My wife knows good morels when she sees them
 

My wife knows good morels when she sees them

It’s just about morel time. By early April (if not sooner), the succulent spring-fruiting fungi that are the most sought…
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In the land of water and rock
 

In the land of water and rock

Like Old Esdras in the Bible, some live in a land of milk and honey. Here in the Blue Ridge,…
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The harbingers of spring are upon us
 

The harbingers of spring are upon us

As you read this it may well be freezing or even icy outside. But before long you’ll be outside working…
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Re-learning those old, familiar (bird) songs
 

Re-learning those old, familiar (bird) songs

I like “old time rock and roll” too. And I recently got some of my old time records, CDs, iPods,…
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Be(ar) careful in the Smokies
 

Be(ar) careful in the Smokies

In the natural world there are certain experiences that rivet our attention and remain stored in our memory banks. Through…
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In celebration of spring, dead leaves, and an ornery epitaph
 

In celebration of spring, dead leaves, and an ornery epitaph

About once a year or less, I work up the nerve to publish poems in this space. Head for cover.…
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Oil lamps have long history of lighting the way
 

Oil lamps have long history of lighting the way

Surprisingly, a recent column about wood-burning cookstoves attracted as much attention as anything I’ve written for years. Folks who live…
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The hardest tree in North America
 

The hardest tree in North America

I wrote a tribute to the black locust tree some time back. It’s time to take another look. This time…
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Northern siskins ‘irrupting’ right now at my feeder
 

Northern siskins ‘irrupting’ right now at my feeder

“The opportunistic nature of the species and its partial indifference to constraints of time and space make it an intriguing…
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Looking out on a busy day in Bryson City
 

Looking out on a busy day in Bryson City

For some, graveyards are morbid places. When I was a boy, I never liked to pass by or walk through…
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Are the ‘possums adapting to headlight glare
 

Are the ‘possums adapting to headlight glare

Where have all the opossums gone? People worry about cerulean warblers and frogs and honeybees and ash trees and hemlocks…
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Indian words add color to our language
 

Indian words add color to our language

Tuckaseigee, Oconaluftee, Heintooga, Wayah, Cullasaja, Hiwassee, Coweeta, Stecoah, Steestachee, Skeenah, Nantahala, Aquone, Katuwah, and on and on. Our place names…
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The spirituality of mountain graveyards
 

The spirituality of mountain graveyards

“I am developing a taste for walking in cemeteries.” – Jules Renard, “Journals” (December 1909) Like Jules Renard, a turn-of-the-century…
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Winter mushrooms a welcome find
 

Winter mushrooms a welcome find

Most people who hunt mushrooms do so in late summer and fall when an array of choice edibles are abundant…
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Memories of the lost village of Needmore
 

Memories of the lost village of Needmore

Is there another region in the United States that has had more flourishing towns and villages disappear than the one…
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The appropriately named 'blue darter'
 

The appropriately named 'blue darter'

When I was a boy my favorite sport was baseball. I was a pitcher. I didn’t have any idea where…
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Birds of a feather stay warm in bad weather
 

Birds of a feather stay warm in bad weather

Because they seem so delicate and vulnerable, we go out of our way to feed birds that overwinter here in…
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Byer’s book brings us a sense of place
 

Byer’s book brings us a sense of place

Kathryn Stripling Byer lives in Cullowhee. Poet Laureate Emeritas of North Carolina for a number of years, she was this…
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New book celebrates diversity and Biological Station
 

New book celebrates diversity and Biological Station

In regard to floral diversity, the Southern Appalachian region is unsurpassed by any other temperate region in the world. Whenever…
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A short bout with Victor the Bear
 

A short bout with Victor the Bear

This is a bear story. Unlike many bear stories, this one is true. Tourism started in Western North Carolina during…
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For the love of local bookstores
 

For the love of local bookstores

When I was a child living in Boonville, N.C., a town of 600 people, my mother would load us into…
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Beauty, form and function go hand in hand
 

Beauty, form and function go hand in hand

All too often, we tend to think of flowering plants as something beautiful put on this earth to stimulate human…
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Waterfalls have a near mystical attraction
 

Waterfalls have a near mystical attraction

We are attracted to water. Mountain paths always wind down to water ... down to springs, creeks and rivers. Water…
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Rose-breasted grosbeaks on the move through the Smokies
 

Rose-breasted grosbeaks on the move through the Smokies

Migrating rose-breasted grosbeaks have been appearing at feeders throughout the Smokies region in recent weeks. Those birds that migrate hundreds…
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First frost ushers in winter
 

First frost ushers in winter

It’s Oct. 7 as I write this. The first hard frost hasn’t as yet arrived. But it won’t be long…
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If you suffer from hay fever, blame the ragweed
 

If you suffer from hay fever, blame the ragweed

Allergies are a type of immune reaction. Normally, the immune system responds to foreign microorganisms, or particles, like pollen or…
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Let the fall wildflower fruit displays begin
 

Let the fall wildflower fruit displays begin

Most wildflower enthusiasts quite naturally hone in on the showy flowering phase of a plant’s life cycle for observation, identification…
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Southern mountains a peninsula of northern climes
 

Southern mountains a peninsula of northern climes

Geographically speaking, where are the Great Smoky Mountains in regard to the other mountain ranges in the southern Appalachians. Where…
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Kudzu’s unstoppable march across the South
 

Kudzu’s unstoppable march across the South

Few people want to get close enough to observe the attractive flowers that kudzu produces. The plant probably won’t actually…
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Dueling was a common way to right a wrong
 

Dueling was a common way to right a wrong

Let’s suppose that you intentionally or unintentionally insult someone; after all, that’s something that does happen from time to time.…
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Keith was among best early geologists to visit this region
 

Keith was among best early geologists to visit this region

Numerous geologists have visited the Smokies region. None was more observant than Arthur Keith. The Murphy Marble Belt is an…
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The unique habitat of mountain streams
 

The unique habitat of mountain streams

The creeks and streams of the Southern Highlands are one of the most exciting natural areas we have. Unlike most…
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The ‘perfect’ hunter and fisherman — if I do say so myself
 

The ‘perfect’ hunter and fisherman — if I do say so myself

Samuel J. Hunnicutt was one of the original characters of the Smokies region before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park…
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Cardinal flower among the most popular in U.S.
 

Cardinal flower among the most popular in U.S.

The late summer wildflower season has arrived. Along roadsides and woodland edges some of our more robust native plants are…
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Zeke was a friend I won’t forget
 

Zeke was a friend I won’t forget

Dogs have been a part of my life since I was a boy. My first dog — part one thing,…
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The evocative power of the color blue
 

The evocative power of the color blue

Green used to be the color that caught my eye. Now it’s blue. So much so that I wrote an…
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Looking for carnivorous plants in WNC
 

Looking for carnivorous plants in WNC

Some plants like Jack-in-the-pulpit and Dutchman’s-pipe have evolved methods of entrapping insects in their flowers so as to assure pollination.…
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Random thoughts and voices
 

Random thoughts and voices

Here I sit by my window watching the creek go by with nothing in particular to write about except the…
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Lesser known plants after more tangible awards
 

Lesser known plants after more tangible awards

For me, those plants found here in the Smokies region that have verified practical human uses are, in the long…
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Combating things that sting and itch
 

Combating things that sting and itch

This is about critters and plants that sting and itch. There are lots of things out there in the woods…
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The feisty, showy and talented grosbeak
 

The feisty, showy and talented grosbeak

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about scarlet tanagers, a showy rather common species I assumed most were familiar…
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Almost everything you wanted to know about sassafras
 

Almost everything you wanted to know about sassafras

Season in and season out, one of the more interesting common plants in our woodlands is sassafras, which may be…
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Its a scarlet tanager kind of year
 

Its a scarlet tanager kind of year

“The scarlet tanager flies through the green foliage as if it would ignite the leaves. You can hardly believe that…
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The allure of Panthertown Valley is timeless
 

The allure of Panthertown Valley is timeless

The announcement in November 1989 that the remote 6,300-acre Panthertown Valley tract in Jackson County had passed into the public…
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The beetles beneath the ground
 

The beetles beneath the ground

“Ere the bat hath flown His cloister’d flight … to black Hecate’s summons The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums…
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Intricate flora sometimes defy description
 

Intricate flora sometimes defy description

Through the years I have attempted to describe the flora of the Smokies region for newspaper, magazine and book readers.…
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Twice sold lands now part of Bryson City
 

Twice sold lands now part of Bryson City

This is the peculiar story of the land transactions, disputes, and incidents that led to the establishment of Bryson City…
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Black locust a favorite for its strength
 

Black locust a favorite for its strength

All of the spring flowering plants are early this year by as much as two to three weeks. Black locust…
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Cherokee masks come in many guises
 

Cherokee masks come in many guises

A mask is a mechanism employed to cover the face as a protective screen or disguise. For protection, they have…
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WNC border may have been drawn “under the influence”
 

WNC border may have been drawn “under the influence”

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in April 2002. Have you ever looked at a…
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