Sunday, December 21, 2008


I'd like to direct your attention to another great blog focused on our fair region. Appy-Love is a relatively new project, and is coming along quite nicely. The author has some good stuff that's worth your attention. If nothing else right now, you've got to check out her first post from back in November:

Appy Love might become a source of ideas to get you out of your house and into Appalachia. I'd like to spend some time visiting, researching, and writing about the hills, hollers and holes-in-the-wall that have been surrounding me all this time, but that I've occasionally eschewed in favor of big cities (Atlanta and London) or big box retailers (Target and Old Navy). As they say, with age comes wisdom. Or at least the determination not to be a complete jackass. Since I live in Johnson City, posts will start here and radiate as far outward as gas prices will allow. Here goes nothing.
Keep reading.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great Smoky Mountains National Park turns 75

Clay Owen

The 75th anniversary of the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is soon approaching. The most-visited park in the entire National Park system, the GSMNP is celebrating in the coming year with a series of events featuring Dolly Parton as the park's official Ambassador.

Scott Barker has an excellent piece in today's Knoxville News Sentinel surveying many aspects of the Park.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Museum of Appalachia's Tennessee Fall Homecoming

The Museum of Appalachia's Tennessee Fall Homecoming is one of the finest and most-important events each year in all of Appalachia. We spent a couple of days at the museum in Clinton, TN this weekend.

David Baker of Sevierville, TN mans his family's apple press and sells mountain taffy.

Okra dries in the October sun.

Ronda Vincent and the Rage entertains thousands at the Museum's main stage. This year's homecoming featured five stages of continuously-running music.

Above are two pieces featured in the museum's massive Display Barn. The museum's collection is absolutely huge, as well as incredibly varied. Items range from the former property of some of the most prominent figures in Appalachia's history, to simple items upon which the people of the region relied on that were crucial to their survival.

The WDVX camper, the station's original studio.

Museum founder John Rice Irwin chats with old-time fiddler Charlie Acuff (cousin to the late Roy Acuff, King of Country music).

Many of the museum's most-impressive items are on display in the Appalachian Hall of Fame. John Rice Irwin's personal touch is evident throughout the grounds of the museum, but especially in this building. Most of the placards are personally inscribed by Mr. Irwin, and his first-person accounting of the acquisition of many of the items are as rich as the artifacts themselves.

More photos from the weekend are here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Images from Middle Tennessee

So the western part of middle Tennessee would be considered only barely on the fringes of Appalachia by any definition, however I thought I'd share these photos of home that I took last time I made it down. Anyway, isn't Appalachia more a state of mind than an actual geographic boundary? Okay, maybe it is an actual geographic boundary, but that's beside the point.

The rest of my photographs can be found on my PicasaWeb site.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pucker up, it's persimmon time in Tennessee!

While driving to church yesterday morning, I spotted my first sign that fall was here. Lying in the middle of the road was an old familiar sight. Dozens of little orange berries, some smashed, some round and waiting to be run over. When I was a kid growing up here in East, TN, persimmons brought both pleasure and aggravation to my life.

According to Wikipedia, the American Persimmon tree grows mainly in the Southeastern United States. Its ranges from New England to Florida, and west to Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The tree grows wild but has been cultivated for its fruit and wood since prehistoric times by Native Americans.

I know that persimmon trees can be found in nearly every yard here in Knox County. In my own yard, I have only male persimmon trees, which do not bear any fruit. My parents, however, have female persimmon trees in their yard. My, the memories those things hold for me. From my earliest recollections, folks have been tricking younger kids into sampling green persimmons. I can remember my cousin Danny saying; “Oh, Tug, these persimmons are delicious, you’ve got to try one!” Then he held one up to his mouth and pretended to take a bite and acted like it was the best thing he had ever tasted in his life. Of course I, not wanting to look stupid in front of my hero cousin, took a big bite. If you have never bitten into a green persimmon before, you don’t know what you are missing. Or rather I should say you don’t want to know what you are missing! It takes no more than one bite into one to turn your mouth completely inside out. It has the similar effect of biting into a lemon, only worse! The first thing you want to do after trying one is to stick your tongue out and start slapping it. That is hard to do because your lips are now drawn into a frozen pucker, making this nearly impossible.

I can’t even tell you the number of folks that I played the above trick on. I know I did it to my younger sister, brother, and cousin Brad. Of course I also tricked my younger brother into sampling worms (which I wrote about in THIS post), bugs, and dandelions, but I’ll save those stories for another day. Ah the pleasures of being an older brother…

Persimmons brought a mixture of joy and misery into my life. Once the fruit gets ripe; it falls off of the tree. Naturally, this leads to the ground below being covered with plump, juicy, and sticky orange balls. I don’t know if you have ever slipped down into a slimy pile of persimmons, but let me tell you that is one nasty mess! Also much like “manure wars” we had persimmon wars. The green ones hurt, but the ripe orange ones would explode on your body and make a gross mess on your clothes, or in the worst case…your hair. I can still see my sisters and me running barefooted through the yard, slipping in persimmons, slinging them at each other, falling down and getting leaves and dirt matted into our clothes. My granny Spencer also had numerous persimmon trees in her yard and every time we went to her house we would get into them. Usually we would have a war with Becky, Paula, and Jeff Lawson, all whom lived next door to granny. The only thing separating us was a white wooden fence and a driveway. We would sling those persimmons with all of our might at each other, like it was a life or death situation. Oh what fun!

Some people eat persimmons and make things like pies and pudding out of them. I’ve eaten a few ripe ones and they are pretty good but the consistency of the fruit kind of turns me off. They are mushy and slimy, two textures that really don’t agree with my palate.

I came across this website:, which has lots of good information and stories about persimmons. Check it out when you have time.

The above is a cross post from my Tug's Life blog.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Religious signs in West Virginia

Some religious signs from a recent highly bumpercropulous swing through southeastern West Virginia.

There was a great, raucous Holiness service going on in this church, and the doors were open, so I parked and listened. Some folks came out of the church and invited in. I wish I could have joined them, but I had a dog in the car with me and couldn't leave him.

On the same church:

Near that church:

Also in McDowell County:

Close-ups of the Jesus windows. The Roman soldier drawing blows me away--what a peculiar choice.

Fayette County:


In Kincaid, a combination post office-praise center.

Hard to read, but the little blue sign says "Christians helping others."


From the Field Guide to What's Good.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: CMT's Outsiders Inn

Exactly what part of "Country Music Television" did you not understand?

Everyone here in Cocke County, TN has their knickers in a twist about Outsiders Inn, CMT's new reality(which they define loosely as staged and scripted scenes with ad libs and non-actors) spin-off of Gone Country. There has been outrage over how the series portrayed our local people, or rather how it didn't. All of the locals appearing in the series were actors drawn from the pool of talent that populates Pigeon Forge's stage shows--Central Casting for Southern-Stereotypes-R-Us. Which is fine for Pigeon Forge and Dollywood, but misleading when presenting the program as a "reality" show. It's not. It's just bad, bad retroscripting. The trick with retroscripting is that you actually need actors--good ones--to pull it off. Outsider's Inn is sadly lacking in that department and many others.

Everyone in town was excited this June while it was in principal photography out at Christopher Place. But if you've watched the programming on CMT, it shouldn't have been a surprise that the channel that brings us My Big Redneck Wedding, makes its bread and butter from exploiting Southern stereotypes and mocking its fan base should do anything different with Cocke County.

My sister tells this story about how embarrassed she would be when her dates came to pick her up at our grandparent's house. Mutt and Papa loved Hee-Haw. They were also quite deaf so they kept the volume turned up on the TV really loud. Outsiders Inn is going for that Hee Haw vibe. The problem is that it doesn't have the astounding brilliance of the Grand Ole Opry talent behind it. There really isn't any talent to speak of. Hemorrhoids just aren't that funny--particularly on Carnie Wilson.

In short, the show is insulting not just to Cocke Countians, but to Appalachian people, Tennesseans and to Southerners in general. It's also insulting because of the amateurish production values. It's the sort of show that is useless for anyone's resume--the sort of show you grab the money then deny like hell you worked on it. It's a truckstop prostitute of a TV program and no one is going to want to admit they had anything to do with it. But if you insist on viewing the Credit Roll of Shame--it can be found on IMDb.

To make matters worse, Cocke County Mayor, Iliff McMahan Jr., willingly cast in the role of hick mayor, was reported by the National Enquirer to have brought quarts of moonshine as gifts to the cast members. I would have to consume way too much untaxed liquor to blab to the Enquirer. No one, thus far, has admitted to being the Enquirer's source.

Cocke County needs to dust themselves off from this bad experience. It's okay to be outraged but realize the insult was far broader than just Cocke County. CMT needs to stick with the music--or at least revamp its sixty years out-of-date image of what country music entertainment and its fans look like. Last I checked, overalls and checked shirts were not involved.

Back when I was working in the film industry, we had this thing we'd say when a set-up was going overlong or we were losing light.

Let's shoot this puppy before it turns into a dog.

Outsiders Inn was barking in pre-production--why didn't anyone hear it?

More Reviews and Articles:

KnoxNews Review

Johnson: 'Outsiders Inn' out of bounds in Appalachia

Enquirer's mayor and moonshine article attracts attention

From The Smokey Mountain Breakdown

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summertime Reward

Swimming under the Cascades of Giles County, Virginia provides instant relief from the two mile hike in the summer heat.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blue Ridge Outdoors

Photo by Hazel Crabtree, Saltville, VA 1928

It was astonishing and exciting to hear about the new publication from Blue Ridge Outdoors about some deep issues in our present Appalachian backyards. The two main articles this month brings about more awareness to the environmental and social strains applied to the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. Thank you so much Blue Ridge Outdoors for taking this chance to at least cover what is going on.

Read the articles from the website here or pick up a copy for yourself.

Keeper of the Mountains
by Chris Weller

Faces of Coal
by Jedd Ferris

Photo by Hazel Crabtree, 1929

Friday, June 13, 2008

The June beetle - capturing a living music box

"From some long-forgotten source, I heard that June beetles made a sweet sound while flying around. I loved music, and the method to acquire this living music box was to fasten a long thread to one of the bug's hind legs.

"Now, June beetles are about half an inch across and three quarters of an inch long. The ones in the South are dark green on the back side and have an armor-like covering over their undersides. They feed on fennel and are harmless.

June Beetle"One day, I chased down a June beetle and brought it in. It was hard to hold. That bug clawed me with its sharp toes and rooted with its sharp nose. But I held on for dear life and persuaded Mother to tie a thread on its hind leg. She wasn't too anxious to oblige me, but finally the job was accomplished and I took my musical bug outside to test it out.

"The ground around the house was level, so I chose a spot where I could turn my bug loose. It gladly took off, and I ran after it, holding on tight to the thread. The bug made a pleasing sound that was music to my ears. The sound that June beetle made—along with the Jew's harp and harmonica—was the one source of music my young ears had ever heard.

"Soon the bug grew tired and sat down. I realized the thread might hamper its movements, so I waited while it rested. Still anxious to hear more music, I urged it to fly. As quick as lightening, the bug took off with me pounding along behind it. I was thoroughly enjoying the performance until the thread slipped off. With mixed emotions, I watched my music box disappear in the distance.

"I felt bad over my loss and set about repairing it. I found another June beetle, but somehow I didn't like this one quite as well as the first one. Just the same, I hurried into the house to have Mother tie a thread on its leg. This time Mother openly expressed her dislike for such activities. Nevertheless, with strong urging on my part, she tied the thread once again. I took the new June beetle outside and let it fly as I had the old one, but the knot in the thread was too loose and slipped off. This bug also flew away, heading due north. It didn’t slacken its speed for even a moment."

From a Parks family history compiled by Lillian "Lilly Ann" Parks Adams (1880-?), at Capitola, CA, 1949-50, when she was 70 years old. She was born in Wayne County, WV, which borders Kentucky and Ohio. The story is to the best of her knowledge as a four-year-old child, and from family retellings.


Original blogged at Appalachian History