Archive for the ‘Lake Toxaway’ Category

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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Quebec Home

Quebec Home

This time of year I can not help remembering Christmas Past. There was a time when I was younger when I felt that life began after Christmas. The hard part of the year was the end, and once I got past that I could manage. I am not the only one for whom Christmas was (is) a wincing pain, to be endured until friends or family have had their little deal. Untold numbers of people today are only too glad for Christmas to be over.

I thank God that the pain of those years is now only a memory. And it’s not because I’m married now, and life is good.  It is because the Lord led me step by step, by little and by little, away from pain into peace, until finally the pain was gone. Today I can remember that pain, but I can not feel it any more.

It happened during the years I lived at Quebec, fifteen in all. I am brimful of stories from that time. So many astounding things took place. One of them was a real White Christmas.

In North Carolina, unless you live at the crest of the Smokies, it is rare to consistently experience snow at Christmastime. Here in the mountains we have snow fairly often, but not necessarily when we want it, such as December 24th after we have finished our shopping.

I don’t remember what year it was — some time in the late 90’s. Nor do I remember the exact day the snow began falling — maybe Christmas Eve, maybe the day before. I was off from my job for a few days, which was good, for I was never one to drive in new snow. It was beautiful, and I didn’t have to go anywhere so I sat beside the stove and watched it from the living room. It snowed and snowed and snowed until there were ten or twelve inches I guess.

Not enough to keep the four wheel drive trucks from rolling. My house was somewhat hidden, but near the road. I could always hear the traffic going by, and Christmas Eve was no exception, snow or not. But gradually their rumblings became farther and farther apart, and as night drew near an unusual stillness began to settle over the valley.  What was it?  Why had the vehicles stopped passing? And then I realized: It was Christmas Eve — the one night when all self respecting coon hunters, road runners, good old boys and girls, and their kids, stayed home and waited for Santa.

I eventually had to go out to get some firewood to feed my stove. The snow had stopped falling. A pale moon lit up the whole valley. There was no noise, no sound at all except the far away rushing of the creek. The stillness was almost tangible.

I took my wood back inside, chunked it into the stove, and went for my coat and cap. I stood in the snow for a long time that night, under the bare limbs of the big dogwood tree, looking at the white fields below me, and listening to the silence of Christmas Eve, savoring what I knew was a once in a lifetime experience.

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witch hazel

witch hazel

I first saw them in the cold of winter, shivering on the banks of the West Fork of the French Broad River, their golden petals nevertheless unfurled, glowing in the thin rays of the December sun. I was amazed at their audacity. Nor were there merely one or two little flowers, struggling to put forth one last show before finally giving up the ghost. Oh,no! The whole bush was bursting with bloom. I didn’t know what they were, but I had heard of the winter flowering shrub, the witch hazel. And that is what it was – a native witch hazel.

After I married Jack and came up here I discovered we had a witch hazel above the spring, a small tree, really. I didn’t notice it until winter, when it bloomed. In the summer I was able to see the fruit and the leaf of this curious bush and I am now able to identify it by the fruit.

Yesterday I noticed a small one in full bloom in the campground and was able to get a good photo of the blossom.

Witch hazel is used as an astringent. It is a treatment for swellings and wounds, as well as  skin problems such as acne and psoriasis. The use of its twigs for divining rods led to its reputation as a witch.

Witch hazel is a plant of encouragement. When summer has passed, the sap has gone down and the world’s turned gray the brave withch hazel puts forth its frostproof tentacles and toughs it out until spring.

I reckon we can do the same. 

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Hickory King corn, a good variety for grits. A very tall corn.

Hickory King corn, a good variety for grits. A very tall corn.

When I was growing up here in Transylvania County we never ate grits. I was an adult before I ever tasted them. And I have to say I cared not for them then. I found them blah, bland and tasteless. But I learned to add salt; and with butter they got better. Now I have them two or three times a week or more. They grow on you.

And no, they don’t grow on bushes. I knew a man once who enjoyed spinning a yarn occasionally. He particularly delighted in telling Yankees how he harvested grits in the fall, shaking them off the grit bushes into a sheet!

There are two types of grits – hominy, and corn. However hominy is corn. So actually, all grits are corn. The difference is in the processing, or lack of it. To make hominy, corn must be soaked in lye or a similar agent until it swells and pops off its husk. The result is a softer grain that when cleaned and dried grinds easily into grits. Almost all grits sold in supermarkets and eaten by consumers today are hominy grits.

Hominy can be eaten as it is after processing. I remember hominy being served at meals from time to time when I was a child. A grain of corn having become hominy is quite a bit larger than its original size, and the taste is different from that of ordinary corn. My aunt Edna told a funny story about the time Grandma left her and my mother in charge. They decided to cook dried hominy. They built the fire in the stove, put on a pot of water, and poured in as much hominy as they thought they needed for supper. If you’ve ever cooked hominy grits you know how much water it takes, even for a small amount. Well, their hominy slurped up the water and was soon expanded to double its size or more and boiling out of the pot. Before their escapade was over, they were cooking hominy in the dishpan.

Corn grits are not as readily available as hominy grits. They are mostly found in specialty shops and farm markets. Grits are almost, but not quite, corn meal. They are prepared by simply grinding whole corn into the proper size and consistency – a little coarser than coarse corn meal. Corn grits take longer to cook; they are “grittier” than hominy grits and more flavorful.

If your ground corn is too coarse for grits, then it’s chicken feed — too fine, it’s corn meal. And you need to know also: corn meal is not just for corn bread. Old folks used to cook it with milk or water for “mush” that they ate with milk and sugar. That’s not my idea of tasty, but Jack says it was very good. I never ate mush, but I will swear by corn meal gravy. There’s just nothing better in the gravy line. Just use your regular recipe and substitute corn meal for flour. The flavor and texture is far better. And then there is Italian polenta, which is also ground corn, but about which I know practically nothing.

I learned to like hominy grits and I must confess to having learned also to enjoy non-hominy corn grits now that I have learned the proper way to cook them. I was using too much water and consequently they were thin and tasteless.  And bitter also. But the bitter taste I found is not typical of corn grits, but was due to the poor quality of that one particular batch of corn.

Like a lot of folks who are senior citizens now, we didn’t have a lot of anything when I was growing up, and that included food. When we had meat, which was not too often, it was squirrel, rabbit, or little fried fish my daddy caught. But we were well fed. Mama always managed to get milk for us. And we had those wonderful staples – pinto beans – and corn bread. We didn’t know the importance of that humble combination at the time, and I was amazed years later when my cousin pointed it out to me. The beans and the corn bread constituted a complete protein!

The Lord does provide!

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Night after night from July until cold katydid enlargedweather the katydids provide background music for all outdoor activities here. Even when I am inside, I can hear them if I listen carefully.  Sometimes their constant strumming gets to be a little much, and I long for the silence of early summer evenings.

A few katydids almost always arrive at Toxaway around the 23rd of July and begin practicing their music as they wait for others to join them. They were late this year by a week or more, but finally they all made it in.

When the katydids arrive I remember Grandma’s laughter and her story about Bella Jablonski, the city girl from Brooklyn who came to visit her. Bella was Aunt Altha’s friend. They were both student nurses at the Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn, New York at the time, and Aunt Altha had invited Bella to the mountains for a short vacation. Bella was completely ignorant of farm life; Grandma said Bella mistook the rooster’s crow for the lowing of the cow. I guess that’s possible if you’ve heard neither.

Well, of course Bella had never heard katydids performing in concert, and nobody thought to tell her of their all nighters.  Grandma’s was a board and batten farmhouse that let in not only the heat and the cold, but every sound.

The first morning of Bella’s visit Grandma asked her guest if she had slept well, whereupon Bella replied that she had not. When Grandma asked her what the trouble was Bella told her, “It was the bugs! The bugs scraped the wall all night long!”

The katydids have gone to scraping in the daytime now as well as evening, and their buzzing fills each sunlit afternoon.  They are very docile now and easy to photograph. I found one on the porch railing today.




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cornbreadBefore I tell you about this delicious cornbread it is appropriate that I say this bread is food for the stomach. There is another Bread that sustains real life, and that is Christ, the true Bread from Heaven. You can read what Jesus said when he called himself the Bread of life in the Bible – John chapter 6.

In these three dimensions however, there is no bread, nowhere, to compare with this delicious old fashioned soda bread. It contains no flour and no sugar. I make it almost every day and it is soon devoured by me and my husband Jack and the dog Bruno, if he’s lucky.

Several years ago Jack bought an old gristmill, nearly a hundred years old. Lacking a waterfall of suitable size to power his gristmill, he bought an old hit and miss gasoline motor of the same vintage and soon he was grinding corn. Recently he bought wheat and now we have whole wheat flour. Whole wheat is good, I guess, if you have time and patience to make yeast bread. But…why bother, when corn bread tastes simply divine and cooks up in a minute.

I cook mine in a tabletop convection ovenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that I bought for around a hundred dollars last winter. One of the best investments I ever made for my kitchen! Here’s how you do it:

Grease a small cast iron pan and place in oven. I use an 8 inch pan. Heat to to 400 – 450. While oven is heating measure a little over a cup of coarse ground corn meal and sift it into a bowl. Throw away whatever does not go through the sifter, and don’t push it or bread will be over-crunchy Add a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of soda and mix in. Add one egg and some oil or bacon grease, a tablespoon or two. Do not mix at this point. When the pan is hot add about a cup of buttermilk and mix everything up quickly. Take pan from oven and pour excess melted grease that is in pan into the batter and mix in. Pour the batter into the pan and return pan quickly to oven. In a few minutes you will have a cake of the best cornbread on the planet.

Do not substitute sweet milk for buttermilk. The chemical reaction between the sour buttermilk and the soda is what causes the bread to rise.

This recipe is based on a recipe I found on the internet. Unfortunately I can no longer find it to give credit to my source. I do remember that the lady who posted it said her mother (or perhaps her grandmother) made this bread every day for her family. I can certainly see why. I am certain it was much in demand.

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One of Jack’s Flying Squirrels

About a week ago Jack came in after feeding his chickens telling me, ” I like to got scared to death. I reached into the corn barrel to dip out some corn, and something jumped and run up my arm like a streak of lightnin’. It was a gray squirrel.”

It happened to him again not long afterwards. Then one morning I went into the shed to pour a new sack of corn into the barrel. Something ran out of the barrel just like Jack said, like a streak of lightning. I saw its tail as it disappeared. It was a squirrel sure enough. Then, just as I was about to dump 50 pounds of corn down into the barrel I saw something dark down in there. I pulled the barrel to the door where the light was coming in. There they were, three little bitty squirrels.

Jack put on some gloves and got them out, one by one. We put them in a bird cage. They climbed the sides of the cage and then I saw their little gliders, the little folds of skin between their front and back legs. They were flying squirrels, just barely big enough to be weaned.  It took a while to convince Jack they were not gray squirrels, but he sees the difference now.

We put them on the stove next to Jack’s pullet and gave them cracked corn to eat. After all, that is where we found them, in the corn barrel. They didn’t want cracked corn to eat, but it made a nice bed to curl up in. They curled up in little balls and slept. I gave them squash; I gave them bananas, we shelled peanuts for them, and nothing pleased them. Finally I went down to the shed and got some of Jack’s bird seeds. They dove in. Whew! I was afraid they would starve to death.

I had a flying squirrel that frequented my back porch at night when I lived at Quebec.  I suppose it was hunting fresh vegetables that I kept out there. When I turned the light on, it was blinded and  did not run away, so I was able to get a good look at it. That’s how I recognized these little creatures.

Jack has been getting one at a time out and rubbing its head. If one ever gets loose, I will never be able to catch it. They are incredibly fast. And very sweet. However I don’t want to take one up. They will bite you!

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Jack’s Pullet

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned Jack’s love for feathered creatures, any kind of bird, large or small.  We have two egg incubators and heretofore Jack has had some luck hatching eggs. But this year he seems to have lost his touch. Maybe the incubator he is using is wearing out or something. I think he has thrown out three sets of eggs. One batch got so far along that I could hear the baby chicks “peep! peep!” but the shells never opened. It’s kind of sad.

Jack’s Pullet, Age One Day

The last time about four hatched, but only one lived. We have kept it in a box on our old wood cookstove with a lamp shining in. Jack is so enamored of the little creature. When it was only a day old he reached in the box and picked it up and held it in his hands. “Ain’t it pretty?” he said, “I believe it’s a pullet.”

Well, I nearly died laughing. Only Jack would hazard a baby chick’s sex at the age of one day. Wishful thinking I say; he needs pullets, for eggs.

However, now that it has feathered out and sprouted such a pretty little tail, (Young pullets have better tails than young roosters. )  I think it just might be a pullet.

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