Follow me, into the wild

out caitlinwoodcraftThe last time I went camping I was 10 or 11. I was in my grandparents’ backyard, snug in my sleeping bag between my older sister and cousin Jake. I laid awake nervous about a ravenous bear attacking the tent, or maybe a ghoul from one of the scary stories my dad had just finished telling.

Cherokee leaders make their case for a indoor adventure park

fr adventureparkA $93 million family adventure park in Cherokee would likely turn a profit during its first year of operation, according to early projections from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ finance department.

It’s all about the schwag: Race organizers get creative with attracting participants

out frYou’ve been training for months. You’ve skipped the kids’ piano recitals and parent teacher conferences; you’ve bailed on dinner with the in-laws (several times) and nights out with the friends — all to adhere to your strict training schedule to prepare for the big moment: the big race.

Holiday gear guide to the rescue: SMN serves up goods bets for the outdoors person on your shopping list

out frFor outdoors enthusiasts, Christmas brings but fleeting respite from the cold, dark days of winter — with the promise of spring hikes still many months off.

If it’s impossible to bring them to their favorite trailhead or mountain top, the next best thing is to bring the gadgets of the great outdoors to them.

Scouting a Smokies Blueway Trail: Recreation abounds, but knowing where and how to tap it can be a mystery

out frThe mountains rising above the valleys have long been the main attraction for tourists planning a trip to Western North Carolina, but a regional initiative between local government and private entities is looking to capitalize on the recreational potential riding on the rivers beneath.

Take only pictures, leave only footsteps: Outdoor photographers hone the craft of capturing the Smokies

out frThey stood in a line, trigger fingers poised, eyes fixated on the target.

 It was early morning, and the predawn sun had not yet peaked over the tops of the eastern range. An antlered male elk had his head down, buried in the tall, dew-covered grass, oblivious to the stakeout at the far edge of the meadow.

Paging Robin Pope: When no hospital’s in sight, treating medical emergencies takes quick wit and know-how

out frIf you fall from a ledge rock-climbing, break a leg backpacking in the wilderness or twist your shoulder paddling a remote river, hope like hell that Robin Pope will happen by.

‘Permanent Camp’ reveals raw moments, crazy wisdom

By Brent Martin • Contributor

Mention the name George Ellison to most people living in western North Carolina and what immediately comes to mind are tales of neotropical songbirds, Horace Kephart, James Mooney, Cherokee folklore, a dizzying array of plant life observations and of course, the beauty and wonder of the mountains themselves. I suppose that given his elegant and prosaic renderings of these subjects we should therefore find it no surprise that he is also a poet.

His new collection of poetry, Permanent Camp, is a kaleidoscope of poems that began more than 35 years ago when he and his wife Elizabeth, an artist, arrived at their mountain “shack” on Lands Creek in Swain County. The book’s ambiguous title and opening poem by that name originate with Ellison’s rumination on Kephart’s observation that there can be no such thing as a permanent camp – for, as Kephart says, “a camp of any kind is only a temporary hiding place.” Yet what we might imagine within the lines of this tone setting entrée is that Ellison has indeed found his permanent camp here within the folds of these ancient mountains.   

There is no hiding within these poems though, for Ellison bares much to the reader of raw and personal moments surviving harsh winter nights, pondering the aftermath of a destructive fire, looking for a lost horse, the clarity of chickweed, or the instincts of a Kingfisher. Consider the poem, Sleepless:

The creek is frozen.

All this clothing and still I shiver.

The goat rattles loose boarding behind the shack.

A decayed tree on the ridge gives way under ice.

Peering into the mirror by lamplight I see the

mole splotch spreading on my right cheek

and gray hairs spurting from my nostrils.

This is no occasion for talk so I grin

a gap-toothed grin at my new

friend who grins back at me

gap-toothedly so we nod

back and forth time and

again in full agreement

that it’s cold.  

There is a crazy wisdom in this poem, which points to Ellison’s homage and connection to the Chinese poets Tao Ch’ien and Han Shan. Midway through the collections there is a defined break where Ellison places his personal renderings of these two ancient poets in a way that works seamlessly within the subject matter of Appalachia. “Twenty Poems after Drinking Wine” and “Guffawing at the Wilderness: Thirteen Poems by Han Shan” sit boldly within the body of the collection, drawing the reader into the sparse and universal world of Chinese poetry, infused with nature as it is, and somehow completely integrating it into the inner and outer landscapes of Ellison. Brilliant and wonderful stuff, particularly since the two continents share an ancient and closely related plant world.

Along the way, there are also stories of ghost dogs, Cherokee mystics, God’s Horses, and much, much more, but worthy of note and further illustrative of Ellison’s influences, is his acknowledgement of nineteenth century British poet, William Barnes. Barnes was a master of rural verse, and his most persistent theme, as Ellison points out in the notes to his poem “Radiance A-zweep’en (In Praise of William Barnes),” is the holiness of the commonplace.  This poem, originally titled “Crossing,” has as its central feature the onomatopoeia of a horse crossing a stream, a sound which the Ellisons live with nightly as their horse Sochan repeatedly crosses the ford outside their window. With a nod to Barnes, Ellison delivers a poem that translates a restless horse into an agent of radiancy and the crossing a place of illumination. This is no easy task, and the assemblage of word and verse in this particular poem illustrates his own ability to make holiness of the commonplace.

Elizabeth Ellison’s artwork adds an enormous dimension to Permanent Camp and deserves its own review, for it is a critical element in conveying the book’s gravitas. For example, “The View from the Horse Trail,” a stunning work of color that captures Appalachia in much the same way as Chinese and Japanese nature painters, fills one whole page opposite the poem “Seeing You,” a poignant statement on the beauty of two lives spent together in harmonious awareness of the natural world around them. The red home of their many years together sits diminutively in the bottom left corner of the painting, dwarfed by purple grey mountains and stark winter trees, which to me signifies the contemplative awe that they have shared together in so many creative works such as Mountain Passages and Blue Ridge Nature Journal.

Back to the original title poem. In it, George explains to Elizabeth of his next move upon their settling on Lands Creek:

“But the next move,” I say,

“and we’ll just go on home, over the ridge

and into the park, hide out on Peachtree,

up the Middle Fork, where it’s really quiet.

And the stones in the creek bed will speak quite clearly.

And the wind in the treetops will speak softly to the stones.

And without even trying the water will listen and understand.”

If there can be a clearer commitment to the love and power of a place, I’d like to see it. Permanent Camp in many ways represents the oeuvre of the Ellisons, and with its publication, it will find a permanent home within the region’s most significant literary contributions.

 

Release celebration

City Lights Bookstore will celebrate the release of George Ellison’s new collection of poetry and prose at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8.

Permanent Camp is a retrospective celebration of living in and observing the natural world of the Smoky Mountains. Through poetry and narratives, Ellison relates raising a family with his wife as they make a life as a writer and artist inspired by the local landscape.  

To complement Ellison’s writing, the vivid watercolor work of Elizabeth is featured throughout the book. To reserve a copy, call City Lights at 828.586.9499.

We need to stop the Great Outdoor Giveaway

Over 100 years ago, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said to the American people: Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Roosevelt took the issue seriously, as did members of Congress, and when he passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, he established a legal mechanism for future presidents to conserve land as well as making conservation a national bipartisan priority for decades to come.  

Yet when Congress adjourned in December, it left in its wake an unprecedented amount of legislation designed to dismantle decades of laws protecting our public lands. These decades-old laws, passed under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, put the interests of the American people first, and politics second. We enter this New Year with Congress taking the opposite philosophy, and since this is an election year, we can likely count on more of it.  

Here is a brief overview of some of the Great Outdoors Giveaway legislation that members of Congress are returning to Washington this month to work on:

• The “End of the National Monuments” Acts: Eight different bills have been introduced with the sole purpose of gutting the Antiquities Act (HR 302 – introduced by N.C. Congresswoman Elizabeth Fox – HR 758, HR 817, HR 845, HR 846, HR 2147, HR 2877, and HR 3292). All of these eviscerate the president’s authority and most seek to exempt certain states from having new national monuments designated in their borders. National monuments have proven to be economic generators wherever they are designated. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created in 1996, is good proof of this. Steve Roberts, owner of Escalante Outfitters, says “Escalante National Monument didn’t just help the economy, it is the economy.

• The “Great Outdoors Giveaway” Act: Introduced by Congressman Kevin McCarthy, HR1581 would eliminate the Forest Service Roadless Rule, one of the most commented upon and publicly supported conservation policies in Forest Service history. This bill would open 50 million acres of currently protected land to resource extraction. Here in North Carolina it would mean that 178,000 acres of public land would no longer be protected under the Roadless Rule, and that two of our Wilderness Study Areas, Overflow and Snowbird, would lose this congressionally designated status. Former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt testified that HR 1581 “… is the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that that has been proposed in my lifetime.”  

• The “30-million Acre Giveaway” Act:  HR 2852, known as the “Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011 and introduced by Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, would require that the federal government give away, free of charge, 5 percent of all federal land in each western state — an area equal in size to the state of New York. Billions of dollars in assets that belong to all Americans would be given to states without giving compensation to the rightful owners — the American people. This act would gut the key purpose of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a bi-partisan statute enacted in 1976 that requires that federal lands be retained in public ownership unless determined to serve the national interest.  

• The “Motorize our Wilderness Areas” Act: HR 2834, introduced by Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek, contains language that would effectively destroy the Wilderness Act by allowing motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and motorboats in designated Wilderness as long as they are used for hunting, fishing, and shooting. This act would effectively destroy the values that many hunters and anglers actually seek in Wilderness and undermine the spirit, intent, and integrity of one of America’s unique legislative contributions to permanent land protection.  

The list could go on. There are bills to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bills to allow the Department of Homeland Security to take over all public lands on the border of Mexico and Canada, and bills to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

In the same speech Roosevelt told the American people, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us ... Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few ... Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

I think our patriotic duty this year might begin with writing our congressmen and giving them a history lesson and a call to action for protection of our natural resources instead of squandering them with these bills. And then get outside and enjoy our country’s beautiful forests and parks – they’re still some of the best in the world.

Brent Martin works in Sylva and is Southern Appalachian Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mud, Cowbells, and Beer: The Cyclocross Passions

For a good part of the past decade I have spent a lot of time riding and racing my bike. That is, up until the last few years, when starting both a career and a family finally brought an abrupt halt to my bike racing schedule. Long, daily training rides and weekends on the road traveling to races simply no longer fit into my lifestyle.  

As this past summer waned, I began to get that competitive itch again. I had been hearing a lot of buzz about cyclocross, a no-holds-barred, off-road race that several of my friends talked about constantly. I noticed a flyer for a local fall race series near Asheville. What the heck, I thought, the races are relatively short, so how hard could it be?  Like it or not, I was hooked already, before I had even lined up at the start.

A few years back I had bought a cyclocross-style bike off of E-bay for the gravel roads near my parent’s home. At the time it had seemed like a good bike for rambling around on Sunday afternoons. Little did I realize that I would soon be hammering that bike across a muddy field, wheel to wheel, handlebar to handlebar with other riders.

Fast forward to late September. I was lined up with several dozen other intrepid souls in a grassy field north of Asheville.  The first timers exchanged nervous glances, each wondering what the next half hour would hold. I reminded myself that I was under no pressure to be competitive, after all, this is only for fun, right?  

Bang! The start gun interrupted my moment of inner reflection. Like a shot we are off, 40 racers scrambling for position up a grassy incline, wheels rubbing and shoulders bumping as we jostled for position before the first of many tight turns.

The course repeatedly wound back upon itself in a myriad of snake-like, 180-degree turns. I slammed on my brakes as we hurtled into the first turn, almost coming to a complete stop to negotiate through the U-shaped path. Once through the turn, I immediately stood on my pedals and gave it everything I could muster to keep up with the surging field of racers.

Almost as soon as I got up to full speed, we hit another tight turn. The dirt path we were racing on was slick thanks to the ever present drizzle hanging in the misty fall mountain air.  Boom! A skinny dude on a sleek looking race bike hit the muddy deck just in front of me, taking down two others with him. Immediately they sprang off the ground and begin running with their bikes as I churned past them up the first of several short, but steep climbs around the course. “Welcome to cyclocross,” I thought in my head …

As you read this, you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is this brutal event called cyclocross?” You aren’t alone. Until recently, many Americans had never heard of it. It originated in Europe, where road biking is a popular sport — think Tour de France. Most road races are held in the late spring or summer to avoid cold weather. Cyclocross began as an outlet for bicycle racers to train and have fun on their bikes during the off season.  

Races are held primarily off road on specially designed courses with tight, twisty turns and a variety of obstacles such as mud, sand, stairs, and wooden barriers that require the rider to dismount from the bike and run for short distances. It is these obstacles that truly make cyclocross different.  

Oh, and did I mention the weather? Because of the seasonal aspect of cross racing, the weather can be nasty! Rain, snow, mud—anything goes. The nastier the weather, the more cross aficionados love it. Cross races seldom get cancelled due to the weather.  

One thing that makes cross racing so unique is the sheer intensity. Cyclocross races are short, generally only running from 30 minutes to an hour in duration. There are no breaks in a cross race so racers give it full gas for the entire race.

Either you are sprinting out of a corner, jumping over obstacles, or carrying your bike up a flight of stairs at a full run. In the simple words of one of my racing cohorts a few weeks ago, “that was freakin’ hard!”

Some ‘cross racers use mountain bikes to race, but the primary steed of choice for serious cyclocrossers is a skinny-tired bicycle with drop handlebars, very similar to a road bike. Although similar to a road bicycle, it has unique features such as knobby tires, mountain bike style brakes, and extra room for muddy tires to clear the bike frame.

One last element of ‘cross racing can’t be overlooked — the party. It’s impossible to show up at a cyclocross race, either as a spectator or a racer, and not have fun. At the larger races, spectators line the race course, clanging cowbells and yelling encouragement at the participants. Usually the event has a beer sponsor, which always adds to the revelry. For many of the enthusiast level racers, the post-race libations are as much a part of the event as the race itself!

My own personal half hour of pain wasn’t getting any easier.  I felt like my heart was going to explode as my lungs strained for gasps of dirt-filled air. I continued to mash the pedals around each turn and up every climb.

“One lap to go,” yelled the race announcer!  I put my head down and pushed on. Around the turns and through the mud, then one more time over the barriers. “Stick a fork in me, I’m done,” I thought to myself as I rounded the last turn. Despite the pain, I somehow found just enough in reserve to sprint for the finish line, surprising myself as much as the three racers I passed at the end.

After the race it was it was all handshakes and laughter as the muddy racers gathered together. Each of us had our own personal stories about “turn three” or “that little, steep climb at the back.” Someone shoved an ice cold can of beer in my hand and asked if I would be back next week. Would I? Absolutely.

— By Jamie Arnold • Guest writer

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