Robin redbreasts are a perennial favorite

Our elementary school primers were populated by robins pulling worms out of holes. They appeared on television screens on Saturday…
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Bryson City and the widow Cline

Before the settlement named Charleston became the village named Bryson City in 1889, it was a tract of land known…
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Water was not always taken for granted

Old-time mountaineers often picked their home and church sites according to the location and purity of springs. They were connoisseurs…
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Buckeyes both a good luck charm and a poison

A large buckeye tree overhangs and supports the swinging gate leading into and out of our pasture. Since we are…
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It’s ragweed that is the real culprit

“Hay fever: An acute allergic condition of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes, characterized by…
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Not a lot known about Bryson City’s namesake

Two well known sites in Swain County were named for Col. Thaddeus Dillard Bryson, a significant figure in Western North…
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Lungwort used for making beer, bread
 

Lungwort used for making beer, bread

Lungwort is the leaf-like lichen common on tree trunks several feet or more above ground level. It resembles liverwort but…
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Backyard weed merits deadly respect
 

Backyard weed merits deadly respect

“Seeds of this common weed do indeed contain an hallucinogenic component, but, as is so often the case, the same chemical…
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Common ash tree deserves more attention
 

Common ash tree deserves more attention

“How many thousand-thousand of untold white ash trees are the respected companions of our doorways, kindliest trees in the clearing…
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Halls Cabin built right on state line
 

Halls Cabin built right on state line

Certain place names in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have become iconic: Gregory Bald, Thunderhead, Chimney Tops, Jump-off, Mt.…
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Plant defenses are not-so-pleasant for us humans
 

Plant defenses are not-so-pleasant for us humans

Like poisonous serpents, some plants developed toxic properties in order to protect themselves against predators. Besides insects, the major plant…
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32 years and counting for birding expedition
 

32 years and counting for birding expedition

This past weekend marked the occasion of the 32nd annual Great Smokies Birding Expedition. Fred Alsop, the ornithologist at East…
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Changing a flat in a rising creek
 

Changing a flat in a rising creek

Forty years ago this coming July 5, my wife, Elizabeth, and I and our three children moved into a small…
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Graceful ferns a fiddling
 

Graceful ferns a fiddling

“Marvel for a moment at the fern fiddlehead. It stands like a watch spring coiled and ready to unwind ……
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Time for spring migrants in the mountains
 

Time for spring migrants in the mountains

The cove we live in has been alive with birds for several weeks now. As alive with birds as it’s…
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Always questions about the fiddlehead fern
 

Always questions about the fiddlehead fern

In the early 1700s British astronomer and mathematician Edmund Hillary, of comet fame, called [the spiral formed by a fern’s…
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This year’s flowers, last year’s berries
 

This year’s flowers, last year’s berries

Last summer while I was walking along the creek below our home, small splotches of red and white at the…
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Hogs have long been an Appalachian staple
 

Hogs have long been an Appalachian staple

Hog Holler, Hog Branch, Hog Camp Branch, Hog Cane Branch, Hog-eye Branch, Hogback Gap, Hogback Holler, Hogback Knob, Hogback Ridge,…
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Ironwood is piquing the interest of WNC residents
 

Ironwood is piquing the interest of WNC residents

There seems to be an upsurge of interest in ironwood in Western North Carolina of late. It’s curious how reader…
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Plants and animals who choose to hunker down
 

Plants and animals who choose to hunker down

The evergreen plants and birds that overwinter here in the Southern Appalachians have made fundamental “choices” in how their lives…
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The smelly truth about stink bugs
 

The smelly truth about stink bugs

Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later. Our house has been invaded by a herd of pygmy rhinoceroses,…
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Horseshoe Rock phenomenon attracts writers’ attention
 

Horseshoe Rock phenomenon attracts writers’ attention

“As for the Horseshoe Rock, it is one of those curving balds of solid rock. The depressions found on the…
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Chinquapin among our most interesting, graceful plants
 

Chinquapin among our most interesting, graceful plants

In 1900 about 35 percent of the deciduous forest in the Southern Appalachians was comprised of American chestnut (Castanea dentata).
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Ferns stand out this time of year
 

Ferns stand out this time of year

One of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of…
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Observing the outside world with inward eyes
 

Observing the outside world with inward eyes

Looking back I can remember that 1975 was a wildflower sort of year.   1980 was a tree sort of year. 1984 was…
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The secret of ministry of frost
 

The secret of ministry of frost

It’s Oct. 6 as I write this. The first frost hasn’t as yet arrived. But it won’t be long coming.…
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Dealing with the dreaded writer’s block
 

Dealing with the dreaded writer’s block

In the June 14, 2004, issue of The New Yorker magazine, there is an essay titled “Blocked! Why Do Writers…
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My favorite literary opening paragraphs
 

My favorite literary opening paragraphs

I don’t like to talk or write about writing — but when forced to do so by, say, an approaching…
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Blueberry identification is ‘difficult at best’
 

Blueberry identification is ‘difficult at best’

“It’s football time in Tennessee!” is what John Ward, the long-time announcer for the University of Tennessee, used to declare…
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Plant gall formation is somewhat of a mystery
 

Plant gall formation is somewhat of a mystery

When it rains it pours. Within the past week or so, I received two emails about plant galls. That’s two…
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Getting to the bottom of the ‘The Spittlebug Story’
 

Getting to the bottom of the ‘The Spittlebug Story’

When my son, now grown, was about 9 or 10, he queried me one summer day about the foamy bubbles…
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Old-time mountain hogs were essential livestock
 

Old-time mountain hogs were essential livestock

Hog Holler, Hog Branch, Hog Camp Branch, Hog Cane Branch, Hog-eye Branch, Hogback Gap, Hogback Holler, Hogback Knob, Hogback Ridge,…
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Trumpet vine is tenacious and beautiful
 

Trumpet vine is tenacious and beautiful

It’s mid-June again … the time of the year when certain plants can be relied upon to do their thing…
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There is hemlock, and then there is poison hemlock
 

There is hemlock, and then there is poison hemlock

Certain questions inevitably pop up during plant identification outings. One has to do with whether or not eastern hemlock trees…
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Epp’s Springs were once Bryson City’s calling card
 

Epp’s Springs were once Bryson City’s calling card

A friend of mine who is a veteran backcountry explorer in the Smokies sent a recent email to me and…
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Shelving books is a very personal task
 

Shelving books is a very personal task

For awhile everything was in control. But that didn’t last. It never does. Once again my books are in total…
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Devil’s Walkingstick is known as The Toothache Tree
 

Devil’s Walkingstick is known as The Toothache Tree

“The cascading, four foot, doubly-compound leaves of devil’s walking stick, bunched near the end of long crooked thorny stems reaching…
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Batting away undeserved prejudice
 

Batting away undeserved prejudice

Unfortunately, more undeserved prejudice exists about bats than any other animal, except, of course, serpents.  In European lore, vampires (a…
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Celebrating the odiferous ramp
 

Celebrating the odiferous ramp

Purple rhododendron is the most admired flowering plant in the Southern Appalachians. Ginseng is the most celebrated medicinal plant. And…
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Adaptation helps plants weather the cold
 

Adaptation helps plants weather the cold

As I write this on Tuesday morning there are five or so inches of snow covering the ground outside my…
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The butternut is a country boy’s tree
 

The butternut is a country boy’s tree

“A countryman’s tree is the Butternut, known to the farm boy but not his city cousin. One who takes thoughtful…
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Cherokee knew how to handle the chill of winter
 

Cherokee knew how to handle the chill of 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 creative code of old-time surveyors
 

The creative code of old-time surveyors

Since 1976 we’ve resided in a cove about four miles west of Bryson City. Using various old deeds my wife,…
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It’s the ‘other information’ that makes almanacs interesting
 

It’s the ‘other information’ that makes almanacs interesting

Now is the time to make resolutions, order seeds for the coming year’s garden and buy an almanac for 2015.…
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Mistletoe’s link to romance goes way back
 

Mistletoe’s link to romance goes way back

The custom of decorating with mistletoe goes back to the ceremonials of the Druids. It is a reminder of the…
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Stop and smell the … ferns
 

Stop and smell the … ferns

One of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of…
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Comment

Flycatcher family of birds is fun to watch
 

Flycatcher family of birds is fun to watch

During the breeding season a number of birds that belong to the flycatcher family appear in the southern mountains: eastern…
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Ancient hunters had some mammoth prey
 

Ancient hunters had some mammoth prey

Names of places throughout the Blue Ridge country pay tribute to the familiar wildlife of the region: Bear Wallow Stand…
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Balsam was once bustling railroad community
 

Balsam was once bustling railroad community

It’s always entertaining to get back off main-traveled roads and poke around in the little villages here in the mountains.…
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A prolific year for buckeye productions
 

A prolific year for buckeye productions

A large buckeye tree overhangs and supports the swinging gate leading into our property. Thereby, we have the opportunity to…
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