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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

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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Comment

Medicinal uses of black cohosh
 

Medicinal uses of black cohosh

“The first large, successful American business run by a woman was said to be the Lydia E. Pinkham Medical Company,…
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Comment

Living inside the box
 

Living inside the box

Five turtle species reside in Western North Carolina: snapping, musk, and painted turtles are primarily found in streams, lakes, and…
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Comment

Battered berries
 

Battered berries

Those who’ve participated in my natural history workshops know that that I’m not a very good source for information regarding…
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Comment

A world without end
 

A world without end

Two weeks ago, we reviewed current theories about the uplift of the Appalachian Mountains about 250 million years ago, as…
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Comment

The ridge named blue
 

The ridge named blue

Last week, we reviewed current theories concerning the uplift of the Appalachian Mountains about 250 million years ago. And we…
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Comment

Everything old is new again
 

Everything old is new again

The inter-related geologic and geographic heritage of the Blue Ridge Province is a complex but fascinating and rewarding subject to…
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Comment

The honest little bird
 

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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Comment

Hepatica — a thing of beauty and lore
 

Hepatica — a thing of beauty and lore

Nothing is fairer, if as fair, as the first flower, the hepatica. I find I have never admired this little…
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Comment

Wild, mysterious and sometimes a bit sly
 

Wild, mysterious and sometimes a bit sly

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