A taste of Appalachian poetry
 

A taste of Appalachian poetry

This past weekend was given over to reorganizing the books in my home library. In the process, I relocated a…
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Simple signs of the evergreen
 

Simple signs of the evergreen

You can almost smell the word “evergreen.” The word is at once one of the most aptly descriptive and highly…
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Davis was a poetic nature writer
 

Davis was a poetic nature writer

The professional career of biologist Millard C. (“Bill”) Davis — who was born in 1930 in Utica, N.Y., and now…
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A look at John Preston Arthur
 

A look at John Preston Arthur

One of my favorite accounts of this region’s varied history is provided by John Preston Arthur, who published his 659-page…
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Masters of the night sky
 

Masters of the night sky

The New Year has arrived and the great horned owls have commenced their annual “singing” along the dark ridges. These…
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Aspects of life from a rural cove
 

Aspects of life from a rural cove

This marks my tenth year of writing a weekly Back Then column for The Smoky Mountain News. In all that…
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The colors of winter
 

The colors of winter

For my wife, Elizabeth, and me, winter doesn’t arrive until the first of each year. From now until spring is…
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Mistletoe and sycamore ring in winter
 

Mistletoe and sycamore ring in winter

Each season has characteristic features that signal its arrival. Winter is no exception. Two of my winter favorites: mistletoe and…
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Early mapping of the Nantahala
 

Early mapping of the Nantahala

The economic destiny of a given region is ultimately determined by its geology, flora and climate. That’s certainly been the…
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The Naturalist's Corner
 

The Naturalist's Corner

Junaluska waterfowl are plentiful, varied A quick turn around Lake Junaluska last Sunday revealed 13 species of waterfowl and/or wetland…
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A skunk by any other name
 

A skunk by any other name

Five skunk species are residents in the United States: hooded, hog-nosed, western spotted, eastern spotted, and striped. Only the last…
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Memories from ‘up at the barn’
 

Memories from ‘up at the barn’

You’ve noticed how old barns are recognized as special places? When a person says, “I’m going down to the barn,”…
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Rutabagas and history of Hemphill Bald
 

Rutabagas and history of Hemphill Bald

Let us consider the relationship between grassy balds, Tom Alexander and the self-proclaimed “Potato and Rutabaga King of Haywood County.”…
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Creeks form character across WNC
 

Creeks form character across WNC

Flowing water is as central to life here in Western North Carolina as the mountains themselves. You can’t have ancient…
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Satulah has long been a WNC favorite
 

Satulah has long been a WNC favorite

One can still see why flatlanders started pouring into the Cashiers-Highlands region after the Civil War. The scenic ridge, valley…
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The grand finale
 

The grand finale

We tend to hone in on the showy flowering phase of a plant’s life for observation, identification, and enjoyment. But…
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Withstanding winter’s cold
 

Withstanding winter’s cold

Editor’s note: George Ellison is on sabbatical this week and will return next week. This is a previously published column.…
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A great observer of the Smokies
 

A great observer of the Smokies

Arthur Stupka (1905-1999) was the first naturalist in the National Park Service in the eastern United States. That was at…
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Kephart’s fast friendship with the Barnetts
 

Kephart’s fast friendship with the Barnetts

I have nothing to add to Gary Carden’s perceptive review of Horace Kephart’s posthumous novel Smoky Mountain Magic (Great Smoky…
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Costa’s eye for unique insect details
 

Costa’s eye for unique insect details

Western Carolina University biologist Jim Costa traces his interest in insect societies to studies of social interactions of caterpillars made…
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Storytelling traditions live on
 

Storytelling traditions live on

Naturalist, herbalist, lecturer, writer, adventure trip leader, folklorist and prize-winning harmonica player Doug Elliott has a new book. Titled Swarm…
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Revealing a love for the Smokies
 

Revealing a love for the Smokies

Angler and writer Harry Middleton (1949-1993) is an elusive figure. Except for what he chose to reveal in his books…
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A gifted writer, a great naturalist
 

A gifted writer, a great naturalist

Those of you who enjoy reading books about the Smokies should make an effort to locate a copy of Hidden…
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Zahner’s special affection for Highlands
 

Zahner’s special affection for Highlands

Biologist and ecologist Robert Zahner (1923-2007) was born in Summerville, S.C., and grew up in Atlanta. But his adopted “spiritual…
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A natural passion for history
 

A natural passion for history

Naturalist, photographer and writer Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980) was born in Joliet, Ill. American nature writing in descriptive prose inevitably…
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Abbey’s tenure at ‘Redneck U’
 

Abbey’s tenure at ‘Redneck U’

Radical ecologist and writer Edward Abbey (1927-1989) was born in Home, Penn., the son of a hardscrabble farmer and a…
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Preserving Cherokee tradition
 

Preserving Cherokee tradition

Anthropologist James Mooney (1861-1921) devoted his life to detailing various aspects of the history, material culture, oral tradition, language, arts,…
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Touch-me-nots and poison ivy
 

Touch-me-nots and poison ivy

Jewelweed, or “touch-me-not,” is one of the most appealing wildflowers commonly encountered throughout Western North Carolina. Many recognize the plant…
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Letting nature point the way
 

Letting nature point the way

Horace Kephart is best known for Our Southern Highlanders (first published in 1913, with an expanded edition in 1922) and…
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A fine flower to start with
 

A fine flower to start with

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in regard to learning wildflowers was to “concentrate on one…
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Wildflowers peaking right now
 

Wildflowers peaking right now

Interesting wildflowers appear throughout Western North Carolina from late February into early November. Most wildflower identification and observation takes place…
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Pawpaw is unique among fruits
 

Pawpaw is unique among fruits

(Editors Note: George Ellison is on leave this week. But he says that his pawpaw trees have even more fruit…
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From the chaos come ‘uktena’
 

From the chaos come ‘uktena’

The natural history of a region consists of the plants, animals, and landscapes we can see and explore any given…
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A nose for finding rare plants
 

A nose for finding rare plants

I enjoy leading natural history workshops, but I no longer derive much pleasure from herding people along a trail while…
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Mountains of mushrooms
 

Mountains of mushrooms

Is this going to be a bumper year for wild mushrooms? Maybe so, if the rainfall we have been experiencing…
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Northerners in our southern climes
 

Northerners in our southern climes

Elevations above 4,000 feet in the Blue Ridge Province can be thought of as a peninsula of northern terrain extending…
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Caught in the spider’s alluring web
 

Caught in the spider’s alluring web

Spiders are one of the most interesting — and sometimes disconcerting — critters to observe. Especially fascinating, to me, are…
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The unique ways of the kingfisher
 

The unique ways of the kingfisher

Belted kingfishers are one of my favorite birds. A pair fishes along the small creek on our property during the…
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The alluring calls of song birds
 

The alluring calls of song birds

In the opaque early-morning light outside our bedroom windows, the birds that reside in our woods — or do we…
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Yaupon and the ‘Black Drink’
 

Yaupon and the ‘Black Drink’

For some years now — when walking the woodlands around ancient Cherokee settlements — I have been on the lookout…
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The story of the fiddlehead
 

The story of the fiddlehead

Fiddleheads are emerging from the leaf litter in our forests. Almost everyone, even those not especially interested in plants, has…
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A haven of nectar and beauty
 

A haven of nectar and beauty

The irises my wife, Elizabeth, cultivates in our yard are coming into full bloom as I write this. Their shapes…
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Wild mountain boars
 

Wild mountain boars

Numerous non-native plants have been introduced into the southern mountains during the last century or so. Many of these are…
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Ancient chemical warfare
 

Ancient chemical warfare

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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Dogwoods in the mountains
 

Dogwoods in the mountains

In the Smokies region, there are three species of dogwood. Everyone is familiar with flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), which is…
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Old stone walls redux
 

Old stone walls redux

(Author’s Note: While running random Internet searches, I occasionally am confronted from out of the blue, as it were, with…
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Bluebirds continue to fascinate
 

Bluebirds continue to fascinate

My oh my what a wonderful day Plenty of sunshine in my way Zip-a-dee-doo-dah Zip-a-dee-eh Mr Bluebird’s on my shoulder…
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Making friends with an injured crow
 

Making friends with an injured crow

According to the current Ornithological Union listing, the appropriate non-scientific name for a crow is “common crow.” How apt! Like…
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Uplifted by the flight of birds
 

Uplifted by the flight of birds

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about birds. I guess I have them on my mind, in part, because the…
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The curious habits of birds
 

The curious habits of birds

The curious lifestyles and distinctive habits one can observe in the bird world are continually fascinating. Some things you can…
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