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Archive for April, 2012

Late April. A lot of trees still have tiny little suggestions of leaves, but all are leafed out, at least a little, save a South Carolina mimosa in my front yard. Last year about this time a tree man came by and tried to get me to pay him to cut it down. He assumed it was dead, but I knew better.

orange "honeysuckles"

The beautiful flowers we call “honeysuckles” are blooming. Wild azaleas they are: pale pink, pink, yellow, orange, and flaming red. Not many red ones any more, but plenty of orange. We had a swamp honeysuckle in the swamp at Quebec. I wonder if it is still blooming. It finally grew to be twice my height. The swamp honeysuckle is pale pink, sticky, and it has a wonderful fragrance. The others do not have a noticeable fragrance.

The cucumber tree (Fraser magnolia) is blooming also.

I mentioned previously the gorgeous yellow lady’s slipper I found. Wow! Pink ones we have, a few, and they are beautiful. But the yellow is the queen!

But flowers would be nothing without birds. Birds are magical creatures, especially just before dusk, and at daylight. I simply love to hear them in the early mornings. I put on a sweater and go out to sit on the porch and listen. For about thirty minutes in the early morning, just as it is getting light they delight my senses with their songs. After that they seem to thin out. Maybe they go wherever birds go in the daytime. Early evening brings them back, but the evening concert is never as good at the morning’s.

When I was a child we lived for a few years down below Brevard near the French Broad River. Our house looked over cornfields and pastures and sat in the edge of the woods. A small stream ran behind it. I will never forget summer mornings there. Two of my brothers and I would be up and out very early in the morning, exploring. It was my free time. There must have been hundreds of birds in the trees above us. They made such a din and a racket with their songs we could hardly hear each other speak. What a wonderful shining memory. What a wonderful place that was.

Wild turkeys

Early this week I had a brush with a different sort of bird, a big bird, a wild turkey. We have some around here but they are pretty elusive. There are places in the woods where they scratch for bugs and worms. You can tell where they have been but you don’t see them very often. The photo here was taken up on the mountain above us with a remote game camera, the type that is motion activated. There are several turkeys in this group.

I was on an old road a few days ago when I came close to two turkeys and scared them. Immediately they flew away. I had never seen a turkey fly before. We have two tame turkeys, but they only fly to the top of the fence post.  I was amazed to see have gracefully, how swiftly, and how far a wild turkey can fly. One disappeared before I saw much of it. The other hesitated, but only a second. It got its bearings and rose high on its mighty wings, then sailed like a glider through the timbers. I never did see where it landed, but it surely was a looooong way off. Folks, a wild turkey can FLY!

wood thrush

Last but not least: I was delighted this week to hear the “spring bird” again. They come the last of April; it is always a thrill to hear the first one call. These  divine little creatures have the loveliest song I ever heard in the woods. For over twenty years I have been hoping to see one as he is singing his delightful chorus, in order to identify him. I have asked people repeatedly, “What bird is that?” or “Do you hear that bird? What is it?”  A long time ago I was at Arthur Riddle’s house when one began to sing. I asked Arthur what bird it was. He said, “It’s the spring bird. It comes in the spring.” Well, I found this evening, on the internet, it is the wood thrush. I am so delighted to put a name with a song. I read a little blurb that said Thoreau stated the wood thrush’s song was the most beautiful in nature, and I have to say that I agree. Here is a link to that beautiful music.

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Yellow lady's slipper

Yellow Lady's Slipper

When I married Jack, I left my ancestral home and came up here to Toxaway. This place was settled by Jack’s great grandfather in the 1860’s the best I can determine. There is an oral tradition that the ruins of an Indian settlement (teepees) were found here. Since the Cherokee did not use teepees, my first impulse was to debunk the story. However, right away I found an arrowhead, whether Cherokee or not I have no idea, but maybe…after all, the Cherokee liked the cooler climates in summer and often went to the uplands to raise their corn and pumpkins.

But it was not the Cherokee who left a mark on this land. It was Jack’s grandfather, Bud Lee. Almost everywhere I go I see some evidence of the work he did to coax from it a living for his family.  Bud Lee’s father W. S. Lee purchased around 200 acres here. He deeded off some to his daughter Caroline and her husband Slick Fisher. Later on his son Bud Lee deeded off several acres to family members. Jack sold some after he got it, so now there are only fifty some acres in this tract.

Even though some of the land is fairly steep Bud Lee plowed and tended it. Back then you couldn’t go to the feed store and buy corn for cows and horses. And cows and horses were a necessity. You had to grow that corn on steep hillsides sometimes.  After the forests were cleared and the worst of the roots and stumps were grubbed up you could plant your crop in the rich soils of your “new ground.”

Small rock pile

Small rock stack

In that process you had to remove the rocks also. I was poking around in the woods yesterday, exploring a little swale  that caught my eye. Tall trees surrounded me, interspersed with large rhododendron shrubbery. Who would have thought that crops would have ever been growing here? But, to my right I spied a long row of rocks, not quite covered by leaves. I recognized Bud Lee’s trademark. Neat stacks of rocks, one on top of another in perfect order. This one was long, but very neat and so well stacked that after a hundred years very few were awry or out of place.  I could not help but smile. Here at the edge of his mountainside cornfield, Bud Lee had made this stack of stones gathered out of his field. Above is a photo of a smaller stack I found earlier. At this location I found some rough piles and two very nice ones like this. This pile of rocks probably has not been touched since he put them there.

Another thing I notice is terracing, not just down low where the fields still are, but on the steeper slopes in the woods also. Terracing did wonders to prevent erosion, and in plowed fields terracing prevented the loss of good topsoil, especially in steep places.

Another thing I have noticed: there is the faintest evidence of an old road cut through the lower end of the field west of the house, and the rotted timbers that supported a bridge over a little swampy spring run. I never have asked anyone about that. It must have been just a farm road. However, I understand the original road to Gloucester was not in its present location to start with, but came up a little to the south, and closer to the houses on this side of the road.

At the top of the page is a photo of a beautiful yellow lady’s slipper I found recently. It is the first one I ever found for myself.

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Jack's Chickens

Jack’s Chickens

Tonight I read a familiar verse in Deuteronomy, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them beareth them on her wings: ” (Deuteronomy 32:11)

It brought back a bittersweet memory of a thing so strange it would be hard to believe if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, and so poignant the thought of it brings tears even now, twenty some years later.

Sometimes folks do not want to believe what is written in scripture. I believe. And because I believe I expect to find proof of what I believe. I had heard that eagles do indeed bear up their little eagles on their wings when the young ones are learning to fly. I finally found a reliable source on the internet that offered the proof I was looking for.  The site is Zoo Torah. The name of the article is “On Eagle’s Wings.” The date is May 7, 2009, and the subject is the nesher, as described in the Bible. In the article is given an account of young eagles being taught to fly by the parent birds. The young birds are sometimes carried on the mother’s back.

I did not find any mention of chickens transporting  their young ones, nor would I have ever imagined such an act. But God has surprises for us –  things that awe and amaze.

When I lived at the homeplace at Quebec I had several chickens, too many chickens. I thought I was tired of chickens, so I gave them to Fred Owen, all but four hens that he couldn’t catch. I couldn’t catch them either, so they rambled all over the place, scratching up bugs and eating the food scraps I threw out for them.

Soon I discovered one of those four hens had managed to hatch about six little ones somewhere out in the wild. How she managed to incubate her eggs for three weeks without getting eaten by foxes I will never know, but she did. The little diddles were beautiful, as all little chickens are. But, one by one those precious little chickens began to disappear. I was horrified one evening to see my house cat dart in and grab one and streak away with it. I won’t blame the cat for the murder of all those little chickens. I don’t know what happened to the rest of them. I do know that besides cats, there are all sorts of wild creatures that prey on young fowl; it is pretty amazing that any wild bird grows to maturity.

Did that hen feel the loss of her baby chicks?  I have heard of mother cats searching in vain for kittens that have been taken away, meowing and crying constantly until they finally give up hope of finding their little ones. Chickens are not as intelligent as cats; do their hearts break when they loose their own?

I don’t know.  All I know is that my own heart broke a few days later when I discovered there was only one little chicken left. I was at the barn that evening just before dark.  I heard something that caused me to look up, and there, high above me, sat the mother hen and one little diddle, its head and neck peeping out from under her wing. I had to look again to be sure my eyes were not deceiving me. They were about fifteen feet above the ground on a tree limb!

Somehow, only God knows how, that mother hen had managed to get her last precious baby up on that high limb. It was the safest place she knew. I have tended chickens, hatched chickens, fed chickens, watched chickens  for over twenty years. I KNOW a little chicken can not fly that high. Five feet off the ground would be about the maximum a chicken its size could fly. But there it was, up there on that limb, under its mama’s wing. I could not believe it. I was amazed, awestruck. What kind of love could do that? I cried. Even now I am wiping tears away.

I never saw the baby chicken again. Nor were there any more afterwards, for Fred had taken all the roosters. For two or three years those four stouthearted hens eluded predators, survived blizzards, and scratched up a million worms and bugs. They were doing well until they began to scratch in my neighbor’s garden.  He didn’t like that very much, so I let him trap them and give them away.

I thought that would be the end of the chicken business for me. I should have known it wasn’t. After all, the Lord had already talked to me about chickens … . But that is another story.

baby chickensThe only explanation I have regarding this remarkable occurrence is that the little one held to the mother with its little feet as she flew upward. Little chicks do have a good grip, and if provided a small roosting pole will use it when they are still very small.

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When I was a kid Whetstone Gap was at Quebec. And that, friends, is pronounced Kwee (long e) bec, with the emphasis on Kwee. Same name for the mountain and the settlement. You wouldn’t expect us mountain people to pronounce it like the Canadians, now would you? So, if Whetstone Gap is at Quebec, why is Whetstone Gap Road at Lake Toxaway?

Good question. I don’t know the entire answer, but I learned a little about Whetstone Gap from an old timer, Virgil Owen. It was something I should have realized but didn’t. After all, I lived a year or two on Quebec Mountain. I knew about those little long rocks with the squared off edges….

Here is a map that shows the location of Whetstone Gap. This is from the USGS topo map for the Rosman quadrangle.  Note the Whetstone Ridge runs south-west and north-east. Along the Whetstone Ridge you will see Quebec Mountain near the West Fork of the French Broad River. Crossing the south side of Quebec Mountain is Highway 64.  Whetstone Gap is marked there. It is  located nearly at the top of the ridge, about a mile from where Highway 64 crosses the West Fork of the French Broad River.Whetstone Gap at Quebec Mountain

Whetstone Gap at Quebec Mountain

I asked Virgil Owen, my old timer friend, why there was a Whetstone Gap Road at Lake Toxaway. Virgil told me he didn’t know, that somebody had made a big mistake, for the road at Lake Toxaway they were calling the Whetstone Gap Road was really the Head Gap Road.  Well, I had heard the coon hunters talking about Head Gap, but I didn’t know where it was. Now I knew.

Virgil went on to tell me that the gap just up the road from Head Gap, where Highway 281 North turns off Highway 64 was the Pole Cat Gap. I knew that because I had plotted the calls on an old deed for the Toxaway Falls property. One of the points mentioned in that deed was the Pole Cat Gap. Incidentally, at the time of that deed, Toxaway Falls was called the Bagwell Shoals, reflecting the name of Bagwell, the owner of the falls and the “improvement” above them.

Virgil didn’t explain why the pole cat’s name got attached to the gap at the “junction,” but he said Head Gap got its name by virtue of having five spring heads nearby. “You could throw a rock,” he said, “and hit five spring heads from Head Gap.” He told me where they were. The best I remember there were three on the north side of Highway 64. If you look carefully, you can spot at least two of these even today. You can not see those on the other side of the road.

When I asked Virgil how Whetstone Gap got its name, he looked at me like I was a dunce and said, “You ought to know. You lived down there. It’s the rocks, the little whet rocks. They cover the ground down there.” Well yes, I remembered the  little rocks, many of them perfect little rectangles. Most of them were smooth, as if they had once been in a river. And yes, they were scattered everywhere. I had not thought of them as whetstones, but that is what they looked like.

Christine Owen

Christine Owen

Years later Christine Owen whose father Spurgeon Owen once owned most of the west side of Quebec Mountain hurriedly hunted me some examples of the rocks  I remembered. When I talked to her that day she said her father had carried one of these stones in his pocket and actually used it to sharpen his pocket knife. In the photo she holds a medium sized example and a large one. The large stone is not the best example, being imperfect, but it does show the parallel sides of these stones. The other photo of the hand holding a smaller stone is more representative of the size and shape of the Quebec Mountain whetstones, though it came from another location, and is not as smooth as the Quebec stones.

I always thought Virgil’s explanation about the names of the gaps was interesting and am glad to finally share it now.

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Gorgeous Scenery in Cades Cove

Gorgeous Scenery in Cades Cove

A little over a week ago Jack expressed a desire to visit Cades Cove on Sunday. Though it was Easter, we packed up some bananas for a snack, some water, and the dog, and off we went. Cades Cove is such a scenic place. It is really worth a trip if you have not been there.

It takes us about three hours to get there. We go through Wolf Mountain, Sylva, Cherokee, and over the mountain by Clingman’s Dome, to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, then down the road that follows the old railroad grade by Elkmont to the entrance to Cades Cove. We passed up the entrance and went a few miles further to Townsend for lunch and then went back to the Park.

I became interested in Cades Cove years ago while doing genealogical research.   So many of my family documents on my father’s side gave the birthplace as Cades Cove. I found out that my great, great grandfather Nathan Rose went from the area that is now Yancey County, NC and lived in Cades Cove for a number of years. Several of his children were born there.

An Old Church in Cades Cove

An Old Church in Cades Cove

We always see a lot of wildlife at Cades Cove. Turkeys are common, as are deer. It is not unusual to see  a bear, though we did not see a bear this time. Once we saw a coyote stalking a deer. I would rather have not seen that. I hope it got away. Once we saw a bear with two cubs crossing the road. They had traffic blocked near us. One lady was out in the road near them with her camera. Brave soul!

There are a few old structures in Cades Cove. Most of the houses were torn down when the Park Service took over the cove in the early 1900’s. Only the oldest and sturdiest structures remain. Today an old barn I used to see has vanished, having been allowed to rot down. There was at least one more old property at Cades Cove when I first went there that is no longer accessible. There was a large barn on the trail. Maybe they tore it down also.

One thing I do not like. They are letting some of the fields grow up. If they had to cut the timber and grub up the new ground as the old people had to, they wouldn’t be so quick to let it revert back to forest. Another thing is that they allow fallen timber to simply lie. The area toward the end of the 11 mile loop road is littered with fallen timber, like one gigantic brush pile, and most of it is pine. One zap of lightning and the blaze would reach to the top of Thunderhead.

Mostly though, Cades Cove is a beautiful, beautiful place. You can see why it was settled – wide, wide bottoms, plenty of water, though the smaller streams dry up toward the end of summer. (Thankfully, ours here at Lake Toxaway run all the time.) And those beautiful, sheltering hills.

We had lots of places here in Transylvania County that were every bit as pretty as Cades Cove, along the upper French Broad River Valley between Brevard and Rosman, but very few any more. I know people have to live somewhere, but, oh! What we have lost!

Cades Cove was lovely, but this Sunday I am looking forward to being in the Lord’s house.

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The Uncle Bud Lee Place

The blooms of the maples have tinged the hills with red and bronze. The tiny little ears of green are showing on the poplars. The sarvis has blossomed; the silverbells are open. New life is creeping up the mountainsides. The hens are laying; the big tom turkey strutting around like he is somebody. Today our little unwalled settlement is at peace, and we are thankful.

Our campground is now open. Already we have had two visitors. And already we are selling eggs.  Doing better than last year. Thankful for that also.

It is good to be back home, to see folks we haven’t seen lately, to catch up on the news. Not all of it is pleasing. Our good doctor is on a leave of absence. We missed him while he was out for his surgery. Now he is gone again!

North Toxaway Baptist has finished the youth building while we were away. Lots of kids from the Job Corp were there tonight. Jack went with me this morning.

The painting is entitled The Uncle Bud Lee Place.It is meant to depict our place  at about this time back when Jack’s grandpa and grandma lived here.

The Driveway

The photo was taken a year or two ago. The driveway is not quite as pretty this year.  I have let the honeysuckle grow up in the bushes again. We are going to have to dig those bushes up to get the honeysuckle out. Talk about an invasive plant! But, like the multi-flora rose, they do have one redeeming virtue, the heavenly scent of their flowers.

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