Digging deeper into the Kephart-Calhoun relationship
 

Digging deeper into the Kephart-Calhoun relationship

The meeting between Granville Calhoun and Horace Kephart (the quintessential highlander and outlander, respectively) is a noteworthy event in this…
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The Golden Mouse: A Children’s Poem for Adults
 

The Golden Mouse: A Children’s Poem for Adults

Editor’s note: George Ellison’s column this week is a sort of fable based on one of the seldom-seen (almost mythical)…
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Looking back at strawberry wine, Kephart and Calhoun
 

Looking back at strawberry wine, Kephart and Calhoun

In a letter to the editor of the Smoky Mountain News published several weeks ago, Gwen Franks Breese took exception…
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Getting at the nitty gritty of history
 

Getting at the nitty gritty of history

Regional histories are my favorite literary genre. It’s in them that the nitty-gritty of everyday life is most clearly portrayed.…
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Sourwood honey is a favorite among connoisseurs
 

Sourwood honey is a favorite among connoisseurs

Now is sourwood time. From late June into mid-August sourwood trees will be flowering throughout Western North Carolina, from the…
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Confederates pushed road over Newfound Gap
 

Confederates pushed road over Newfound Gap

On Jan. 12, 1864, a Confederate battery of artillery and about 650 men under the command of Gen. Robert B.…
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Some ‘Indian Caves’ were very likely the real thing
 

Some ‘Indian Caves’ were very likely the real thing

Everywhere you go in Western North Carolina there are secluded places reputed to have been used as hideaways by the…
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The black sheep of the blackbird family
 

The black sheep of the blackbird family

2014 seems to be a banner year for cowbirds. I saw them in large numbers in southeastern Arizona two weeks…
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A few poems as spring awakens the mountains
 

A few poems as spring awakens the mountains

Since the year 2000, I have written going on 750 Back Then “columns” for The Smoky Mountain News. I am…
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Behind the ballad of Kidder Cole
 

Behind the ballad of Kidder Cole

Judge Felix E. Alley (1873-1957) was a native of Whiteside Cove, near Cashiers and Highlands. During most of his legal…
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Regional historians and ‘piglets from heaven’
 

Regional historians and ‘piglets from heaven’

“Eagles, as they still do, lived on the creek. One day in the 1890s, an eagle dropped a piglet into…
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Another storyteller to add to the list
 

Another storyteller to add to the list

For years I’ve been enjoying and sometimes writing about a group of old-time Western North Carolina storytellers I think of…
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A bear hunter for the ages
 

A bear hunter for the ages

John Baker (Little John) Cable Jr. is one of the prominent figures in Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders (1913; revised…
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Gypsies conjure memories of the past
 

Gypsies conjure memories of the past

When I was a boy growing up in south-central Virginia during the early 1950s, my home was situated near a…
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Remembering the glory of sports radio
 

Remembering the glory of sports radio

Let’s talk some sports radio. I began thinking about this piece the afternoon before the Super Bowl. The Panthers were…
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Bringing in the new year naturally
 

Bringing in the new year naturally

Some musings on the New Year, from one who never cared much for noisy midnight celebrations of any sort, but…
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Shagbark hickory among the most interesting in WNC
 

Shagbark hickory among the most interesting in WNC

The walnut family is relatively small, but it contains some of the more interesting and valuable tree species found in…
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Cherokee homes were warm and smoky in winter
 

Cherokee homes were warm and smoky in winter

“Two or more Families join together in building a hot-house, about 30 feet Diameter, and 15 feet high, in form…
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The perversity of inanimate objects: logging then and now
 

The perversity of inanimate objects: logging then and now

Some steam and water-powered sawmills were established in the Smokies region during the 1870s and 1880s. But full-fledged industrialized logging…
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Strawberry wine and its place in Smokies lore
 

Strawberry wine and its place in Smokies lore

Jack Coburn was a regional entrepreneur who had come to the Smokies in the 1890s. Jack liked to laugh, drink,…
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Unusual geographic locations always get my attention
 

Unusual geographic locations always get my attention

Some of my happiest times here in the Blue Ridge have been those hours spent locating grassy balds, gorges, sinkholes,…
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The secret ministry of frost
 

The secret ministry of frost

It’s early October as I write this column. The first frost hasn’t, as yet, arrived. But it won’t be long…
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Wolves have special place in regional lore
 

Wolves have special place in regional lore

I’ve never seen a timber wolf, even though they no doubt once roamed — from time to time — across…
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The crossroads of humanity and nature
 

The crossroads of humanity and nature

I like visiting those sites here in the Smokies region where there is what I think of as an “overlay;”…
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Kephart's life after Hazel Creek
 

Kephart's life after Hazel Creek

Horace Kephart left the cabin site on the Little Fork in the fall of 1907, spending considerable time in other…
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Buckeyes still beguile nature lovers
 

Buckeyes still beguile nature lovers

A large yellow buckeye tree overhangs and supports the swinging gate that accesses our property. The tree has started to…
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Liverworts — a unique bridge in the plant world
 

Liverworts — a unique bridge in the plant world

Some years ago, when I first became interested in plant identification, I became curious about liverworts. They are one of…
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Deep Creek offers a great taste of the Smokies
 

Deep Creek offers a great taste of the Smokies

We are attracted to water. Mountain paths always wind down to water — springs, branches, creeks and rivers. Water is…
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A favorite time to watch the home garden
 

A favorite time to watch the home garden

This time of the year is perhaps the best time to enjoy flowering plants in a home garden. Many of…
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Rabbit gums and cold, windy mornings
 

Rabbit gums and cold, windy mornings

While perusing the shelves in a used bookstore recently, I spotted a title that was irresistible: From the Banks of…
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The ultimate revenge: yellow jacket soup
 

The ultimate revenge: yellow jacket soup

The yellow jackets are back. They inundated my home office this morning. First they gnawed through the ceiling from a…
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Another eventful day in Bryson City
 

Another eventful day in Bryson City

The whistle of the excursion train on the far side of the river shrieked three times. From where I sat…
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Water has a magical draw on us
 

Water has a magical draw on us

We are attracted to water. Mountain paths always wind down to water — springs, branches, creeks and rivers. Water is…
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Back in the day, many built their own
 

Back in the day, many built their own

When I was a very young boy growing up in Virginia, there was a very old man in our neighborhood…
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The grand and showy hibiscus
 

The grand and showy hibiscus

I had my first introduction to the showy and curious hibiscus flowers when I was a boy. Rose-of-Sharon was a…
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Doc may have been most civic-minded Swain citizen ever
 

Doc may have been most civic-minded Swain citizen ever

Note: Every July 4th from 1973 through 1990, I used to go in Bennett’s Drug Store here in Bryson City…
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Georgia’s Black Rock State Park worth the visit
 

Georgia’s Black Rock State Park worth the visit

Perhaps you’re looking for a new site to visit this summer?  If so, consider making a visit to Black Rock…
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Comment

Elderberry gets me thinking with my stomach
 

Elderberry gets me thinking with my stomach

A plant that always gets me to thinking with my stomach is common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), which is just now…
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Comment

First of the Floppy Disc: Almond School
 

First of the Floppy Disc: Almond School

I wrote first by hand and then with a manual typewriter. Starting about 1990, I moved “up” to a Tandy…
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The mystical allure of moving water
 

The mystical allure of moving water

We are attracted to water. Mountain paths always wind down to water. Water is the essence of our very being…
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Comment

“Tunnel-phobia” has gotten worse as years go by
 

“Tunnel-phobia” has gotten worse as years go by

Leading a field trip isn’t complicated. But there may be more to it than you suppose. It helps if you…
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Comment

Plants hitch a ride to the sun
 

Plants hitch a ride to the sun

A book I read about the Suwannee River featured numerous photographs of trees overhanging the waterway festooned with Spanish moss.…
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Comment

Identifying birds
 

Identifying birds

Although bird identification can be perplexing — baffling at times for even the most accomplished birders — the principles of…
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Comment

Some scarlet tanagers are orange
 

Some scarlet tanagers are orange

Last Saturday, I led a bird identification workshop for the Smoky Mountain Field School. We started out in the morning…
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A book every naturalist needs on his or her shelf
 

A book every naturalist needs on his or her shelf

Naturalist Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964) was born in Chicago. In his autobiography The Road of a Naturalist (1941), Peattie recalled…
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Cliff swallows return
 

Cliff swallows return

That’s the news. Our common breeding swallows have always been purple martins, barn swallows, and northern rough-winged swallows. To a…
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Comment

The blue-grey gnatcatcher is a mighty mite
 

The blue-grey gnatcatcher is a mighty mite

Elizabeth and I were sitting on the deck Monday evening when a tiny bird made an abbreviated appearance — apparently…
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Comment

Serviceberry is recurring harbinger of spring
 

Serviceberry is recurring harbinger of spring

I have two options when driving back and forth from home to town. One is along a river and the…
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Their own way of fishing
 

Their own way of fishing

I’m sometimes asked if the prehistoric Cherokees used any sort of poisons on their blowgun darts. These darts (slivers of…
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Saved by the appearance of a tree swallow
 

Saved by the appearance of a tree swallow

Earlier this morning (Tuesday, March 26) I gazed wishfully through my office window here in Bryson City. About all I…
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