Feet on the mountains and the Appalachian Balds

Amazing views
Amazing views
Far away fields with hay bales
Far away fields with hay bales

I have spent the past couple of weekends putting my two feet on to the mountains as much as I possibly could.  I stood on the top of the hillside, looking at this amazing view in the picture above.  Though view is a word that does not do this sight justice.  I find myself trying to capture it in a photo as if somehow it will never appear this beautiful again.  But my fear is that this photo can only give the barest glimpse into the scale and scope of the sights around me.  I find myself wishing that I could paint, that I could put hand to canvas in order to keep the image as it is.  I feel that this might make me more an integral or physically a part of this place.  The truth however is that I have very little artistic talent and my meager hands could not possibly place the intimacy of my being here surrounded by the hills and pastures in the distance.  The pastures appear to be perfectly manicured with well maintained tree lined borders.  The green of the fields are a variety of shades from the tawny brownish green of the field that has been allowed to grow wild compared to that of a newly mown field and its deep emerald green with visible rows from the hay-rake and dotted with brown bales of hay seen scattered on the hillsides. From where I stand right now, I can only see one silo of a farm.  No other roofs, homes or signs of civilization are visible to me from this particular vantage point.  And the quiet is just breathtaking!

I hiked again on the highlands!  And I have to share something with you all.  There are true variations of growth and vegetation among the mountain tops in Appalachia.  The growth ranges from forested ridge and mountain tops covered with majestic trees of many kinds to what naturalists call a bald.  These balds have existed for centuries and one of the most beautiful is nearby here in the highlands park.  Ancient Native American legends tell us that there was an evil creature living on these mountains stealing their young children.  Kenneth Murray in his book Footsteps of the Mountain Spirits: Appalachia tells of one account of the legend written in 1849 by early explorer Charles Lanman.

A monstrous flying creature, resembling a great winged hornet and the size of a house, once terrorized the people who lived in the Nantahala region near present day Franklin, North Carolina.  Without warning it would swoop down and carry off young children if they wandered into the woods alone or strayed far from their mothers.  It got to be such a problem that they decided to declare war on the menace.  After several unsuccessful attempts to kill it, the work was turned over to their medicine men to devise a plan to eliminate the beast.

Somehow the beast would have to be traced to its lair and killed there.  But because it had always eluded them when it was chased, it was decided that they would station themselves on all the highest peaks, and when one spotted the monster, the alarm was spread by ‘Hallos’ from summit to summit.  In this way they finally traced the beast to a deep cavern at the head of the Tugaloo River in South Carolina.  Unfortunately, the place was inaccessible to human feet, and it looked as if their efforts would lead to frustration again.  But the warriors prayed to the Great Spirit to force the creature out of its den so that they could get at it with their weapons.

He had the Great Thunders send a terrible storm and a stroke of lightening which tore away half of the mountain, and the Indians were able to destroy the monster.

The Great Spirit was so pleased by the courage shown by the Cherokees in the battle that he willed that all the highest mountains in their land should thereafter be destitute of trees so they would always be able to watch the movements of their enemies. (Murray, K. 1992)

Appalachian Bald
Appalachian Bald
Open meadows with blueberry bushes and rhododendron abound on the balds
Open meadows with blueberry bushes and rhododendron abound on the balds

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The effort of putting feet on these mountain sides is well rewarded by the ability to see these beautiful meadows among the mountains.  There is no known scientific reason that these mountainsides are not covered with trees as are the others around them. They are well below an altitude that would prohibit their growth.  And yet as I walk here on the trails I find myself easily able to believe the Native American legend of their reality as well as any other.  It makes me feel as if there are places here that remain completely unchanged since the days that the Cherokees and other tribes lived and hunted here.

Wood trail on Bear Paw
Wood trail on Bear Paw

Contrasting those open meadows with the wooded trails on the mountainsides offers me a chance to choose one above the other as a favorite but I cannot.  There is so much beauty in both settings and yet they offer a very different feeling while there.  It is a good thing that I don’t have to choose.  My grandfather used to say about his father, “when he had a chance to do something right, he did it up round”.  I guess that may just be what the Great Spirit intended and did for us in these Appalachian mountains.

 

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