Columns 2011

December 23, 2011

We’ve had about and inch and a half of rain at our place in the past few days. Wednesday, it rained as hard as it can rain for about a half hour, and it did a lot of damage to my driveway.

I may not have another chance to post until after the new year, so best wishes for the holidays and a happy and prosperous new year!

December 16, 2011

Rainy old day. It’s been warm, but overcast, for the past few days. The weekend is supposed to be nice, though.

The Silks for Less people, across from the co-op on East Main Street (in the old Mason Tractor building) are having a real going out of business sale, and I’ve heard there are some serious bargains. I usually don’t talk about for profit businesses, but I thought I’d mention it in case this is anyone’s cup of tea.

As far as I know, there’s nothing doing in town that isn’t always going on. I’m planning on a long hike this weekend, followed by a little “creative downtime.”

December 10, 2011

We had a few snow flurries earlier in the week, but the ground was so warm that it really didn’t cause any difficulties. Since then, the weather has been colder, but clear. The full moon is tonight, but it was really beautiful last night and early this morning, setting over the Big Frog Mountain.

There isn’t much wild excitement in town in December, at least after Light Up Blue Ridge is over. I see that the VH/Blue Orleans Bistro is having the Rolling’ Bones band for New Year’s Eve. They are one of the outfits that played the Blue Ridge Blues & BBQ Festival in September. Christy Lee’s is having McElvis.

As long as the weather stays nice, I’d recommend taking a walk or a drive through the country. We’ve had a few solid freezes, and the landscape has taken on its full winter colors and textures.

December 5, 2011

We’ve had much warmer weather since the cold snap and are expecting some rain. At this point, just about all the leaves have fallen that are going to fall, and the landscape is looking like winter for the first time, especially after the hard freeze we had last week.

Light Up Blue Ridge was well attended as always, despite a kind of gray day. It didn’t rain, though, and everyone seemed to enjoy the parade.

We had the first fire in the fireplace during the last cold spell. It’s nice to have a fireplace, and it’s something we haven’t had before. There is something elemental about it, literally so if you believe the early Greek philosophers, who analyzed the basic elements as four – water, fire, air, and earth. Heraclites, the first “process” philosopher, chose fire as his metaphor for the world process. It is consumed, but in being consumed, gives off heat, so nothing is lost. So it serves as an image of the eternal process of the universe. Whether that’s profound or simple, there’s no denying that a fire encourages contemplation and creates contentment. It’s also pretty nice to step outside and smell the sweet fragrance of oak in the air. It’s one of the reasons I feel lucky to live here in the mountains.

November 23, 2011

We had a little less than an inch of rain at our place yesterday, and the weather is clearing, but colder. Best wishes to everyone for the holiday. We have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope that you do, too.

“Blue Friday,” the downtown merchant’s version of Black Friday, is scheduled for this Friday.

“Light up the Basin” is Friday evening in Copperhill. Festivities begin on the McCaysville side of the river with a lighting of the tree at the McCaysville branch of the United Community Bank at 6:00 PM. Carolers then process over to the BB&T bank in Copperhill, to light the Copperhill tree. Thence to the Miner’s Park to light the Yule Tree, and finally to the Steel Bridge to light the wreath.

“Light Up Blue Ridge” has, of course, become a major event that brings thousands to Blue Ridge. It begins Saturday at 11:15 AM, with the arrival of Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus on the train. Photos with Santa will be in the gazebo from 12:00 – 3:00. The schedule for entertainment is: Tuba Christmas, 12:00 – 1:00, Center Point Dance Studio, 1:30, Lindsay Harper, 2:00, Studio One Dance, 2:30, Natti Love Joys, 3:00 – 4:00, Breaking Point, 4:00 – 5:00, Bartlee Norman & 64 Highway Band with Emily Grace, 5:00 – 6:00.

The lighting of the Great Tree – which is now a large, living tree – is at 6:00 PM.

I understand the ice sculptors will be returning, and the downtown shops will be open late.

Long time readers know that I’m something of a “map person” and I’ve just posted an update to my map recommendations. Those of you who get out into the big woods on more than a casual basis may be interested. I’ve pasted it below.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Series

The forest service maps are still very useful. But the corresponding National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps have improved on them in a few ways. For one thing, they name a lot of the local roads, which is a very helpful feature. For another, they provide additional information on the hiking trails, for instance by giving the mileage and rating the difficulty. I used to recommend that everyone carry the forest service maps, because they used to be the only ones that had the forest service road numbers. They are still very useful, but if you could only have one, I’d probably choose the National Geographic Maps. The information isn’t exactly the same, but they have been revised a bit more recently than the forest service maps. I carry both, and I still use both when I’m in the field.

The map that corresponds to the forest service’s “Cherokee National Forest, Southern District” is #781, “Tellico & Ocoee Rivers.” This covers the Cherokee in the area immediately north of Georgia. There are two maps that correspond to the forest service’s “Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia.” “Springer & Cohutta Mountains, #777, covers the area closest to Blue Ridge. “Brasstown Bald & Chatooga River,” #778, covers the area to the east, over to the South Carolina line. At this time (11/23/2011), these maps retail for $11.95 each. The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, up behind the CVS, carries the Chattahoochee maps. There is also a bundle pack available, which Amazon has for $15.56. I’m not sure where the closest place to buy the Tennessee map would be. At any given time, the Bargain Barn in Jasper might have it, the forest service office in the Ocoee Gorge might have it, the Polk County News in Benton might have it, Benton Shooters Supply might have it, and Cherokee Corners Market, at the corner of 411 and 30, just south of the Hiwassee River, might also carry it. Of course, you can order it online from Amazon or National Geographic.

November 16, 2011

The weather has bounced back warm and rainy. We had breakfast on the porch this morning; the temperature was just about 60°. It was a little rainy on Monday, but it started drizzling pretty steadily yesterday. It hasn’t rained very hard for very long, but we’ve gotten about 1-1/2″ at our place so far.

Needless to say, the colors have continued to fade, and more leaves are coming down. We are probably at the point now where more than half the leaves are off the trees. The rest of our view is starting to come in – something I look forward to each fall – and it seems to be time to think about the winter things.

Fall has always been my favorite season, but I love them all here. A lot of my old friends can’t understand why I’m here and not in a college town. But, of course, they haven’t spent enough time here to know. If you grew up in and love the Appalachians as I do, this is just about a perfect setting. If you dropped me down in the Cohuttas, it would be hard for me to tell that I wasn’t back home in Pennsylvania, somewhere in the northern tier. Except for the fact that we have more biodiversity – the northern limit of many southern species, and the southern limit of many northern species – it is very similar country. (Well, maybe there could be more grouse.) When winter comes, you have the beauty without some of the rigors, which makes it just about perfect.

Another reason I love the winters here is for the quiet. It used to be that everyone who didn’t live here went went home after Thanksgiving. These days, the town really doesn’t feel any different during the winter, but it is definitely quieter at home and in the woods. We’ve made the usual forays to some of the favorite book places – the Fannin Friends of the Library book sale, the Haysville Friends of the Library Bookstore (our favorite), and McKays over in Chattanooga – and we have a raft of interesting books laid up for winter reading. I’ve got a project or two in the workshop that I’m hoping to finish, and I even have ambitions of finally finishing my paper on the Kimsey Highway. We’ve got the woodpile well stocked with seasoned oak for those winter evenings around the fire. And, of course, we’ve put up quite a bit of produce from the Mennonite Farmer’s Market over in Delano. (I’ll bet I have about two pecks of various hot peppers – Italian, cherry, haberno, jalapeno – in the freezer.) So I’m looking forward to cooking some of the winter favorites. We do more hiking in the winter, and I want to get out and explore some the the favorite places. In other words, other folks will have to do the complaining. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

November 15, 2011

In local news, the environmental health department is now charging $50 to determine the location of an existing septic system, which is being required as part of the permitting process for additions, garages, and similar structures over 250 square feet on less than two acres of land. This is in response to the fact that most folks have no idea where their septic field is located, and some have in the past built things over it. This isn’t anything that the owner couldn’t do him- or herself, by looking at the septic permit, of course, but most of them don’t. So, as usual, the innocent are going to have to suffer along with the guilty.

In other local news, the county chairman has laid off eighteen people from the road department. These are, to my knowledge, the only actual layoffs that have occurred to date in the county government, although I think there have been a few cases of people leaving and not being replaced or people being reassigned to other positions. Without getting into anything controversial, this development has surprised some people who allege that the road department has long been a sacrosanct sinecure. (There has been some criticism of the department in the past, no doubt by people who don’t appreciate all the hard work they do.) The chairman did say, apparently in justification of the move, that five were people who were already retired from another county position and were drawing social security. However that may be, I’ve heard some speculation that this may endanger the chairman’s re-election prospects, because the support of the county employees has always been a key element in any campaign for chairman. (As one seasoned local political observer told me, “they vote, and all their relatives vote.”) Objectively, the road department continues to have considerably more employees than comparable departments in surrounding counties, even allowing for the fact that Fannin has a paving crew and these other counties don’t. So … it will be interesting to see how all this plays out, come county election time.

November 11, 2011

It’s a beautiful day, but much colder. We started out around the freeze, and are now close to 50°. If you still have winterization to do, it is high time.

There is still some color in the woods, but it is definitely fading. I think this has been the best, and longest, leaf season that we have had for some time. The deep reds, which I thought wouldn’t come, finally came. There seemed to be more vibrant oranges than there usually are, and the yellows were spectacular as always. And, oddly, things seemed to come at different times. I have four hickory trees that are usually beautiful, but this year they all came at different times. In fact, one just came a day or two ago, when two others are long gone, and one other is mostly gone.

I’d guess that about half the leaves are down. I’ve blown leaves three times, and will probably do it again this weekend. The trees are bare enough to see the lay of the land, so it is time to come up if you are interested in looking at land. We still have a very large oversupply of land, and prices are better than I can remember for a long time, maybe as long as fifteen years. I’ve seen some incredible prices on some of the larger tracts.

I would still caution against buying some of those fantastically priced foreclosure lots in subdivisions that haven’t any infrastructure in place. If the community water system isn’t complete, there probably isn’t enough acreage in most of those lots to get a private septic permit. Also, chances of the roads ever being paved are pretty low in most of those situations.

November 3, 2011

We’re having a bit of rain today, but it is supposed to clear out by tomorrow and leave us with a beautiful weekend, with afternoons in the lower sixties.

I think the leaf color peaked in most areas last weekend. I’m not sure how hard it will rain today. It hasn’t rained hard yet, but if it does, it will bring some of the leaves down. But I am still think there may be pretty good color – especially the yellows and oranges – this weekend. After this weekend, I think it will be mostly gone.

I was able to attend Halloween in the old downtown on Monday. I continue to be amazed by the number of people who show up for these downtown events. I was especially impressed because this was on a Monday, when the weekend folks aren’t around. There were some really great costumes, on both adults and children, and it seemed to be a very popular event.

October 31, 2011

We’ve been having some beautiful fall weather, with mornings around the freeze and afternoons around sixty. The leaf color is still very strong. In fact, I think this is one of the best leaf seasons I can remember for a long time. We don’t seem to have many real reds, but the oranges and various shades of yellow seem unusually vibrant this year. It’s always a guessing game, but I expect to colors to remain good at least through this weekend.

It seems a bit early, but it is time for those winterizing chores. If you haven’t been up for a while, remember that you may need to winterize outside faucets and move some things that shouldn’t freeze – like paints and stains – inside.

It is also time to think about the fireplace. If you haven’t gotten your woodpile in, it is high time. Remember not to put it too close to the cabin, or your termite man will have a fit, unless you move it before it gets warm. Before you make your first fire, it is a good idea to get a mirror and flashlight and take a look up the chimney to make sure there isn’t any obstruction. If it looks real furry up there, it may be time to have the chimney swept. I do mine about every three years, but it depends a lot on how many fires you have and how well seasoned the wood is that you burn. I prefer to hire a sweep who works from the roof, because that way he can remove the spark arrestor and clean that as well.

The busy season is in full swing. I’ve returned from a few days out of the office to find it is a madhouse, with the last price adjustments being made before the winter comes, and very active buyer activity. That’s the usual thing at this time of year, but we seem to be busier this fall than we have been for a long time.

October 17, 2011

We’ve been having some beautiful fall weather, after the rainy period last week. We got about an inch of rain at our place, but the last few days have been just perfect.

The leaf color seems to have peaked in our area – a little southeast of Mineral Bluff – but other areas don’t seem to have much color yet. It is always very difficult to predict, but I’m expecting next weekend to be good. Whether it will last past that is anyone’s guess at this point.

October 6, 2011

If there is such a thing as perfect weather, we’re having it. Mornings have started out about 50° and risen into the low seventies, and the air has been dry and light. It’s the kind of weather that just makes you glad to be alive. Or sorry to be working.

There are some trees beginning to change color here and there. There are some leaves on the ground already, but not enough to rake. I’m expecting an early leaf season, because the farmers seem to think we are about two weeks ahead of normal, but it is always difficult to predict.

Joe’s Barbecue is open on the old highway in Blue Ridge in the old Indigo location, 3365 East 1st Street, 706.946.2727. They feature whole butts (for takeout), ribs, chicken, and pulled pork. It is owned by the former mortgage rep, Joe Ray, and I’ve been told the cue is good. I’ve also been told that he has wanted to open a barbecue for a long time, and I wish him the best of luck.

While we are on the subject of barbecue, the Taylor people have been serving their cue at the farmer’s market near the drive-in theater.

We’re in the middle of the fall festival season. Here’s a rundown for the next couple of weekends.

Arts in the Park (downtown Blue Ridge), October 8 – 9.

Georgia Mountain Fair Fall Festival (Hiawassee), October 7 – 15.

Apple Festival (Ellijay), October 8 – 9, 15 – 16.

Cherry Log Festival, October 8 – 9.

Mountain Harvest Arts & Crafts (Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market, next to drive-in theater on the old highway, October 15 – 16, 22 – 23.

Home Builder’s Showcase (downtown Blue Ridge), October 15 – 16.

Gold Rush Days, Dahlonega, October 15 – 16.

September 29, 2011

We’ve had a little rain lately, and temperatures have been much cooler and wonderful. Yesterday and today, the weather was beautiful and looks fine through the weekend. If you haven’t been up in a while, we are beginning to get on toward prime time, so you need to plan a trip soon.

We’re into the fall festival season, and one of the best is coming up this weekend. The John C. Campbell Folk School’s Fall Festival is October 1 & 2, Saturday and Sunday, from 10:00 – 5:00. There will be over 200 craftspeople with items for sale including jewelry, woodturning, pottery, weaving, ironwork, photography, rugs, woodcarving, furniture, paintings, baskets, and other items. Live music and dance, food vendors, craft demonstrations and children’s activities. Adults are $5, children 12 – 17 $3, and children under 12 free with adult. 1-800.folk-sch for more information. If you go, be sure to visit the crafts shop. This is a great place to buy Christmas presents. The Folk School is in Brasstown, NC. See the “Day Trips” section of my website for the back way from Blue Ridge, or you can go to Murphy and take 64 toward Haysville, looking for the signs and turnoff to Old Hwy. 64.

See below for information on the Hemlock Hike on Saturday.

September 17, 2011

It’s a beautiful day today, but we’ve had a string of overcast days. Morning porch temperatures for the past two days have been 54°, and it has been quite humid. I’m sure the warmer weather will be back, but it does feel as though the seasons are changing.

There will be a Hemlock Hike on October 1. Details are below.

“HIKE & HELP FOR THE HEMLOCKS — Saturday, October 1, 10am to 3pm, Benton MacKaye Trail in Cherry Log Mountain between Ellijay & Blue Ridge. Save Georgia’s Hemlocks and the Benton MacKaye Trail Association are jointly sponsoring the event including a family-friendly hike through some beautiful woods, a picnic, a bit of learning, plenty of time to get to know other folks who care, and a chance to help some hemlocks along the way. Participants must register in advance and let us know if you want to hike and treat trees or just hike. Space is limited so register early. For more information or registration, call 706-429-8010 or e-mail”

September 13, 2011

The Blue Ridge Blues & BBQ Festival was a big success, although I think it would have drawn a much bigger crowd if it had been advertised a little better and if it hadn’t been scheduled the weekend after Labor Day. The sound and production were outstanding, the music was good, and the overall scene had a very nice vibe. Comments from the long-term residents ran heavily toward “I never thought I’d see the day.” For instance, that the county chairman could be seen standing in front of the courthouse with a beer in his hand.

I had some real estate business to do, so I missed the first band, Frankie’s Blues Mission. The second band, a trio out of Todd, North Carolina, the King Bees, played a great set. The bass player laid down a very sassy, rockabilly inflected blues groove while singing some nice originals, and the lead guitar work was excellent. Francine Reed played with the Rollin’ Bones, which was – for her – a pickup band. She played a pretty short set, perhaps because they hadn’t had a chance to rehearse (a couple of times, she stopped the band to get them to count it her way). But there’s no doubt that she put on an awesome show – there were about fifty people dancing in front of the bandstand. The last outfit, the Blacktop Blues Band, had a very together sound. Unfortunately, the crowd had thinned out a whole lot by then. (I imagine that 11:00 is just a little too late for most of Blue Ridge.)

One of the highlights for me was that Sam Huff brought his Lost Mountain Barbecue contest rig up from Atlanta, and served his great barbecue, doing business as Sam’s BBQ1. I met Sam some years ago at a contest over in Dillard with my friend Doug Faber, three-time state pork champ, and we talked quite a bit that day. I knew Sam is an attorney in Atlanta and has a well-known restaurant there. But I didn’t know he’s had a cabin here for years and is hoping to retire up here and open a restaurant. I sure hope he does it, because it would be a great thing for Blue Ridge. When people who know barbecue see the contest trophies, they don’t have to ask any questions, and the line was about a block long at his booth for hours. One thing that I especially appreciated was that he brought along enough pork, because we wanted to eat late, after Francine’s set.

Sam wasn’t the only food vendor. There were other barbecue vendors, including Taylor’s and the Blue Orleans folks, who were slinging alligator ribs and grilled oysters. The shrimp tacos looked awfully good at Avalon Catering, and Sam himself told me to go over and try Harvest’s brisket. He said he told Danny (Mellman) that he ought to come out to some of the contests, it was that good. And those were only a few of the food vendors.

The Sweetwater was ice cold, and – of course – excellent. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I never drink anything stronger than Moxie myself, out of respect for the local shamans.) There was a problem with that, because the beer tent was across the tracks from the stage due to local regulations preventing service within a certain distance of a church, and you couldn’t carry the beer across the tracks to the stage. Over at the beer tent, you could hear the music, but you couldn’t feel it, and you have to feel the blues. In other words, the folks at the beer tent might have had a good time, but they missed the best part. I’m sure the organizers had very good reasons for setting up the festival they way they did. But I think it might be a better idea to either change the ordinance to exempt festivals – a likely non-starter – or set up a temporary stage across Depot Street from the train station or another location that would allow the people who were listening to the music to have a beer. That way, the festival wouldn’t have been Balkanized by the railroad tracks, and people could have circulated with a lot more freedom and a lot less hassle.

I think it was a real eye-opener for the people who were in town for the first time, drawn by the event. Pretty near everyone I talked to said, “This is great, I sure hope it will become an annual event.”

One thing that puzzled me was that the Legend didn’t make the scene, despite his offhand ability to clock out of work, tear through South Georgia in the middle of the night, hit a remote trailhead at dawn, and be seen in all the hip places at night. What can I say, Ledge? You missed a landmark event, a real high water mark for Blue Ridge.

September 8, 2011

Temperatures have been much cooler in the aftermath of all the rain. We had 56° on the porch this morning, and I expect temperatures to remain cooler for at least the next few days. It may be that all this will kick us into an early fall, but that remains to be seen. I haven’t heard any reports of flooding, but the creeks are definitely high in places.

This Saturday is the BBQ & Blues Festival in downtown Blue Ridge, which is headlined by Francine Reed. I’m told that they expect to put her on at 7:00 or 7:30, but I’m not sure that information is accurate. Francine is best known as one of Lyle Lovett’s backup singers, but in Atlanta, she is known for her many appearances at Blind Willie’s. I’m looking forward to hearing her. The hours on the poster say 3:00 – 11:00, and I’m told the music will start about 3:30. There will be a beer tent, and admission will be $5. Other bands will be the Blacktop Blues Band, Frankie’s Blues Mission, and the King Bees. Roger “Hurricane” Wilson will play between sets.

I’d have to say that this festival is one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened in Blue Ridge. We seem to be reaching a completely different level than we’ve achieved before, with the Arts Association determined to become one of the top art communities in the country, the emergence of a vibrant downtown restaurant scene, and new festivals and events like the Chili Cookoff and this one. As someone who has been around for over twenty-five years now, I can recall only a handful of times when we’ve had a nationally known act perform here. Years ago, Travis Tritt played a date at the BYOB club that was on the old highway just east of Dry Branch Road. (It was shut down shortly afterwards, and is now an archery store, I believe.) Mustang Sally played the lounge at the Chinese restaurant in the Ingles center last year, and I’ve heard rumors of some less-publicized events there with nationally known performers from my friend, the Largo Legend. The Natti Love Joys have played a number of times at local events. But … this festival really is a first for Blue Ridge, and something of a high water mark so far. We’ve always had really great bluegrass, but it would be wonderful if we could continue to present other musics in a festival setting, because the downtown park is a perfect venue. I give a lot of credit to the group of downtown merchants we have now, as well as to our new mayor, Donna Whitener, who is herself a downtown merchant. We seem to be headed in a new and promising direction, and I think it means good things for Blue Ridge.

September 6, 2011

We had a little over 4.8 inches of rain at our place over the past two days. I’m sure there’s some damage to steeper gravel roads and drives, but – so far – we haven’t had any tornados or the high winds that were expected this morning.

September 1, 2011

So, it’s September. I always have mixed feelings at this time of year. I’m looking forward to fall, because it has been my favorite season ever since I was a boy in the Pennsylvania mountains. But I’m also regretful that summer is almost over, because I always feel that I didn’t have enough fun. It has been a hot summer, although not as hot as last summer, and I think most folks are ready for some cooler weather. All in all, it does feel like the season has turned, and fall is definitely on its way. The leaves are starting to turn in places, and some have already fallen. The katydids are mating like crazy. And the hummingbirds are coming through.

The real mountain festival season doesn’t come until October, but the Labor Day Barbecue is this Monday, September 5, and it is usually a whole lot of fun. The BBQ is over thirty years old and is an interdenominational benefit for the Good Samaritans of Fannin County. Aside from the time a few years ago when someone took the “interdenominational” part a little too literally and let a woman preach, everything has worked out pretty well. That one time, some of the elect took umbrage and refused to help at the last minute, but we’re all over that now, I hope.

The event begins with a worship service and ice cream social the night before at 6 PM in the downtown park. The barbecue itself begins on Monday at 11:30 and runs until 6:00, or until the food runs out, which it probably will. The menu is ribs, chicken, or pork sandwich with baked beans, no mayonnaise slaw, pickles, ice tea and dessert. It helps to have tickets in advance, because the ticket line can be long. You can get them at the Chamber of Commerce up behind the CVS. You have to know what everyone in your party wants, as the tickets are differently priced – $10 for ribs, $9 for chicken, and $8 for the sandwich.

There is lots of music planned, including bluegrass by Borrowed Time, the River Park Bluegrass Band, and the Cartecay River Band. Other groups include Caylor Family, Hogsed Brothers, Victory’s Song, and the Blue Ridge Dulcimer Festival.

Don’t forget about the BBQ and Blues Festival in the park on September 10, which is being headlined by the great Francine Reed. See below for more details.

August 25, 2011

The weather has been very nice for the past couple of days – not too hot, with mornings that make you think of fall. We’ve been up later than usual the past few evenings, and the katydids have been mating like crazy after about 10:00. It’s fun to watch them fly around because they fly in a somewhat ungainly way. I really love those little guys, and it’s nice to know that they’re having a good time at our place.

I was talking to one of my friends today, and he reminded me that some of the late, lamented Meyer’s German Bakery products have reappeared at the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that before, so here’s a little information on the market:

“Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market, West Main Street across from the Fannin County Courthouse. Local farmers set up with their crops for sale, farm fresh eggs, produce etc…. also locally made products and crafts. Every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Vendors pay $3.00 for market space and they set their own prices for the items they sell. Email contact: Vendors contact 706-258-4552.”

August 22, 2010

The weather has gotten a little warmer, but we had a nice shower at our place last night. It dropped a little over 1/10″ of rain, and it was much appreciated as it has been too dry lately.

The TVA is evidently draining the lake already. When we went to swim at Morganton Point on Sunday, the water was about ten feet further away from the parking area than it was a few days ago. The good news is that fishing reports on the Toccoa tailrace continue to be better than we expected, given the trout mortality caused by the deep drawdown of the lake for repairs to the penstock.

The gray squirrels are cutting like crazy in the oak trees on our property, so they must be getting ripe. I’m hopeful that it will be a good mast crop this year, which would help just about everything in the woods. I’m starting to see some leaves turn and some come down. I’ve also seen what looks like some serious damage to the dogwoods from the week or two of very dry weather that we’ve had lately.

There still isn’t much wild excitement in town, as we are still waiting for the fall festival season to begin. It is a good time to come up and hang out, or to take a quiet walk in the woods before fall sets in. The next event on my personal calendar is the Blue Ridge Blues & Barbecue Festival on September 10th. (See below for more details.)

August 18, 2011

The weather has stayed a lot cooler, with some mornings as low as 60, and afternoon temperatures no higher than 80. It feels as though the seasons are changing, which is a welcome feeling, although I’m sure it will bounce back warm before we are into fall for good.

I saw a Great Snowy Egret soaring over Cutcane Road yesterday, which is a definite first. I don’t know what he was doing there, but you couldn’t miss him!

August 10, 2011

We’re still having router problems, but I’m hopeful that this email will sneak through the system and make it to my website.

It was a beautiful, cool morning with the mist rising from the valley and the coves above the valley. The air feels a little lighter today, bringing a welcome foretaste of fall, after some weather that most of us felt was a little warmer than usual.

There’s an upcoming event that I’m excited about, the Blue Ridge Blues & BBQ Festival on September 10. That’s a month away, but you might want to mark your calendar. It will be headlined by the great Francine Reed and the Rolling Bones. Francine is best known nationally as one of Lyle Lovett’s backup singers. In Atlanta, she is known for her appearances at Blind Willie’s, the blues club in Virginia Highlands. There will be a beer tent, and admission with be $5. Other bands will be the Blacktop Blues Band, Frankie’s Blues Mission, and the King Bees.

August 1, 2011

We had about 4/10″ of rain on Thursday, and the temperatures have been a little cooler since then, which is very welcome.

There isn’t a lot of wild excitement at this time of year, as there is sort of a lag before the fall festival season starts. There is one event this weekend that might appeal to youngsters, the Smokey Bear birthday party at the Whitewater Center. Here’s the official announcement:

Smokey Bear’s Birthday Party
Ocoee Whitewater Center in Ducktown, TN

Highway 64 West, Copperhill
Smokey Bear will be 67 years old this year. In his honor, the USDA Forest Service is throwing a birthday party at the Ocoee Whitewater Center on August 6th from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Come help Smokey celebrate his birthday and enjoy a fun-filled day in the Cherokee National Forest. It promises to be a fun family day with games, goody bags, fire prevention programs, prizes, and plenty of cake and ice cream. Bring a camera and have your picture taken with Smokey. While you’re at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, you may want to hike or bike the Old Copper Road Trail, watch rafting on the Ocoee River, visit the gift shop, grab a bite at the café, or just take in the scenery from the rocking chairs on the deck. There is no charge to attend other than the usual $3.00 per vehicle day use fee. The Ocoee Whitewater Center is located in the heart of the Cherokee National Forest on U.S. Hwy 64, 6 miles west of Ducktown, TN and 30 miles east of Cleveland, TN.

July 26, 2011

We had a nice thunderstorm yesterday evening that dropped about a half inch of rain at our place. It was very welcome, as it was getting a bit dry in the woods. The unseasonably hot and humid weather seems to be continuing, but it has been an enjoyable summer for me because the frequent thunderstorms remind me of the weather pattern that was typical here some years ago.

I saw two hen turkey with chicks on Sunday, when I was out showing property. The chicks were about as small as they can be and still get around, and that surprised me a little, as I see most of the chicks in the spring and early summer. What didn’t surprise me is that there were only four or five chicks. I don’t think a coyote can do much with an adult turkey – they roost in trees at night – but I believe they are a very serious threat to the chicks before they are able to fly. I don’t know if a coyote would be fooled by the broken wing routine that the hens use to try to distract predators. I saw a pretty savvy bird dog fooled completely by it one day, but I’m pretty sure that was her first experience with it. I doubt a coyote would be fooled, and since they often hunt in small packs, I doubt even more that all of them would be fooled. In that situation, the chicks are defenseless, except that they try to conceal themselves in the grass or underbrush.

I saw a nice, healthy buck today with antlers in still in velvet. He was on the edge of the Gorilla Haven property, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is getting some leftovers – or better – from the animal lovers there.

I saw a beautiful cecropia silkmoth on Saturday, while out showing property. I was at a cabin that was built by Danny Stevens, which was kind of interesting to me, as a friend of mine has the exact same cabin in Toccoa River Forest, and it has always been a favorite of mine, with truly beautiful wood and finish carpentry. The cabin is sited in a dark cove on a dry branch, and someone had left the light on by the back basement door, under the deck and out by the condensing unit. That apparently attracted the moth, and I got good looks at him as he hung there. I turned the light off when I left, to encourage him to get back to the woods.

The Georgia Mountain Fair is winding up this weekend. See below for more details.

July 21, 2011

My apologies to my regular readers for the absence of my usual postings for the past little while. We had a router problem in the office that prevented me from posting, but it seems to be resolved now. I do appreciate all your emails letting me know that you miss the column. They make me feel I’m doing something worthwhile. As always, feel free to email me if there are any questions I can answer.

It has been rather dry, and has been hot and humid for the past couple of days. Yesterday felt hotter than any day we’ve had this year, and I’m hopeful that we will get some rain before too long to moderate conditions.

The Georgia Mountain Fair is on this week. See the column below for some more information.

July 15, 2011

It has continued to rain off and on, and it is unusually humid for this time of year. Every week for the past few, the forecast has been for a certain percentage of thunderstorms, as far out as you look. We’ve had about 9/10″ of rain in the past week. This is a real change from what we’ve had for the past few years. It’s a lot more like what we used to have in the summer, twenty or more years ago.

The news on the lake is pretty good. While we are not at full pool, there is enough water in the lake for recreational activities, including swimming at the beach at Morganton Point. It would be nice if the water would come up a little bit more, but at this point, we aren’t very far behind.

The bad news is that the penstock is still not functional. (The penstock is the pipe that carries water to the turbines.) Apparently, the humid weather has caused a problem with the sealant used on the penstock liner, and it is not yet cured to the proper hardness. The hope was that it would be back online before the weather got too hot, because the water that is drawn through the penstock comes from deep in the lake, and is colder than what is now being released. This helps keep the tailrace cold enough for the trout. Trout become seriously stressed at 70° and the water at Horseshoe Bend is approaching that temperature. The TVA is trying to help by running more water than usual down the river, but we all hope that the penstock will come online soon. If you haven’t heard, the fishing in the tailrace has been much better than we expected this summer. I think it is fair to say that it isn’t back to normal, but it is a whole lot better than expected, and some good fish are being caught.

Now that we are a little further into the summer, the katydids are out in force. I’m not sure I can ever remember them being louder. At times, it has even been a little bit difficult to carry on a quiet conversation on the porch.

The Georgia Mountain Fair starts next week in Hiawassee, and runs from July 20 to July 30. If you’ve never been, it is well worth going. The exhibit halls – which include a restored one-room schoolhouse – are fascinating. There are also dozens of vendors, demonstrations of old mountain crafts, and musical performances at the Anderson Music Hall, which has finally been air conditioned. Bluegrass day is Thursday July 28, and other performers include Ronnie McDowell, Mel Tillis, Pam Tillis, and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. For more information, 706.896.4191.

June 30, 2011

I’m happy to report that the katydids have started to sing. I didn’t hear them last night when I lay down in the hammock, but when I got up at 10:30, there was a small contingent singing sweetly I imagine that the rain we’ve had recently brought them out.

The blackberries as still not doing well where we are, but I’m hopeful that other areas of the county have a bumper crop.

Lots of Fourth of July stuff.

On Friday, July 1st, fireworks being at dark in McCaysville, on Tater Hill.

The Old Timey Parade starts in Blue Ridge, Saturday, 10 AM. The Roxie Watson Band will play for two hours following the parade in the downtown city park.

At the marina, barbecue at noon, live music at 4 PM and fireworks at dark. As usual, Morganton Point is a great place to see the fireworks, as it is right across the lake from the marina.

Ducktown is also on July 2nd. Pancake breakfast at 8 AM at the Hoist House at the Ducktown Basin Museum and a community walking parade on Main Street at 10 AM. Annual Duck Race at noon. Gospel music in the afternoon. Fireworks at 9:30 PM.

Epworth is on July 4th. At 8 AM is the Pancake Breakfast at the Epworth Community Club. Other activities until 3 PM.

June 22, 1011

I was in Atlanta yesterday and found out personally what everyone is saying about how hot it is down there. When I left Buckhead, my car thermometer read 98. When I got back home to the porch, we had 84. It still felt a bit warm, but it sure wasn’t anywhere near as hot.

The fishing on the Toccoa continues to be a bit better than anyone expected, and that’s good news.

There isn’t much wild excitement in town until the big weekend, so I’d suggest getting out in the woods or onto a stream for a little quiet enjoyment. Cooler, too. If you aren’t on my email newsletter list, I just featured a trip to the fish hatchery, with full directions. I’ll be glad to forward it to you if you missed it.

June 18, 2011

The weather has continued delightfully cooler, and I’ve heard many positive comments from folks who have just some up from Atlanta about how wonderful the weather is, compared to home. We had another 9/10″ of rain at our place on Wednesday, and that was very welcome.

The rhodendron is starting to bloom south of Blue Ridge and Blairsville. It’s time for everyone to grab those cameras. There’s no better time to photograph the county.

I’m starting to get requests for the famous recipe, so the blackberries must be ripe somewhere, even though ours aren’t quite ready yet. So … in an attempt to head off the fifty or so additional emails I’ll get if it isn’t up soon enough, here it is!


2 cups berries
2 cups ice cubes (optional)
½ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup white tequila
¼ cup sugar (white or raw)

There’s two ways to go. if your blender will crush ice, you can wash the berries and freeze them solid, omit the ice, buzz in the blender, and end up with something the consistency of a very solid frozen margarita. Delightful, so long as you don’t mind the seeds.

If you are in a hurry, you can wash the berries and go with the ice. (If it isn’t cold enough, you may need to put in the freezer briefly.) With this alternative, it helps if the tequila is already in the freezer. With this version, you can strain the seeds, if you want, after you buzz the berries (they tend to fall to the bottom of the glass, anyway). Add the other ingredients. Either buzz it again with the ice or serve it on the rocks.

Yes, it does need all that lime to taste like a margarita. And, yes, you may want to scant the sugar some and adjust to taste, as berries differ in sweetness. But I usually find this is about the right amount of sugar.

Either way, enjoy!

I had to go down Hwy 60 yesterday, and I noticed that Martin’s Dixie Depot, the hunting and fishing store between the Benton McKaye Trail crossing and the road to the fish hatchery appeared to be closed. If you are headed to Rock Creek to fish, there is a bait shop at the Amoco station at 515 and 60, and the Cooper Creek Store, a few miles further down 6o, is still open.

Despite the assurances we’ve heard from the local politicians, the funding for the fish hatchery is still very much endangered. The Chattahoochee hatchery, our local facility, operates on a yearly budget of about a million dollars, and returns something like $37 million to the local economy. This is a clear case of misplaced budget priorities. Here’s what Trout Unlimited urges its members to send to their representatives:

“I am writing as a member of Trout Unlimited (TU), a conservation organization of over 140,000 members, to urge you to ensure that funding is provided for the mitigation hatcheries of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the FY 12 budget. These facilities provide a wealth of recreational fishing and youth education opportunities, and support thousands of jobs.

In its FY12 budget proposal, the FWS proposed a $11 million cut to the National Fish Hatchery System, and a $6 million cut to the National Fish Hatchery operations account for the mitigation hatchery system. There are 9 mitigation hatcheries nationwide at risk, 7 of which are in the Southeast.

The problem is that the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and other dam operating federal agencies are not contributing enough of their shares of the hatchery operating expenses for the FWS hatcheries that provide fish to mitigate the effects of their water development structures. The best way to solve this problem is for Congress to ensure that the Corps, TVA and other dam operating agencies to pay their fair share of the hatchery operations costs. If those agencies fail to pay all, or a portion of the costs, then TU urges Congress to supply the Fish and Wildlife Service with the remainder to keep the facilities running.

These hatcheries provide valuable recreational fisheries. The mitigation facilities help to provide over 3,000 jobs and account for $325 million in economic benefits to local communities and states. I urge you to work with the Appropriations committee to ensure that funding is made available for FY12 to keep the facilities running.”

I’m a member, so I’m not sure, but I think anyone can go to Trout Unlimited’s website, visit the Action Center, and send this message on to Washington, with appropriate additional comments, of course.

June 14, 2011

The weather has been a little cooler, and we finally got some much needed rain, about 6/10″ at our place. That’s a relief, because everything down in the woods was looking pretty stressed.

There are lots of activities planned for the weekend of the 4th of July, so things are kind of quiet until then. I’d suggest a walk in the woods, or something similar. I’m doing a story on the fish hatchery – in part to call attention to the threatened budget cuts – and if anyone who isn’t on my email newsletter list would like to visit the facility, I’d be glad to email the story.

This weekend is a hemlock clinic in Blue Ridge. See below for details.

June 8, 2011

The weather has continued unseasonably warm and dry. At this point we need rain, especially because the blackberries are about to come. The days have been beautiful, ideal for lazy summer activities, but pretty warm if there’s real work to do.

There is a hemlock clinic coming up in Blue Ridge June 18th. It seems every tree in North America is under attack from some parasite, and the hemlock is in especially bad shape, with virtually every untreated hemlock in the southeast expected to die without treatment. If yours have white stuff on the branches that looks like you sprayed it with fake snow, you’ve got the disease. It is much cheaper to treat them than to cut them down and haul them away. Here’s the official announcement, from Save Georgia’s Hemlocks:

Hello Hemlock Friends,

Just a quick note to let you know Save Georgia’s Hemlocks will present a
Hemlock Help Clinic — free and open to the public.



* What’s threatening our hemlocks
* How you can treat your own trees for the lowest possible cost or qualified
local professionals who can help you for reasonable rates
* Updates on what’s happening on our public lands
* How you can help the efforts to save the hemlocks

Please share this announcement with your friends, neighbors, and business
associates through any e-mail lists, newsletters, bulletin boards, or web
sites you have access to.

Thanks, and hope you can come!

Donna Shearer
Chairman, Save Georgia’s Hemlocks

May 24, 2011

The weather has continued beautiful and warm, but dry. At this point, I’m hoping for some rain for the sake of the vegetation, which got off to a good start with the rain earlier this spring. Everything has had such a tough time recovering after the extended drought, and I still see a lot of things dying or dead down in the woods. It seems every tree in North America is under attack from some parasite, and I estimate that the total vegetation in our woods is perhaps 30% less than when I first came twenty-five years ago. So … cue the rainmaker. Before or after the big weekend, of course.

We had a real thrill the other night when we let the dog out for the last time. A Tulip-tree silkmoth came to the spotlights. Apparently, they are apt to do that, especially during their mating season. This is a moth that is actually bigger than a Polphemus, with a wingspan of 8 – 11 cm (3-1/8 – 4-5/16″). Judging from the field guide, I think we had a male. We got really good looks at him, especially when he lighted on the porch screen. The caterpillar looks a bit like a tomato hornworm without the horns, and feeds on the Yellow Poplar. It raised my hopes of seeing a Luna Moth again, although I usually have seen those very late at night.

I’m also hearing the call of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo quite often these days, but I haven’t gotten a look at one this year.

Arts in the Park is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and the newspaper reports that the organizers are expecting 15,000 people! Apparently the vendor count is down just a bit, to about 180, but it is still going to be a huge festival. Admission is $5, and there will be food vendors, music, and other things to do. Along with a lot of what my mother used to call “people watching.”

May 21, 2011

We’ve been having perfect weather after that little cold snap. The air has been light and the evenings have just been beautiful. The laurel has started to bloom in some locations around the county, which is always a favorite time for photographs.

My car has been in the shop for over a week with mysterious ailments, so I’m a little out of the loop. But I do know that Arts in the Park is next weekend, May 28 & 29. This is the 35th annual event, which has been recognized as one of the Top 20 Events by the Southeastern Tourism Society. Seriously, it is huge, with over 200 vendors, music, and lots of other things. Admission is $5.

May 10, 2011

The weather has bounced back warm, and we’ve been having some wonderful evenings on the porch, listening to the night sounds.

There is one particular night sound that has been puzzling us for the last week or so. At this time of year, we are used to hearing the Whip-poor-wills calling from the meadow below the cabin. It’s one of the many things we look forward to with the coming of spring. Lately, though, we’ve been hearing what sounds like a Whip-poor-will calling from the trees around our cabin. I was even more puzzled when we spooked it one night, and it flew across the parking lot. It was very dark, but I could see that this bird was a lot bigger than a Whip-poor-will. When I finally took a look in Sibley’s field guide, the answer seemed obvious, a Chuck-will’s-widow. This is a bird I’ve never heard of before, in the same family as the Whip-poor-will (goatsuckers, nightjars). It is in fact considerably bigger than the Whip-poor-will and has a similar call, with an odd characteristic – a sharp click before the notes that sound a lot like the Whip-poor-will’s. Both of us had heard this characteristic click, but we thought that we had simply never been close enough to hear it before.

So I suppose that’s one of about a million local mysteries solved. I hope the next one will be whether the frog-like call the Chuck-will’s-widow is also supposed to make is the one we are hearing around dusk that we previously thought was a tree frog. Or identifying a few more of the hundreds of insects that we see every day, like the impossibly small wasps that occasionally fetch up inside the porch screen. I’m not sure that it matters if I really can identify all these things, but I am grateful that I still care enough about them to pay attention and take time to drink them in and wonder about them. Our area is supposed to have more biological diversity than almost anywhere, because it is the northernmost range of many southern species and the southernmost range of many northern species. So I probably never will get to the bottom of it all, and that’s a big part of why I find it so wonderful to live here.

May 6, 2011

We’re having a little bit of what you could call blackberry winter, except that the blackberries aren’t really on the vine yet. They are just beginning to flower. But the weather has been perfect for hiking in the woods. I’ve been doing that in the early morning, and I can report that it has made the dog and me very happy.

By my reckoning, it is the end of spring, because the native azalea has come and gone. The next thing will be the laurel and rhodendron, but I consider that summer.

The good news is that the lake is refilling ahead of schedule because of the spring rains. Last time I checked, we had about 25 feet to go, which is pretty good, given that we had a deficit of about 60 feet not too long ago.

There’s not much wild excitement in town this weekend, so I suggest getting out in the woods or going fishing. A lot of people are looking forward to the end of the delayed harvest on the upper Toccoa (May 15), and reports on the fishing in the tailrace have been more encouraging than I expected. If you want to take the kids, Rock Creek, out by the fish hatchery off Hwy 60 south, is usually a good choice..

April 28, 2011

We missed the really bad weather last night, although nearby Polk County, Tennessee didn’t fare as well from what I’ve heard. We had high winds, and there are a few trees down, but it wasn’t the worst wind that we’ve had this spring.

The native azalea (the orange, or flame azalea) has started to bloom. That’s the last significant native to come in the spring. There are still some dogwoods in bloom, although a lot of blossoms have been lost because of the rain. We still have a lady slipper in bloom out behind the cabin. Yesterday, I saw a bird I’ve never seen at our place before, a male Black and White Warbler in mating plumage. I’m the worst at identifying warblers, but I happened to have Sibley nearby and time enough to find the bird. I’ve also been having a good time watching the nuthatches, which we seem to have more of this year than in a long time.

I’ve talked about the Phat Boys Barbecue on Loving Road, which is now closed. I’m not sure what happened to them, but it doesn’t seem to have been lack of business.

This weekend is one of my favorite local events, the Polk County Ramp Festival. We plan to visit after we visit the Mennonite Farmer’s Market in Delano, which is open already. The market is located just north of Benton, Tennessee on 411, about an hour and fifteen minutes from Blue Ridge. After you cross the Hiwassee River, look for the sign immediately on the left. The ramp festival is held at the 4-H Camp on 315, the road that goes up to Reliance from Parksville Lake off Hwy 64, west of the Ocoee Gorge. For better directions and more details on the festival, see my column for April 17, 2009, and for the farmer’s market, see my column for June 5, 2009.

April 14, 2011

It’s high spring in the mountains. We’ve had a little rain, but we’ve mostly had beautiful weather, with cool mornings and warm afternoons. The dogwoods are in bloom and the trees are leafing out nicely. If you haven’t been up this spring, this weekend might be a good choice.

April 6, 2011

There are some dogwoods in bloom throughout the county, and I’m expecting more to come by the weekend with the nice weather we are having today.

We had a very severe thunderstorm Monday evening at our place. Unfortunately, it hit about 9:45 in the middle of the first half of the NCAA final game. Both of the EMCs that serve our county have been trimming their right-of-ways much more severely in the past few years, and I think that helped us this winter. Despite that, some pine trees came down and took out the power lines going into our development. The power stayed down for almost 24 hours, which is unusual for us, especially when there isn’t snow complicating things. Others waited longer than we did. We didn’t lose any shingles, and there weren’t tons of trees down everywhere, but there were some trees down in places all over the county. If you don’t have neighbors to check for you, you might want to get up and check your place. The wind came mostly out of the southwest, but some trees fell basically north-south. The weather service said that the center of the storm was about 17 miles south of Morganton, and that there was some rotation. At our place, the rain gauge said we got 1-6/10″ rain.

We ate barbecue at Phat Boys BBQ last night and had an good meal. See the March 28 column for details. I discovered that they have good french fries – in my opinion, a plus in a cue shack – and they have added a mustard sauce to their selection of sauces. I always think it is smart for barbecue places to have a choice, as people seem to be very loyal to the style of sauce they grew up with. Phat Boys offer Williamson Brothers out of the bottle, and four or five of their own homemade sauces. They have a good North Carolina vinegar sauce (no tomato), and several others with tomato. I think my favorite is “Sweet Heat,” which is the hottest to my taste.

This Saturday is the Adventure Race. The finish will be at the Arts Center in downtown Blue Ridge, and the race will coincide with the Arts Center’s Plein Air Art Event, which brings artists from thoughtout the area to paint in the fresh air. The finish will probably begin between noon and 1:00 PM and go on for several hours. Spectators are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. It’s usually a pretty good time. This is the 14th annual event, which features about 75 three-person coed teams. The Natti Love Joys, our local reggae outfit, will be playing again this year. These guys are the real thing – Jatti is from Kingstown, and Marla is from Brixton, England – and it is always great to hear them. They have a well deserved international reputation and always sound great in the park.

April 1, 2011

The sarvis is still in bloom in many locations. The dogwoods are ready to bloom, and some may come this weekend, but I haven’t seen any in bloom as of Friday morning.

March 28, 2011

We had a nice late night/early morning thunderstorm on Saturday that left us with 2-1/2 inches of rain in the gauge. Sunday was mostly just cloudy, but we’ve had another 1/2 inch already today (Monday).

Sunday, I saw something I can’t recall ever seeing before, a very thick covering of clouds on the North Carolina mountains so low that it looked like a very heavy snow, with cabins poking out here and there. It looked almost as if it had been poured over the top third of the mountains. I have no idea what causes this phenomenon, but I do know that it doesn’t happen every day.

We seem to be a good two weeks ahead of last year’s spring. The rain knocked most of the blossoms off the sarvis trees that bloomed early, but there are still some beautiful trees in bloom that came a little later. There are some dogwoods on my ridge that are almost ready to bloom, and I expect that these will be in bloom by the end of the week, if we get any sun. Others are further behind, so I expect the dogwoods to be in flower for the next few weeks. The heavy pollen hasn’t started, but I don’t think it will be long before it does.

There is a new barbecue on Loving Road, Phat Boys BBQ. They have been open for a couple of weeks in the old Shepherd’s General Store location, just north of the intersection of 515 and Loving Road, about six miles east of Blue Ridge. Their pulled pork is reminiscent of Bubba’s (in Ivy Log) – dark and smoky. It has a great aroma. They have an interesting vinegar cole slaw that I like very much, and they also serve hamburgers and deli sandwiches using Boar’s Head products. The owners are Duane Medford and Richard Graham, who tell us that they are using mostly white oak in the smoker. They are open Tuesday through Saturday 9 AM to 7 PM. On Friday and Saturday evening, they serve a special of Baby Back Ribs from 5 PM until they sell out. 706.374.1122.

March 21, 2011

The sarvis bloomed along with the redbuds at my place last Friday, the 18th. That’s a few weeks earlier than last year. The sarvis is the earliest native shrub to blossom, showing a white cross-shaped flower. It is used for altar decorations locally if it is in bloom on Easter and the dogwood is not. A lot of people confuse it with dogwood, which it resembles at a distance, but it always blossoms well ahead of the dogwood. There is a very large, mature tree – maybe 60 feet tall – around the corner from me, and it just started to bloom today. Others in the neighborhood have not come yet, so I imagine it will be in bloom in various places through the weekend. Unfortunately, the blossoms don’t last long.

See the column for March 8 for some things to do this coming weekend.

March 14, 2011

We had a mostly beautiful and warm weekend, although clouds started to move in Sunday afternoon. The Bartlett pears are in bloom on my ridge, and the trees are budding out nicely. No sign of the sarvis so far.

This year turkey season comes in again with trout, on March 26. The mountain turkey aren’t always into the mating season when opening day arrives, but I think they will be this year. We’ve already heard some turkey talk from the porch, and on Saturday I saw an obviously lovelorn gobbler standing right in the middle of Lowery Road at 10:15 AM. This guy had about a four inch beard, and he seemed a little confused about his options. Finally, he flew a little way over across Long Creek, stood there a while thinking about what to do, and started to run up the hill. Obviously, this is not normal gobbler behavior.

If you are planning to be in the woods on opening day, be aware that turkey hunters may also be in the woods. Owl and crow calls – especially if they seem real bogus – are a sure sign of hunters. If you hear turkey talk, be aware that it may be being made by a hunter. It is best not to wear purple during turkey season.

See the column for March 8 for some interesting events this coming weekend.

March 10, 2011

We’ve had five inches of rain at our place this week. The creeks are swollen, but I haven’t heard any reports of flooding. It would be nice to think that all this rain is refilling the lake, but the TVA is still running the rainwater out. I imagine this means that hopes are fading for the lake filling back up anytime soon.

The Bartlett pear trees that folks have planted on my ridge are almost ready to blossom out and join the forsythia, which is already in bloom.

I had some time for myself Tuesday evening, which I spent on the porch, doing something people don’t seem to do much anymore – watching it get dark. The area around my cabin isn’t as wild as it was twenty-five years ago, which I attribute some to development and mostly to the return of the coyote. But there are still amazing sounds at dusk, including some I can’t readily identify. Last night, just before it got really dark, I heard two geese down in the valley, flying up Cutcane Creek. So, in honor of early spring, a bogus haiku: Wonderful sound / Two geese, flying up Cutcane Creek / Honking.

We’re getting along toward trout season, so here’s a something for the trout fanatics. But first, a preamble. As you may know, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution has deserted North Georgia. Not only do we not get home delivery any more, we can’t even buy it at news stands. Sometimes, local stores have the Sunday paper, but that’s it. The Chattanooga Times Free Press, which is actually a much better paper, has stepped into the gap and has provided more coverage of North Georgia and the statehouse. It is probably a better deal, because if you live in this part of the world, what happens in Nashville affects you as much as what happens in Atlanta, and the Atlanta paper doesn’t cover Tennessee government at all.

Now to the trout story, which was in the March 8 paper under the headline, “Legendary fly-tyers trove to be auctioned.” Harry P. Ijams, who is considered Knoxville’s first ornithologist, was also a great fly-tyer. His priceless collection of rare fur and feathers from years ago has been placed at the disposal of fly-tyer Walter Babb, of Sweetwater. Babb is using the material to tie patters that Ijams and his friends would have used on trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. These will be auctioned to benefit the Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville and Trout Unlimited. They will be set in a frame with a plaque that reads “Smoky Mountain trout flies, Materials from the personal collection of Harry Ijams, 1876 – 1954. Tied by Master Tier Walter Babb.” There’s no date set for the auction yet, but I expect it will be handled in part by the Knoxville Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Ijams is considered Knoxville’s earliest ornithologist.

There isn’t much excitement this weekend, but see my column below for things to do on the weekend of the 18th.

March 8, 2011

It bounced back a little cold Sunday and Monday morning, with a Monday porch temperature right on the freeze. But it warmed up nicely in the afternoon, and we’ve got a beautiful day going today. There’s no doubt it is early spring. I’ve heard the pond peepers over the past few days, and the daffodils and forsythia are in bloom on our ridge and many other places in the county.

There are a couple of interesting events next weekend.

The Union County Historical Society is hosting the Shamrock Dulcimer Slam “March 18, 19, and possibly 20.” On Friday, there is a concert at the old courthouse on the square at 7:00 PM, with Stephen Seifert, In Town Down Home, and Mountain Sounds. On Saturday at the Union County Civic Center, Stephen Seifert workshops begin at 10:00 AM. There are open mike and jamming sessions scheduled for the afternoon. A second concert will be given at 7:00 with the groups to be announced. (Apparently, plans are still in flux for this event. The contact for more information is Peg Shaw at

Also on the music scene, Charlie Daniels is playing the Anderson Music Hall at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee on March 19. For more information, 706.896.4191.

There is a “Spring Wine Highway Weekend” featuring nine wineries from Young Harris to Dahlonega on March 18 through 20. This is the fifth annual event, which is sponsored by the Georgia Winegrowers Association. Information is available at the Fannin Chamber of Commerce (behind the CVS). The arrangement is to pay the one time fee at the first winery visited. For more information, 706.878.9463.

March 2, 2011

It’s a beautiful spring day today, but we had a very violent storm with high winds Monday afternoon. I heard from one person that there were reports of 85 mile per hour winds. Another person told me that the storm was moving at 68 miles an hour and gusts were up to 70 miles per hour. I wasn’t home at the time, but the wind seems to have come from the northwest. It blew out a couple of my porch screens, which has never happened before, and also blew off a few shingles, which has happened in the past. We also had a water leak that only happens when it rains basically horizontally. The trees aren’t in leaf, so tree damage was minimal, but there were many smaller limbs down and some dead trees also fell. At least one of my neighbors also lost a shingle or two. I imagine that different locations were affected differently, but it might be a good idea to check your place, especially if it is exposed to the wind.

February 28, 2011

We had a beautiful day Saturday. Sunday was more mixed, with both clouds and sunshine, but still a very nice day. Today, we’re having some rain and gusty wind.

I heard the first tree frogs trilling last night. I haven’t heard the peepers yet from the pond down in the valley, but I expect that they will be along soon.

There will be an Appalachian Trail Celebration and Backpacking Clinic at Amicalola Falls State Park on March 5th and 6th. There are two full days of events beginning at 9:00 a.m. each day. Here is the official announcement: “Saturday’s speakers capture the essence of the Appalachian Trail, as hikers share their dreams, challenges and adventures. Training sessions throughout the day, ending at 7:00 p.m. Sunday many local outfitters give helpful tips and demonstrations on proper gear and preparation. All programs are located in the Lodge and are free of charge, however there is a $5.00 charge per vehicle unless you have a State Park Pass.” For more information, 706-265-1969.

There will be a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at the Blue Orleans Bistro at 224 W. Main Street in downtown Blue Ridge. It features live jazz from 6:30 to 9:30, with specials all day, Friday and Saturday March 4th and 5th. For more information, 706-258-2275.

February 21, 2011

In terms of keeping track of my personal “signs of spring,” I saw the first Mourning Cloak on Saturday.

These are part of a family known as the “brush-footed butterflies,” which includes the Comma, the Question Mark, and the Red Admiral. These butterflies are territorial, and it is a joy to me to see that the descendents of the butterfly I first saw in this particular location in 1986 are still there today. The covey of quail that was always there in the valley is gone, presumably killed by the coyotes. As is the family of turkey that was always on the next ridge, and the grouse that were always on the last ridge going down to the valley, and so forth. The DNR keeps telling us that coyotes are completely harmless, so I wonder where they think everything that doesn’t live in a tree has gone. The old boys know better, and they won’t hesitate to tell you that the coyotes are killing everything out there, including most of the fawns. If you’ve ever heard a sound like a car alarm going off, but you can’t figure out how a car could be there, you’ve heard a pack of them hunting. I guess at this point, I wonder what’s going to happen when they eat all of the small game that’s out in the woods.

I was briefly at the Fire & Ice event in downtown Blue Ridge on Saturday. The weather was beautiful, and there must have been 500 people at the event, if not more. The chili ran out fast, but everyone seemed to take that in pretty good spirits. Kudos to the folks from Blue Orleans Bistro, who made another batch so they had some to share.

I was also at the Helen Lewis Lecture on Friday night, and John McCutcheon gave a very fine performance on violin, autoharp, hammered dulcimer, guitar, piano, jaw harp, and banjo. My favorite piece was a hammered dulcimer composition by Si Kahn, who I’m told lived in Blue Ridge while trying to organize the Levi Factory. I’ve heard rumors about “the red out on Cutcane,” but I had no idea he was also a musician.

I have been told that the fish hatchery is on the chopping block, which would be a disaster for our local economy, which is largely tourism based. I’m told that a study demonstrated that each dollar spent there returns $37 to the local economy.

February 18, 2011

We’ve had some beautiful springlike weather lately, with afternoon temperatures almost to 65°. It is a little overcast today, but the forecast looks good for the weekend. I’ve definitely seen some real signs of spring. The robins have been around for a few weeks, but this week I saw the first brown bat at our place. And I saw two mergansers in Hot House Creek yesterday, just downstream from the baptizing hole at Hwy 60. I’m sure the weather will bounce back cold again, but it is just wonderful to have a taste of spring.

This weekend is the Fire & Ice event, a chili cookoff downtown with professional ice sculpture. For more details, see the column below.

Tonight is the annual Helen Lewis Lecture. It will be held at 7:00 PM at the Epworth Campus of Reinhardt College, in the Bonnie Higdon Reeves Auditorium. The presenter tonight is John McCutcheon, the well known folklorist and performer. I understand that he is bringing about six of his instruments, and so I expect that rather than a lecture, we will have something like a workshop or a performance of Appalachian music. The lecture series in named in honor of Helen Lewis, a retired sociologist who lives here locally. She is often credited as being one of the creators – if not the creator – of the discipline of Appalachian Studies. These lectures are always well attended, and always worthwhile. To reach the campus from Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 from the McDonald’s. After about 6.7 miles, turn left just past Abernathy’s Furniture. Take the second right, Madola Road. At the four-way stop, turn left into the entrance to the campus.

February 10, 2011

We had about a half inch of snow at our place last night, which started as grapple and then turned into flakes. It was very cold, so it didn’t melt and freeze on the steps, although the paving stones were very slick. The main roads are mostly fine, but it was a little hazardous getting down off our ridgetop. There is a little sun, and although temperatures aren’t supposed to get much above forty, I’m hopeful that most of the difficulties will be resolved by late afternoon.

The Fire and Ice event is next weekend, February 19th, from 11:00 – 4:00 in downtown Blue Ridge. There is a chili cookoff, live music, and professional ice sculpting. For $5, spectators can sample the chili. Hats off to the Business Association for thinking of a fun event for the February doldrums.

February 3, 2011

Well, it looks like I can update my newsletter for the first time since my hardware crash. If things remain stable, I’ll try to get back on my weekly schedule. If my columns aren’t appearing as usual, please email me with any questions. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and am trying to get to a better solution for my website.

Last weekend was just very beautiful, with temperatures in the sixties and mostly blue skies. The ground smelled like it was waking up, and everyone was very happy to have at least a preview of the coming of spring. Today, it is back cold, and there is some threat of rain and snow this Friday, although no accumulation is expected at this point. We’re all a little gun shy with all the heavy winter weather we had this year. We had eleven and twelve inches at our place, barely a week apart. It is very unusual for us to have more than an inch of snow at a time more than once every two or three years. We have had three significant snows this winter, and no one I have talked to has remembered anything like that many inches in one winter, except for the big blizzard of March 1993, which left the county with 23-26 inches.

I will give a call to the electric cooperatives, because the electricity mostly stayed on throughout the county through these big snows. In the past, it would have been off in many locations, perhaps for days at a time. Both EMCs have been trimming their power lines very aggressively, and while I’ve been critical of the extent of the trimming in the past, I have to admit that I see the benefit after these snows.

The first quarter is usually not a big time for buyer activity, but the general consensus is that the market continues to improve. Land sales are still lagging cabin sales, in part because of the perception that you can’t get a construction loan these days. It is true that some banks aren’t making them – that’s what got a lot of banks in trouble – but others are, among them the BB&T here in Blue Ridge.

In general, we think that the market will continue to slowly improve in 2011. Of course, we will have to flush all these foreclosures out of the system in order to get back to normal, and that may take a little longer, given that the inventory has already been cherry picked to a certain extent, leaving some less desirable properties on the market. But I think it is fair to say that we are back on the road to normal, although it will be some time before prices catch up to the peaks we reached in 2005.