Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The West Virginia Liar's Contest

You know those things that you want to go to as a kid but never get the chance to, then you forget about them for a decade or so, then something, for instance a forwarded e-mail, jars your memory, causing that urge to come back as powerful as ever? Well, that happened to me just this afternoon.

Sarah, my fiance, forwarded me an email from her friend Caroline DeVan (an Oak Ridge girl who recently experienced the delicious torture of moving from the ultimate in climatic extremes - Antarctica to the American Southwest). The e-mail, in turn, linked me to an NPR story on, you got it, the West Virginia Liar's Contest, which is of course one of the big draws at the Vandalia Gathering.

I could summarize the article, but heck, that'd take half the fun out of it, wouldn't it? Instead, I suggest following the link and then listening to the four available submissions. They are, frankly, hilarious (there is a vaguely The Aristocrats feeling to them, though without any of the vulgarity - completely safe for the kids and/or office).

If that weren't enough, I found the official WVLC rules. I know I linked 'm, but damn skippy if I can't help but quoting them here:

1. The contest is open to West Virginia residents only.

2. The “lies” should be short stories (humorous, dramatic, supernatural, etc.) with a maximum length of 3-5 minutes.

3. Registration begins at noon on Sunday. All contestants must register. The contest will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon with three winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd places) to be chosen from all competitors.

4. Ribbons and cash prizes will be awarded following the contest.

5. Judging will be done by a panel of three storytelling experts who will score each contestant in the following categories:

a. Technique - Delivery, confidence, general stagecraft
b. Story Development - Good development of the tale in time available
c. Originality - New material, or fresh handling of a familiar yarn
d. Effectiveness - In judges’ opinion, taking audience response into consideration

The three judges will score each of the four categories on a scale of 1 to 5 with a maximum of 20 points per competitor. Final scores will not be given to contestants.

6. The judges will confer at the end of the contest to decide the winners.

7. The decision of the judges will be final.

8. All tales will be recorded and deposited in the West Virginia State Archives. Stories may be published in GOLDENSEAL or other publications.

9. All winners are required to submit their social security number in order to collect their prize money. Parents' social security numbers are prohibited for youth winners

Seems kinda' formal for an event that is, essentially, a BSing contest, doesn't it? Of course, if the execs in charge of this event have no doubt that the goal is to move fecal detris through a throwing action, as evidenced by the fact that one of the prizes is, yes, a golden shovel (what you can't learn in National Geographic, eh?). I love it - Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out.

History of the Banjo

For many of us from the Appalachian Mountains the first pluck of a banjo string wakes us up like the smell of Sunday morning bacon and gravy in the skillet. It is the same awareness of my mom yelling all three of my names at the same time. We stand up straight, waiting. But as we gear ourselves to be called home we do not realize the history of this instrument and what it means to hear that edgy tone that has become a sound that can sooth us all. The “American” style banjo came from the arrival of African-American slaves. In transport from Africa these descendents were not allowed to play drums and so turned to a new construction of instrument that derives from the West Senegal “Xalam” (image below).

The players at the time took a simple cut gourd or turtle shell with a fretless stick perturbing from the top, wrapped the body in any kind of dried animal skin and then placed tightened strings, cat guts, hemp, or wire to the body. This was the beginning of the “American Four String Banjo.” European Americans saw the first creation of the banjo as an instrument lower than the fiddle that they often referred to as the instrument of the devil. At this time the only individuals who played banjo were black slave workers thus when Joel Walker Sweeney of Appomattox C.H. VA learned to play at the age of 13 he then changed the course of the instrument. Sweeney took his knowledge of his mentors and started to travel through Virginia as a minstrel “circus” show. Sweeney learned how to pick the banjo like all of his peers. During the first part of the 19th century the only style of playing was what we now call “clawhammer style” Clawhammer comes from the placement of the fingers on the banjo strings when you strike the string with the back of your fingernail and the thumb. Clawhammer was the original way of playing banjo and once again goes back to how musicians plucked instruments in Africa.
Sweeney became an instant success and started his own minstrel show with his brothers Sam and Dick. The show toured the eastern coast and prospered in New York City. Billy Whitlock, one of Sweeney's many students, joined with Dan Emmett, whom learned the banjo from the West Virginia native ??? Ferguson and formed the Virginia Minstrels in 1843 and launched the minstrel craze. The main outlet for minstrel bands was the circus. Being a part of the circus at the time was appealing as the then “rock stars” of the world were minstrel players. Therefore a large push of boys learned to play the banjo just to join the circus. This instrument soon flourished into the main stream and even launched national calls and competitions to find the best banjo player/s. Because of the traveling minstrel shows the sound of banjo and fiddle began to fit together and became so important as bother instruments. To have a true performance a band had to have both banjo and fiddle. This is why when we now hear a banjo and a fiddle together everything sounds right.
During the Civil War thousands of young banjo players joined the army on both sides and the banjo playing style was fined tuned. It was right after the war that a new style playing came about which we now refer to as the “finger-picking.” This style can be dated back to James Buckley in 1865 when he released his own player’s manual for those who wanted to learn a simpler and more classical style of playing. In 1880 the fret on the banjo neck appeared from a manufacturer in NY by the name of Henry Dobson. Dobson decided that with the fingerpicking style one needed to see the locations of the higher points of the neck. These manuals and fret banjos started to sell like hot cakes thus causing the decline of our clawhammer style. But, in the mountains of Appalachian where the banjo was taught by personal instruction instead of by books the Clawhammer style remained. When you listen to the music rolling from the smooth Appalachian hills remember that that clawhammer banjo recalls the past and our roots. It is the original and has lasted over 200 years.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Appalachian Trail; Bland County, Virginia

These are a few pictures taken on May 21st, along the Appalachian Trail, near the communities of Hollybrook and Crandon. The top picture is a view from Brushy Mountain (3,101') of Big Walker Mountain and the valley between the two hills. The next two are of a suspension bridge that spans Kimberling Creek (elev. 2,100').

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Evacuation of Cumberland Gap, Sept 1862

As I'm studying the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, I am fascinated by its drama and wide-ranging military operations all across the Bluegrass State. Three Confederate armies in six weeks (15 August-1 October 1862) manage to control all of Kentucky east of the L&N Railroad (today roughly I-65), except for Louisville and the northern suburbs of Cincinnati. On 4 October the Confederates inaugurate a pro-CSA government, which was promptly thrown out of Frankfort by General Joshua Sill's 20,000-man force. Had the Confederates been allowed to firmly grasp the levers of power, in short order they would have begun conscripting Kentuckians into the Confederate Army. Four days later (8 October) a Federal Army under Don Carlos Buell meets the Confederates in battle outside Perryville and forces them to retreat, eventually back to Tennessee.
For more info on Perryville and the Kentucky Campaign, see or

One of the great untold stories of this operation, indeed of this war, is George W. Morgan's evacuation of the Federal garrison at Cumberland Gap. Much of his force included East Tennessee regiments, and they were itching to liberate home. Nine thousand Confederates under Carter Stevenson (from Fredericksburg VA) arrive at the Gap in mid-September and lay siege to the place. Morgan's supplies run low, and he begins an epic retreat through the eastern mountains of Kentucky to the Ohio River, reaching there on 1 October after going 219 miles in 13 days.

Morgan's report of this action is in OR Volume XVI, p. 991-996, with additional correspondence following. (Some of that correspondence and reports contain interesting facts about East Tennesee in 1862.) Even in the dry language of a military report, the epic nature of this movement comes through; Morgan conveys the tension as the Confederates nipped at his heels while his men raced against dwindling supplies to the Ohio. Here's the link where it can be found online:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Archives of Appalachia

I'm always looking for good research resources - anything where I can flood myself with undue quanitities of data and/or images, thus overwhelming my mind until suddenly, somehow, I put it together into a single mass of theory. That said, I'm pretty familiar with research methods, datasets, and archives, including this one.
The Archives of Appalachia, which are administered by East Tennessee State University, down in Johnson City, are a lot of things and they aren't others. They are an enormous collection of data and photographs which are pretty readily available with an e-mail or a phone call. They are not, however, fully digitized. Thus, I'll lay it down for you. If you're interested in virtually any subject, be it political, cultural, economic, or social, within the region to the degree that your inquiry might be called scholarly or at least moderately obsessive, this website warrants some investigation - you'll probably be calling for photocopies within fifteen minutes. If you want, on the other hand, a Captain Eo-esque light and whistle show, well this isn't it. Sorry

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Coal (Ghost) Towns

In his many travels, my Dad sometimes finds places he knows would attact me beyond all reason, places where the details are so fascinating that he could envision me slowing wandering through them time and again, assimilating images into my mind for later use in my art or writing. Usually he calls me immediately (or as soon as cell phone service returns) and taunts me with this knowledge. My jealousy delights him. . . oy.

Well, as I was wandering the by-ways of the internet today I found this site and, like my Dad, it taunted me with environments that could dominate my consciousness for hours, even days at a time. The official title of the site is "Coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains," but its site address ( reveals more about its purpose and content than its title. Specifically, this site describes the coal towns and camps throughout the region, including maps and photos, which began their decline as seams were emptied and Old King Coal died. It isn't the fanciest site, but what it does well it does very well.

The effect is, frankly, haunting. This is one of those sites that, if you're familiar with the region, will bring up many mixed feelings - like visiting a beautiful cemetary, for lack of a better metaphor. I have little doubt that this is about to become one of those sites I check on once a week or so, desperately hoping for updates.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Appalachian League

The Appalachian League, not to be confused with the Applachian Drinking League, is, arguably, one of the most revered institutions in the region. Started, as far as I can tell, back in 1911, the Rookie-Ball Appalachian League is the epitome of great, small-town baseball. Rumor has it that the League is on the verge of being dismantled - damned kids with their damned PlayStations not going to the ballpark anymore.

First, dig this little blurb on the league's history from the Elizabethton Twins homepage:

The Appalachian League was born in 1911 with teams in Asheville, N.C.; Bristol, Va.; Cleveland, Tenn.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Morristown, Tenn. That first version of the league lasted just four years, with the league disbanding in the middle of the 1914 season when Morristown and Middlesboro, Ky., folded on June 17.

The league reformed in 1921 with six teams: Bristol; Cleveland; Greenville, Tenn.; Johnson City; Kingsport, Tenn.; and Knoxville. That incarnation of the league managed five seasons, before again closing up shop midway through 1925.

In 1937, the league was restarted with teams in Elizabethton, Tenn.; Johnson City; Newport, Tenn.; and Pennington Gap, Va. During World War II, while most other minor leagues ceased operations, the Appalachian League played on. It continued right up until 1955. That year legendary minor league slugger Leo “Muscle” Shoals led the league with 33 homers and 134 RBIs in a 126-game season for Kingsport. It was the fifth Appalachian League home run title for Shoals, who had also led in 1939, 1946, 1947 and 1951.

The modern Appalachian League began in 1957, its first year as a short-season league. Six teams played that year, in Bluefield, W.Va.; Johnson City; Kingsport; Pulaski, Va.; Salem, Va.; and Wytheville, Va. Bluefield has been in the league continuously ever since and has been affiliated with the Orioles since 1958. That’s the longest current affiliation of any minor league team in baseball.

I got some links for you:

1) A list of every team that has ever been part of the league. Standout names include the Asheville Moonshiners, the Bluefield Blue-Grays, the Bristol State Liners, the Cleveland Manufacturers, the Greeneville Burley Cubs, the Erwin Aces, the Erwin Mountaineers, the Harriman Boosters, the Knoxville Appalachians, the Knoxville Pioneers, the Johnson City Soldiers, the Middleboro Cubsox, the Morristown Jobbers, the Morristown Roosters, the New River Rebels, the Newport Canners, the Paintsville Highlanders, the Rome Romans, the Welch Miners, and the Wytheville Statesmen.

2) This interesting little logo collection (wish it were more comprehensive).

3) This personal page, while brief, at least throws out some shots from the various fields.

4) A not-quite-complete list of the League's champions on the old, semi-reliable-on-certain-days- if-you-hold-your-mouth-right Wikipedia.

5) The home pages of the various current teams include: the Bluefield Orioles, the Bristol White Sox (also check here), the Burlington Indians, the Danville Braves (also, check here), the Elizabethton Twins (also check here), the Greenville Astros (also check here), the Kingsport Mets (also check here), the Johnson City Cardinals (also check here), the Princeton Devil-Rays, and the Pulaski Blue Jays.

6) An article on in which Pulaski and Bluefield are visited and "analyzed."

7) Charle's Ballparks, which has shots of several of the stadiums (including my blessed Bowen Field)

8) A nifty article on the Burlington Indians.

I wish the league would put together a comprehensive site, something with a complete and developed history and a plethora of photos, but perhaps I'm just wishing. Regardless, link up with anything else you can find, and support the Appy League. It needs us, and moreover, its the cheapest and arguably purist baseball experience in these United States of America.

East Tennessee Festivals

Earlier I wrote about ramps and the over-powering odor, er, pleasure of ramp festivals. Well, after talking Sarah's ear off on the subject, she sent me this website, Tennessee Vactions. In and of itself, nothing fancy, right? Well, here is the nifty part: it has a truly rock-solid sub-site that lists special events (read festivals) of East Tennessee.

Holy Mosheim, Batman.

I want to go to the Secret City Festival. . . and anything in Mosheim.

Mosheim Mosheim Mosheim.

Knowing that good lists of festivals and special events existed for the great state of Tennessee, I thought I'd do a little more investigation. This is what I got for you:

North Carolina:
West Virginia: (Select the region, then "events")

Public Land

No matter which way you lean politically, left or right, up or down, forward or backward, you have to admit that the Bush Administration's proposal to pay for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act by selling off National Forest land (mostly in the Southern Appalachians to pay for schools in the western US) is a bad move. Supporters of the sale proposal suggest that these forest lands are isolated and hard for the U.S. Forest Service to manage, but the idea of selling capital assets to pay for short-term needs sets a bad precedent. As the farmers around my neck of the woods say, "you don't sell your seed corn for spending money." These forest lands aren't just any old asset; they are an important part of our nation's heritage. I assume that if you are visiting and/or contributing to this blog, you agree as well.

The Virginia land on the list includes 1,630 acres in Bland County, 1,341 acres in Smyth County and 735 acres in Scott County. Other counties have less land on the list, with acreage ranging from 390 each in Botetourt and Montgomery counties to a 2-acre tract in Augusta County. I am happy to report that the Board of Supervisions for each of these counties have voted to condemn the proposal as well as Congressmen Boucher (D) and Goodlate (R). Goodlate is the Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee and has stated that when this proposal is referred to this committee, it will not make it out due to lack of support.

According to the Forest Service, loss of open space is one of the four greatest threats to forests. Nationwide, more than 21.8 million acres of open space were lost to development between 1982 and 1997, about 4,000 acres per day, three acres per minute. The threat is greatest in the eastern U.S., where most of the privately owned forests are located. Privatized these lands will speed the loss of open space. Even if it were true that the selected tracts no longer meet national forest system needs, are expensive to manage and are detached from national forest units, isolated tracts of public land have intrinsic value even while not actively managed. In the early 20th century, in the wake of dramatic flooding, eastern national forests were established from the purchase of damaged lands primarily for the purpose of reforestation and watershed protection. As these lands healed and forests were replenished, the crisis subsided. Increasing development now makes such smaller tracts of open space all the more important on the landscape.

Congress should step up and find better means to fund rural schools, like cutting some money for pet projects in their own districts, rather than resort to the measure of selling public lands to feed current budget shortfalls. What will we sell to support the program years from now when the land is in private hands?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Photos from Old Rag Mountain, elev. 3268, Shenandoah National Park

These are pictures from my weekend wonderlust on May, 21 in the SNP. Old Rag mountain is near Sperryville, VA, and is about a 7 mile loop hike.

Ralph Stanley Bluegrass Festival

If you're looking for some good strumming Memorial Day weekend, look no further than Coeburn, VA.

The Ralph Stanley Bluegrass Festival is the place to be for traditional mountain music. Headliners include Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, Charlie Sizemore Band/Reeltime Travelers, Jim Lauderdale, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings(a personal favorite), and of course, Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

For $100, you can camp all weekend, or come just for the day for about $30.

This ain't your crunchy, hippie newgrass music. This is bluegrass from the mountains, written from the heart, played from the soul, and it's real.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Great Earthquake of 1897

On May 31, 1897, Giles County, Virginia became the epicenter for a major seismic event that was felt throughout all of central Appalachia. Historically, the area near the West Virginia / Virginia border has been one of the most active seismic regions of the eastern U.S. This is because it's on the edge of the rock formations that were shoved (over hundreds of thousands of years) upward when the African Continent slammed into North America. This event is referred to as the Alleghenian Orogony. I'm not Bill Nye so you'll have to click the link to learn more. I will tell you that there is a very cool rock formation at the VA/WVA border along the Route 460 road cut, just past the big "Welcome to WVa" smokestack. You can see flat parallel rock to the west, layered in Limestone, Sandstone and Shale (with lots of mussel fossils visible) that was untouched by this event and folded/cracked/twisted rock to east where the impact of this slow upward thrust took place. Giles County is to the east as well so you can imagine what the the rock is like being on the edge of such a large happening. Add in large limestone deposits that have dissolved over eons from ground water, leaving huge caverns, and eventually something is going to fall. Geologist speculate that an earthquake thousands of year ago caused the side of Potts Mountain to collapse and dam up a mountain stream, creating Mountain Lake.

Getting back to '97, seismic measurement was determined by an event's effects on structures and humans since seismographs hadn't been invented yet. The U.S. used the "Modified Mercalli intensity Scale" (MMI) and measured intensity from the Roman Numeral I (weakest) to IX (kiss your ass goodbye). The Giles quake measured a MMI-VIII.

Here are some newspaper reports taken from Earthquake History of Virginia, 1774-1900 by M.G. Hopper and G.A. Bollinger (1970, pages 55-66):

Giles County, Va. and Pearisburg, Va: Report that "Angels Rest", a high mountain near Pearisburg, was cracked. (RD 6/l/97)

From Roanoke, Va.: Telegram from Giles County that Mountain Lake still intact. "Advices from Giles County, however, still report much uneasiness there. The courthouse at Pearisburg was badly cracked by the earthquake shock, and numerous chimneys were thrown down or badly damaged. In other parts of the county, it is said, several brick houses were seriously damaged, and some shaken down completely. Along the railroad track tons of rock fell from the overhanging cliffs. In one instance derailing a freight train, and causing a delay to traffic for five hours or more. At Pearisburg bricks rolled from the chimneys to the roof of the courthouse in such numbers and to such an extent that Judge Jackson, who was holding Circuit Court when the shock occurred, left the building, along with the lawyers and others present. For a week or more before the shock people throughout Giles County were much disturbed by subterranean noises, and all day Monday detonations like the explosion of distant artillery were heard throughout the county. As to the crack in Angels Rest Mountain reports are so conflicting that it is hard to get at the truth. For several days after the shock last Monday the water in many of the springs and branches were muddy. An attorney of this city who was in Pearisburg on Monday bears out some of the above statements, and says that for nearly fifty miles from that place he saw hardly a sound chimney standing. In his opinion, if the buildings throughout Giles had been largely of brick, the damage would have been very great, and serious loss of life would have occurred."

From Pulaski, Va.: "From what can be learned, all reports about cracks in the earth in Giles, etc., are fictitious. Your correspondent saw yesterday a lawyer from there who said there were no holes in Angels Rest Mountain or elsewhere there, that any one had seen, but people are afraid to go in the mountain to investigate. There was a great scare, as the earthquake was very severe, there having been four separate shocks on May 31st between 2 and 5 o'clock p.m." (RD 6/4/97)

From McDonald's Mill (Roanoke County): "I have been reliably informed that in Giles County, near Pearisburg (the county seat) earthquake shocks have daily occurred for some time past, and the citizens along the base of a lofty part of a mountain called Angels Rest are considerably excited." (RD 6/3/97)
Dr. Goodride Wilson, writing of the Town of Pearisburg: "While court was in session on Monday, May 31, 1897, Pearisburg experienced a moderately severe earthquake. The judge summarily adjourned court, jumped over the railing and ran out of the courtroom along with the lawyers and spectators. A number of chimneys were toppled in the town and some brick walls were cracked. The shocks were felt throughout the county and in several other counties in Southwest Virginia."

Mr. J. H. Hardy, in a letter, reports that his father-in-law, Mr. Sam D. May, was an attorney trying a case in Pearisburg at the time of the earthquake: "He told me that the quake was really severe there. Some thought Mountain Lake had caved in. I think the water did go down some but if there was a crack in the bottom it evidently filled up gradually." (Hardy, 1969)

Earthquake "especially strong at Pearisburg, where the walls of old brick houses were cracked and bricks were thrown from chimneys which had been damaged. A few earth fissures and small landslides were reported from this area, but no serious damage.... At Narrows (Va.) large rocks rolled down the mountains. The sounds were compared by veterans to those made by seige guns in action.... Minor tremors continued from time to time until June 6." (MacCarthy, 1964)

"There were fissures in the ground and small landslides in places where they were easy to start. At the Narrows ( Va.) it was claimed that a motion like the ground swell of the ocean was observed." (Eppley, 1965, p. 25).

"Earthquake shocks nightly in Giles County since the 25th; large fissures have been made." (MWR)
Noises heard from May 3 to May 31 and after. Shock most severe near Pearisburg. No serious damage, but old brick houses badly shaken and many chimneys cracked and top bricks knocked off. Much noise. Many people "terror stricken." Surface "rolled like the groundswells of the ocean" and springs were muddied and one large landslide started at the Narrows. (Campbell, 1898)

Roanoke, Va.: Crockery rattled, windows shaken, doors opened and closed, furniture moved in many houses. Several chimneys knocked down; frame buildings "seen to sway back and forth." In the business district "many persons rushed into the streets, fearing that the buildings would fall.... Felt by everybody and frightened many people." (RD 6/l/97)

Terry Building was "noticed to sway perceptibly and doors standing open in the Masonic Temple and Commercial Bank building were swung back and forth." Pictures shaken from walls and bottles from shelves. -- "People rushed out of their houses expecting them to fall." Shock scared "a great many people nearly out of their wits." Several chimneys "shaken to the ground." Tops shaken off some chimneys and others "partly demolished." (RT 6/l/97)

Bedford City, Va.: Earthquake "severest ever felt here, and caused considerable consternation . . . . Rocking vibration . . . accompanied by a dull detonation like that of heavy thunder and a report like that of a cannon." (RD 6/l/97) "Chimneys of the courthouse, bank, Windsor Hotel, and several private houses were shaken down. The walls of several dwellings were cracked, and people rushed terrified into the streets." (RD 6/l/97)

Pulaski, Va.: "Very severe earthquake shock.... Shook down chimneys greatly alarming the citizens who rushed from their houses and places of business." No other damage. (RD 6/l/97)

Radford, Va.: "No less than twenty chimneys shaken or split and in some instances... nearly leveled to the houses." Roofs of some houses "looked as if mortar and lime had been scattered all over them." Buildings rocked so much that no shocks were noticeable in the open ground. "The earth seemed to rise and fall in waves.... Heaviest earthquake ever known in this section." (RD 6/l/97)
"Heavy earthquake shocks.... A great deal of excitement was occasioned at the time, as chimneys were falling, houses rocking like cradles, and women and children screaming in terror about the streets." Preceded by "a heavy rumbling." (RT 6/l/97)

Houston, Va.: "Quite a severe earthquake shock" - Several chimneys partly demolished. (RD 6/l/97)

Bristol, Tenn. - Va.: "Shook the buildings so that the people ran into the streets." Several chimneys "thrown to the ground." (RD 6/l/97)

time - 13:15, duration - 30 seconds. (MWR)
Bluefield, W.Va.: "A heavy seismic disturbance, with buildings rocking and chimneys failing." (RD 6/l/97)

Wytheville, Va.: Many people "were panic-stricken, running from their houses." Bricks were thrown from chimneys; in some cases "chimneys were cracked and thrown several inches out of plumb.... Terrifically loud" report accompanied the shock. One large tree "was precipitated down a steep cliff into the creek." (RD 6/l/97)

Knoxville, Tenn.: Felt throughout the city - "Several large buildings were badly shaken and two chimneys fell. " (RD 6/l/97)

"Startled the citizens nearly out of their wits." Little damage. (RT 6/l/97)

Several chimneys shaken down. (NYT 6/l/97)

Christiansburg, Va.: A "rumbling noise" preceded the shock. Houses rocked, doors opened, bricks thrown from chimneys. People "rushed into the streets much excited." Severity of the earthquake "exceeded any in the recollection of the oldest inhabitant." (RD 6/l/97)

"It was a warm sunshiny day in early summer when, without warning, buildings along Main Street begun a rocking movement and the dry timbers in their frames popped and cracked and the air became full of dust. Many people ran out of the houses into the street, some whitefaced, and stared upward where the dust, shaken from the buildings was slowly settling toward the ground. The tremor lasted only a few minutes before the panic was over and normal business was resumed along the street. This earthquake was felt in several counties adjoining Montgomery, but little damage was reported beyond the cracking of plaster in a few homes." (NMI Centennial Edition, 12/31/1969)

Dublin, Va.: "Severe." Houses shaken, horses frightened, bricks thrown from chimneys. "Rumbling noise" preceded and followed the shock. (RD 6/l/97)

Lynchburg, Va.: Felt "very perceptible.... Many badly frightened, and rushed into the streets, and great excitement prevailed for awhile." (RD 6/l/97)

Bricks fell from chimneys and "furniture and crockery jostled." (MacCarthy, 1964)
Time - 13:58 (MWR)

Richmond, Va.: "The vibrations lasted for several seconds and were so violent that many people ran out of their homes, fearing their collapse." No material damage. Hotel guests "ran out of their rooms under the impression that a boiler had burst." Noise "Loud and startling." Pictures were shaken, shutters "rattled as if blown by a violent wind" and "furniture was moved in a number of instances." Many suddenly sick just before the shock was felt; symptoms "like nausea and swimming of the head." Convicts at the penitentiary tried to break out. "The most serious and alarming (earthquake) ever experienced here." (RD 6/l/97)
Windows, pictures, glassware rattled violently and unstable objects overthrown. Hundreds of people left their houses in alarm. (from Washington Post, June 1) (MacCarthy, 1964)
An earthquake shook "buildings and rattled windows, but no damage was done. The people in many buildings were badly frightened." (NYT 6/l/97)

Time - 13:59. "Violent vibrations and loud noises; two shocks, at 13:59 and 14:1l." (MWR)
Rocky Mount, Va.: "Severe" Felt by "the entire community." Accompanied by "rumbling sound, much like that made by the rapid moving of a wagon or wagons upon the streets." Many "rushed into the streets from their houses and offices." Loose bricks thrown from chimneys. (RD 6/l/97)

Salem, Va.: Just before the shock, "a peculiar noise... resembling the reverberation of thunder" was heard. Bricks shaken from chimneys, goods thrown from shelves of stores, no damage. "People rushed pale and frightened from their houses." (RD 6/l/97)

Houses "were trembling like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze." (RT 6/l/97)

Letter from Mr. J. H. Hardy who was a boy of 17 at the time of the earthquake: "Was seated on a stool at the kitchen table eating when all of a sudden everything began shaking including the stool I was seated on. My first thought was that there was a heavy explosion somewhere in the neighborhood. I didn't get excited -- but finished eating and went down to the street where everybody was talking about the earthquake." (Hardy, 1969)

Stuart, Va.: "A severe and prolonged earthquake shock". . . . Accompanied by a loud, rumbling noise. Windows rattled, houses shook, and furniture was overturned. (RD 6/l/97)

Tazewell, Va.: "Strong" shock. Bricks shaken from tops of some chimneys. People "rushed into the streets to ascertain the cause of the vibrations." Accompanied by "a perceptible roar." (RD 6/l/97)
Asheville, N.C.: Felt. (RD 6/l/97]

"An earthquake shock shook Asheville perceptibly. Hundreds of occupants of buildings ran into the streets. No damage." (NYT 6/l/97)

Time - 13:59. (MWR)
Durham, N.C.: "Distinct." Houses shaken and plastering knocked from the ceilings. (RD 6/l/97)
Lenoir, N.C.; Time - 13:58. "Loud roar, chimneys injured." (MWR)

Oxford N.C.: "Very perceptible." Bricks thrown from chimneys. No damage. (RD 6/l/97)

Raleigh, N.C.: Plastering knocked down. Doors closed. One public building cracked. (RD 6/l/97)

"Quite a severe shock of earthquake." No damage. (RT 6/l/97)

A few chimneys damaged. (MacCarthy, 1964)

"Two shocks, each lasting 30 seconds; chimneys thrown down." (MWR)

Salisburg, N.C.: "A distinct shock of an earthquake." Walls cracked, plaster fell, and glass rattled. No general damage. (RD 6/l/97)

Weldon, N.C.: Many "badly frightened and ran out of their houses." "Quite severe." Walls of several houses "seen to move, and others rocked like a cradle. . . . Crockery and other things rattled together, and many small things were thrown down."

Winston, N.C.: "The most severe earthquake of any experienced in this section since the memorable Charleston earthquake in 1886....
A general exodus from stores and residences to the streets, and consternation reigned supreme for a few minutes." Some nausea. Bricks shaken off chimneys at several houses. (RD 6/l/97)

Jonesboro, Tenn.: "The shock was quite severe." (RD 6/l/97)

The people ran out into the streets. (NYT 6/l/97)

Giles County and it surrounding region have grown leaps and bounds in population since 1897. Such a quake today would have devastating results.


Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor just published a very interesting article the other day . . . some, for instance my father, might call it "delicious". The article, well, its about ramps.

What are ramps? Well, Jonsson's article describes it as a, and I quote here, "stinky mountain onion."

Oh, how true.

My first memories of ramps are of my Dad coming back from the Alderson ramp festival in the spring after eating fried ramps, ramps in chili, ramps with trout, and so on.

His sweat would smell like onions for a week at least.

I have never gone to a ramp festival, but its not for want of trying to organize a trip with the guys. The problem is convincing them to go. Perhaps this year . . . or not.

Obviously going to a festival featuring odiforious greenery alone is right out.

Oh, and by the by, if you're familiar with the Tri-Cities area, well, you'll probably want to mention the aforementioned article yourself - it centers around ramps growing wild in the Whitetop Mountain area. . . if only I'd known during college. Sigh.

I have some links for you. Dig on the Cosby Ramp Festival (TN), the Richwood Ramp Festival (WV), the Polk County Ramp Tramp Festival (TN), the Flag Pond Ramp Festival (WV), the Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival (VA), the Randolph County Ramp Festival (WV), a nifty little MetroPulse "Secret History" article on the beloved vegetable, one and two Martha Stewart recipes for ramps, an NPR article describing the Diety's favorite wild vegetable, and an NPR article on wild foods in general, including the mighty ramp. I once heard a great NPR story on the ramp (I thought on The Splendid Table, but perhaps I'm wrong), which I'm still trying to find, and will add later if successful. Regardless, remember the stinky yet still delicious ramp. It remembers you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Trail Days

The New York Times ran an article on May 12 introducing the reader to this weekend's festivities of Trail Days in Damascus, Va. From the article:

From May 19 to 21, Damascus will stage what has become probably the largest single gathering of hikers anywhere: an annual festival called Trail Days. Last year, despite a steady rain, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people showed up for the celebration in a town with an official population of 1,094.

It is during Trail Days that Damascus, a place shaped by the walkabout spirit of the Appalachian Trail and all the nicknamed hikers who pass through, puts on its brightest display. The festival is a backpacker's Mardi Gras. It's an alumni reunion for anyone who has ever hiked the 2,159-mile Appalachian Trail, a moment in time when America's most famous long-distance footpath goes nonlinear.

It starts with a townwide yard sale. After that, there's the Trail Day Pageant. Then comes a tarp-raising contest; Appalachian Trail Jeopardy; presentations from the Whittling Club; a homemade gear contest, followed by a useless gear contest. Bands play. Gear manufacturers set up shop. Tents of all shapes, colors and sizes are erected a foot apart in a makeshift campground of 2,000 campers. The weekend culminates with the hiker parade, often consisting of more than a thousand participants marching through the center of town as onlookers soak them with squirt guns.

If you decide to take in Trail Days, be sure to attend the lectures and readings. This is where you'll get a better understanding of what it is like to hike any trail for an extended period of time. I would recommend taking in Dave Miller's "Why We Through-Hike the Appalachian Trail", Friday at 11:30am, at the Rock House School, the Hiker Parade at 2pm Saturday on Main Street, Warren Doyle's (30,000 mile hiker) storytelling at 5pm Saturday in the Rock House School auditorium. Lastly, take in the Big Blue (undercover name for Acoustic Syndicate) at the town gazebo at 8pm Saturday. Other than those "must-sees" enjoy the weekend in the friendliest town along the A.T.

The Elephant of Erwin

Murderous Mary

In the early 1900’s when the circus came walking into the mountains towns everyone closed up the shop, turned off the school lights, and ran to the festivities. In 1916 something was going to be different in the railroad “boomtown” of Erwin, Tennessee. As the Sparks Brothers Circus came into town they brought fun, happiness, color, and above all animals. So many strange and wonderful animals toured along the main street parade routes with grandeur and intoxication as a small dose these mountain folk would get from the two days under the tent. The day before Charlie Sparks brought this world into the hills of Erwin Tennessee he needed someone to be the sole caretaker for Mary the Elephant, a five ton 30 year old elephant which was said to be the “largest animal on earth.” Mary was officially measured to be 3 inches taller than Jumbo the elephant. On Monday September 11 1916 Sparks’ circus played in St. Paul Virginia, which is where Red Eldridge a drifter at the time was officially employed as the main caretaker for Mary. During the early 1900’s a caretaker for an animal needed no formal training. Eldridge needed a job and who would turn down the circus. So Tuesday, September 12 1916 was Red’s official first day of work. Many accounts for the day of September, 12 have floated around in oral tradition but the one I will use is one that has been documented several times. As the circus paraded around the city streets Red, carrying his prodding stick, struck Mary in the wrong place and enraged the elephant. Mary turned to the man whom she did not know and whom was abusing her, grabbed him with her trunk swung him around in the air and threw him to the ground. In a couple of seconds Mary had killed Red Eldridge. The town went into hysteria. The accounts of how many people Mary had killed went from one to two to eight to eighteen. The story of “Murderous Mary” ran through the hills and the villages all along the region within the day. People wanted revenge. They wanted justice. Mary was at this time “arrested” and chained outside the courthouse of Erwin. Now, this incident fell into the same timeline that Thomas Edison defended and encouraged the difference between AC and DC power, especially for the use of criminal punishment (death by electrocution.) Edison believed that a successful electrocution of an elephant could show the country the importance of his power currents. The town supporters heard about Thomas Edison’s electrocution of the Coney Island NY elephant Topsy and wanted to invite Edison in for an official trial of death by electrocution. (video of actual electrocution- violent images) The problem here in Erwin is that at the time the city did not have a power supply like NY that could hold what was needed for the charge. So the city turned to what they had. Since they were such a railroad institution they had the use of a derrick car, a car that had the ability to lift train engines off the tracks and replace them. This was perfect for the hanging. Mary was found guilty of murder by judge and jury and sent to the railroad tracks where she was chained to the car and to the track. Upon the event of hanging someone forgot to unchain her leg from the track and as she was pulled up into the air. Still chained to the tracks she broke her leg from dismemberment. She fell to the ground and was then raised again into the air after the proper procedure. Mary was then put to death by hanging that afternoon.

I have heard about this hanging all my life. My father grew up in Erwin, Tennessee from the family of railroad men. My grandfather, 3 uncles and countless descendents of my family worked on the railroad. They all talked about this amongst themselves but never to anyone else. After the fact this act of hanging an elephant was somewhat frown upon, like it was a bad dream that still haunted the town.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Elephant Sanctuary

As the website says, "They loaded up their trunks and they moved to Tennessee..."

Unbeknownst to most Tennesseeans, in the heart of this great state lies America's largest private natural animal refuge: The Elephant Sanctuary.

Over 2,700 acres of wooded farmland in Hohenwald, Tn has been transformed into an immense rehabilitation and relocation facility dedicated to the care of captive elephants. At the moment, the facility houses 19 retired zoo and circus pachyderms, but plans are to one day support as many as 100 animals.

The Sanctuary is funded almost entirely by private donations from roughly 62,000 private supporters. From what I've read, it costs approximately $1,000 per month to care for each of the animals.

Again, to quote from the website:

The Elephant Sanctuary exists for two reasons:

To provide a haven for old, sick or needy elephants in a setting of green pastures, old-growth forests, spring-fed ponds and a heated barn for cold winter nights.

To provide education about the crisis facing these social, sensitive, passionately intense, playful, complex, exceedingly intelligent and endangered creatures.

In my book, there are few endeavors as worthwhile as this. Certainly humanitarian causes top the list of noble charities, but when it comes to the animal kingdom, it is rare to find such a tremendous facility.

Have a look at the website and find out more about this unlikliest of Tennessee wonders. Maybe take a few dollars and make yourself donor number 62,001. If for nothing else, enjoy the sheer unexpected presence of African and Indian elephants in the middle of Tennessee.

Mitchell Stadium

What happens when you combine turf-war politics with high school football? Ungooditude.

Dig this article by Melissa Cuppett in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Tazewell County School Board members were available to talk with community members Monday evening at a public meeting about Project VISTA plans.

In late March, board officials shared a proposal featuring Project VISTA (Vital Improvements for Schools in Tazewell County), a 25-year plan that addresses school improvements deemed necessary by the board’s instructional facilities improvement committee.

The plan recommends, among other changes, the construction of a new Graham High School and the consolidation of Dudley Primary, Graham Intermediate and Springville Elementary into a newly built elementary school.

So far, the public response has been positive, if not abundant, said Steve Davis, Tazewell County School Board chairman, Monday.

“I think it’s been very positive,” Davis said, noting that a lot of people wanted more information about the proposal. “I think there has been a lot of interest.”

Davis said that while public meetings do not bring a “full house,” the people who do come take what they learn back to others, and word spreads. He also speculated that one reason some people do not attend public meetings is that “people are trusting their elected leaders,” the members of the school board and Board of Supervisors, to make good choices.

The facilities committee says GHS has serious structural and mechanical problems that make it more feasible to build a new school rather than attempt to renovate the 50-year-old building. Under Project VISTA, the current GHS would be demolished, providing room for athletic and parking venues. A new high school would be built adjacent to the current school.

The new elementary school would be built adjacent to Graham Middle School, which would be renovated to address air quality, security and technology services.

School board and facilities committee member Cookie Johnson said people have been positive and see the need for change.

“The plan is so well thought-out and needed,” she said. “I really think it’s the time to do this.”

Still, Johnson acknowledged that some issues are likely to come up as the plan moves forward.“

I think the cost is going to be a concern,” she said.

“I’m concerned about what it will do with our taxes,” Bluefield, Va., resident Betty Bourne said.

Bourne lives across the street from Graham High School, and said her primary issue with the new plan is the football field.

She said she is “definitely against” the proposal of a field being built. She noted that traffic problems already arise during smaller athletic events at the school, with vehicles parked down the side of Valleydale Street.

“I think the traffic, especially if they play high school games,” will be a problem, she said. Bourne considers the current agreement to play at Mitchell Stadium “wonderful,” with the field a great place to play games. She said she’s seen too often the traffic, trash and other problems that come with football games.

The school board’s Johnson also said that “change is hard. I think any time we change or especially close a building it’s difficult for some people, but I think we’ve got to look forward and not back.”

Monday’s meeting was the third of four public meetings addressing changes proposed in Project VISTA. The final meeting is scheduled Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Richlands High School.Project VISTA recommends that a new RHS be constructed and the current school renovated. Richlands Middle School students would move into the current RHS building.

Elementary school suggestions include either the consolidation of all three current schools — Raven, Cedar Bluff and Richlands — into one new school building, or the renovation and extension of Richlands and Cedar Bluff. Raven Elementary would be consolidated into Richlands Elementary.

Okay. I'm not even going to bring up the whole debacle that went down in the early 1990s, you know, the one where Bluefielders were promised a new Graham High and instead got new windows? Er, I guess I did bring it up. Sorry.

Do we need a new high school? Yes. We've needed one for years. We need one desperately. Graham has been sinking underneath the earth for years. Its library is antiquainted and its lab facilities are antediluvian (even if they are better than half of those in the region). Pay the green and get the stuff going.

Moving on, the debate as to whether or not Bluefield, Virginia should have its own football field, well, its absurd. That's right. Absurd. Mitchell Stadium is one of the best places to see a game in the entire country and Bluefielders cannot begin to hope that a new stadium for the sole use of tiny (and it is tiny, regardless of whether we want to admit it or not) will remotely meet the facilities or viewing experience available at Mitchell. What this is really about is Virginians wanting control over their own stadium, not about where can Virginians have the best experience for their buck.

Not to mention the EIGHTY YEARS of Bluefield v. Bluefield competition in the stadium. Sure, lets throw that away for an aluminum and cider block abomination. Cause if you get a new stadium, that's what you're going to get.

I guess the $1 million Bluefield, WV invested in renovating the current stadium simply isn't enough to impress Bluefield, Virginians that the structure is worth our cooperative efforts to preserve it.

This is, frankly, a great example of how governments, refusing to cooperate despite their mutual interests (e.g. Bluefield and Princeton, Bluefield and Tazewell, and of course Pocahontas and Bluefield) have, in the interests of maintaining their own tiny sliver of power, deprived themselves of the best possible experience. But hey, its better to rule in an aluminum, mass-produced piece of crap than a piece of architecture from my Bluefield's golden age, a Bluefield that transcends state lines.

Because chickory doesn't care if your yard is in West Virginia or Virginia.

Bluegrass Family Tree

Bill Monroe is the “Father of Bluegrass Music”, which is indeed true in the sense that he formed the band that gave birth (quite accidentally I might add) to the sound that has come to be known as bluegrass, and in the sense that he is the father of a great lineage of notables who invariably trace back to him. The Bluegrass Boys, Monroe’s band named for his home state of Kentucky, actually existed prior to the genre named for it. It wasn’t until guitarist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs joined the band that the sound and genre actually came to life. It was while thinking about this that I wondered just how much of today’s music could be traced back to him, and naturally, you know, I find this quite interesting, so if you’ll humor me let’s list some of them starting with Mr. Monroe and go forward from there. Note: This list is in no way intended to be comprehensive, for that would not be possible. I am only going to write ones that come to mind, since, well, I’m not really in the mood to do anything more than the lightest of research at the moment. If you have questions, well, you obviously have an internet connection, so cozy up with a search engine and get to work!

The list will work like so: I will list the name of a bandleader, and then the name of people who were in the band who went on to form or be in another band or bands and thus perpetuate the genre. Pretty simple. And fun. Sort of.

-Bill Monroe,- Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Carter Stanley, Sonny Osborne, Jimmy Martin, Don Reno, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan

-Flatt and Scruggs,- Josh Graves (introduced the dobro to bluegrass), Curly Secklar, Chubby Wise, Mac Wiseman

-The Stanley Brothers (Carter Stanley),- Ralph Stanley (well Duh!), Ricky Skaggs (we’ll cover him later), Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, George Shuffler, Bobby Osborne (Some big leaguers in this list, huh?)

-Larry Sparks (and the Lonesome Ramblers),- Stuart Duncan (best doggone fiddle player ever, IMHO)

-The Osborne Brothers (Sonny and Bobby Osborne),- Harley “Red” Allen, Glen Duncan, Paul Brewster

-Jimmy Martin,- Paul Williams, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson

-J.D. Crowe (and the New South),- Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Keith Whitley, Don Rigsby

-Ricky Skaggs (and Kentucky Thunder),- Jim Mills, Paul Brewster, Darrin Vincent (Rhonda’s brother), Mark Fain (from Rogersville, TN), Andy Leftwich, and Cody Kilby

-Tony Rice,- Jimmy Gudreau, Wyatt Rice, Mark Shatz

-Jerry Douglas,- Alison Krauss and Union Station! (Alison, Ron Block, Dan Tyminski, Barry Bales (a Sullivan South grad from Kingsport). AKUS also once included Tim Stafford, also from Kingsport, as well as Adam Steffey, from nearby Scott County, VA. So……
-Tim Stafford (Blue Highway),- Shawn Lane, Jason Burleson, Wayne Taylor, Rob Ickes

-Adam Steffey (Mountain Heart),- Steve Gulley, Barry Abernathy, Clay Jones

-Don Rigsby (The Lonesome River Band),- Dan Tyminski (the man! Now with AKUS, he was the voice over for George Clooney in OBWAT), Ronnie Bowman, Sammy Shelor

-Doyle Lawson (and Quicksilver),- Randy Graham, Terry Baucom, Jimmy Haley, Lou Reid, Russell Moore, Ray Deaton, Shawn Lane, Barry Abernethy, Steve Gulley, Scott Vestal

-Lou Reid, Terry Baucom (and Carolina),- Alan Bibey, Clay Jones

-Russell Moore and Ray Deaton (IIIrd Tyme Out),- Alan Bibey, Wayne Benson, Lou Reid, Terry Baucom, Steve Dilling, Mike Hartgrove

-Alan Bibey (Blueridge),- Junior Sisk (one of the coolest voices ever)

-Shawn Lane (Blue Highway),- see “Tim Stafford” above

-Barry Abernathy and Steve Gulley (Mountain Heart),- see “Adam Steffey” above

-Scott Vestal (Continental Divide),- David Parmley (formerly of The Bluegrass Cardinals, a very influential second generation band)

-Don Reno (Reno and Smiley)­,- Red Smiley, Bill Harrell, Ronnie, Dale and Don Wayne Reno (The Reno Brothers)

-Del McCoury,- Ronnie and Rob McCoury, Mike Bub, Jason Carter

-Mike Bub (Lonesome Standard Time),- Larry Cordle (GREAT songwriter,- wrote Highway 40 Blues and Murder on Music Row just to name a couple), Butch Baldassari, Glen Duncan, Terry Eldrige

-Peter Rowan,- Jerry Garcia (yeah, I said Jerry Garcia, and yeah, it’s the same one), David Grisman, Vassar Clements, Herb Pederson

Well, I can honestly say that I enjoyed writing this. I wanted to point out, since I didn’t include any dates that this list, which as I said before is in no way comprehensive, brings us right up to the present. Bands like Mountain Heart, Blue Highway, IIIrd Tyme Out, The Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, The Lonesome River Band, and of course that little string ensemble we refer to as Alison Krauss and Union Station are all among the most prominent bands touring and recording today. There is but one group here that I feel terribly guilty for not mentioning, and that is Jim and Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys. I love their music very much, but admit that I could not find a way to tie them into this at all (six degrees of Jim and Jesse anyone?). If anyone else knows a connection, other than the genre itself, please let me know. I’ve always thought that their music had perhaps the most original feel to it (other than Bill Monroe’s of course), and perhaps this is an explanation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Great Eastern Trail

I don't get to hike as often as I used to, and the Deity knows I've never been metaphorical or literal Scotty Bo. But, all that said, it always makes me a little giddy when I hear a new trail system is being developed.

Dig this article by Pat Sohn from the Chattanooga Free Press:

A new cross-country footpath called the Great Eastern Trail will pass through Chattanooga on its 10,000-mile route from Florida to New York to North Dakota, according to trail planners."Chattanooga is really poised to be a trail town," said Jeffrey Hunter, Southeast trail programs director for the American Hiking Society.

Mr. Hunter and Alison Bullock, projects director for the National Park Service’s rivers, trails and conservation assistance program, have been meeting with small trail groups to plan the new trail system.

In Chattanooga, the trail could cross the Tennessee River over the Walnut Street Bridge or along a proposed pedestrian underpass beneath the C.B. Robinson Bridge. Or it might traverse the city by way of both paths, the planners said.

Bobby Davenport, a Chattanoogan and the director of the Tennessee Trust for Public Land, said the plan is very good news."

It cements our reputation as a world-class recreation city," he said. "Our greenway system, fully executed, will have no peer in the country. And a first-class regional trail makes it even better.

"Paul Freeman, executive director of the Cumberland Trail Conference, said the trail will add to the awareness of Chattanooga as an outdoor adventure mecca."

There are a hundred reasons to build this trail," he said. "It’s just another spoke in the wheel for outdoor adventure in Chattanooga." Now, say Mr. Hunter and Ms. Bullock, it’s up to volunteers to carry out final planning and build the links between existing trails such as the Chattanooga Greenway system, the Cumberland Trail, the Georgia Pinhoti Trail and Kentucky’s Pine Mountain Trail.

The Southeastern trails will form the backbone of a new path from Florida’s National Scenic Trail to New York’s intersection with the North Country National Scenic Trail, which runs to North Dakota, according to Mr. Hunter.

As laid out now at 1,600 miles, the Great Eastern Trail would connect some 10,000 miles of other trails — including Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, the North Chickamauga Gorge walk and other local paths.

The Cumberland Trail, which begins just outside Chattanooga, will form some 300 miles of the Great Eastern Trail, Mr. Hunter said.

But the exact route the trail will take to connect to the Cumberland Trail from the Georgia Pinhoti trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest is not yet certain."

The unknown is Walker County," Ms. Bullock said.

There, she is working with several small trail groups and local officials to determine the connector trail north into Chattanooga. There are discussions about whether travelers should be routed across Lookout Mountain or more to the east to link with the North Chickamauga Greenway, she said.

Either way, she said, the trail can change Chattanooga and the smaller towns it touches."

This is good for the community," she said, citing National Park Service studies that show property values near trails and greenways increase more than property values farther from designated greenspaces.

She also pointed to Damascus, Va., as an example. The town, which had lost manufacturing firms, began to grow again after the Virginia Creeper Trail was opened there as a link to the Appalachian Trail. Now Damascus is a busy bedand-breakfast town with new restaurants and coffee shops, she said.

As for the proposed pedestrian bridge beneath the C.B. Robinson Bridge, Mr. Davenport said the Trust for Public Land has applied for a $1.5 million state grant to fund the work, patterned after a similar bridge in Richmond, Va."

We could hear as early as July or as late as November if we succeed," he said.

Once across the bridge, a trail on the C.B. Robinson route would run eventually to the North Chickamauga Greenway trail up the North Chickamauga Creek gorge to the Cumberland Trail.

CHALLENGES Between Alabama’s southernmost Conecuh Trail through bottomland forest and stands of cane, and the state’s northern Alabama Pinhoti Trail is a 220-mile gap that will cross the southernmost 1,000-foot peak of the Appalachian chain. Flagg Mountain is topped with a 50-foot stone tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The Cumberland Trail, too, has challenges. Currently only 165 of its 300 miles are open to hikers.

This is where the volunteers come in, Mr. Hunter said. This year, five "volunteer vacations" are planned along the Cumberland and Pine Mountain trails to complete portions of the walkway.

On these vacations, hikers clear and build new trail beds and stream crossings, as well as mark trail directions.

"When I am talking to students, I often say, ‘How many of you can raise your hand and say I changed history,’" said the Cumberland Trail’s Mr. Freeman. "I tell them I’m giving them an opportunity to do that. I’m giving them an opportunity to change the map."

Still other challenges will require policy, planning and funding help. Landowners must be persuaded to befriend the trail and provide easements. Some land will have to be acquired. Rivers and highways will need crossings. A coalition of trail groups already is working through some of these issues, Ms. Bullock said.

A recent edition of the American Hiker, the magazine of the American Hiking Society, traces the history of this new trail to 1960s concerns with future pressures on the Appalachian Trail.

"Trails are a dynamic process. They’re always evolving," Mr. Hunter said.

Worries about population growth, road projects and military installations prompted the tracks of two major trails west of the Appalachian Trail — the Benton MacKaye Trail tying Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tuscarora Trail through parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Cumberland Trail and Kentucky’s Pine Mountain Trail, will be the foundation of the Great Eastern Trail.

In the late 1990s, members of Hiking Society and the National Park Service began talking to members of smaller trail groups about linking their trails to form the larger alternative corridor, Mr. Hunter said."

The Appalachian Trail gets tremendous use," Mr. Hunter said. "But all of these other trails are wonderful resources, and they need attention, too."

You get all that? Interesting stuff, eh? I got a couple more links for you. First, a website which describes the trail at some length - I'm not sure of how "official" it is, but it has some nice links. Take a gander. Alternatively, check out the original version, the American Hiking Society's article on the subject (its in PDF, so consider yourself warned).

And, as for the Damascus/land value angle (in dark blue, above), I think its key to remember that towns which have benefited heavily from the AT have embraced it not just as physical artifact, but as a cultural artifact as well. Damascus hosts festivals and has radically transformed its local economy to suit the Trail and its users - this isn't a warning against trail development, but it is a caution against over-idealizing the nature of "trail effect."

Also, its seems that West Virginia and Kentucky have been largely left out again (at least beyond the border towns). . . one has to wonder why . . . or at least one can pretend to wonder why, until one recognizes that the trail is expanding west in-synch with the westward expansion of the Eastern Megalopolis (and rise of Nashville and the Tennessee Valley cities). It seems that unless you're within an hour or two of a significant city, (excepting the Clinch Mountains line), you simply don't warrent being part of a national trail.

Of course, there are always Cincy, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Huntington, Beckley, Frankfort, and Lexington. Hmm. I dunno'.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Barter Theatre

Once upon a time there was a man named Robert Porterfield. Mr. Porterfield was a struggling actor living in New York City. After a while he decided to go back home, back to Southwest Virginia, and he did just that. However, before he left the city he convinced a group of his actor friends to come with him and start a theatre...and they did. In the year of 1933 the Barter Theater was born and it is still going strong today. The name for the theatre comes from the practice of exchanging food and supplies for this case food, tobacco, or even live animals for entertainment. The audience would get to see a great play and the actors would get to eat. Now of course today tickets cost money...however, the theatre occasionally offers a pay what you can night where canned goods are collected in exchange for tickets, keeping the tradition alive.
The Barter Theatre is a treasured historical landmark for many reasons. It provides a full season of theatrical productions; classical to contemporary, musicals, comedies, and dramas. It is the oldest working theatre in the state of Virginia, and one of the oldest in the nation. It is the official State Theatre of Virginia. It is an important landmark for the town of Abingdon, Southwest Virginia, Appalachia, and the United States. The Barter also offers Appalachian writers a chance to have their works brought to life through the annual Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. A few plays are selected each year to be performed during the Virginia Highlands Festival, also founded by Robert Porterfield, on the Barter's main stage.

I actually had an opportunity to "tread the boards" during the spring of 2004. I performed minor roles in 2 shows and I will never forget my experience. It was an honor and a priviledge to work with great actors from all over the US, with many credits from Broadway to regional and local theatres. I got a chance to perform on the same stage that has been graced by Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Ned Beatty, Kevin Spacey, and Patricia Neal....just a few Barter alumni. The Barter has a resident theatre company, mostly equity actors, but does hire non-equity when needed. The Barter has annual auditions at the theatre, and also attends SETC, UPTA, and auditions in New York, Atlanta, DC, Richmond, and Asheville, NC.

Yes I am a little biased in writing about the Barter.....I hope it lasts forever. That being said, it is definitely worth your time to go and check it out....either on the web or in person. Plan a'll thank me later

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Accountant

Anyone ever see this movie? It won the best short film in 2001, I think. Great commentary on Southern Culture and its portrayal in the media. Check it's only about 45 minutes long.

Picture from Mike, Part III


Mountain Stage

I have been listening to NPR since middle school, when Dad and I would turn on Garrison Keillor on our way to the cabin after church. It is one of our nation's greatest assets and completely and the source of some of the funniest smart humor around. Of course, there is also the music.

One of my favorite shows, especially when I'm drivin', is, was, and shall remain Mountain Stage, which turns 25 this year, is (usually) out of Charleston, West-by-God-Virginia, and its one of the best damn music shows around for just about anything you'd want, be it folk, Celtic, bluegrass, rock, jazz . . . heck, just check out the musician list, you'll hear what I mean.

Let me hit the downside - the website, well, it kinda' ain't good. The "about" page says the show is 20 years old, if that says how behind it is (even if you discount the spotty first three years, yeah, that's still two years behind). I say it kinda' ain't good for one key reason - you can only access the most recent show on the site - that's right, no online archives. Not only that, at the time I'm writing this I don't even see a way for you to purchase old shows. Alas.

What that means, in other words, is the badness of the website is a product of the fact that it gives us inadequate access to a great show. I hope that changes soon, but in the meantime we'll have to content ourselves with the available, um, content.

Two additional things I just thought were cool:

1) Dig these stats:

A few demographic facts about the audience of Mountain Stage:

Program audience median age is 46.6
54% of the audience are male, 46% are female
56% of the audience have a college or advanced degree
37% of the audience have incomes of $75,000 or more

and 2) dig this festival (and its online jukebox - c'mon guys, this is the idea. . . ).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tailgating, Appalachian Style

Here's my proposal for the contributors and readers of this blog:

One event that polarizes just about all of us, unless you're a soccer fan, is college football. So, I'm proposing a research project of sorts. Let's hit the road this Autumn and enjoy some raw emotion and cooked ribs at four different college football games within the Appalachian region. We'll take notes on the indigenous foods being served at tailgates, the campus scenery and foliage, the game experience, so forth and so on..and report our findings here.

With that on the table, here is the schedule of top games to see in the region:

Game 1: Marshall @ Tennessee Sept. 23
Game 2: Randolph-Macon @ Emory & Henry Oct. 14

Game 3: Furman @ Appalachian State,
Oct 28
Game 4: Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest
Nov 18

If you want to be included in this project, list your yea in the comments and I'll take note for future updates on the idea.

Hardware Company

Just a thought. Will somebody buy the Hardware and make it into what we all want to see----a real “classy” music hall/restaurant/bar. There is a goldmine to be made if you do it right. (is Lee listening… by the way I saw an add for Dynabody by Lee on a phonebook back home. He is going to own his own country one day) Do you guys remember Tuesday night at Addison’s in Emory. The place was packed and I do not think that anyone went home unhappy, even Sean could dance his night away there. I miss those nights. Every time I go in the Hardware I feel like I just stepped into a poor rip off of a Kinkade painting. The place has gone so far down hill that I can not stand to step into the door and that is saying a lot since I worked in it’s kitchen for years. Abingdon needs a music venue. We have the Barter, which is truly worth the experience, but we need a place to go hear music from our culture that you would never find at Barter. Examples are Anais Mitchell and Darrell Scott. The building is perfect with its two floors and ample room to remodel. It is historic and respected. It is a place that can become a legend for Abingdon. Focus on the music.

Bristol and the Pear Trees

I found this in the Bristol Herald Courier . . . it is just the kind of thing that fires me up.

Bristol residents want a say about the future of the pear trees that line State Street.

The trees put on a colorful display in the spring and the fall that many residents and visitors find charming. Others consider the trees a nuisance. The matter is far from settled.

Believe in Bristol, the downtown advocacy group that oversees the cities’ new Main Street program, appointed a committee to study the trees last week. This committee’s recommendation could carry much weight with the elected leadership of Bristol Virginia and Bristol Tennessee, which will make the ultimate tree-chopping or tree-saving decision. For that reason, the committee should do its work in public.

Another point in favor of an open, transparent process: The trees belong to everyone in the city, not just downtown property owners. They were planted in 1982 by the cities as part of a downtown beautification project – no doubt using public funds. And, if they are removed and replaced with a smaller species of tree, city taxpayers would pick up the tab.

City residents want a voice in the tree debate, but so far there has been no official channel for comments. Instead, the trees’ supporters and detractors have written impassioned letters to the editor, posted comments to an on-line discussion at our Web site and stopped city officials on the street to give them a piece of their mind (possibly accompanied by a bit of fist-shaking and anger). All of this informal communication is great, but it is no substitute for giving average city residents a voice in the official process – whether that discussion takes place under the umbrella of Believe in Bristol or at City Council work sessions.

The cities’ elected leaders seem to understand the need for a public process, at least to a degree. Of course, they will hold the requisite public comment period after a plan has been drafted and is up for debate. The law requires this.

But if city officials (and by extension, Believe in Bristol and the downtown property owners) want the public’s support, the process should be open from the beginning. Hear what city residents have to say about the trees. Listen to their reasons for saving them. The trees’ beauty enhances downtown. A decision to remove them shouldn’t be made lightly; nor should it be made simply because some downtown property owners dislike the trees.

Period street lights and decorative trash cans are fine, but they don’t contribute much to the downtown aesthetics. The trees are gorgeous in spring and fall; they provide welcome shade in the summer and add to the festive feel when they are lit up in the winter. Some have pointed out that the sparkly lights don’t all work, but that can be fixed.

Opponents of the trees say they are too large and messy or that they are weak and prone to break. These might be valid points. However, if the discussion of these points takes place behind closed doors, residents have every right to be concerned that certain groups’ views will be given more weight than others; that the process was not truly democratic.

The ultimate question – should the trees stay or go – hasn’t been settled. The debate must remain open to public scrutiny as the process moves forward.

You know why it fires me up? Because some people don't understand a couple of basic truths. First, if you want people to do business with you, and by business I mean anything that involves shopping, dining, and other service-based industries, you need ascethetically pleasing areas. Bristol is on the verge of becoming less ascethetically pleasing of its own free will - problematic given that its trying to start its own tourism business (read as "steal thunder from Hiltons, Sevierville, and Abingdon").

Secondly, you have durable adult trees already in place which are both lovely and help filter out air pollution, not to mention decreasing sound pollution by muffling automobile noise. Why should tax-payers pay to replace these only to serve the short-sighted interests of a very few individuals (e.g. oh no, there was wind, and I have to pick up *shudder* a branch!!!!!)?

We kowtow to automobiles and trucks enough. . . its necessary and essential sometimes (e.g. in terms of interstate development). But unless Bristol wants a reputation for downtown with less life than New York, that is to say unless it wants for some mysterious reason to be like Knoxville, I say keep the trees.

Shady Valley

I can think of virtually no place any closer to an Appalachain paradise than Shady Valley, Tennessee. But hey, I'm partial, of course, since I have lived there virtually all of my life. Bordered on three sides by Iron Mountain, Holston Mountain, and Cross Mountain (appropriately named because it "bridges" between the other two), this valley is strikingly beautiful. Wildlife, mountain scenery, and Appalachain hospitality are found in abundance here. And it's not as isololated as one might think, at least not to those who are accustomed to having to spend a little time behind the wheel to get where they're going. Here are some of the surrounding towns and approximate drive times from "the Valley":

-Damascus, VA, 15 minutes
-Abingdon, VA, 25-30 minutes
-Bristol, TN/VA, 35 minutes
-the "tri-cities" of Emory, Glade Spring, and Meadowview, VA (hat tip to Jay Webb), 40 minutes
-Mountain City, TN, 20 minutes
-Elizabethton, TN, 30 minutes
-Johnson City, TN, 45 minutes
-Kingsport, TN, 50 minutes
-Boone, NC, 45 minutes
-Blowing Rock, NC, 60 minutes

So, considering that there could not possibly be anywhere else that one could actually need, much less want, to go, (just kidding,- a little), I ask this simple question. Is there any other place that offers this same access to so many other places, while at the same offering such a comfortable, nigh on perfect, buffer from them? Well, of course there are! It's just that I don't need to know about them because I've got it made right here. So ya'll come see us and we'll trade stories. And don't "come after fire" (anyone ever heard that one before?), take your coat off and stay awhile.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Breakfast from Heaven

So I am on this thing now so let’s talk about food. I mean real coookin like; bacon, eggs, biscuits, sausage, and red eye gravy along with the original. Let’s talk about Shatley Springs. It’s not much of a building or a drive if you do not love old time Appalachian scenery but the food will stay with you for years. I can still taste the salt on the country ham I had twelve years ago. I am talking about real country ham, the kind you salt cure in the shack behind the house. I am talking about heaven on your tongue, and a heart attack coming soon. This place is legendary in every way. Check out the history and if you can’t move after they cart your breakfast “family style” to you check out the cabins. To be in the mountains and to love the mountains you have to at least once eat like many of us were raised on. Drive there now and if the restaurant is closed pitch a tent. They will come and get you in the morning with real coffee in hand.

Big Burley

Big Burley is not the guy in the picture so much as it is the large, leafy plant next to him. I thought I should first make that clarification. Now for those not in the know Burley tobacco is a tobacco variety unique to the Appalachian (apple-atchin, correct pronunciation, damn Yankees like to screw it up) region. The Burley tobacco variety is used by cigarrette manufacturers in blends with other tobacco varieties such as Bright Leaf in order to give a cigarrette a sweeter flavor. Anyway, enough about the stuff itself, all that said, it is the dying Appalachian culture that has evolved around the production of Burley tobacco that I am concerned about.
Many consider coal to be the product that built Appalachia. I cordially disagree. Burley tobacco made a larger impact on the region and it's culture. It is only with the dawn of modern industrialization and the decline of "Big Tobacco" that Burley has rapidly begun to be forgotten as a true source of Appalachian culture. For example, in Southwest Virginia I can only think of 5 counties (Buchanon, Dickenson, Lee, Tazewell and Wise) that have strong ties to coal. Twelve other SwVA counties economic roots are in Burley Tobacco. Get my drift.
It would be interesting to find out how many tobacco warehouses have been torn down or turned into flea markets in the past twenty years. Every fall Main Street in Abingdon, VA once played host to farmers going to market. Now farmers sell directly to manufacturers. Tobacco barns are now used for storage instead of their original use, which was far more preparatory. Fields once plowed to harvest the crop now bear the scars of subdivisions and trailer parks. Heck, when I was in high school I only knew of a few male classmates that had not worked in a field of Burley tobacco. Anyway, you see where I am going with this. So, the next time you have a chance go explore an old Burley Tobacco barn, the wonderful aroma of dried tobacco will surely bring back many fond memories.


The Carter Family Fold

I am not qualified for this. . . it is just a fact that we need Stephen Wiley to comment at length on the ol' Fold. But here it is. . . cause what else am I gonna' do.

The roots of contemporary mountain music, bluegrass, country, and to a substantial degree rock and roll are a tangled mess, but most of them at some point or another touch the Carter Family and their Fold in Hiltons, Virginia. I won't go into an enormous amount of detail, besides noting that its the only place in the world were you can be a nose's length away from Johnny Cash's tuxedos and flatfoot six steps later.

The homepage of the Fold is here . . . you're gonna' get the basics there, though you'll never get the gist till you make a visit. I'll also throw in an NPR story (with some samples) and an article by the magazine No Depression as well to fill in the gaps.

If you know some other sites, especially with musical samples, drop us some knowledge.