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This article had a chance to be published in North Carolina’s The State magazine, but since it was not I am taking it off the shelf and sharing it with you, for free, no subscription required. It is a love story with a happy ending, of a botanist’s lifelong pursuit of a reticent little flower that early on captured his heart, and how finally she became his.

Shortia galicafolia — Oconee’s Elusive Little Bell

A Botanical Tale of Hide and Seek

The first scientific specimen of Shortia galicafolia, or Oconee bell, languished in a case for decades, a dried up and neglected unidentified species. The story of its discovery in a French herbarium and the ensuing 38-year search for a living plant is both fascinating and heart warming.

Sarvis in bloom

When high against he naked slopes of winter, the petals of the sarvis unfurl white as lingering snow, ere the blushing maples stain the hills in lipstick hues, before the violets dare to show their faces, the shy little Oconee bells quietly announce the arrival of spring. Even at elevations of around 3,000 feet, which is about the upper end of their territory, they bloom early, around the end of March. Their glossy leaves and fringed white petals look sturdy enough, and they are, but the Oconee bell’s range is limited, due primarily to lack of suitable habitat.

Oconee bell

Many years ago my cousin introduced me to Oconee bells. She had a luxurious patch of them growing near her spring, at about 3,100 feet elevation. Someone had given her a few which she transplanted. They had thrived in that location, literally covering the bank of the spring branch with their dark green foliage. Later she gave some to me. And, yes, I knew they were rare plants. So I took special care to place them in the sort of environment they were used to. I planted them above my spring branch and sure enough they soon multiplied beyond my expectations.

Though generally plentiful in its station, and apparently thriving and healthy where it does grow, our local specimen, the Southern Oconee bell, is considered a vulnerable plant, meriting special concern by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. The problem with the Oconee bell is not that it is weak or delicate; rather, it is very sensitive to its environment. It requires a rare blend of conditions, such as those found in the Jocassee Gorges, our small temperate rain forest on the clopes of the Savannah River watershed here along the North Carolina-South Carolina state line. Along these moisture laden corridors of the Blue Ridge Escarpment the Oconee bell is in its element. This area includes Transylvania County in North Carolina, and Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee Counties in South Carolina.

The Northern Oconee bell, a variant species native to McDowell County, North Carolina, is considered endangered. Its station is on the Catawba River about 75 miles northeast of the Jocassee area. Though not the first Shortia galicafolia to be harvested, the Northern Oconee bell nevertheless has the distinction of having been the first whole specimen of Shortia to be found in North America. The botanist Michaux had gathered a leaf and a dried fruit of the Oconee bell in the winter of 1788, but nobody knew where he had found it. That is not to say the Indians and early settlers were not aware of this plant’s location.  Of course, they were. But the scientific community was not, and could not complete the plant’s history and classification without the whole Plant. It would be 89 years before Shortia galicafolia would be rediscovered.

And therein hangs a tale:

The Little Belle of Oconee and the Eminent Dr. Gray

The bashful little Oconee bell evaded botanists for nearly a century, hiding out in scattered environs of the southern Appalachians. A low growing evergreen perennial with leathery sawtoothed leaves, it produces small white bell-shaped flowers of five fringed petals. From the mid to late 1800’s, the Shortia, as it came to be known, captivated a whole generation of botanists and plant hunters, who pursued it relentlessly from place to place without catching so much as a glimpse of it.

The plant was first sighted by the French botanist Andre Michaux in December 1788. It was growing in profusion at Bear Camp, a small Indian settlement on a tributary of the Keowee River, high up in the Savannah River watershed. Michaux gathered a tough little sawtoothed leaf and a dried fruit of the plant for preservation. Carefully he recorded in his journal the exact location of the plant colony, mentioning its proximity to Bartram’s Magnolia ariculata and referencing the features of the land so precisely that anyone should have been able to easily follow his directions. Michaux never returned to the site from which the little plant was harvested.

That dried up and incomplete specimen gathered by Michaux languished for many years in a case with other unidentified plants. Finally, in 1838 the American Botanist Asa Gray uncovered it in a French herbarium. Realizing that it represented a new genus, Dr. Gray became obsessed with the hope of finding the plant “in the high mountains of Carolina,” the place Michaux’s specimen label gave as its habitat. Michaux having died in 1802, Gray immediately reserved for himself the right of naming the plant. Shortia galicafolia it would be, reflecting the plant’s similarity to Galax and honoring Gray’s much admired colleague, Dr. Charles Wilkins Short of Kentucky.

The chase was on! Within three years Dr. Gray had managed to rearrange his responsibilities and was scouring the sides of the high mountains of Carolina in search of Shortia. He went to Roan, Mt. Mitchell, and others that Michaux had visited, but found no trace of the elusive little plant. Two years later he made another disappointing trip to the same general area. Gray had consulted Michaux’s journal before his first trip. But somehow he had missed, or perhaps misinterpreted Michaux’s entry giving the plant’s location. (The journal was written in French.) As word of Dr. Gray’s pursuit of the wily little Shortia spread, others became intrigued and jointed the hunt. For years a succession of scientists and plantsmen combed the mountains as far as Tennessee. But none found the Shortia galicafolia.

There was yet another Shortia however. Dr. Gray had found the other Shortia while examining some Japanese plant specimens brought back to America in 1858. Gray recognized the Japanese Shortia right away, though a Russian botanist had named it Xchizocodon uniflorus. Gray was perplexed however. How was it that a rare North American plant was growing halfway around the world? But, the scientific community had already begun to notice that other plants such as pachysandra and various magnolias were sometimes found isolated in pockets at great distances globally from each other. Gray eventually concluded that these two Shortia plants, once common in the north, had retreated south before the advancing glaciers of the last ice age, and found themselves trapped and unable to return to their original habitat when the glaciers melted.

Time would prove Dr. Gray’s assessment to be correct. The Xchiocodon was a Shortia, and its botanical name was eventually changed to Shortia uniflora. The Japanese people had called their plant crag fan due to the shape of its leaves; the Americans would name it for its flower and call it Nippon bells. These two species of  Shortia had happened to land in hospitable environs in Japan and eastern North America when the glaciers receded; hence they had survived. And that was the sum of it; and might have been the end of it.

Except that already Dr. Gray was hopelessly smitten by Michaux’s elusive little Shortia runaway, and no foreign uniflora would ever replace the lovely native galicafolia. And so the hunt continued.

Finally, in 1877, on the banks of the murky Catawba River near Marion, North Carolina George Hymans, a 17-year-old, gathered an unknown specimen. His father, an herbalist, eventually sent it to Joseph Congdon of Rhode Island for identification. Congdon believed it was Shortia and passed to Dr. Gray. Though much removed from its purported habitat in the “high mountains,” the Catawba River specimen turned out to be a match for Michaux’s unidentified species. An elated Dr. Gray was soon able to examine a living Shortia galicafolia, with its blossom, and complete the history of the long sought little plant. Unfortunately Dr. Short, to whom the plant was dedicated, had died in 1863, never having seen his namesake.

In the spring of 1879 Dr. Gray and two of his associates, William Canby and Dr. Charles Sargent, came to Marion to see the Shortia plants in their habitat. They were found growing in close proximity to the partridge berry, wild ginger and Galax. Dr. Gray was very disappointed when he realized the colony discovered by young Hymans contained no more than 100 plants, nor were any others to be found. It looked like the native Shortia was nearing extinction, edged out by a companion plant, its stronger cousin, the Galax.

Dr. Gray did not know that even then great numbers of Shortia were thriving in a mountain habitat on the Savannah River headwaters, in coves and hollows just under the crest of the Blue Ridge. Seven more years would pass before they would be found.

In 1886, Dr. Charles Sargent, who had accompanied Gray to the Shortia site on the Catawba River, explored the area near Sapphire, North Carolina, looking for a magnolia species, Bartram’s Magnolia ariculata. With him was an associate and two brothers Boynton from the nearby town of Highlands. One day Dr. Sargent and one of the Boynton brothers unwittingly trekked through the place where Michaux had made his momentous Shortia discovery some 98 years earlier. There, from a colony of low growing evergreen plants, Dr. Sargent gathered a leathery little sawtoothed leaf… .

But when evening came he could not remember where he had picked it. They were, after all, looking for a magnolia. With Galax being pretty much ruled out as the leaf’s identity, the Boynton brothers were sent the next day to retrace Dr. Sargent’s steps. When they got to Bear Camp they found the Shortia exactly where Michaux’s journal had said they would. The fact of the journal entry was not known at the time, but would come to light later.

It must have pleased Dr. Sargent immensely to place one of those very plants into Dr. Gray’s eager hands. For Dr. Gray, the search for Shortia had been a lifelong passion. He’d been overjoyed on learning of the Catawba River colony, only to have cold water dashed on his enthusiasm when it dawned on him how precious few plants were there; nor were there any more, anywhere. Now he could rest, for he held in his own hands a nugget from the mother lode.

The long search for Shortia had ended. Nor was it long before Dr. Gray had finished his course. He passed away in 1888, a hundred years after Michaux picked his Shortia leaf that wintry morning on the headwaters of the Keowee.

………………………

End notes: The Shortia galicafolia plants from the Catawba River basin were deemed a variant species of those discovered at Bear Camp by Michaux, hence the division into “Northern” and “Southern” varieties.

Some time after Dr. Sargent’s rediscovery of the Southern Oconee bell, Michaux’s journal was re-examined and the very explicit directions to the Shortia colony at Bear Camp were found. The place where Michaux harvested his Shortia specimen is now under the waters of Lake Jocassee.

end

Students/others: Below is a list of sources, for free. If you cite my article, please give me credit.

Sources:

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/issues/03_03/03_26_03/mtn_voices.html

http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook/trees/shga.html

http://www.ncagr.gov/plantindustry/plant/plantconserve/plist.htm northern&southern Oconee bell on list. 1/1/12

http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?ct=ddl&sp=search&k=Markers&sv=N-22+-+ANDRE+MICHAUX

http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/838.pdf

http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/274109/

http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/838.pdf

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author is autistic adult. Wikimedia Commons image

May 2017. Tonight I sat for a while on the front porch watching little pinpoints of light, bobbing up and down among the upper canopy of leaves. I remembered when we were children, catching lightning bugs. That’s what we still call them, though technically they are fireflies. Frankly, I think the children’s name is more descriptive. We put them in jars and set them on the dresser or bureau and fell asleep watching them blink. And after that I suppose Mama or Grandma came for the jar and turned them loose. I don’t remember that part.

Many years afterward, around the Fourth of July I happened to be a guest at a home perched high on a grassy ridge, sitting on the patio as night drew on. Here and there in the tall grass below there was a wink, and then a blink as the lightning bugs awoke from their daytime slumber and prepared for their performance. And what a show it was! In just minutes, hundreds and hundreds of those bright blinking little creatures flew up from the tall grass below in a dazzling display of tiny blinking, winking, dancing lights. No fireworks display downtown could “hold a light” (to use a mountain expression) to that show. But too soon it was over. The little bugs scattered for their nighttime destinations in less than five minutes, and only an ordinary sprinkling of them remained.

But that was not the last time those talented little insects would delight my senses. One evening in May a few years ago it happened again, and not the way you might think. I wrote an article about it for publication in Yahoo Voices. And now that Yahoo Voices is no more, I can publish it again. Here it is:

The Magic of Glow Worms

When God said “Let there be light!” the fireflies took him seriously. Faithful to their calling, they arrive every spring, in mid-May, and with their tiny lanterns, light up my corner of the world — a temperate rain forest in the southern Appalachians. We normally get plus or minus a hundred inches of rain a year, good for lots of creatures, including these beautiful bugs. Because, before they make their presence known, winking and blinking, skimming along above lawns and meadows, and draping themselves like twinkling garlands over the branches of trees, they are hidden away, wingless creatures, confined to damp and shadowy places. Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are beautiful and entertaining to watch, and wonderful fun for children. But even better is to see them before they get their wings. On a dark night in the woods, it is an almost magical experience.

There are thousands of species of this little beetle and they are found almost all over the world. Adult fireflies live only long enough to perpetuate themselves. They mate and lay their eggs, and after that they are soon gone. The eggs hatch quickly but the larva can take almost a year to develop; in some cases, years. The larva in our area typically live in the soil and leaf litter of the woodlands. Like their adult counterparts, the larva are luminescent; we know them as glow worms. It does not follow; however, that all glow worms are firefly larva. There are also other types of insect larva that glow.

If you have fireflies or lightning bugs in your area, you will also have glow worms. Since they are larva they don’t fly about, and unless you are hunting for them you are not likely to find one in the daytime. They survive long cold winters in the woods, under the leaves, in the bark of trees, rotting stumps, and the like. You will not find any in a dry and arid place. You will probably never see a glow worm in a city or town where it never gets totally dark. If the climate of the town is suitable, they will probably be there, but to see a glow worm you need near total darkness, such as a night on the dark of the moon.

I was fortunate to see a stunning display of glow worms one evening in May. I had seen glow worms before. At my former home a few miles away I regularly witnessed tiny gleamings at the edge of my yard when coming home from work late at night. I even found a few small glow worms behind our house near the chicken yard. Both these finds were pretty insignificant; I didn’t know how beautiful firefly larva would be.

I had been working earlier that day about a half mile up the mountain from our house raking some of last fall’s leaves. At dusk I rode a golf cart up the gravel road to my work site and burned some of the twigs and leaves I had raked up earlier. My job took longer than I thought it would; I was working under a security light and did not realize how dark it was getting. When I finally finished I boarded the golf cart to ride back. Since it did not have lights I found myself in near pitch darkness as I drove away from the security light and into the woods on my way back down the hill. All I could see was a faint smudge that I knew represented the gray gravel in the center of the road. I slowed my speed down to a crawl for fear I would drive off the embankment. And then I began to notice:

The low road bank on my right glimmered with light, not little pinpoints such as I had seen before in the yard, small gleamings on a rainy night. No, these were bold and dazzling, like handfuls of rhinestones strewn out on black velvet. Right away I knew they were pupating fireflies, the largest and loveliest glow worms I had ever seen. Slowly I passed, having to watch also for the dim impression of the road. The darkness was nearly total. In awe I drove the golf cart, slowly, slowly, past distant moons and suns, fiery comets, planets and constellations, myriads of tiny creatures arranged in scintillating patterns of light. It seemed the stars had fallen from heaven and lay in bright splendor upon the forest floor…No night sky was ever more lovely than this lowly insect’s brilliant display. Some of them, having newly found their wings, arose lazily from their leafy beds, and flew away, like shooting stars in slow motion.

Too soon the enchantment was over. The pale yellow of the porch light loomed up ahead. Five minutes more and my husband would have come up the hill in the car to find me. Five minutes more….and I would never have known……Oh… that is frightening!

 

 

 

 

 

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Western North Carolina is apple country. Henderson County, which is next door to us, produces more than the rest of us, and many varieties. Some of the newer ones are honeycrisp and ginger gold. These have their appeal. Honeycrisp was almost impossible to get year before last due to the demand for it. These newer apples are crossbreeds.

rome appleBut who wants a crossbreed when you can have a real thoroughbred apple. Not me.

One of my favorites is the Rome beauty. This apple, which hails from Ohio, is of unknown origin, one plant having been shipped from a nursery in the early 1800’s in a group of some other variety. The tree survived and from it we have these beautiful deep red apples, flecked with tiny white spots, that often are just as beautiful inside as they are outside, their white flesh streaked and mottled with a deep pink color. Gorgeous! And when you bake them, they retain a lot of that beautiful color. Not all Rome apples have these pretty pink streaky insides, but a fair number of them do.

White and pink interior

White and pink interior

I open the top and dig out the seeds with a little knife, being careful not to cut all the way through the apple if I can help it. In it I put first about a teaspoon of butter and on top of that somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of sugar, and then another teaspoon of butter, topped off with a little shake of cinnamon. Put the apple(s) in a dish or pan just large enough to hold it(them); add a little water in the bottom; and bake in a preheated oven at about 350 degrees until as done as you like. I use a toaster oven for one or two, and it doesn’t take long. The water will make a nice juice that you can pour on top of the apples when they are done.

baked apples

baked apples

Rome apples will remain firm longer than most varieties. Just keep them a a cool place. They don’t have a really distinctive flavor, nor are they especially crunchy or juicy. They are just good utilitarian apples, but they’ve got a lot of class. Baking brings out the best in them.

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Seems that I saw the Magnificent Seven in a movie many years ago. Don’t even remember what it was all about, but the title was obviously unforgettable. So are these pet turkeys.

Here they are: all seven of them.

Here they are: all seven of them.

With the state of our Union being what it is, and with the things happening everywhere, my attention has been on things important, such as being ready to die at any time. We see that it can happen, and without warning. I don’t want to leave this world unprepared for eternity.

But, Jesus said for us to “occupy” until he comes. And that means to be about the business of living. Sometimes I get so caught up in living that I forget him and that I am his, and just loose my composure, not to mention my temper. Then, Oh Lord, I am sorry. But after the words are said, or yelled, as is sometimes the case, they are loose to do their damage. Shame, shame.

I didn’t want to get involved with turkeys. No one does. But I had to. Jack doesn’t have a lot to get interested in or to take joy in these days, but he does love his birds. Last fall, he insisted Tony take him way over beyond Asheville to buy three female turkeys. These young females did nothing all winter but eat, no eggs, no nothing. But come spring they began to lay.

Jack said I had to save all the turkey eggs. I sneaked and ate a few (they are very good, better than chicken’s eggs) but there were still plenty.  We got one of the incubators out and set it up in the living room on a table where Jack could see it and piddle with it. I think there were eighteen or twenty eggs in it but only six hatched. I put the little turkeys in an open plastic box on the little table where the incubator had been. I couldn’t resist reaching in and grabbing one up as I passed by. They squealed, but I just held and rubbed their beautiful fur. In a few days they began to feather out. Four were yellow with brown markings when they hatched; later they began to be spotted; one was all yellow and one almost black. The yellow one turned out to be gray colored and the black one has a little white on his tailfeathers now. His name is Big Peep.

Here are five little turkeys.

Here are five little turkeys.

Well I petted my baby turkeys until I had to move them to a diddle cage in a room at the end of the chicken house. Jack made the diddle cage several years ago of wood framing with rat wire for the floor and poultry netting for the sides. The top is plywood, hinged to open and shut. By the time the little turkeys moved to the diddle cage Jack had hatched another setting of eggs, but unfortunately, only one little turkey made it. I called him Little Peep. He was black all over. I spoiled him of course, since he was the only one in the house.

The little ones in the diddle cage were growing and so beautiful. Turkeys ARE beautiful, IF you don’t look them in the face. Just notice their marvelous shape and their pretty feathers. All spring my therapy consisted of going down to the chicken house and spending time petting my little turkeys. In a few weeks I let them out of the diddle cage to run free in the little room where the cage was, and I moved Little Peep from the living room to the diddle cage. I let him stay there a week or two while he and the older little turkeys got acquainted.

This is Little Peep. Well, I did tell you about looking them in the face!

This is Little Peep. Well, I did tell you about looking them in the face!

They would look in at him as if to say “What are you doing in there?” I was afraid that when I took him out of the diddle cage the others, being a few weeks older and bigger than him, would terrorize him, but they did not, probably because they already knew him.

By late July or August I turned all seven of them out to the chicken yard. They had no sooner hit the ground than the males began to fight each other. As far as I know there had been no feuding in the chicken house, but they really had it out that day. And then they settled down.

Chickens will go back into their house at night without any encouragement. Turkeys, not necessarily. Our big turkeys always go back in at night. But these – for some reason they wanted to roost outside. They still do. Mostly they roost in a cedar tree at the back of the house, but sometimes they choose a limb of a walnut, or a fence post. When daylight comes they fly down and the whole bunch goes rambling, sometimes far away. One morning I thought a coyote had gotten them, but about 9:00 o’clock all seven of them came traipsing out of the woods.

Even though they are nearly grown now, they are very tame and friendly. If I (or anyone else for that matter) sit at the picnic table they will come up to talk; the dominant males strut around so I can see how lovely they are, even consenting to let me pet them if I rub their feathers in the right direction. Little Peep comes and sits at my side. He is a male also, but he is not letting anyone but me know. He was strutting when he was little, but now he has quit. He is biding his time.

You think I’m kidding?  No. Some males do not develop as early as others. Our black and white male was sold to us as a female, and it was a long time before we found that he was a tom. Also, I think some turkeys, such as Little Peep, have sense enough not to let their testosterone get out of control. They don’t want to pick a fight until they are sure they can win.

That surely applies to the gray one.  He was always more aloof than the other six. I had to run him down to stroke his feathers and it never seemed to please him very much that I did. I noticed he didn’t join in the fight that occurred the first day I turned them out.  I thought he was a duplicate of Madam Gray, an older female we have. I named him Miss Gray.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking on the road behind the shed all by myself when I came upon Miss Gray, who happened to be there alone, digging up bugs. What a show that turkey put on for me! It was as if Miss Gray knew I thought he was a girl and he was glad for this private audience with me so he could set the record straight. I watched in amazement at the transformation. When he saw me he tucked his head up against his neck, and fanned his tailfeathers in a perfect arc. He fluffed all the small feathers on his back and sides straight out. He spread his wing feathers apart and dropped them to the ground, scraping the dust with them as he thumped and puffed at me, strutting up and down as if he were the king of the hill. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it. I had no idea. I had to apologize.

When he was satisfied that I had gotten the message he went back to being a shy and mild mannered fowl, just picking bugs. I have seen no further evidence from him that he is a male. But he is! I would not have known it but for that private encounter.

We have five younger turkeys that have just been turned out. They did not get the petting and attention that I gave these seven and they are wild and no fun at all.

But these seven have been friends. And not just my friends. They cull no one. Give them a little attention and they’ll follow you to the jumping off place. They are a nuisance sometimes, especially when they get on the porch and look through the windows. They wouldn’t do it if they were not crazy about me and they know I’m in there somewhere. The other turkeys never notice the porch.

Earlier this evening I brought Little Peep in for Jack to see how he had grown.  Jack grinned, not at Little Peep, but at me, and he said “You love them turkeys, don’t you?”

I have to admit that I do.

Update: Feb. 2017.  Well, I am going to have to eat crow (turkey). You can not always tell a turkey’s sex by whether they strut or not. I will spare you the details, but to make a long story a little longer you need to know that a more accurate way to determine whether a turkey is male or female is by the wattles (the flap of skin under the beak)  and the bumps or caruncles in the throat region. These are far more predominant in the male at maturity. Before then I guess you just have to wait and see.  Sorry. I learn something new about every day.

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I did not intend to say anything on this subject, but I must put a pin in the hysterical hot air balloon that is inflating up at Toxaway Falls. You notice I did not say “historical,”

If you’ve ever watched Waters World on television you have seen how poorly educated Americans are about their history and culture. It is the exception and not the rule when Waters encounters an informed citizen, one that can answer a simple question about U.S. government or history. I thought that was a phenomenon confined to New York and Coney Island, but alas, it is here also. But, to be fair, we all come up a little short in some areas. And sometimes the remedy for that is what my mother in law used to call a dose of Re ali Tea.

Toxaway Falls Stand

Toxaway Falls Stand

When construction began recently on the road improvements in the vicinity of Toxaway Falls someone looked at the Highway Department’s map and noted that Jack’s little store, Toxaway Falls Stand, had been labeled a historic structure by the highway folks. In almost no time Toxaway Falls Stand’s status became elevated well beyond that of a little slapped together antique building, not even as old or historically significant as some local barns, to a place on the National Register. So now there are a lot of folks around here who actually believe that….

Highway Department Official Looks At Possible Native American Burial Site. (copy of newspaper photo)

Further, the Abandoned Cemeteries people called the Highway Department’s attention to a possible Native American burial site up on the ridge near the proposed new road in order that the site would be protected during the construction. The pile of rocks was identified right away and with certainty as the gravesite of a Cherokee Indian – “Chief Toxaway.” And then the fun began. It seems that another rock pile on another mountain off Blue Ridge Road also bears the distinction of being said chieftan’s resting place. Ohhhhh……

Somehow I find it appalling that our own Native American, the mixed blood William Jack Fisher, who a hundred years ago saved a number of lives in the Toxaway Gorge, was so soon forgotten, while the illusory bones of an Indian chief, about whom nothing is known, and whose historical existence is speculative, were deemed important enough to be claimed interred in at least two places in this community. Whatever happened to the separation of fact and fiction?

Does anyone know how long the rock pile has been there on the ridge above the falls? The Cherokee were not the first Indians to inhabit our area. Some artifacts found in the vicinity are centuries old. Examination of the site might prove that it is very old and made by a previous culture. Further, the Cherokee did not have a town here. The Cherokee town of Toxaway was situated near the confluence of the Keowee River and Eastatoe Creek, now under the waters of Lake Keowee.

It is a fact that the Cherokee once had dominion over the whole of what is now Transylvania County. They occupied a large section of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. They did not “own” land as we do but roamed at will. Their trails crisscrossed the mountains, connecting their various settlements. There were yearly hunting expeditions through our area. An annual stopover was on Indian Camp Mountain near Rosman. Highway 178 out of Rosman was built on their trail –  the Eastatoe Path. Occasionally there might have been numbers of Cherokees encamped here or passing through.

But by the time the first permanent white settlers began coming here there were very few Indians left, the reason being the Cherokee Removal of 1838-39. Most of the Cherokee were rounded up and herded off to the West along the Trail of Tears. But there were some who managed to escape capture by fleeing their valley settlements and hiding out in the mountains, including our area. Eventually the government abandoned their search for these fugitives and they were allowed to stay wherever they were. The early settlers of this area found abandoned huts and other evidence of Cherokee occupation. They also found a few Indians, some of whom assimilated into the white culture. There was one Indian family who owned property in the vicinity of Golden Road and were members of a local church.

So is it not possible that Chief Toxaway might have been one of the local Indians back in the mid-1800’s when white people began settling here? Possible, yes, but not likely. For one thing there seems to be no mention of him in any historical records from that era, and there certainly was no cohesive Cherokee settlement here for him to be head of.

Part of the Eastatoe Valley

Part of the Eastatoe Valley

But, if it makes anyone feel better, there is some mention of Chief Toxaway by a romantic and adventurous nineteenth century writer – William Gilmore Simms. Simms loved nothing better than to mingle with the locals and gather tidbits for his stories, most of which were fiction. Jim Bob Tinsley in his book Land of Waterfalls mentioned Simms and his visit with the Long Hunters here in the 1840’s. Well, Simms published a collection of stories including The Legend of Jocassee, a tale set in the Keowee River area, and pertaining to a conflict between two rival bands of Cherokees, the Eastatoe band, and the Oconees. It seems the leader of the Eastatoes was none other than – Chief Toxaway.

Perhaps Mr. Simms’ story is where some of this smoke came from…..Anyway, the evidence that there ever was a Chief Toxaway up here in the high country is pretty flimsy, especially when one considers that except for the river, the name Toxaway did not come up here until the early 1900’s, and incidentally, was brought by the land developers. Before that our impressive monolith was dubbed Hogback Mountain, due to its similarity in appearance to that beast, and the surrounding low ground was Hogback Valley. At that time Toxaway Falls was known as the Bagwell Shoals, after the name of its owner.

But, back to the rock pile, we know that Native Americans sometimes buried their dead in this manner. And it doesn’t seem likely this spot would have been a cultivated field, cleared of rocks by a farmer who piled them at the edge. So it is entirely possible we have a genuine Native American burial site overlooking Toxaway Falls. And that’s important.

But beyond that, if an Indian chief is buried under those rocks, I rather doubt it is Chief Toxaway……

…..But there’s an outside chance it could be Chief Hogback……

Hogback Mountain

Hogback Mountain

 

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IMG_1231I had a few little crocus blossoms earlier, mostly purple, but one bright yellow. It was so cold I couldn’t enjoy them then except in passing, on my way to the mailbox. But now, Ahh, it’s a lot warmer and the forsythia and daffodils are blooming. Their bright golden color is just dazzling against the browns and grays of the lingering winter.

When I was a girl, the only daffodils I knew were the double ones. They were usually scrawny and lots of times they didn’t open fully, and consequently they just were not very attractive. My grandma had doubles, my aunts had them, Mama’s friends had them, everyone, first to last had double daffodils. Nobody had the single trumpet kind. I have often wondered if double was the only vairiety they sent up here to McNeely’s General Store, where I suspect the local folks got their bulbs way back then. But I remember down at Boyleston we had doubles at the place where we lived. And also at the house near Brevard.

I have trumpet daffodils that I planted, but, would you believe there were only double daffodils here when I came. Jack had dug up some from his great grandparents’ place at Waddle Mountain and they planted them here. I didn’t know until recently how old those daffodils were. And that’s what I am getting to with this article.

Daffodils are self sufficient and tenacious. I guarantee you that after they were planted nobody ever did one more thing for those double daffodils Jack brought up the mountain to here so many years ago. And I will also guarantee you that they had been growing at that old homeplace on Waddle Mountain untold years with no attention whatever. Nobody petted them, or fertilized them, or encouraged them.

Unless their habitat is destroyed daffodils will go on and on and on. I remember finding a patch of daffodils in a row in the Pisgah National Forest. At first I was baffled at finding this sure evidence of civilization in such an out of the way place, but then I realized that wooded place had once been a farm. Daffodils are not native to the U.S. and had to be introduced. If you find them in the woods, look around for an old chimney or a other evidence of an old homestead.

Jack's double daffodils

Jack’s double daffodils

Daffodils then, as now, were universally loved and easy to grow. They were passed around so that any woman who wanted some could start with a handful of bulbs and in a few years have a nice flower patch of the bright golden beauties.

And years later when that woman’s cabin has crumbled into dust, and nothing remains of her old place but the gnarled dead stump of an apple tree, the daffodils that she planted will fling open their petals every spring, for no other reason except that she put them there.

Maybe you need to put some, somewhere.

 

 

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Tadpoles and eggs

Tadpoles and eggs

We have a little seep at a low place in the field where a little water runs all the time, a place ideal for small frogs. I love to hear them sing. They are mostly tenor and mezzo soprano, and proud of it. This time of year they are in celebration mode. The sound of their music carries a long, long way.

My love for tadpoles had its origin in my childhood. Mama found some frog eggs somewhere and brought them home. She put them in a deep dish on the back porch and forbade little hands to touch. That spring we watched with wonder as the eggs hatched and the little tadpoles put on their front legs, then their back legs, and their tails went away. Mama put a rock in the dish so the little frogs could climb out of the water when they were old enough. By that time she had placed a scrap of screen wire over her miniature pond to keep the little critters from jumping out. They were little bitty fellas, about an inch long, more or less, roughly the same size as these that are hatching right now.

The adults are small, about four inches long until they jump and then they spread out quite a ways. I see them sometimes as I walk by their little home, jumping from the bank into the water. They are afraid of me.

Tiny tadpole pond, with algae

Tiny pond with tadpoles

Before long the algae will thicken along the edges of their pond and you won’t see them very much. Tadpoles eat algae as they grow. Perhaps big frogs do also. I am not sure.

It looks like hundreds of tadpoles hatch, but we don’t end up with very many frogs (which might be a good thing, when one thinks of the plague of frogs in Egypt; they were even in the bread dough.) (Exodus 8:3) Snakes and other predators perhaps eat them.

March is concert time, and we are enjoying the music. Grandma always said the opera music Grandpa listened to sounded like frogs. Could be true; their song is really lovely.

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