Saturday, October 25, 2014

Southern Appalachia - Deep in the Great Smokey Mountains

In the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina - Part 1

At the confluence of the Oconoluftee and Tukaseegee Rivers
I first came to North Carolina and the Great Smokey Mountains in August on my way to a workshop way farther up the eastern seaboard of the USA at the Kripalu Yoga Center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I wrote an earlier blog about this and you can find it here. About a month ago I got in my car at Denver and drove across country in a straight shot to be here. Even from Denver it's a long drive and things are pretty flat for much of that trip. Thank you Satellite Radio and iTunes. So how did I end up coming here you ask? Well it's a long story, but the Readers Digest version says I found love at Kripalu so I guess love brought me here.

I have to admit that the area surprised me with its beauty. The mountains are much more rugged and wild than my preconceptions allowed me and there is water everywhere. If you love water (and I do) then you'd love this place. Dell is not only a superlative documentary filmmaker, but also an incredibly talented kayaker. I'm hoping she'll teach me to be a better paddler..



I have to say that the Great Smokey Mountains are perfectly named. They are wrapped in a smokey mist nearly every day and it's just sublime when you can get a good long-distance view of them receding slowly into the distance. When the sun comes through and starts to burn off the cloudy haze,  the light effects are amazing. If you've ever watched the movies like Last of the Mohicans or Cold Mountain, you will have some idea of the landscape here.

Two significant things happened here pretty much right at the get go that put me in the deep end of the pool immediately. First, Dell's original cabin outside of Bryson City, NC could not get Internet service and I couldn't get a cell phone signal - at all. Without either of those I cannot work freelance remotely and that's a non-starter for me - both of us really. I need income. So we found a cute little cabin to rent off Hwy 28 between Bryson City and Robbinsville. We have excellent Internet here, but still no cell service for me. AT&T is sending me a micro-cell that should fix the problem, but it's been over 2 weeks now with no sign. Meanwhile I have to drive about a mile up the road to find even a single bar signal.
Barking Squirrel Hollow - Cabin on the left
Light from the window in our cabin

The cabin is cute and pretty remote, but perfect for our needs. Funny, but here I am a west coast native living in an honest to god "Hollow" in the Southern Appalachia. Who'd a thunk it huh? But it's gorgeous, tranquil and surrounded by nature. We have an angry, noisy little squirrel living just outside the cabin so we've name the place "Barking Squirrel Hollow". I think it needs a sign and maybe its own wine label... Possibly down the road. Hmm... The best award for name though goes to some new friends here. The local yoga teacher and her husband have a beautiful home at the end of a short road called "Possum Hollow". How much do I love that name? Also, a special shout-out and thank you to friends Bob and Gwen for putting us up in their cute little guest cabin during the time between moving out of one place and into the next. Their hospitality and generosity were truly wonderful.

The second significant thing was the Cherokee Full Circle event I was invited to join in by Dell. She's working on a long-term documentary project involving the Trail of Tears journey in 1838-1839 that I would term a mini-holocaust for the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes. This was a naked land grab driven by gold-rush greed resulting in the forced removal by the US Government of the so-called "5 Civilized Tribes" ending with the deaths of thousands. It's a truly heart-breaking story. Anyway, we spent a 3 day weekend at the Full Circle event and it was amazing. There were some wonderful people and incredible energy there. At one point during the proceedings, the originator and facilitator Dr. JT Garrett tasked me with designing a logo or symbol design for this particular event. The theme was "Bear Medicine". I only had a big pad of paper and jumbo magic marker to work with, so this is what I came up with:


As part of the event, we took a couple of field trips out to some beautiful and significant places in Cherokee. I had been to one or two with Dell already so knew how powerful they were. There are still so many places to explore and experience here. Haven't even scratched the surface. I will post more in upcoming blog posts. I didn't expect to find a bamboo grove anywhere around here, but there was a fabulous one right beside the Oconoluftee River in Cherokee. It's a wonderful place to walk through on a warm afternoon.

Bamboo Grove
Me and Dell
Beside the Oconoluftee River

Corn drying at Kituwah

So many similar, yet completely different things here and it's taking me some time to get settled and used to it all. The people are wonderful, warm and generous here. The landscape is lush and verdant. Although it's a temperate rain-forest here (like the Pacific Northwest) the trees are almost all deciduous rather than coniferous so right now the fall colors are just spectacular. When I take more pictures of the leaves and hills changing color, I will post those too.

There are tons of wildlife here and while some like bear and deer are familiar, some are novel for me. For example, there are a lot of good sized turtles here (I LOVE turtles) and sometimes they cross the road. Sadly, they sometimes get run over too. Dell took her chances on the highway to rescue a large turtle, but was surprised that it turned out to a pissed off Snapping Turtle. So her rescue ended up being even more exciting/hazardous than she'd originally bargained for. You really, really, really don't want to get your finger bitten. You could easily lose it. Here's a picture she took once it was safely in the grass. Thank you for saving that turtle Dell.


Here are some pics of a few other critters I seldom get to see. For example, I've seen Praying Mantises before, but rarely and this one was super jumbo. I also found this really cool Daddy-Long Legs spider in the Bamboo Grove too. Its body wasn't too large, but it's legs were maybe 5-6 inches across. I had my hand wrapped around a bamboo stalk and it just sort of wandered on to say hello. Kind of tickly. Another time I found this gorgeous spider with an intensely yellow colored and "pebbly" back, but unfortunately I couldn't get a picture that was sharp.

Let us prey...
Them is some serious leggies...
Okay, I'm going to wrap this report up for now, but I'll post more stories and pictures from my time here as soon as I can. Meanwhile I'll leave you with a few last photos of the water and sky here. I hope you enjoy.