Junaluska’s story as told through historians

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in a February 2002 edition of The Smoky Mountain News.

Every reader of this column has heard of the person known as Junaluska. But what do you really know about him?  What is his true significance? I decided to look into the matter. Here’s what I found. The sources I primarily depended upon for this account are cited below. 

Mountain lion lore

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a March 2006 edition of The Smoky Mountain News.

I frequently hear from people who have spotted a mountain lion in Western North Carolina. Or at least they think that’s what they saw. I’d guess that about 95 percent of these sightings are of something else. But the other 5 percent seem to be pretty reliable.

Limestone ‘sink’ is just over the mountain

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in a January 2005 edition of The Smoky Mountain News.

“If it form the one landscape that we …

Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly

Because it dissolves in water … 

What I hear is the murmur of underground streams, 

what I see is a limestone landscape.”

— “In Praise Of Limestone,“ W.H. Auden (May 1948)

The topography and vegetation here in our part of Western North Carolina is among the most varied and attractive in North America. Most all of the distinctive natural features of the southern highlands — from spruce-fir and upland hardwood coves to highland bogs, escarpment gorges, and grassy balds — can readily be sought out and explored here in the far southwestern counties of the state.

Galax’s enduring popularity

Galax is an evergreen groundcover found throughout the Blue Ridge. The plant can thrive in various settings, but the ideal habitat is a cool moist site with partial shade and acidic soil. It occurs in extensive patches that can reward the observer in every season. As Peter White observed in Wildflowers of the Smokies (1996), “In early spring, its round, evergreen leaves carpet the dormant forest floor. By summer, a tall pillar of tiny white flowers line many park trails. Then, as winter approaches, the deep green leaves turn bronze and crimson to contrast against the coming snows.”

Evening gosbeaks to make rare appearance

“Seen for the first time amid the snows of winter and against a background of darkling pines these strange and beautiful waifs of the northland seem somehow out of place, as would some rare and singular exotic plant blossoming in ... winter.” — Dr. Elliot Coues, Birds of North America (1925)

Head up bird watchers! According to a recent news release posted online at eBird — an excellent source of information sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — advised that early “observations are hinting at the largest movement of Evening Grosbeaks in the Northeast in more than a decade.” 

Honey locust pods are well-protected

Strap-shaped honey locust pods can be up to 2-inches wide and a foot or more in length. Hanging in abundance along roadsides, they bring back memories. My buddies and I used to gather them to eat the sugary pulp.

Finding the balance between good and evil

The Cherokees believed that they must keep the world in balance, in a state of equilibrium …. that if they did not maintain equilibrium, then droughts, storms, disease, or other disasters might occur …. They tried not to exploit nature. When a hunter killed a deer, for example, he performed a special ritual in which he apologized to the spirit of the deer and explained that his family needed food.

Oil Nut, that most curious fruit

For Elizabeth and me, the fall season is one of the most invigorating times to get out in the woods and prowl around. Many of the most beautiful wildflowers found in the Blue Ridge, especially the lobelias and gentians, are then coming into their own. And most of the others are in their fruiting stages. The transition from flower to fruit (or seed) is both logical and enjoyable. The varied fruiting forms — which run the gamut from drupes, berries, and pomes to follicles, utricles, loments, and legumes to capsules, achenes, samaras, and nuts — are as attractive and intricate in their own way as any wildflower. And they are, after all, the grand finales of the germination-flowering-pollination cycle.

Mis-identifying mushrooms is a risky mistake

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in September 2004.

The cool and humid forests and valleys of the Smokies region are said to be home to a greater variety of mushrooms and related fungi species than any other place on earth.  To some, mushrooms seem spectral and fantastic — like something out of a dream world, best avoided. To others, they represent adventure — objects to be sought out, identified, and understood for their own intrinsic beauty and place in the ecological cycle. And then there are those who pursue them as delicacies — gourmet items that wind up on the kitchen table.

Turkeys played important role in Cherokee culture

Editor’s note: This George Ellison column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in August 2016.

The comeback of the wild turkey in the southern mountains in recent years is one of the notable success stories in wildlife restoration. Thirty or so years ago, the sighting of a flock of wild turkeys was a rarity. Thanks to the combined efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation and its local chapters, working in conjunction with federal and state wildlife agencies, such sightings — while always memorable — have become rather commonplace. 

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