The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Friday, March 31, 2006

Appalachian Snake Handling - A Ritual of Faith

Image: Carl Porter, pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, has been handling snakes since 1971. Though bitten a dozen times, he continues to advocate snake-handling. When he opened his church 25 years ago only 15 people attended; there are now about 100 in his congregation.

The practice of serpent-handling began in some of the churches in Appalachia in the early 1900s and remains an observance in some places today, from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Its popularity has increased and diminished through the years. According to Ralph Hood, a professor of social psychology and the psychology of religion at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, serpent handling is currently at a rather low level of popularity. Such fluctuations are characteristic of a faith that persists throughout Appalachia.

Serpent handling has always been controversial and in many areas it is illegal, yet it shows no signs of disappearing from its traditional home in Appalachia.

For these practitioners of serpent-handling, handling snakes is simply following the gospel to the letter. They say that other folks don't do this because their churches don't believe, or it's just something they're scared of, “They come to that scripture but want to jump over that part because it's a deadly thing," says Junior McCormick a serpent-handling pastor from Georgia.

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.'' -Mark 16:18, the King James Bible

Image Right: Junior McCormick, left, has been handling fire and snakes for more than 20 years.

Historically, the practice of serpent-handling church services was in poor, isolated rural areas, but that's no longer the case. Some churches where this is practiced are near cities like Atlanta, Georgia, and Middlesboro, Kentucky, and the middle Appalachian region itself is less rural than it used to be. While there are a number of churches with small congregations, with a dozen or so members still exist throughout the heart of Appalachia, the faith is also practiced in the neighboring states of Ohio and Alabama.

Like other Christian fundamentalists, serpent handlers' beliefs are rooted in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

Tom Burton, a professor emeritus at East Tennessee State University and author of “Serpent Handling Believers, an authoritative study of the belief,” has attended many snake-handling services and studied the practice for over 30 years. Burton says that much of what goes on at such churches would be familiar to other Christians.

"If you were there when they were not taking up serpents, or even during other parts of a service where they did, it would be like many other Pentecostal groups," There is singing, preaching, laying on of hands, praying, testifying, and that sort of thing. It's kind of an expressive church service where people freely share emotions, a very participatory service like most Pentecostal services."

But those anointed by the Holy Spirit answer the calling by taking up the deadly reptiles or by drinking poisons. Burton says, "Only certain individuals commonly handle serpents, and it goes without saying that they warn people: 'If you're not directed by the Holy Ghost to do this, you'd better not.'"

To learn more about this practice, visit Serpent Handlers.

Images: from The Augusta Chronicle

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Murderous Mary

The year is 1916 and the circus is coming to town. Being a railroad town, Erwin Tennessee is a perfect stop for Sparks World Famous Shows, a 15 rail car traveling circus. Excitement was growing as the tents were set up and the performers were preparing to entertain the crowds that wold come out of the show of a lifetime. But it wasn't just another circus show that they were coming for. The show that was promised was free of charge and would be a first for any circus in the world. On this the 13th day of September the most notorious killer in the history of Tennessee was to be put to death and the crowds were invited to watch.

As the owner Sparks World Famous Shows, Charlie Sparks knew how to please a crowd. Born the of English music hall performers, by the time he was eight years old he was performing with the highly acclaimed Jack Harvey Minstrels as a drummer and World Champion Clogger. After his father died, he sang and danced on street corners to earn money to support his widowed mother.

Charlie's circus career began when, on a stop in Utah, he and his mother met a vaudeville performer named John H. Weisman. Weisman was impressed with young Charlie's performing skills, and befriended both Charlie and his mother. They became so close that, when Charlie's mother became ill with tuberculosis, she asked Weisman to care for Charlie. Shortly thereafter, Weisman adopted Charlie, but took the unusual step of changing his own last name to Sparks - perhaps because it was a more "circus sounding" name. They performed together until1890. In 1901 Charlie was 25 years old and his father had grown tired of traveling and purchased a hotel in Winston-Salem North Carolina. In a strange sort of circus fate, John H. sparks was bitten by a lion in the zoo he had constructed near the hotel which caused an infection and eventually ended his life. Charlie was now in full control of the circus and he knew that for the show to survive he had to take advantage of the network of railroads that were growing across the country. Around 1903 Charlie finally had everything in place to take the show to the rails with one rail car and performing animals.

The star performer of the show was Mary the giant Asian elephant and was billed as the “Largest Living Land Animal on Earth” weighing in at over 5 tons and standing three inches taller than Jumbo, the star of the Barnum and Bailey circus. Mary entertained crowds all over the country by standing on her head, playing musical instruments and throwing a baseball. But none of these skills compared to the enormous size of Mary.

While on a stop in St. Paul Virginia, Red Eldridge a worker at the Riverside Hotel asked the head elephant trainer for a job, he was hired and made under keeper to the elephants. After the show in St. Paul the cars headed south to Kingsport Tennessee were they were to join in the county fair by parading through the streets. What happened after this has been the a topic of debate since September 12th 1916. The most popular version of this story is that Mary was being led to a ditch for watering. When she suddenly stopped and was reaching for a piece watermelon that was on the ground when Eldridge prodded her with a stick to keep her moving. Mary grabbed Eldridge and lifted him into the air and tossed him back to the ground and into a drink stand and by some accounts used her foot to stomp the head of Eldridge. As the crowd screams and begins to panic and run fearing for their lives, Charlie runs over to calm Mary and sees the mangled body of Eldridge on the ground. Demands by the crowd forced Charlie to make a decision about the fate of his most famous performer. A request was made to Clinchfield Railroad to secure the use of their 100 ton derrick to end the life of Mary by hanging. Clinchfield refused to move the derrick to Kingsport due to a heavy rainy season that might require it to be moved farther south to aid in emergency operations. If Charlie wanted to use the derrick he would have to move the animal to the rail yard in Erwin. In the early morning of September 13th in a heavy fog, a chain was placed around the neck of the giant elephant and the order was made to lift Mary from the ground. Some say that the first attempt hang her was failed due to the chain breaking as she was lifted. A larger chain was then used to hoist Mary and hold her until she was dead. As she was lifted into the air, a crew was working using a steam shovel to dig a grave in the rail yard where she would be placed once she was dead. No marker was placed and the exact location of her grave has been lost to time. Many versions of this story have been passed around but one thing is certain, Mary was hung by the neck until dead on a rainy, foggy and chilly morning and forever engraved a place for the small mountain community of Erwin in the history books. By some accounts there was only one person who protested and tried to stop the execution. The man who wanted to put a stop to the hanging of Mary was blind and couldn't even see what was about to take place right in front of him. This man just so happens to be a distant relative of mine who has long since passed and was buried less than five miles from the same rail yard that holds the remains of the largest murderer in Tennessee's history.

(all photos from the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Typical Mountain Woman

Part 3: Into the World
Ruby Howell belonged to the Brethren Church in her girlhood, and her mother was a member of Mountain View Methodist Church. There is no record of Sam Underwood's church affiliation in his younger days, but family stories mention that he drove the horse and buggy to church on Sundays, so it may have been to one of these denominations. Primitive Baptist and Missionary Baptist churches were also present in the mountain communities during the early years of Ruby's life.
In the early 1920s, Presbyterian mission schools were founded throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains. Pastors and young women teachers came to the mountains, bringing new ideas from cities and towns and founding new churches in the Meadows of Dan area. Robert Childress, a Patrick County native from Ararat, became a Presbyterian minister and was famous for the native field stone churches he built across Patrick, Floyd and Carroll Counties. Sam Underwood became a member of Slate Mountain Presbyterian Church, served as elder and deacon, and helped with the building of the church that now stands on the crest of the mountain above Rock Castle. There are two "rock crystals" or quartz stones embedded in the wall near the front door, which Sam brought out of the mountain. All of the remaining family at home attended this church after the congregation was formed.

Ruby's life revolved around church and family, but it wasn't long before a young man began to call. William Cruise Howell was the son of Jeff and Loucinda Howell and distantly related to the Underwood family. Jeff had a mill beside his home on Dan River, not far from Rock Castle. The Howell family was smaller than the Underwood clan, with only three daughters and one son.

Jeff Howell was a fiddle and banjo player in the old-time tradition. He was never a professional musician, probably playing occasionally with local bands at dances or for his own entertainment. He played with Charlie Poole when Poole's band came through the area. Poole was well known for entertaining at illicit drinking houses and local tradition has it that such a place existed not far from Jeff's home. Charlie Poole was well-known in Southwest Virginia as a gifted musician and his banjo style was unique for the time.

Cruise Howell inherited his father's love of music and his talent. He learned to play the banjo and guitar just as bluegrass was beginning to grow out of the old-time and blues sound of the mountains. He also did not become a professional musician, joining local bands to perform at casual entertainments in the community. A strong musical tradition existed in the Blue Ridge Mountains from the times of earliest settlement. The local performers in Meadows of Dan had a style all their own, developed in isolation before the improvement of the roads.

Even when Ruby had her sights set on education, she probably always assumed she would be married and raise a family. There were hints from family conversations of other young suitors. "Dating" or courting in those days involved going to family and church events with a young man; or with groups of friends for walks or rides in the community. By the late 1920s and early 1930s automobiles were becoming common in the area, thanks to the improving road system. Route 8 was built up the mountain from Woolwine to Floyd and present Route 58 came through Meadows of Dan on the way from Danville to Wytheville. A group of young people might ride with the parents to church or to shape note singing schools, a community gathering teaching music by the shape of the note head. There were gatherings called "box suppers" to raise money for church or school activities. The single girls would prepare a meal that was put in a box or basket and then at the supper the boys would bid for the right to share the meal with the girl. If the other boys knew a particular boy was sparking a special girl, they would bid against him to run up the price. He had to win, of course, because he couldn't let his girl eat supper with another boy. These activities were declining, with the introduction of new ideas from other areas. Dances became more common, although there were still religous groups that disapproved of dancing. In Meadows of Dan groups of people got together to play setback, a card game that was also frowned upon by some.

Cruise, Ruby and their first daughter, LaNita

Cruise and Ruby were married June 10, 1934, by a Primitive Baptist preacher, Matt Conner, who was a relative of the Underwood family. They set up housekeeping in the Mountain View area of Meadows of Dan, where Cruise farmed and was a convict guard for the county or state. Their first daughter, LaNita, was born in 1935 at home.

Ruby's life was affected more by changes in the outside world after her marriage. Travel was hard when she was a child; she was a teenager before she even rode as far away as Floyd, less than 15 miles from her home in Rock Castle. When she married the Depression was in full swing, although the economic crisis didn't change things much for mountain families, who lived by subsistence farming and saw little cash after the loss of the chestnut crop. The construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, however, had a huge impact on the small community where Ruby grew up.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was a Civilian Conservation Corps project that was implimented during the desperate days of the Depression to put men to work. Camps were set up at stategic locations and land was purchased from local people along the crest of the Blue Ridge. People assented with varying degrees of willingness to the sale of their land; some thought the Parkway would provide a good North-South route for pubic transportion and serve the community. Others were reluctant but eventually the land was purchased along the route.

Underwood Family at 'new' house

Along the Parkway, parcels of land were purchased to become part of the National Forest Service land. The reasons for the move are now obscure, but the government purchased the land surrounding the community of Rock Castle, and the remaining citizens moved out of what has now become known as Rock Castle Gorge. Sam Underwood owned property at the top of the mountain near Slate Mountain Church, and he and his wife, along with their remaining children, made their home on this parcel of the farm. Ruby commented that her father never voiced any resentment of the fact that the Parkway purchased the Rock Castle property.

The Works Progress Administration, created in 1935 to help boost the economy, provided jobs for many mountain men, including Cruise Howell by the end of the 1930s. In 1941 Cruise enrolled in mechanic's school in Roanoke under another government program. His year's training proved to be the only time that Ruby lived outside of Patrick County. Their daughter remembers going downtown to see movies on Saturdays and Ruby found that city life was very different than life in the country. They found out about cockroaches, crowds and how to deal with strangers. Cruise obtained a job with the railroad in Roanoke, but family ties called them home and they moved back to Meadows of Dan.

Ruby had two more children, and raised them through the turbulent 1960s. She raised gardens and hens, kept a cow and churned butter, and lived as a quiet mountain woman and farmer's wife. She was an excellent seamstress and quilter. Throughout her life she read constantly, and passed on her love of books to her children and grandchildren. One of her daughters graduated from college and her son served in the Air Force during the time of the Vietnam War. Her grandson, Sammy Shelor, is a well-known bluegrass muscian; Cruise taught Sammy to play on a banjo fashioned from a pressure cooker lid. Her granddaughter is a writer and artisan, inheriting the love of words and creating that run as deep as music in the mountains.

Ruby Underwood Howell's life is typical of the lives of Blue Ridge women during the changing times of the 20th Century. Much improved during those years; washtubs were replaced by wringer washers and then by sleek electric machines. Woodstoves gave way to electric ranges, gardens to grocery stores. Mountain people adapted, adopted, adjusted and accepted, with the stoic calm of their ancestors. But underneath the veneer of modern civilization that has spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains, the roots of the people are embedded deep. Ordinary people living quietly, passing on traditions, history, music, and a love of their gentle mountain home.

A Typical Mountain Woman, Part 1

A Typical Mountain Woman, Part 2

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway Needs Your Help

A group of, FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway, volunteers planted seedlings which will become a buffer of trees along a section of the Parkway in Roanoke County. The 200 seedlings the FRIENDS volunteers planted were donated by the Virginia Department of Forestry.

“Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway” is a non-profit, volunteer organization that is dedicated to preserving and protecting the Blue Ridge Parkway, a national treasure. Friends programs focus on preservation, protection and education.

As Susan Mills, from Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway said:

"People come for the views and if the views aren't there, visitation decreases and people do not come to the Blue Ridge Parkway."

Inflating gas prices have also contributed to less people visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, but there is a more immediate threat to the Blue Ridge Parkway that must be addressed now. Budget cuts, resulting in funding shortages, along with the politicizing of the National Park Service could be putting the Parkway in jeopardy.

This from “Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway:”

“Dear Friend,

I believe the Blue Ridge Parkway is in grave danger. After reading a New York Times editorial on the funding shortages and politicizing of the National Park Service, I want you to be aware of the crisis brewing for the Blue Ridge Parkway.” (Read more)

Petition Drive for FRIENDS Blue Ridge Parkway Funding Crisis

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Fly-Fishing; the Dry-fly

Image: by D L Ennis, Otter Creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Until the mid to late 1800’s the dry-fly did not exist; not until changes were made to wet flies by British anglers such as, the addition of tails to make the hook position proper. They added more flotation to the wet fly by winding them with collars of stiff hackles. The famous angler Frederic M. Halford recorded these changes in the many books he wrote in the late 1800’s. Dry-fly fishing came to America on February 22, 1890, when three-dozen English dry flies where sent from Frederic Halford to, American angler Theodore Gordon of New York.

Theodore Gordon knew that the insects in Britain’ rivers and streams were not quite like the insects in American waters, so using the English flies Halford had sent him, he modeled his American version of the flies, with the appropriate changes, after them. Mr. Theodore Gordon gave us the legendary "Quill Gordon" and the "Light Cahill" as well as many others.

A lot of fishermen withdraw from trying dry-fly fishing, fearing that it may be too difficult to master. Dry-fly fishing can be quite challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. It has been said that, "the art of dry-fly fishing is the ultimate method of angling". I agree, for fishing the dry fly requires an exceedingly close imitation of the actual insect in hatch, a meticulous presentation and delicate tackle to be successful.

Mayflies are the most important, of all species of water born flies, to the dry-fly angler. Once the Mayfly emerges it is called a dun, as the wings are dun-colored; a dull grayish brown. The duns will spend hours or even days perched in bushes or low tree limbs over the water prior to their final transformation. During this transformation they molt, becoming spinners, more brightly colored and to some extent, different in size and shape, with three long tails. The spinners, as they are known at this stage, and often times in dense multitudes, plunge quickly downward and glide more slowly upward in a dancing flight while they mate. The females, then skimming the water, lay their eggs. Seemingly exhausted, their wings spread becoming uncontrollable and they fall to die as spentwings.

Sometime in May, June, or July, most often just before dark is when this happens and the trout indulge with a passion, gorging themselves darting about eating all they can. At this time trout will hit any reasonable facsimile in dry flies. The angler should try to imitate not only these three stages of the mayflies life, but also, the many colors and sizes of the assorted subspecies which hatch from time to time during the season. This presents an amazing complexity in fly patterns. Fly-fishing purist will go to no end to try and match a particular hatch, while the less fastidious anglers feel that a few representations are adequate.

The second most important insect to the dry fly angler would be the Caddis flies. Caddis flies look like small moths with long feelers and tent-like folded wings. Between April and June, their various types emerge, flying over the water in erratic meandering swarms. They are none as miller and sedge flies. After hatching and mating, the female miller and sedge flies will crawl down branches or blades of grass into the water to lay their eggs, after which they die. Trout in areas where this takes place will be shallow with their noses near the surface waiting for their meal. The angler should use flies of the miller and sedge type with a heavy hackle to avoid hanging up in the grasses. Here you would cast to the grasses or bank and slowly pull the fly into the water. Caddis flies will also fly over fast water sections of rivers and streams in an erratic way coming near the surface. On these occasions use a fly of similar color and size and skitter it across the water.

Image Right: Stonefly/golden pattern, Used with permission from Centralflies.

The stonefly is likely the third most important insect to the dry fly angler. Stoneflies will sometimes appear before ice is off of northern lakes. You may see them in shades of gray, black and brown. They average near one inch in length and have two pairs of wings, which fold flat against their body when not in flight. They will dip their abdomens into the water while in flight to lay their eggs; they may also crawl beneath the water to lay their eggs. Some good flies that can be used to imitate stoneflies are Adams, Brown Sedge and Grannom. The black, brown or gray Wooly Worm is alleged to be taken for a stonefly.

It would be quite difficult to say whish dry flies would be best, as it would depend upon your location and many other factors. The best thing you could do is start with some of the classic flies and build your collection from there. Flies such as the Black Gnat, Blue Dun, Cahill Light, Quill Gordon, Royal Coachman, Spentwing Adams, and White Wulff would be some good choices of flies to keep with you while fly-fishing. During the summer, though frowned on as being called dry flies, the grasshopper, small green caterpillar, and bumblebee are sometimes good to have. As I said earlier keep some of the classic dry flies and when you travel stop into a local tackle shop and ask what is working at the time in local waters.

Dry fly fishing is the ultimate for me, the rush that comes when that trout comes to the surface of the water, taking that fly is plenty enough for me too keep coming back for more. If you have never tried fly-fishing with dry flies, please do yourself a favor and try it, you will not be sorry!

Now grab some flies and your fly rod and go fly-fishing!

Also read, Ever Been Fly-fishing?

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #4: Unusual Mallards

Among the many challenges faced by a beginning birder is how to handle birds that do not look quite right. Most birds look more or less like the pictures in the field guides; others show a range of variation, but are close enough to identify with a minimum of difficulty. Yet others can differ quite substantially, particularly in plumage. In some cases this is due to albinism or leucism, variations in which a bird is extraordinary white-colored. In other cases, melanism - extreme darkness - is the cause. Hybridization is another frequent cause of variation.

Some bird groups are more prone to these than others. Rock pigeons, for one, are well-known for occurring in many different color morphs, probably thanks to selective breeding of domesticated pigeons. Waterfowl, especially the common mallards, are also highly variable.

On a recent walk I ran into this odd pair.

The two ducks pictured above are both mallards, a male and a female. They seemed to be a pair since they stuck close by each other for the whole time I observed them. I have seen these two before at the same location, and each time they appeared to be together.

What appears so unusual about these two is that the female is extremely light, and the male is extremely dark. Unfortunately, because the light was not ideal, the contrast does not come through completely in these photographs.

While most female mallards are a medium-brown, this bird was a very light brown, almost sandy-colored. The contrast between light and dark patches on her body was much stronger than on a normal mallard.

Her apparent consort was, in turn, far darker than normal male mallards. The head was dark green, as on most males. His breast was duller than the chestnut that characterizes mallards. But the contrast was most noticeable on the wings and flanks. These parts on a normal male are generally pale to medium gray. On this bird, both wings and flanks were a very dark gray-brown.

Both of these birds are clearly mallards, but appear much different from other members of their species. So, how does one make this identification with confidence? In a case like this, shape and behavior hold the key. These two birds were associating closely with a large flock of mallards, and engaging in the same sorts of activities as the rest: combing through the grass while on the shore, and dabbling for food while in the water. The close association with mallards allowed me to compare the relative size and bill shape with the other mallards in the area. All shape and size characteristics matched well. These are not the best photographs, but even from these, you can see that the underlying plumage patterns match those of mallards.

I think that these two are not hybrids. Usually hybrids show elements of both species involved. The most common mallard hybrid is a cross with a black duck. Some keys for identifying this cross are found here. Photographic examples can be found here.

Cross-posted at A DC Birding Blog.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Moment

Sammy Shelor and Company
Sammy Shelor and Company, Image by L. Shelor

"When the gates swing wide on the other side, just beyond the sunset sea..."

Spinning at the National Folk Festival and chatting to new friends about old mountain memories. Then I heard the soft, clear tones of my brother's banjo, played in a gentle manner far different from his usual driving bluegrass style. A tune I knew, and one that always takes my breath away on the rare occasions that I hear it.

"There'll be room to spare as we enter there. There'll be room for you and room for me...."

Mountain voices joined the sound of guitar, bass and banjo, capturing the attention of a small audience as dark clouds moved over the busy festival grounds. A moment like no other, captured in memory as the sweet words echoed through the air on a melody that seemed to say so much more than the simple lyrics could convey. It was only a moment, a pause in a day that had been filled with new faces, satisfying work and voices. The murmur of the crowd rose up as the song ended and people drifted in and out, the family story I was telling continued and was commented on, the music swirled around us in a quicker tune. But it was still a moment, never to be repeated, with echoing effects not to be judged or known.

The song is "50 Miles of Elbow Room" by F. W. McGee and recorded by artists from the Carter Family to Iris Dement. What this song says to me is what I think religion should be. Open, inclusive, with room for everyone of faith, however they think and however they chose to live. Religion with gates 100 miles wide, imagine.

And somehow the lyrics speak to me of the mountains, of my ancestors coming to this wild wide land from cramped poverty in Europe. The mountains, old, welcoming, still providing a haven above the crowds. Elbow room.

But none of that really has anything to do with the fact that in Richmond, during a busy folk festival, there was a very special moment.

This article was originally posted to At the Top of Squirrel Spur on October 19, 2005.

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The Yankee Horse Trail

Along the Parkway are examples of just about every form of 19th-century industrial development. Yankee Horse Ridge Parking Area (milepost 34.4) has a short stretch of reconstructed narrow-gauge railroad track once known as the Irish Creek Railway, along with an exhibit on logging in the area. Yankee Horse is allegedly where a hard-riding Union man's horse fell and had to be shot. As you walk by the reconstructed spur of the old logging railroad you will see Wigwam Falls, a humble but beautiful waterfall, especially when there has been ample rainfall.

The Yankee Horse trail is the quintessential Parkway leg-stretcher trail. Great views of Wigwam Falls combine with an interesting exhibit about the logging railroads that carried off the region’s virgin timber; you really must make this stop on your journey along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

On the Blue Ridge Parkway, the interpretive trails communicate an amazing sense of how people affected the mountain environment. If you open yourself to the possibilities, you’ll start noticing the remains of old cabin sites and stone walls where you’d least expect them. The Yankee Horse trail will change the way you look at trails wherever you hike in the eastern United States.

If you have an interest in railroad history in the Blue Ridge you will want to read this very interesting article, “The Danville and Western Railroad” by Wayne Kirkpatrick!

I would like to thank, D. Michele Maki for the use of the images of “The Yankee Horse Trail” and “Wigwam Falls.” Please visit Michele’ homepage here!

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Announcing the BRG Online Magazine

Thanks to the good people and writers of the Blue Ridge Gazette, and to you our readers, the BRG has launched an online magazine by the same name. The April issue of Blue Ridge Gazette.Net, is now online, and features some of the best articles from the Blue Ridge Gazette blog, plus two new articles: Meadows of Dan, Virginia and The Danville and Western Railroad.

At Blue Ridge you will also find a calendar of events taking place in the Blue Ridge Mountains throughout the year, writer’s guidelines, and much more. The magazine will continue to grow and there will be new features and extras coming along in the future so you may want to bookmark it, and a link to us is always appreciated!

The Blue Ridge Gazette blog will remain online and continue to grow as well as being updated daily!

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Friday, March 24, 2006

A Brief History of Mining in East Tennessee

Always a hot topic in modern culture especially among environmentalists, mining has made more than an impact on the environment but it has also found a place in the history books and in the hearts of many residents of the Appalachian region. Mining was among the first industries to come to these remote regions and provide jobs for many who would have had no other means of earning a living. Never among the highest paying jobs, mining for mineral deposits the ancient Romans are thought to be the first civilization to develop a means of extracting deposits from the ground and refining them into a usable form for weapons and tools. These same techniques are used today in the coal regions. Mining has touched many families in more than a financial way. Mining also claimed the lives of many men who provided the back breaking labor to extract the ore from the ground and move it to smelters for refining.
(view of Nolichucky River fom ShinBone Ridge)

Mining is thought to have started in East Tennessee in the 1770's in the Bumpass Cove area (pronounced Bump-us) near Embreeville in Washington and Unicoi Counties, a small mountain community located on the Nolichucky River in the southeastern corner of Washington County has a long mining history. Ores in the Bumpass Cove area, about three miles southeast of Embreeville, were first mined for lead and reportedly used in bullets fired at the British in 1780 in the battle of Kings Mountain. Smelting began as early as 1815, when Elijah Embree and others sporadically produced iron from the Bumpass Cove ores in beehive furnaces made from slabs of native rock found close to the operations. Ore from these mines were also shipped by rail to Charleston, SC to be used in the making of cannon barrels fired during the civil war or as we say down here, "The War of Northern In Aggression".

In 1889 English investors formed the Embreville, Iron and Railway Company (all successor companies corrected the spelling to "Embreeville.") Embreville Freehold purchased the forty-five-thousand-acre John Blair Estate, and in 1891 a railroad, later acquired by Southern Railway Company, was completed from Johnson City to Embreeville. That same year the company formed the Embreeville Town Company to develop a town of thirty thousand inhabitants. In 1892 the company completed a smelter with pig iron output of around 150 tons per day. All efforts to develop commercial iron production proved futile and in 1900 American interests took over the British holdings. The Embree Iron Company acquired the property in 1903 but was also unsuccessful in commercially producing pig iron. The company was able to stave off dissolution in 1913 when the presence of commercial zinc deposits was recognized. Embree Iron Company began producing zinc and then lead and quickly paid off its debts. Although ore reserves dwindled after World War I, the company continued to operate during the Great Depression. Manganese production began in 1935, and in 1939 the company was the nation's largest producer of metallurgical grade manganese concentrates, boasting an output of 73,000 tons. Manganese reserves were rapidly exhausted, however, and the company was liquidated in 1946. By 1951 the Appalachian Zinc Co. was reported to have shipped some zinc ore from these mines. As a result of this the The Appalachian Mining & Smelting Co. had begun active operations by the end of the year at its lead and zinc properties near Embreeville.

(photo of mine workers in Bumpass Cove)

Today the mines are silent, the landscape scarred forever. Remnants of the buildings and company owned homes still stand as a reminder of a time when iron was king and hard work was the rule of the day. My grandfather worked in these mines. I grew up playing in these mines. We hardly ever look at these lost and forgotten places with a smile on our face and a warm feeling in our hearts because of the impact these operations had on the world around us. Even more than that, the impact that these mines had on American history will not make the evening news, but in archives, photo albums and memories of those who lived the life of a miner, the 6pm news just would not understand the enormity of having to move a mountain with a pick and shovel just to feed your family.

Lee Smith

Lee Smith. The name for me evokes memories of long days spent happily lost in books that speak to the minds and hearts of mountain girls everywhere. Oral History, Family Linen, Black Mountain Breakdown, The Devil's Dream, Saving Grace, and my particular favorite, Fair and Tender Ladies. I know so many of the women in these books, and I have been one or two of them. Thought provoking, funny, tender, haunting; each book has a meaning far beyond the story. The richness of detail about mountain life, the deep understanding of the people and their ways and thoughts, and above all the portrayal of the changes that the modern world has inflicted on a proud people are woven into the stories.

The Friends of the Library in Floyd, with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, is hosting a wonderful series of author talks entitled "Celebrate the Past/Look to the Future". Lee Smith was the speaker at last night's gathering at the Presbyterian Church in Floyd, Virginia. Surrounded by wooden paneled walls, purple carpet and stained glass, Lee Smith was as charming and funny as her books. Haunting as well, as she spoke of personal experience and personal loss, inspiration for the writer from Grundy who grew up surrounded by story. Mountain people love story, playing with words and evoking emotion with family tales, complicated jokes and the richness of memory. Lee Smith's writings capture this love.

She spoke most about her more recent book, The Last Girls, another favorite of mine. I didn't realize that part of the plot was based on a trip she took in college down the Mississippi on a raft. Smith's description of this trip and the girls she traveled with rocked the large audience with laughter. Readings from the book describing the characters, accented in a true mountain voice, were both hilarious and touching. The charm of the writer echoed the charm of her books; she was funny, tender, thought-provoking and haunting, just like her written words.

She also talked about Fair and Tender Ladies, a novel written during a time of personal crisis for her. I think for a true writer the characters often take over the book, and Smith talked of Ivy Rowe, the main character in Fair and Tender Ladies, as if she were a friend. Ivy Rowe is the one character in all of her books that I can call to mind as a complete person. She is plucky and sensuous, proud and loving. Some of the reason may be that I saw an actress portray the character several years ago at the Reynolds Homestead here in Patrick County. After the program the director introduced favorite cousin and me to the actress. Mary startled me by describing me as sensuous. A bit of self-realization there, thanks to Lee Smith.

I looked around the audience as Lee Smith spoke. Floyd County is a unique blending of cultures. Women with deep roots that span generations in these mountains sat with women of different backgrounds, drawn to Floyd by the beauty of the countryside and feeling of community. Every face has a story, all unique, but all about the experience of being women in changing times. Lee Smith has captured these stories in the pages of her novels, speaking with tender understanding of the mountain people that are so often misrepresented and ridiculed. Speaking with pride in an accent that is fast becoming rare because of outside influences, these novels, as fiction, reveal more than truth about a disappearing time and generation.

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Dialectical Prejudice: an Observation

While dialectical prejudice used to be quite prevalent in the United States, I don’t see or hear of it quite so much anymore. I can remember the time when, as a southerner, I used to be faced with this form of narrow-mindedness and was ridiculed by those who practiced it.

I grew up on the coast of Virginia in a resort town, and, in a Navy family. People from all over the country ended up there, and of course as a child you deal with more of this form of mockery than as an adult; that is not say that I didn’t see adults participating in the same childish repartee.

In the Southern United States, some people think that all Northerners are rude as a result of the way they talk (their dialect). Conversely, in the Northern states some think that all
Southerners are ignorant for the same reason. Could it possibly be that it is plain “ole” everyday prejudice? Or, is there more to it?

Experience teaches us to associate certain accents and dialects with certain regions of our country, state, or even town. However accurate and innocuous this type of prediction might be, it can easily become a tool of discrimination. When someone’s place of origin is seemingly evident from the moment he open his mouth, prejudices against that area and its inhabitants may totally eclipse for the listener what the speaker is trying to communicate.

There are many things that can affect how people conceive other people to be. An attachment and loyalty felt within areas of a particular dialect could result in hate and prejudice for outsiders. This could be attributed to the past when groups of people were faced with conflict over insufficient natural resources, and in an environment of deficiency, individuals needed to band together in-groups to compete successfully with other groups for survival. Dialectical groups are bound communities of mutual trust and security; thus, psychologically they feel threatened by outsiders. The less that a dialectical group understands an outsider, the more threatened they feel by them, this promotes fear resulting in prejudice. Dialectical prejudice seems to be more prevalent between Northerners and Southerners; this could be, in part, due to the fact that prejudices of the Civil War era have been handed down form generation to generation.

As a Southerner, should one be distraught by the fact that some Northerners look at the southern states as being the proverbial harbor of ignorance? A good deal of the blame for this attitude could be attributed to entertainers on television, in theater, and movies portraying Southerners as being simpletons simply because the collective dialects of the south differ from those of the north.

One might believe he is impervious to this form of prejudice, and not allow it to affect them in a derogatory way; however, truth be told, deep down, it likely doesn’t set well with most, and some Southerners may take this form of prejudice personal in consequence of their heritage.

What it boils down to is that it is just human nature to ridicule, fear, or hate what we don’t understand. Some people are just so insecure or unhappy, that voicing their prejudices is the only way they can make or, better yet, fool themselves into feeling they are better than someone else. Maybe one day we’ll grow up and start behaving as though we are the superior beings of this planet that we profess to be; or maybe we have, to an extent.

Here is an interesting site:

Image from, “The Civil War Explorer

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ever been fly-fishing?

Ever been fly-fishing? I think that most people misunderstand and think that you have to be able to travel the world to exotic locations to go fly-fishing. A lot of you may think that using fly fishing equipment is too complicated to use. Wrong!

Handling a fly rod is so simple if, you have the proper equipment and a little instruction. You may say "I don’t know anyone who fly-fishes to help me get started". Sure you do! Even if you don’t have a shop that specializes in fly-fishing equipment in your area then surely there is a general fishing supply shop where you can seek advice. If not buy a book on fly fishing technique or a video, there are a lot of great videos available. Just do it!!

Did I say the proper equipment? Balance is key; if the fly line and rod are balanced to handle the type of flies, for the type of fishing that you will be doing, then you will be amazed by how easy it is to cast. In fly-fishing, the weight of the line carries the fly to the desired location, unlike in spinning or bait-casting where the weight of the lure being cast, pulls the line off the reel.

The weight of the line you ask. Yep, the weight of fly line ranges from #1 (3.5-4.3 grams) to #15 (34.3-36.9 grams), again this is an area where your fishing equipment dealer or a good book or video can help you. You must understand, that in fly-fishing you have to serve the fly to the fish in a natural way, as though it were an insect floating down stream.

There are a lot of technical aspects to fly fishing; however, it can be truly simple if you "don’t make a mountain out of a molehill", so to speak. Take it one step at a time! Start with the basics, which would be equipment, balanced for the kind of fishing that you want to do. Learn and practice the simple but delicate, fluid rhythm of the cast.

Reading good books on the subject of fly fishing, can not only teach you the technical side of this wonderful sport but, can help you to understand begin to understand the serenity that comes with the fly fishing experience.

The fly fisherman is a separate breed from other fishermen. Being on the water on a calm morning with not a ripple on the surface, and a soft fog drifting just above as you’re watching your line roll so softly across the water, while at the end of its journey, the fly lays gently on the surface. You let the fly sit quiet for a few seconds and then give it a twitch, ever so gently then, BAM, a fish breaks the water as it hits the fly. You set the hook, your adrenaline pumping, oh man what a feeling; you’ll be hooked!

Also read, Fishing the Dry-fly!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Lost Arts Guild

The Southern Appalachians have a rich tradition and heritage that have their roots in the earliest Anglo-pioneers of North America. As those earliest pioneers moved westward, they brought with them a lifestyle that supported them in their move.

Stores and other places of business didn’t exist on the early frontier. People were either adept at making clothing, shelter and either growing or killing food or they died. Only the strongest and heartiest survived to pass along their genes to their offspring.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that “food, shelter and clothing are needs; everything else are wants”. The earliest Anglo settlers knew this on an intimate level and could either provide for their every need or barter/trade with other skilled folks.

Blacksmiths would shoe horses, make nails, gun parts, knives and wagon rims for wheels, candleholders, door hinges and the like. Wood workers made wagons, cabins, tables, chairs, serving vessels, garden hoes and those things needed for shelter. Women were spinners and weavers making clothing and linens. They would save precious garden and flower seed for both food and beauty. Every frontier wife and mother also had a medicinal herb garden where feverfew and willow bark (precursor of aspirin) would calm headaches. Boneset would lessen the symptoms of influenza and comfrey was used to stop heavy bleeding and to aid in healing wounds and broken bones.

Children were given chores at an early age and would gather eggs from the setting hens, hoe weeds from the garden, gather firewood and card wool for the spinners. Boys would be given guns and taught to hunt as young as six or eight, depending upon size.

Every hand was needed for survival and everyone had many jobs and was expected to help. Chores would increase in scope and importance as children grew in age and size.

As time went by nails could be bought in a barrel in the store, bolts of cloth were purchased from the mills of the northeast, furniture was ready made and oil lamps replaced candles. People could afford the luxury of making things for the pleasure of making them. As money became a more easily obtainable commodity, people began buying mass produced items and things like spinning wheels and niddy noddy’s lay unused.

Life is cyclical though and, in time, what was old is new again.

“A group of like-minded Southern Appalachian folk who do things the old-fashioned way, one at a time, with their hands” got together because “artists and artisans value their connections with the mountains and with the long traditions of craftsmanship in rural highland Virginia.”

The Lost Arts Guild was born of a need to see the old ways not only reclaimed but shared with others. The Lost Arts Guild (LAG) was formed to celebrate our rich mountain heritage and to bring together people who enjoyed making things and keeping our culture alive.

The mission statement reads, “to provide a nurturing atmosphere in which crafts-people and artists, using natural and or organic materials may expand their areas of expertise and have a market-place to sell their wares. Further, to educate others by teaching our arts and crafts.”

Members believe strongly in not only supporting each other but also provide a venue for others to see first hand how a bench is carved from a tree trunk or how yarn is spun from sheep’s wool. LAG members take great pleasure in demonstrating their craft and go to great lengths to demonstrate and teach the history behind the spun yarn dyed with black walnuts, fungi or sumac or the pear shaped 4-string mountain dulcimer born in Virginia.

Charlie Butcher makes 4-string mountain dulcimers that sound as sweet as a Mother’s voice. He uses materials at hand such as downed cherry or walnut trees found on his Daddy’s farm. For the fretwork decoration he’ll use abalone shell that catch both the light and the viewer’s breath. His work is beautiful both in the way it looks and the way it plays and every dulcimer is meant to be played and savored. No wall adornments these, they bring so much more pleasure and enjoyment when stroked by loving and knowledgeable hands.

Charlie and his children are well known in Tazewell County for being musically inclined. Charlie plays the guitar, dulcimer and mandolin and his youngest son and daughter play the violin. Charlie and his wife Jeans’ oldest boy, Matt, plays the bass or stand-up fiddle as it’s sometimes called.

The pear shaped dulcimer is said to have originated in Virginia and a few years ago, Charlie made one for then recently elected Governor Warner. Charlie and Jean traveled to Richmond and, at the Tazewell County lobbying reception, Charlie played Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come No More. Mr. Foster published that tune in early 1855 and it reflected events in his life such as he and his wife separating for a time. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tune, especially sweet and poignant when played by Charlie on one of his hand crafted dulcimers.

Bud Thompson is a blacksmith, farrier and ironworker. Bud is a superb story teller and, while making iron courtn’ candles, he tells the story of how the Father would make sure the young man courting his daughter would know how long to visit.

The historically correct iron courtn’ candle has a wooden peg within an iron spiral upon which the candle sits. If the Father liked the young man, he would place the peg higher in the spiral so it would have more inches to burn down. If the young man wasn’t very welcome, the peg would be placed lower in the spiral so the candle only had an inch or two to burn. When the candle flame reached the top of the spiral, it was time for the man to leave.

We live in an extremely rural area and will often lose electricity. One of Bud’s iron courtn’ candles not only looks pretty, it’s pretty useful when the lights go out.

First article in series

Senate Bill, SB972 Would be Unfair to Small Farms

Image: Andy Marisinko with one of his chickens.

New legislation passed by the General Assembly, Senate bill, SB972, could make life hard and too expensive for small poultry farmers. The bill is an emergency legislation dealing with the possibility of an epidemic avian flu outbreak. The thought behind the bill is to implant chips in the birds to monitor them for avian flu.

The bill would present an inequitable expense for the small farm owner. Why is this bill unfair to small farm breeders? While a commercial poultry grower might have one chicken with a chip implant for an entire flock of the same breed of 20,000 chickens, someone who breeds many different types of birds would have to put computer chips in them all.

This from the Fincastle Herald:

As of yet there is nothing in writing about how the Virginia Department of Agriculture would handle the inspection and census of poultry in Virginia. But, for small growers like Marisinko who has 250 chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and pigeons and some exotics like rhea and emus, it is an uncertain time.It would be cost prohibitive to have to put chips in each of his birds because of the many breeds he raises.He'd also have to notify the state when he left to go to a poultry show. He takes birds to shows around the Southeast and he sells to other poultry raisers.Marisinko is listed as Virginia's first American Poultry Association Grandmaster Exhibitor.

For more on this, visit the Fincastle Herald.

Image from the Fincastle Herald.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Matter of Concern- The Peaks of Otter Salamander

The Peaks of Otter salamander (Plethodon hubrichti) is listed as a Federal species of concern and Virginia State special concern because they have one of the most restricted ranges of any salamander in the United States.

This salamander is only found in localities along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is endemic to the Peaks of Otter region in central Virginia with its entire range in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Botetourt and Bedford counties between Apple Orchard Mountain and Sharp Top Mountain. The Peaks of Otter salamander can be found under downed logs, among wet leaves in middle to late successional stages of deciduous (oak, maple) woodland at elevations above 760 meters (2493.44ft.)

It is a slender species which can grow up to 13 cm (5.1in.) in length with a dorsum of black or very dark brown and with abundant brassy metallic spots or blotches occasionally forming an irregular stripe. Their sides and ventral surface are plain, dark gray to black and their body has a purplish reflection due to blood and visceral pigments. They have a slender and elongate body and tail that is rounded at the base, slightly flattened, and has a median dorsal impressed line. The number of mature ova averages 11.5 and the reported clutch size is ten.

The Peaks of Otter salamander will eat nearly any invertebrate on hand.

Note: Please don’t go looking for this unique and rare salamander and if you do happen upon one, take a picture if you like but do not touch it; let it alone to reproduce!

Images: From the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #3: Tree Swallow

Within the past week our area has seen an influx of tree swallows. The numbers are not quite as high as they will be in another month. But the flocks we are seeing are more than a trickle; they represent the beginnings of a major northward push. I saw my first swallows here in DC on Saturday at the National Arboretum. I then saw a lot more of them on Sunday at Hughes Hollow in Montgomery County, Maryland. Other reports of tree swallows have been appearing on birding lists all over the region.

Photo by James C. Leupold / USFWS

Tree swallows are among the earliest songbirds to migrate north in the spring. They are typically the first swallows to arrive. Like eastern phoebes, they able to migrate early because their diet is varied enough to survive short cold snaps. Unlike other swallows, they will eat seeds and berries if insects are scarce or unavailable. Thus if it should happen to snow the day after spring begins, they have a backup plan.

These easily-recognizable birds are characteristic of wetlands, which provide the steady stream of insect food that these swallows need to raise broods. Identifying tree swallows is a matter first of learning to follow swiftly-moving airborne birds with binoculars. (This can be quite fun, if a bit dizzying.) Once that skill is mastered, one can distinguish tree swallows from the rest by their glossy blue top parts and their all-white undersides. Juvenile tree swallows have all-white undersides but brown upperparts. The juveniles can be tricky to separate from northern rough-winged swallows and bank swallows.

In the past half-century, tree swallows have greatly expanded their breeding range in Maryland, thanks to the placement of nest boxes in suitable habitat. Where once they were confined to the Eastern Shore, they can now be found throughout the state, including the western mountains.

Cross-posted at A DC Birding Blog


Writers Wanted

The Blue Ridge Gazette has met with tremendous success in the short two months that we’ve been online, and a lot of very interesting things are happening behind the scenes as well as on the pages. We are growing and are looking to add new writers from every mountainous state east of the Mississippi River.

If you think that you would be interested in joining the BRG team, send me, D L Ennis an email at:

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our readers, who keep coming back for more, as well as the new readers who join us everyday.

Thanks to all of you from all of us, at the BRG!

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The Return of the Beaver

Beavers (Castor Canadensis) are a relatively new sight along the Blue Ridge Parkway, even though they are no strangers to this region. There were an abundance of them until unregulated trapping caused their disappearance around 1897. Recently reestablished, beavers have become a topic of much debate.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, beavers sometimes clog culverts and spillways with debris; they undermine trails and create hazards. However, the ponds and wetlands they create provide essential habitat for fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds increasing the biological diversity of the region.

To their credit, the National Park Service welcomes the return of the beaver; they are after all, a native species. Populations are controlled only when activities endanger people or threaten to destroy major resources. Look for signs of beaver as you explore aquatic resources along the Parkway. See if you can determine any hazards created or habitats formed by the beaver, the largest of North American rodents.

Beavers are interesting creatures, they mate for life, but if one mate dies, the other one will find another companion. They mate when they are about three years old with the mating season being in January and March, in cold regions, and in late November or December in the south. Before birth, the female will make a soft bed in the lodge where, between April and June, she will have one litter of kits a year. The gestation period lasts about three months. At birth the babies eyes are open and they are able to swim within 24 hours of birth, and within a few days, will be exploring outside the lodge with their parents. Both the male and the female take care of their young which are weaned in about two weeks, but, will stay with their parents for two years.

They are territorial and will protect their lodges from other beavers by building piles of mud and marking it with scent.

A beaver can live to be 20 years old, and in adulthood, can measure four feet in length and weigh over 60 pounds. The beaver has webbed hind feet and a large flat, nearly hairless tail, which it uses to help maintain its balance when gnawing on trees. They will also slap their tail against the water to signal danger or to discourage predators. The beaver’s front legs are short with serious claws. Their rear legs are longer with webbed feet that help to propel them through the water as they swim. When under water, the beaver’s nose and ears close up and they have a special membrane that covers their eyes.

For the most part, the beaver's diet consists of tree bark and the cambium layer, the soft tissue which grows directly beneath the bark of a tree. They are particularly attracted to the bark of the alder, aspen, beech, birch, cottonwood, maple, poplar, and willow; they also eat other vegetation such as the roots and buds as well as water plants.

Their fur is generally dark brown on their back and sides and lighter brown on their chest and belly. The beaver waterproofs its thick fur by coating it with castoreum; an oily secretion from its scent glands. They have a thick layer of fat that helps keep them warm underwater. They have long sharp upper and lower incisors that grow throughout the beaver's life and are used for cutting into trees and other woody vegetation.

Controversy surrounding beavers is the result of the fact that they can have both a positive and a negative impact on the environment. When they build dams, they create new wetland environments for other species, wetlands that can also help slow erosion, raise the water table and help purify the water. Beavers can also play a major role in succession such as when they abandon their lodges and dams, aquatic plants take over the pond and eventually, shrubs and other plants will grow and in time, the pond becomes a meadow. In turn, the shrubs in the meadow will provide enough shade to allow tree seedlings to grow and, again, in turn, the meadow becomes a woodland.

On the other hand, dams can also cause problems by slowing the flow of water in streams causing silt to build up eliminating habitat for some species. Dams can also cause flooding in low lying areas.

However, with proper management, beavers can coexist with humans and in doing so enrich our environment with their presence. Remember, they were here before we were!

Images from: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

The VCT; A Haven for Biker’s and Hiker’s

The Virginia Creeper Trail is part of the "Rails To Trails" project where the railroad tracks are removed and replaced with a hiking and biking trail. The trail is 34.5 miles long and extends from historic Abingdon, Va. to the North Carolina border near Whitetop Mountain.

The trail begins in Abingdon and running southwardly to the Virginia—North Carolina line. It meanders through Alvarado, Damascus, Green Cove, Taylor's Valley, Watauga, and Whitetop.

Damascus is thought of as a hiker's and biker's delight primarily because it has three other trails including the Appalachian Trail, not to mention the Virginia Creeper Trail.

The trail was originally a Native American footpath, later used by Daniel Boone and other explorers in their explorations into the western wilderness. Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, a railroad was placed along the path to transport timber and iron ore, as well as other goods. Now the Virginia Creeper Trail is a place for recreation, as well as, a place where people can relax in a beautiful environment.

NOTE: The Virginia Creeper Trail passes through a lot of privately owned property and you would do well to respect the respective land owners and stick to the trail.


Finding the Creeper Trail is not difficult. Interstate 81 runs right through Abingdon. The Creeper's Trailhead is positioned between Exits 17 and 19, and parking is available off Green Spring Road, accessible from Main Street (where it is called Pecan St.) and Cummings, which also crosses Main Street.

There are other parking areas along the Trail that can be reached via Hwy 58, which runs east from Abingdon.

Image from Virginia Creeper

You can find more information about the trail at Virginia Creeper

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Creating New Family Traditions through Vacations

Image: Me (I’m the little guy) my older brother and two younger sisters. Taken on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Rocky Knob in the summer of 1961.

As a child, my parents started something that has stayed with me and my siblings through the years, and even though my wife and I have no children, we have helped my brother and sisters and their children keep the vacation traditions that my parents started alive.

What my parents did was simple; they took us to the mountains on camping trips. We would travel the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive and stop at favorite campgrounds. We had campfires at night where we would sit around telling stories, singing and roasting marshmallows and hotdogs. As children it was easy to make friends in the campgrounds, and my parents made life long friends who would all meet at a favorite campground every year for a vacation get together.

We often have certain things we always do, or traditions, epically during the holidays. Most families probably have traditions that take place throughout the year; but how about vacations? You can help to build wonderful memories and traditions, which your children will be thrilled to share with their children through vacations. Research shows that these traditions are important in building strong family relationships between generations.

Traditions are stories, beliefs, rituals and customs that are passed from one generation to the next. Keeping traditions for the holidays as well as the ordinary days help teach children the things their family values. These traditions help fill the individual's need to belong. Being a part of the special things our family does, helps us to have that sense of belonging.

Research shows us that routines and traditions are part of healthy families. Traditions give security to young people, providing a sense of continuity and routine that they can depend on year after year. Such activities help promote healthy relationships between the generations when they are enjoyed and anticipated by everyone. Children will remember the special experiences of family traditions more than toys and gifts.

To make family traditions more memorable, take the time to talk about the special things your family does and why it is important to you. Include the children in planning and carrying out the special activities. This will give them a feeling of pride and belonging to actually be a part of the traditions. It also helps them to understand why your family does these special things. If traditions are a part of your religious or cultural heritage, it gives the young people a sense of their family history.

Sometimes, as our families change, our traditions change with us, and that is all right. For example, you can still have the family all get together for a time of sharing and a special meal, but the place or the menu might change over the years. Or, perhaps now you use disposable dishes instead of Grandma's china. The important thing is that you get together as a family to share memories and pass on the family traditions and values.

Traditions help to bind us together as a family. Make it a point this year to include your children in family traditions that will provide them with a sense of belonging and build memories for their future.

Take them camping; bring them to the mountains and build vacation memories and traditions with your children!

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