European boar proliferated in WNC

Numerous non-native plants have been introduced into the southern mountains during the last century or so. Many are now classified by wildlife biologists as “exotic pests.” Few would argue that kudzu does not fall into this category. And without doubt, the most notable alien mammal ever introduced into this immediate region was the European wild boar.

Birch stills were once common in the hills

All this spring, golden birch catkins were dangling throughout the woodlands of the Smokies region. These are the male, pollen-carrying part of the sweet birch (Betula lenta), also known as black, cherry, or mahogany birch. 

Remembering one of WNC’s biggest melees

In 1913, Western North Carolina historian John Preston Arthur described John Denton of Graham County as “the most picturesque mountaineer in this section.” The description is inadequate. The record indicates that Denton was also one of the most ferocious men who ever got into a take-no-prisoners brawl. We'll revisit the epic donnybrook in which he whipped 20 other men using his fists, scale weights, stove wood, and rocks. First, however, let's quickly review his life — the sort of story from which mythic legends are fabricated.   

Stone walls symbolize a delicate balance


“An entire book might be written about the natural history of an old stone wall.”

— Edwin Way Teale, A Naturalist Buys An Old Farm (1974) 

Panther sightings persist in the Smokies

Have you ever seen a mountain lion here in the Smokies region? I haven’t. In fact, the only one I’ve ever viewed outside of a zoo was somewhere near Crystal River, Florida, back in the early 1990s. It bounded out of the scrub in front of my truck and passed quickly across the highway. Even now, I can vividly recall the combined grace and power of that animal.

Observing birds is a habit that never grows old

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about birds. I guess I have them on my mind, in part, because the spring migration season is underway. I heard my first Louisiana waterthrush (a warbler) of the year this past Sunday morning. But then again, birds are always on my mind summer, fall, and winter, too. And I’m not alone. Each week that I write about birds, I receive at least 10 emails from readers who share their bird observations and insights with me. Here we go again.     

Geronimo’s brush with WNC

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a February 2012 edition of The Smoky Mountain News | The names Geronimo and Gen. George Crook are interwoven in the lore of northern Mexico, southeastern Arizona, western New Mexico and the Indian territories in Oklahoma. An association with the Smokies region and the remnant Eastern Band of Cherokees in Western North Carolina is less well known. 

A poet of the mountains

This past weekend was given over to reorganizing the books in my home library. In the process, I relocated a volume of poems I had feared was long lost. 

My favorite “Appalachian” poets would be Robert Morgan, Kay Stripling Byer, and James Still. 

Real deal boardinghouses don’t exist anymore

Are there boardinghouses still operating here in the Smokies region? There are, of course, hotels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and motels galore. But I'm wondering about the true, old-fashioned boardinghouse, which flourished throughout the region until the middle of the 20th century. 

Possums are the ultimate survivalist

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a January 2005 issue of The Smoky Mountain News | I became acquainted with opossums when I was a boy running a trap line — a series of wooden box traps and steel jump traps that I checked every morning before school. Even though they weren't my prime quarry, it was possums that I usually wound up trapping. I learned very quickly to respect their sharp teeth and claws. And I was early on introduced to their survival tactic of “playing possum;” that is, feigning death.

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