Bryson City, though maybe I simply didn’t pay attention and they’ve been here all along.
Here’s the official description, courtesy of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service: “Adults somewhat resemble yellow jackets, but are much larger (about one-and-a-half inches) and are brown with yellow markings. Queens, which may be seen in the spring, are more reddish than brown, and are larger than the workers. Nests are typically built in hollow trees, but they are often found in barns, sheds, attics, and wall voids of houses. Unlike its cousin, the bald-faced hornet, European hornets rarely build nests that are free hanging or in unprotected areas. Frequently, the nest is built at the cavity opening, rather than deep within. The outside of the exposed nest will be covered with coarse, thick, tan, paper-like material fashioned from decayed wood fibers. Nests built in wall voids may emit a noticeable stench.”
Now that I’ve been stung by one, I’m seeing them everywhere. Including a nest under the porch of a cabin on the property here. I’m suspicious that the hornets are actually in the wall of the cabin, flying down into a crack through the porch, but I hope that I’m wrong. That will mean suiting up in protective clothing and pulling off boards to get to them. Understandably, I’m not eager to be stung again by one of these monster-sized hornets.
I’ve helped with bee removals before at other people’s homes. Usually it’s honeybees that take up residence. Here’s a free tip for those of you who want to do the removal yourself: fill the cavity with fiberglass insulation after you’ve gotten the bees out. Otherwise, it is inevitable that another swarm of honeybees eventually will take up residence in the same place, attracted by the pheromones of their predecessors.
Since the column published last week, I’ve had several people ask me why I fool with honeybees since I react so violently to being stung. There’s a big difference between swelling from the venom — which is what I do — and having an actual life-threatening allergic reaction.
Most people have some sort of reaction — pain, swelling, redness and itching, that kind of thing. I’m in smaller subset, about 10 to 15 percent of people, who experience larger areas of swelling for up to a week. Uncomfortable, yes; unsightly, yes; but not life-threatening.
Over in Macon County, Lewis Penland, who heads up the planning board, falls into the still rarer group (about 3 percent) who have full-blown allergic reactions that cause anaphylaxis. It forced him to give up honeybee keeping.
The same thing happened to my maternal grandfather, if I remember the stories correctly. He had honeybees, but one day he simply couldn’t have them anymore — he’d developed full-blown allergies to the venom. It happens like that sometimes.
Interestingly, the venom of various stinging insects isn’t the same chemically speaking. I hardly swell from yellow jacket stings, or wasps. But let a honeybee pop me and I blow up like a hideous balloon animal.
And, I’ve now learned, from the sting of a Japanese/European hornet.
I recently wrote in the Swain County newspaper about a singularly misguided proposal by Great Smoky Mountains National Park leadership to transfer their archives and artifacts to Townsend, Tenn. A Swain County site makes more sense, and full marks to county commissioners for becoming actively involved in this issue.
Beyond that, any resident in Swain County who gives a fig for the future or cares about our rich role in the Park’s past should speak out as well. The comment period remains open, and I’d strongly encourage readers to make their feelings known to the Park (www.nps.gov/grsm) and Swain native Rep. Heath Shuler (www.shuler.house.gov).
Incidentally, although I have asked specific questions and offered comments on the issue to Park officials, the only response I have had came in a testy conversation with a spokesman, Bob Miller. When I pointed out, repeatedly, inconsistencies between the comments period cited in his press release and what appeared on the Park’s web site (the latter was changed multiple times, with one comment period closing almost as soon as it opened), he said: “We’ll change it on the web site.”
What I could not get him to understand was that saying one thing in a printed press release and subsequently changing the rules of the game was confusing, and in my view disingenuous.
As if that situation wasn’t vexatious enough, close on the heels of the archives/artifacts proposal comes another which is, if anything, more convoluted and ill-conceived. A recent press release proposes changes in regulations governing backcountry camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Park leadership tells us that backcountry “site capacities are frequently exceeded.” In addition, according to their statement, “once backpackers obtain their reservations and arrive at their campsite, they often find the area filled by people without permits.” In the same release they also complain of lack of staff to patrol the backcountry.
Staff issues are matters for Park management, but they are missing in action in the backcountry. Personally I haven’t seen a ranger in the backcountry for decades, and I’ve only been checked while fishing once in the last quarter century.
The release raises questions. “How, other than hearsay, do officials know capacities are exceeded?” “If there are significant problems, why aren’t they addressing the situation with patrols?” “Does hard statistical evidence support changes?” “If problems exist to such a significant degree, hasn’t the Park been guilty of neglect?”
No doubt Park answers will plead budgetary constraints and more urgent frontcountry needs. There is validity to both, notwithstanding troubling examples of Park employee “do nothingness” alongside stellar work by others.
Or to view matters another way, if plans involve demands on Park staff, let’s handle matters proportionally. Look at the ceaseless “circlers” in Cades Cove, asphalt-bound flocks of buzzards filling the air with exhaust fumes.
Closer to home, what about the unending tube brigade parading up Deep Creek? They degrade banks between trail and stream; leave a noxious, never-ending legacy of litter in their wake; and channel the creek with habitat harming “engineering” projects.
Yet it seems such folks, like those breaking dog walking regulations, picking flowers, and much more, are studiously ignored while Park officials focus their fiscal laser beam on the tiny minority — probably less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all Park visitors — who camp in the backcountry. If they are serious about making folks pay as they go or want a fair distribution of what a friend has nicely styled “ranger impact,” let’s bring some balance to the user equation.
Perhaps more to the point, it seems logical to believe that active backcountry patrolling, along with meaningful fines for angling violations, ginseng poaching, illegal camping, and the like, would accomplish two things. It would provide money to justify the manhours involved and would dramatically curtail such activities.
Interestingly, another recent Park press release says that there has been a steady decline in Park visitation over the past several years. Logically, if that is the case, backcountry usage should also be down. The most recent statistics I could find, from a detailed 2008 study out of the University of Tennessee, bear that out and make Park statements seem ludicrous. According to the study, with the notable exception of the shelters along the Appalachian Trail, campsite usage is anything but heavy.
Take Deep Creek as one example. None of the seven streamside campsites had heavy usage. Only Poke Patch and Bumgardner Branch, the most easily reached of the lot, averaged more than one camper a night for the year (375 and 526 campers, respectively).
Indeed, if you look at campsites from Cataloochee to Twentymile Creek, only two other than Appalachian Trail shelters — Lost Cove on Eagle Creek and Proctor on Hazel Creek — totaled more than a thousand camper nights. That scarcely sounds like overcrowding, when most campsites are suitable for anywhere from 8 to 20 campers per night. Some accommodate appreciably larger numbers.
Additional evidence suggesting misrepresentation of the backcountry situation comes from conversations with hikers and campers as well as my personal observations. My brother, who has hiked thousands of Park miles in recent years, says he has encountered precisely one ranger more than a mile from a trailhead. He also notes, in sharp contradiction to what Park management would have us believe, that he seldom sees backpackers and that most of the campsites he walks by are empty or sparsely populated.
Even easily accessible sites seldom have more than a couple of tents except on weekends and perhaps during peak months (May and October). Take the storied Bryson Place, for example, where you might think crowded conditions often exist. Not so. The 2008 study showed 158 camper nights for the entire year.
A key part of the proposal is that Park management wants to charge a user fee. Putting aside all the considerations addressed above for a moment, I would simply remind Park officials, from Superintendent Dale Ditmanson down, that charging a backcountry fee would break a solemn pledge made at the Park’s founding. Namely, that there would be no access fees for the Smokies. Also, I suspect this is a “foot in the door” kind of thing that could lead to other user and even entrance fees.
As the poet of the Yukon, Robert Service, once wrote, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.” Sadly, Park officials have often broken promises, and here we seem to have a case of where a promise made bids fair to turn into a situation where the Park must be paid. That’s how I see this proposal – as a money grab.
If I believed that there was overcrowding, if I believed that the current reservation system didn’t work, if I believed the fees collected would be used exclusively for backcountry-related matters such as maintenance and a meaningful ranger presence, and if I believed it would stop here, I would tolerate a modest fee. Alas, I think the likelihood of such monies being used exclusively for their proclaimed purposes about the same as thistle seeds being unaffected by dust devils dancing across fields in August.
Even as I urge readers to be heard, I’ll close by confessing cynicism. Past experience suggests that these comment periods and informational sessions are often mere façades, not serious factors in ultimate decisions. Nonetheless, I think anyone who cares should make their voice heard. Sufficient, strident opposition just might have an impact.
(Jim Casada is a writer, an editor and a retired professor from Bryson City. His most recent book is Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An Insiders Guide to a Pursuit of Passion.)
If I overdose and you have to take me to the emergency room, I told a friend Friday night, please tell the doctor I took three ibuprofen, two Benadryl and a Hydrocodone. Then, mercifully, I passed out. And, awoke to tell what happened.
That afternoon, unaware of the great agony that loomed before me, I’d gaily tripped barefoot into the garden to water my parched looking turnip and collard beds. While rendering this vital aid (my garden shoes were downstairs and I was too lazy to fetch them), I inadvertently stepped on and smashed a large, yellow thing under my left foot, an overgrown version of a yellow jacket with slightly heavier striping, and it stung me — hard.
It hurt like no other sting I’ve ever experienced. I really don’t know what to compare it to, except to say it was akin to what I imagine it would feel like if someone took a hot metal poker and rammed it into my foot.
As a beekeeper, I have great practice in and attunement to the varying pain levels of stings — there are the drive-by stings that, well, sting. Then there are the I-really-should-have-lit-the-smoker-before-getting-in-this-hive stings, when the honeybees bury in as deeply as they possibly can, and you actually bleed a bit after scraping the stingers out. That hurts, a lot, but they are weak nothings compared to Friday’s sting.
I’ve been stung in the hands, the arms, the legs, the butt, and three different times on my face — I swell like nobody’s business, and my eyes puffed shut each time. The face stings curtailed my social outings for the three days or so required for my eyes to reopen. But even being stung in the face didn’t hurt like this latest sting.
In addition to honeybees, during my life I’ve been stung by wasps and by countless yellow jackets. I’ve squished sweatbees by accident into my armpits, and been stung in retaliation. As a child, I once endured 14 stings on my back after blundering into a hornets’ nest out in the woods. That really did hurt, and I seem to remember the shock sent me screaming out of the woods, but again it doesn’t even come close to the pain levels reached after this unidentified yellow thing stung me.
It stung, and once I reacted to what had happened, I started hopping about on my right foot, cursing. I got cold chills, and briefly considered throwing up.
I remember an elderly beekeeper in Bryson City who told me he’d never truly known how badly a sting could hurt until a bumblebee nailed him. I hope I never get the opportunity to compare pain levels with his experience, but I can’t imagine bumblebee stings could hurt more than the yellow thing sting. The very thought makes me shiver and cringe.
I hopped, one footed, back into the house and found a version of Sting Ease. It eased the pain nary a bit. The top of my foot quickly turned an angry red, and then my entire foot started swelling. I took two ibuprofen, thought about it a minute, and took another. I might as well have swallowed sugar pills for all the good they did.
I started in on Benadryl. First I took one pill, waited for a bit and when nothing happened, took another. Still my foot throbbed. Eventually, seeing my agony (loudly and frequently expressed, I wasn’t suffering in silence), my friend dug out some Hydrocodone left over from a previous broken-bone experience that I’m sure paled next to my foot-sting pain.
At that point, I’d have taken arsenic if someone had simply assured me it would dampen the throbbing.
I’ve taken Hydrocodone before, after having my wisdom teeth taken out, in my mid 30s. It had a very strange effect on me — I’d started talking, and couldn’t shut up. Usually, of course, it knocks people out. But I got totally wired, and talked for hours and hours despite the gauze crammed into my cheeks.
I didn’t give my prior Hydrocodone experience a thought, however. The idea of babbling mindlessly, but free of pain, was infinitely more desirable than dealing a second longer than necessary with my throbbing foot. As it happened, the Benadryl tipped the scales in favor of sleep, and I conked out.
The next day, the pain was gone, but my foot looked foreign to my body; hugely fat, grossly sausage-like. I cancelled my planned run, and settled in for a supine day indoors. But by lunchtime Saturday the swelling had all but disappeared. And, as I write this on Sunday morning, I can’t even tell where I was stung. Amazing.
There is no moral to this story, no lesson to be learned. Except, perhaps, that I need to set a pair of garden-designated shoes upstairs to slip on when I go out to water; I should keep a close eye out for unidentified yellow stinging things; and, as my friend sometimes says, there are times when the living is better through chemistry. Hooray for drugs, that’s what I say.
I have some good news. But first the bad news. The world is ending. Evangelist Harold Camping has predicted it. Others point to the Mayan calendar and confirm that our remaining days are few. Meanwhile, a surprising number of people believe that a planet called Nibiru will collide with Earth and do us in.
Most conservationists I encounter may not pay attention to these particular predictors of doom, but they tend to be equally pessimistic about our future. When I traveled to Indiana a few weeks ago to speak at a conference on literature and the environment, I heard countless examples of people wiping out nature, nature killing people, and nature sometimes destroying itself.
Session titles included such uplifting topics as “Dead and Dying Animals in Literature, Film, Art, and Culture,” and “Imagining Environmental Apocalypse.” More than once, professors at the conference lamented that their students find environmental issues extremely depressing. Really? I can’t imagine why.
Sure, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the outside world: loss of habitat, polluted waters, global climate change, invasive species, oil spills, funding cuts for conservation programs, species extinctions, and more.
But depressing news is, well, depressing. It repels people — and their donations, too. Very few people want to take on apparently losing causes, and so the challenges continue.
I know we have to be realistic about these conservation issues, but rather than focusing on what’s gone wrong, maybe we should spend more time tallying what’s gone right. Then, the next time we think we’re approaching an environmental Armageddon, we can share these encouraging stories with friends, family, struggling students, discouraged conservation leaders and potential donors — or just read them to ourselves to remember that good things have happened before and can happen again.
Fortunately, we can find plenty of recent conservation successes right here in Western North Carolina. Thanks to various groups and agencies, we again have elk in the Smokies, peregrine falcons in the skies, and river otters and various fish species back in the Pigeon River watershed.
Meanwhile, air quality is improving, and Haywood Waterways and its partners have cleaned up Hyatt Creek enough that it has been removed from the EPA’s list of polluted waters. Also, the 12 land trusts of the Blue Ridge Forever partnership have protected more than 50,000 acres of important farmland, forests, and natural areas in the last five years.
I don’t think we should worry that some favorable results will eliminate humanity’s interest in the environment. Instead, these success stories can inspire all of us to create more good news.
Speaking of which, Harold Camping has updated his timeline for the end of the world — previously scheduled for May 21. We now have until October 21 to create some new conservation successes. Who knows? Maybe we’ll do enough good between now and then to earn the world another short reprieve.
George Ivey is a Haywood County-based consultant and author of the novel Up River. Contact him at www.georgeivey.com.
Turkeys, I’ve learned, are curious animals. That curiosity was on full display for company this past weekend when Kirk Hardin the goat broker and his wife, Shannon, came over from Canton to pick up three sheep and a billy goat.
My friend and I reluctantly decided to sell our Katahdin sheep because we have too little pastureland. The ram, Leo, his betrothed, Sophie, and the couple’s offspring, Nikolai, represent a farming experiment gone awry.
Lesson: do not get into sheep unless you have pasture, about an acre for every three to five head. Otherwise, you’ll be feeding hay to them all year. And, unless you’ve got your own hayfield — doubtful, if you don’t have enough pasture to begin with — sheep being fed purchased hay is the equivalent of tossing money into a bottomless hole.
Despite this farming failure, I remain a stalwart fan of Katahdin sheep. I hope one day to build a large flock and tend them as a dutiful little shepherdess. I believe Katahdins are wonderfully suited for raising here in Western North Carolina, much more so than other kinds of sheep or meat goats … if, that is, you have adequate pastureland.
Kirk and Shannon showed just after lunch in a pickup truck with a livestock crate in the back. I’d been dubious when Kirk told my friend on the phone that he planned to lift Leo into the pickup. He and what army, I believe was my response to that.
Leo, you see, weighs at least 200 pounds, maybe even 250. He doesn’t like being touched, much less picked up, though I’ve certainly never tried to lift him. Two months ago or so, Leo took me out — lowered his big ram head and sent me rolling down the hill, head over heels — when I wasn’t quick enough delivering his food. (Lesson: never, ever, turn your back on a ram). That experience bruised both my body and ego. I’d become quite cautious in my subsequent dealings with Leo.
Kirk ambled into the barnyard, took one look at the huge ram glowering at him from inside a locked stall, and developed another plan.
He decided to bring the pickup truck around, back it into a bank, and lead Leo up the bank and into the livestock crate. I had my doubts, but Kirk is the professional goat broker, not me. Never mind that we were dealing primarily with sheep, not goats — both have four legs, after all, and Kirk had an air of confidence about him.
We first loaded Sophie, Nikolai and the billy goat, Ghirardelli. Kirk offered to buy Ghirardelli for a friend whose goat lasses need a good buck’s services. This saved the young lad from freezer camp. One requires but a single billy goat in one’s life, and that niche is currently filled here at Haven Hollow Farm in Sylva.
Kirk took the truck around and backed into the bank, which was 25 to 30 feet from the stall where Leo was now pacing agitatedly back and forth. Kirk and I went into the stall — why I went in, don’t ask me, it’s not like I was any actual help — and Kirk dropped a lead over Leo’s head.
I fully anticipated at this point in the story that Leo would destroy Kirk the professional goat broker. I could almost sense the ensuing story writing itself in my head, about how Leo exploded with rage and the broker ran for his life, or something like that.
Instead, the great sissy docilely trotted along with Kirk, who suddenly manifested into some oversized, mountain-twanging Haywood County version of Little Bo Peep leading her gentle lamb.
There was a bit of excitement close to the pickup, but it didn’t amount to much: Leo started launching himself through the air. What Leo thought this would accomplish, I can’t say. He’s never been big on providing explanations.
Kirk didn’t even blink. He just stepped aside so the great leaping beast wouldn’t come down on top of him, pointed him in the general direction of the pickup bed, and let Leo leap inside the crate.
Meanwhile, the turkeys were taking it all in.
We have three turkeys. They are common Broad-breasted whites. We’d ordered a heritage breed, but in a joint order with a friend, she somehow ended up with the heritage birds, and us with the whites. I don’t care — this was my first stab at turkeys, and I’ve been highly entertained, no matter how ubiquitous the breed we have.
I’d always read that turkeys are incredibly stupid. That’s simply not true — at least not these turkeys. Granted, when they were young, they did squish to death one of their brethren, taking the count from four to three. But chickens do that sometimes, too. And Sophie the ewe stepped on Nikolai when he was just a baby, luckily causing no visible lasting harm.
The turkeys love a good show. And seeing three sheep and a billy goat loaded into a truck by Kirk was what they consider a really good show. They got right up to the back of the pickup, making odd hinking noises at each other, watching his every move like so many biddies in a hair parlor commenting on the people walking past.
I thought the turkeys looked disappointed when Kirk and Shannon drove off. Life was again humdrum everyday fare in the barnyard; boring goats, a bunch of boring chickens, a boring guard dog named Sassy and a barn cat — b-o-r-i-n-g — named Jack. Turkeys, I’ve learned, yen for more entertainment than that.
But not me: I, for one, was thrilled to see Leo disappear down the road. He was a bit too much entertainment for my taste, not to mention the ever-increasing expense associated with feeding a ram his size. That served as a constant, annoying reminder that I hadn’t thought things through very well when it came to the sheep.
Lesson: turkeys are a lot cheaper than sheep to feed. And, if a bird lowers its head and runs into you, it’s doubtful that this turkey attack would hurt nearly as much as having a 200- to 250-pound ram nail you from behind.