Cherokee planting method was ‘agronomically sound’

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in April 2004. These days my wife, Elizabeth, and…
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Mountain lion lore

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a March 2006 edition of The Smoky Mountain News. I frequently hear from people…
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Limestone ‘sink’ is just over the mountain

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a January 2005 edition of The Smoky Mountain News. “If it form the…
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Galax’s enduring popularity

Galax is an evergreen groundcover found throughout the Blue Ridge. The plant can thrive in various settings, but the ideal…
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Evening gosbeaks to make rare appearance

“Seen for the first time amid the snows of winter and against a background of darkling pines these strange and…
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Honey locust pods are well-protected

Strap-shaped honey locust pods can be up to 2-inches wide and a foot or more in length. Hanging in abundance along…
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Mis-identifying mushrooms is a risky mistake

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in September 2004. The cool and humid forests and…
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Turkeys played important role in Cherokee culture

Editor’s note: This George Ellison column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in August 2016. The comeback of the…
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Cherokee thought buzzards possessed powers

The recent heavy rains here in the Smokies region have been a blessing, especially to those of us who like…
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Virgin’s bower is a favorite mountain wildflower
 

Virgin’s bower is a favorite mountain wildflower

It’s late July and before long summer will be slip-sliding toward autumn. The gap between now and then is often overlooked…
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Just sit on the porch and breathe

I write this down in the country again ... seated on a log in the woods, warm, sunny midday. Have…
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A rich newspaper account of Bryson City circa 1910

Despite the boosterism (and alliteration) that permeated a front page layout (perhaps instigated by the ever-energetic Jack Coburn, who is…
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Learning bird songs is an art unto itself

 Editor’s note: This column first appeared in a May 2009 issue of The Smoky Mountain News. In the opaque early-morning…
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The forlorn calls of the yellow-billed cuckoo

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in May 2008.  O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee…
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The sacred animal that walks like a man

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in an April 2003 edition of The Smoky Mountain News. Bears have always held…
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Birch stills were once plentiful in the mountains

Throughout spring the pendent catkins of sweet birch (Betula lenta) will be dangling gracefully in the wind in rich woodland…
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Old-time dentistry just plain hurt

Old-time dentistry as practiced here in the Smokies region wasn’t pretty. All of the descriptions I have found make it…
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The woodcock — secretive, rotund and acrobatic

While walking stream banks or low-lying wetlands, you have perhaps had the memorable experience of flushing a woodcock — that…
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Colorful reminders of long-ago homesteads

A chimney standing all alone where a fire burned a house down long ago … a crumbling stone wall overgrown…
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One of the Smokies’ finest poets

Editor’s note: This Back Then column by George Ellison first appeared in the Feb. 15, 2012, edition of The Smoky Mountain…
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Did the southeastern Native Americans take scalps?

(Editor’s Note: Readers should be cautioned that several of the descriptions of scalping and related practices presented in this column…
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German utopian wanted a community in Cherokee

Note: This is the second of a two-part series about Christian Priber, an utopian socialist whose beliefs — including free…
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A German idealist sought refuge among the Cherokee

Christianus Gottlieb Priber was born in Zittau, Germany, where he was the son of a beerhouse owner. In October 1722,…
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Blue jays arouse mixed feelings among humans

Everyone knows what a blue jay looks and sounds like in a general sort of way. Their incandescent blue plumage…
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Cherokee used toxins to stun fish

People sometimes wonder if the prehistoric Cherokees used any sort of poisons on their blowgun darts. These darts (slivers of…
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The quandary that is book shelving

The books have once again piled up in stacks up to three feet high in many corners of the house.…
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High-elevation overlooks are awe-inspiring

High-elevation overlooks are one of our finest natural resources. These vantage points allow us to rise above our everyday humdrum…
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When they bloom, ‘fall’s a-coming’

Late summer has slid into early autumn. The end of summer officially arrived with the autumnal equinox of Sept. 23,…
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To free your mind, just get outside and walk

In the June 14, 2004, issue of The New Yorker magazine, there was an essay titled “Blocked! Why Do Writers…
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Logging has always been dangerous work

Steam and water-powered sawmills were established here in the Smokies region during the 1870s and 1880s. But full-fledged industrialized logging…
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Time to enjoy the bounty of your flower garden

[Before moving on to the primary subject of this column (yard gardens), I’d like to share some impressions with you…
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Cherokee had uses for many local plants

For the ancient Cherokees and other southeastern Indian tribes, the greatest causes of illness were the spirits of vengeful animals.…
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What’s a naturalist?

Trying to answer that question, the first source I resorted to was, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary. Therein I…
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Early book gives vivid descriptions of WNC
 

Early book gives vivid descriptions of WNC

Those who read this column regularly are aware of my interest in the early descriptive literature of Western North Carolina.…
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The day lily is a beautiful, hardy outlander

How many naturalized plants do you recognize from your vehicle this time of year as you drive around taking care…
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Perhaps ‘possums are figuring it out

I bless my lucky stars that I’m a columnist assigned the pleasant task of writing about this region’s natural and…
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A blemish by any other name

Systems of mature trees and shrubs are covered with blemishes that signal age: cankers, seams, burls, butt scars, sterile conks,…
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The honest little bird

On one level, the natural history of a region consists of its terrain, habitats, plants, animals and how they interrelate.…
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Moonshine stills weren’t the only stills

All this spring, golden birch catkins were dangling throughout the woodlands of the Smokies region. These are the male, pollen-carrying…
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A fox sighting is always a delight

In the natural world here in the Blue Ridge, there are certain visual images that rivet the attention of human…
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Special places define us
 

Special places define us

One never tires of discovering special places here in the southern mountains. Through the years, such places readily become old…
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‘Doc’ Bennett was truly a man of the mountains

I have files in my computer containing articles I’ve forgotten that I wrote until, by chance, I run across them…
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Old-time surveyors used some interesting tools, markers

“The line runs down the meander of the ridge to where Bossy dropped her first calf.”  “The line runs to where…
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The copper run in the Great Smokies

The worldwide annual production of “high conductivity copper” had by 1899 risen to 470,000 tons, of which 300,000 tons were…
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A search for Horace Kephart’s alcove

The setting for Horace Kephart’s posthumous novel Smoky Mountain Magic (2009) is the Cherokee Indian Reservation, Bryson City and Deep…
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Delving into the origin of Native American words

Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Smoky Mountain News in December 2003. Tuckaseigee, Oconaluftee, Heintooga, Wayah, Cullasaja,…
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A new, excitable girl in our quiet cove

Essays and columns are difficult to categorize. Dividing them into the formal and informal is about all anyone can agree…
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When frost comes, we know winter has arrived

The first frost serves as a given year’s most distinctive dividing line. It’s hard to pinpoint just when winter becomes…
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Come winter, trees reveal their blemishes
 

Come winter, trees reveal their blemishes

Like an old man’s face, mature hardwood tree trunks are covered with blemishes that signal age: cankers, seams, burls, butt…
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Robin redbreasts are a perennial favorite

Our elementary school primers were populated by robins pulling worms out of holes. They appeared on television screens on Saturday…
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