George Robert Ellison II — Thoreau in a jockstrap

Editor’s note: George Ellison, a renowned naturalist and writer who lived in Bryson City, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 19. Below is a tribute to Ellison by Don Hendershot. Ellison wrote hundreds of columns for The Smoky Mountain News, which can be read by searching our archives at

Cherokee had uses for many local plants

For the ancient Cherokees and other southeastern Indian tribes, the greatest causes of illness were the spirits of vengeful animals. They were so angered at the killing of their brethren by hunters they convened a great council and devised human illnesses as payback.

What’s a naturalist?

Trying to answer that question, the first source I resorted to was, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary. Therein I encountered the following clues, none of which seem unlikely:

Green spaces — good places

We were in Rock Hill, S.C., this past weekend enjoying our annual Fourth of July ritual of visiting my little sister. She has horses and a pool, and if we went anywhere else for the Fourth, we would probably have to divorce our kids. We had some free time mid-morning Saturday — ever notice how families without young children forget that 7 o’clock comes twice in the same day?

We were cruising downtown Rock Hill where they were setting up for their annual Red White & Boom! celebration when I noticed signs for Glencairn Gardens. With time to kill and anxiety building in little bodies, I decided to check the gardens out. We followed the signs and found a small shaded parking area where a few concrete steps served as a portal to another world. Concrete paths wound and looped their way past flowers, shrubs and trees; past ponds, tiered fountains and other water features all under the canopy of large pines, oaks and other hardwoods while sunshine splashed down bright and hot in manicured openings.

Youthful anxieties were quickly transformed into boundless energy as young legs bounded up and down paths, stopping to check out fountains and ponds and shaded nooks and crannies. Adult stresses faded as elephant ears and pickerelweed took me back to hot Louisiana summers, and Denise took mental snapshots of striking ferns and other plants to see how and where they might fit in our yard.

While it is hard to quantify, there is little doubt that physical environment, precipitated by green spaces such as Glencairn, aid the human psyche in shedding anxieties and stresses, reinvigorating our senses and mental faculties, enhancing our well-being and strengthening our sense of place.

When we entered Glencairn, we walked into a space that was clearly 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the heat that was building along the asphalt and concrete of downtown. The air was fresher — green plants are amazing air purifiers — and there was even a calming noise reduction from the nearby thoroughfares. Some environmental benefits of urban green spaces include, enhanced public health, wildlife sanctuary, pollution mitigation, storm runoff reduction, environmental education and community building.

We are sure happy that Rock Hill town fathers, back in 1928, saw the value of Dr. David and Hazel Bigger’s backyard garden when it was bequeathed to them, and that current town officials have had the foresight to enlarge (to 11 acres) and enhance this community garden and green space.

If you’re ever in Rock Hill and find your spirits in need of a lift or your mind and body in need of some naturetherapy, be sure and check out Glencairn Gardens. They’re located near downtown at 725 Crest St. You can get information regarding the garden by visiting or by calling 803.329.5620.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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