Hollyhocks and reminders of the past
 

Hollyhocks and reminders of the past

Sometimes it’s difficult to draw the line between the natural and cultivated plant worlds. As cultivated plants escape they often…
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Sicklefin redhorse and the Cherokee
 

Sicklefin redhorse and the Cherokee

An article by Jon Ostendorff headed “Rare fish released into Oconaluftee River” appeared in this past Monday’s edition of the…
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The thrill of new discoveries
 

The thrill of new discoveries

I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time recently up on the Blue Ridge Parkway conducting natural history…
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A man’s got to work and fish
 

A man’s got to work and fish

This past Sunday afternoon I decided to go for a walk along the Tuckasegee River west of Bryson City. If…
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Thunder in the valley
 

Thunder in the valley

Last week a late evening thunderstorm with high winds and occasional flashes of lightning rolled out of the high Smokies…
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The elusive hellbender
 

The elusive hellbender

Have you ever noticed that once you start thinking about something or someone you haven’t seen in awhile, it’s not…
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Beware the leaves of three
 

Beware the leaves of three

If you like native Appalachian plants that are variable and adaptive, have interesting natural histories with abundant associations in both…
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Weed or wildflower?
 

Weed or wildflower?

The status of a given plant as either a “noxious weed” or a “lovely wildflower” is pretty much a matter…
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Just looking around
 

Just looking around

I’m rediscovering that it’s good to just slip out of the office and amble around town for a few minutes.…
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The mountain rhodo show
 

The mountain rhodo show

Rhododendrons are a part of the heath family (Ericaceae), which includes such diverse members in regard to size and habitat…
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Cherokee language and zoology
 

Cherokee language and zoology

Doctoral dissertations don’t usually make for exciting reading. There are, however, exceptions.
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Flame on
 

Flame on

Flame azalea is one of our most magnificent common shrubs here in the Smokies region. From late spring into early…
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Persecution of the dandelion
 

Persecution of the dandelion

It seems that every lawn care commercial on TV or radio these days is aimed at touting a product which…
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Bartram’s early accounts of Cowee
 

Bartram’s early accounts of Cowee

The preservation of the Cowee mound and village site alongside the Little Tennessee River in Macon County is truly significant…
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Guyot’s Smokies
 

Guyot’s Smokies

Paul Fink and Myron H. Avery were two of the foremost explorers of the Southern Appalachians — especially the Great…
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The Tsali legend
 

The Tsali legend

Since the mid-1980s, I’ve been researching and writing about events surrounding the Cherokee removal of 1838, especially those pertaining to…
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Ash bats and the boys of summer
 

Ash bats and the boys of summer

Some essays get to their point or points right away. Others are discursive, beating around the bush before getting there.…
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The storied bloodroot
 

The storied bloodroot

Bloodroot is surely one of most widely admired wildflowers in the eastern United States. Walk now through any rocky, deciduous…
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Neufeld’s book on Appalachia
 

Neufeld’s book on Appalachia

There is a newly published collection of essays that deserves the full attention of any reader interested in this region’s…
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Tradition of the cockfight
 

Tradition of the cockfight

As most everyone knows, a cockfight is a match between two specially trained roosters traditionally held in a ring called…
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Accounts of a horned serpent
 

Accounts of a horned serpent

I have on more than one occasion written about Uktenas, the giant horned serpents modeled on timber rattlesnakes that appear…
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Old remedies for the toothache
 

Old remedies for the toothache

As noted previously in several Back Then columns, the Cherokees and later on the white settlers here in the Blue…
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A chip off the ole mauler block
 

A chip off the ole mauler block

Just after Christmas, my wife, Elizabeth, and I were driving south in the San Luis Valley of Colorado headed for…
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A harrowing tale of bear encounters
 

A harrowing tale of bear encounters

In the natural world there are certain experiences that rivet our attention and remain stored in our memory banks. Through…
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Recounting natural history
 

Recounting natural history

For me, no pursuit is truly worthwhile unless it has an associated body of literature one can consult from time…
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Medicinal plants of the Southern Appalachians
 

Medicinal plants of the Southern Appalachians

Back in November at the Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair in Sylva I met Patricia Kyritsi Howell and purchased a…
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Journal to remember
 

Journal to remember

Maintaining a nature journal has been one of my ongoing, albeit intermittent, preoccupations. Keeping such a journal assists me in…
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Spreading seeds — a special feat
 

Spreading seeds — a special feat

While conducting plant identification workshops, I always try to remember to discuss two aspects that are essential if one is…
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Blemishes uncovered
 

Blemishes uncovered

Winter is unsparing. It exposes the lines and blemishes on human faces. It reveals worn hillsides and rutted backcountry lanes.…
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The art of well-watching
 

The art of well-watching

Now is the time to start looking for yellow-bellied sapsuckers here in the Smokies region. Of the various woodpecker species…
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The natural order of things
 

The natural order of things

While observing your backyard bird feeder this winter, you may be startled by a blue flash that suddenly rockets into…
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Interrupting irruptives
 

Interrupting irruptives

Some winters there will be an influx of northern bird species into the southeastern United States. Here in the Smokies…
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Ancient animals of the Blue Ridge
 

Ancient animals of the Blue Ridge

Names of places throughout the Blue Ridge country pay tribute to the familiar wildlife of the region: Bear Wallow Stand…
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Cold weather and deep sleepers
 

Cold weather and deep sleepers

This past weekend’s sudden drop in overnight temperatures into the high 20s (26 degrees and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, at…
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A beech for winter
 

A beech for winter

“... the mellowing year marks its periods of decline with a pageantry
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The peculiar grace of the mink
 

The peculiar grace of the mink

“On a morning in October, when a light mist hung over the pond, a mink appeared following this path beside…
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Nuts about acorns
 

Nuts about acorns

Acorns are elegant. They are one of our most beautiful fruits, sometimes produced in such numbers by the varied oak…
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Fine features of a familiar footpath
 

Fine features of a familiar footpath

An ancient Chinese philosopher once admonished his listeners to “Study the familiar!” Ancient Chinese philosophers were always admonishing people to…
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Nighttime navigators
 

Nighttime navigators

Usually I sit on the front deck of our house for a while after getting home from work. Then, before…
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Expect the unexpected
 

Expect the unexpected

When writing about the natural world, I prefer to write about specific natural areas, plants, and animals here in the…
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The oil nut’s curious little green fruits
 

The oil nut’s curious little green fruits

For me, the fall season is one of the most invigorating times to get out in the woods and prowl…
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Chinquapins a hardy, unusual shrub
 

Chinquapins a hardy, unusual shrub

Do you have chinquapins growing on your property or in your vicinity? If so, you’re fortunate. For my money, “the…
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The turkey’s role in Cherokee culture
 

The turkey’s role in Cherokee culture

The come back of the wild turkey in the southern mountains in recent years is one of the notable success…
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A legacy of lookers
 

A legacy of lookers

From time to time, I like to reflect upon the plant hunters, botanists and horticulturalists that first entered these mountains…
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The Smokies back then
 

The Smokies back then

Scott Weidensaul, who lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania, is one of my favorite nature writers. His Mountains of the…
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A perfect time for a visit in the park
 

A perfect time for a visit in the park

Now is the perfect time to plan a mountain getaway excursion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of…
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The mountains tumultuous past
 

The mountains tumultuous past

To myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery; in them, and in the forms of…
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Indian hemp for the long haul
 

Indian hemp for the long haul

For me, those plants found here in the Smokies region that have verified practical human uses are, in the long…
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Careful of the jimson weed
 

Careful of the jimson weed

“Jimson Weed is featured in a set of mystic books recently popular, Carlos Castaneda’s tales of mind expansion with the…
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Purt, nigh Lizabethan
 

Purt, nigh Lizabethan

I’m no expert on regional linguistics, but through the years I’ve delighted in the dialect English still spoken here in…
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