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

The birders… they are a’changing: A new generation of birders rises up

I’ve been birding in Western North Carolina since I got here in the late 1980s, in my mid-thirties (yes, I’m that old.) 

When I would show up for a birding trip or program, I would be one of the “youngsters.” I kept birding and kept attending events and the constant thing was, we all kept getting older. I have participated in the Balsam Christmas Bird Count since its inception in 2003, and trust me, to see a face under 50 years of age is a novelty. 

The Naturalist's Corner: Eeekk! Not a mouse

No one knows what WNC will look like post COVID-19, but these mountains have seen much over their millions of years — ice ages, civil war, pandemics, etc. and they are still here. Spring will come with its ephemerals and migrants; summer will flush green and hot; autumn will descend in a kaleidoscope of color the way autumn does and cold, still winter will follow.

The Naturalist's Corner: Social distancing

One hears a lot, in these trying times about “social distancing,” “… a term that epidemiologists are using to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the [COVID-19] virus …” according to The Atlantic. 

Give Craggy extra protection

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” 

— John Muir

And if a coalition of local, regional and national businesses, governments and conservation/environmental organizations is successful, one way into the universe will be through the Craggy Wilderness and National Scenic Area (CWNSA) less than 20 miles from downtown Asheville.

The Naturalist's Corner: Remember when hope was the thing with feathers?

Emily Dickinson wrote of that feathered hope in 1861:

“Hope is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tune without the words —

And never stops — at all”

The rollback administration

The present administration is no friend to the environment. 

In a New York Times analysis, which was based on data from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources, the Times reported more than 90 environmental rules and/or regulations had been or were in the process of being rolled back. According to the report, 58 rollbacks had already occurred and 37 were in process. 

The Naturalist's Corner: Snowbirds part deaux

In a past column regarding snowbirds (“Snowbirds are here”), I wrote, “No, I’m not talking about your Uncle Bernie and Aunt Esther from New York City.” But I recently learned snowbirds (dark-eyed juncos) are kinda like your northern relatives — they like to come back to the same spot each winter. It seems many of the snowbirds at your feeders this winter were probably there last winter. And like relatives, we get used to them being around.

The Naturalist's Corner: CBC vagaries

This year’s Balsam Christmas Bird Count was record setting — but maybe not in a good way. The 63 species recorded was the lowest total in the count’s 17-year history. Next lowest counts were 65 species (two times) and 66 species once. The average number of species for the count is 70.

Hello solstice my old friend

The official time of the 2019 winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is 11:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, Dec. 21. That is the time the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer and is directly overhead. That will be the shortest day and longest night of the year. For thousands of years civilizations have celebrated the fact, from this point on days will be getting longer. However, it’s becoming more and more apparent this long “dark” night should be revered as well.

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