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Showing posts with label Tuckaseigee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tuckaseigee. Show all posts

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Dillsboro Buzzards, Gary Carden

THE DILLSBORO BUZZARDS
For several weeks now, the town of Dillsboro has been host to a large gathering of buzzards. On #107 just outside the village and traveling towards Sylva, several large, dead trees on the left sport an array of solemn birds that appear to belong to the species bueto. They are a well-behaved crowd that sit quietly like old cronies. Each time a brisk breeze comes, they spread their wings like comic Draculas, occasionally emitting a call that (I am told) sounds like a cat’s meow.
Occasionally, several will take flight and join their brethren in circling a nearby hilltop. Throughout the day this dark spiral waxes and wanes as the buzzards arrive and depart. Of course, this is an activity that is associated with the presence of a dead animal – a cow, deer or dog somewhere in the dense woods above town.
Dillsboro is not the only location in this region with a flock of buzzards. These somber birds are often seen in sections of Webster and Cullowhee that are near the Tuckaseigee. The only difference is a significant increase in number. I counted fifty in a half-dozen trees outside Dillsboro. Why are they here? Perhaps a reader can answer that question.
Some twenty years ago, while looking at a 1950’s microfilm of the Asheville Citizen, I hit my first article about a “belled buzzard.”&n bsp; According to the article, three vultures – one with a bell around his neck - had been seen flying south out of Asheville. The sighting was verified by several farmers who contacted the Citizen, each claiming to have heard the mournful bell tolling as the birds flew away.
This single article sent me on a ten-year search of old newspapers, folklore collections and southern ghost stories. I learned that the belief in the belled buzzard was once prevalent in our region. The buzzard came to announce the approach of death and was commonly believed to arrive at the homes of notables such as venerable judges, wealthy politicians and ailing Confederate generals. South Carolina claimed that this harbinger of doom visited court houses during murder trials; Georgia folklore records an instance in which thebuzzard followed a murderer for months until he confessed. A dying minister in Asheville told his family that “the vulture is on the ridgepole of this house now! Listen!” Ding-ding. I don’t know exactly when the dreadful bell was finally silenced, but the last spate of sightings that I was able to locate was in Alabama and Arkansas during a cholera epidemic. This tale dealt with a lonely buzzard that was shunned by his brothers. The bell made them nervous so each time he arrived in a favorite roosting place, all of the other birds flew away. The last time he was seen, he was keeping his solitary vigil on the Arkansas River.
Maybe Dillsboro needs a belled buzzard now that the train is gone. Instead of Thomas, the Train’s hearty toot, we would have the tolling of a little bell as the dreaded bird flies up and down the railroad track. If the other buzzards would join him as he flies from Dillsboro to Nantahala, perhaps the tourists would return. Perhaps tours could be established and raptor specialists could lead groups of vulture watchers to the favorite roosts. Perhaps this activity would energize the flagging economy.Can’t you just see it! Standing on the banks of the Tuckaseigee, the raptor specialist from Bryson City could warn the group: “Shhhh! Quiet Now! They are coming!”Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Gary Carden Muses on Mountain Changes


FEW RANDOM EVENTS

Plagued by insomnia, I got up around 6:00 one morning last week and went out to sit on my deck so I could watch the fog rise in my garden. In the dim light, I saw two young foxes playing in the freshly plowed dirt.They reminded me of kittens as they tumbled, wrestled and rolled in mock combat. Then, a plank in my deck creaked under my foot and they froze. They stared at me for an instant and then vanished, melting into the fog and undergrowth.
For a moment, I felt very privileged … even honored, you could say. Last year, while I was visiting a friend on the ridge behind Wal-mart, I came on a flock of wild turkeys standing quietly in a large grassy field. As they moved slowly across the field finally vanishing into the woods, I noted that in the background I could see clouds of dust, and I dimly heard the grind and thunder of bulldozers that were altering the shape of land along#107, converting meadows and farmland into acres ofconcrete. I asked my friend about the turkeys.
“They have no place to go,” she said. “This ridge is completely surrounded by development.”
Recently, another friend of mine told me that he had been vainly searching for “the smoke hole” in the Tuckaseigee community. “It used to be a kind of tourist attraction forty years ago.” He wondered if perhaps it had been bulldozed out of existence and that troubled him.
“You know, it was sacred to the Cherokees who believed that the smoke rising from the hole had curative powers. They said that the smoke came from an underground townhouse belonging to the Nunnihi, the immortal ones who are “protective spirits” of the Cherokees.”
He went on to note that in the old Cherokee myths, hunters who stood near the smoke hole in winter when the warm air melted the snow for a distance of five feet around the hole – those hunters claimed they heard drum beats and distant laughter.
“So, to stand there was to stand on the boundary of two different worlds – the temporal and the immortal.” Finally, he said, “I don’t think you can destroy places like that without paying for it.”
Just across the road, my neighbor has erected a huge sign that announces the sale of 34 acres of land. Who will buy it? What will they do with it? How will it affect my life? Two years from now, will I recognize the ridgeline of the woods across the road, or will it be transformed into condos, summer homes and convenience stores? Will the smell of honeysuckle and the trill of birds be replaced with the aroma of charred meat and the din of traffic?
Sitting on my deck, watching the shift of light from night to day, I have the definite feeling that we are all – foxes, wild turkeys and my neighbors – standing on the boundary between two worlds…. And we are facing eviction. Where will we go?