by Misfit History
-Sept. 2, 2019

Pioneer Hiker

A pioneer hiker, Emma Gatewood, was the first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail solo in one season. At the age of 67, after raising 11 children, Gatewood started hiking, inspired by an article in National Geographic, and set her mind to tackle the 2,168-mile trail. She completed the hike three times, the last at age 75, making her the first person to do so. She also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, averaging 22 miles a day. In total she walked alone through 14 states. The impetus behind her marathon hikes is rooted in her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. The last straw was an incident when her husband Percy beat her so badly he broke her teeth, jaw and cracked her ribs, nearly killing her. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the house, and arrested Emma, not Percy. She spent a night in jail until the mayor of the small West Virginia town where they lived intervened when he saw her blackened eyes and bloodied face. He granted Emma a divorce — unheard of in those days — and she raised her last three children alone. Her youngest daughter Lucy who witnessed the brutal violence showed her mom the National Geographic article and urged her mom to set out on an adventure. Hiking for Emma, was an act of self-care, healing, resistance, independence and a way to regain her inner and outer strength and find her way back to herself. When asked why she hiked, she said simply “because I wanted to.”❤️🔥✊ #history#domesticviolence #enddomesticviolence #hiking #hikingadventures#inspiration #selfcare #selflove #instagood

WNC artist's work selected for the Santa Fe Museum of Encaustic Art's upcoming show

Rachel York Bridgers

Environmentalist, Professor, animal activist, feminist, yogi, artist, parent, poet and nature lover!

My piece “Floodwaters” has been chosen for the Santa Fe Museum of Encaustic Art’s upcoming show: ‘Global Warming is Real.’ I am honored. I love this medium — and this is an important theme.
In good company, Melba Cooper…/2018/7/…/global-warming-is-real
— Rachel York Bridgers


Being Self Sufficient


-Tipper Pressley,

Ed Buchanan, a 74-year-old farmer who farms just for himself, can survey his little kingdom back here in the hills beyond Dillsboro and exult in sovereign independence.

Here stacks of hay, there pyramids of corn, beef cattle in the pasture, a milk cow in the barn, hams in the smokehouse, potatoes in the root cellar, the can house filled to bursting, chickens scratching the yard.

And with an eye of triumph, he can look upon his piles of wood and laugh at winter’s frown.

Ed and his wife Clearsie are so self-reliant they don’t have to worry about the high costs of living and fuel shortages.

“No matter what happened,” he said, “we could get by without any pinch or discomfort. We’ve plenty to eat. We’ve got plenty of wood to keep us warm and to keep the cookstove going for cooking. We can make do with what’s at hand and live quite well. We always have. Living off the  land and doing for ourselves in something we’ve always done. It was the way I was brought up. We raise practically everything we eat. Only have to go to the grocery store for sugar and coffee and soda, something like that. We get plenty of eggs, plenty of milk and butter. We’ve got all kinds of canned stuff my wife puts up. We’ve got plenty of potatoes, both kinds, and plenty of beans. We’ve got our own chickens for laying and for eating. I killed three hogs Thanksgiving Day. They weighed five hundred pounds a piece. I sold one to my son. That left us with four hams. my wife put up sixty pounds of sausage.”

—John Parris – “Independent As All Git-Out”

Favorite Appalachian Sayings



February 26, 2019- by Tipper Pressley

I’m sharing some of my favorite old sayings with you today. I hope you’ll leave a comment and add to the list.

  • That dog won’t hunt

  • If that don’t make your wood burn nothing will

  • Your milk of human kindness has turned to bonnie clabber

  • She threw more out the back door than her man could tote in the front

  • As poor as a bear that wintered up in the Balsams

  • Weddin’ without courtin is like vittles without salt

  • Beauty never made the kettle sing

  • Never get your horse in a place where you can’t turn around

  • I ain’t been in his shoes and I can’t gauge his footsteps

  • It’s never to late to mend

  • Where’s there’s bees there’s honey

  • What can’t be cured must be endured

  • Don’t miss her no more than a cold draft after the door’s shut

  • He’d buy a load of cord wood to peddle out in hell if you’d give him till Christmas to pay for it

  • Sit down and rest yourself, settin’s cheaper’n standin’

  • Lookin’ like the hind wheels o’ destruction

Vibrant descriptive wisdom filled language = Appalachia


Large City or small town, is one more inclusive?

Intrigued by this tweet

Here at GraciousRoots we’ve been pondering the validity of the tweet below. What’s your take? Jump into the discussion!

The Tweet comes from Eddie Krassenstein. You can find his website here:

  • Published here with permission from the author, Ed Krassenstein


The history of Paris Mountain



For GVLtoday

Paris Mountain is just a few miles from our Main Street (6.9 miles via Rutherford Rd. to be exact), and makes for the ideal backdrop for your summertime plans. 

While the park is now home to cool hiking trails and stunning real estate, it has quite a significant stake in South Carolina’s history.

1770: The most common story we’ve heard says that the area’s namesake, Richard Pearis, was allegedly living with a Native American chief’s daughter on a plantation along the banks of the Reedy River (in what is now downtown Greenville). During the Revolutionary War, Pearis supported the Tories and their Cherokee allies – which led to some issues from a Patriot troop, who raided his plantation, burned his mill + home, and jailed him in Charleston. Upon his release, he fled to the Bahamas. 

Native Americans – specifically, members of the Cherokee tribe – called Paris Mountain (yes, spelled without the ‘e’) home until the land was forfeited to South Carolina in 1777 following the end of the Revolutionary War.

1889 – 1898: The Altamont Hotel was constructed on Paris Mountain’s summit as a summer retreat for wealthy Charleston residents who preferred mountain air + less mosquitoes to humid air + sandy beaches. The journey from downtown Greenville to the hotel took 2 hours due to terrain. It also lacked running water and eventually went out of business in 1898 and burned down in 1920. 

1889 – 1918: The Paris Mountain Water Company created lakes and dams on the mountain, which provided Greenville with its first water system. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Camp Buckhorn was added to Paris Mountain and it was established as a national park.

Summer of 1917: A 1,900-acre training camp, called Camp Sevier, was built near the base of Paris Mountain for the newly-created 30th Infantry Division during World War I. This is about the same time that Eugenia Duke (who created Duke’s Mayonnaise Co.) started handing out sandwiches to soldiers at the camp.

Paris Mountain earned a place on the National Register in 1998 and has become quite the wedding hot spot with venues like Camp Buckhorn, View Point at Buckhorn Creek and the Hollow at Paris Mountain.

What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?


- By Margaret Renkl for the New York Times

Ms. Renkl covers flora, fauna, politics, and culture in the American South.

  • July 9, 2018
The typewriter used by Eudora Welty in her final years sits on the desk in the bedroom of her home in Jackson, Miss.  Credit Associated Press

The typewriter used by Eudora Welty in her final years sits on the desk in the bedroom of her home in Jackson, Miss. Credit Associated Press


NASHVILLE — From time to time, a debate resurfaces in Southern literary circles about whether there can still be a recognizable literature of the South in an age of mass media and Walmart. The 21st-century South would be unrecognizable to the Agrarian poets, whose 1930 manifesto, “I’ll Take My Stand,” set out many of the principles that still cling like ticks to the term “Southern writer.” Far more urban, far more ethnically and culturally and politically diverse, the South is no longer a place defined by sweet tea and slamming screen doors, and its literature is changing, too. “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it,” the novelist Lee Smith once said.

I’m the editor of a website about Tennessee literature. Even so, I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about the defining characteristic of the Southern writer because there is surely no single quality that defines Southern writing anyway. But reading “People Only Die of Love in Movies: Film Writing by Jim Ridley,” a new book from Vanderbilt University Press, has got me to thinking about the question.

Most readers of The New York Times have probably never heard of Jim Ridley, but he was a hero in this town. A local boy who grew up in nearby Murfreesboro, he started contributing book reviews to The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, while he was in middle school. (In his take on Mary Stewart’s Arthurian trilogy, he notes that Stewart’s Merlin “speaks like a combination of the worst elements of John Cheever, a used-car salesman, and Abigail Van Buren.” He had just turned 14 when he wrote that review.)

Jim Ridley,  Credit Nancy Floyd

Jim Ridley, Credit Nancy Floyd

Mr. Ridley studied journalism and literature at Middle Tennessee State University, his hometown college. After he graduated in 1989, he started writing for the Nashville Scene, our local alt-weekly newspaper. When he died in 2016, he was the paper’s editor. He had never lived anywhere other than Middle Tennessee.

There wasn’t a single aspect of cultural life in this town that Jim Ridley didn’t chronicle with originality and wit and some of the most graceful sentences ever committed to print. During the nearly 20 years I knew him, I never ceased to marvel that my unrelentingly humble friend was the same linguistic powerhouse who kept goading this city into becoming more than the sleepy backwater of country music and Bible publishing it believed itself to be. The editor of “People Only Die of Love in Movies,” Steve Haruch, writes in its introduction, “Long before Nashville ever appeared on the national hip-city radar, Jim saw and highlighted the city’s strengths while also holding the city and the people in it to the highest standards.”

This is what the truly great writers — the great journalists, novelists, poets, playwrights — always do: They know their communities from the inside out, as full members, and they tell the truth about what they know. Physician, heal thyself.

Great writers everywhere do the same thing, but the South’s legacy of slavery and its overt and enduring racism make the truth a Southern writer speaks especially urgent — never more so than now, when our president and his enablers stoke the lie of white supremacy, in their words and deeds, nearly every day.

Looking at the pile of forthcoming books on my desk, I was startled to realize that “People Only Die of Love in Movies” isn’t the only posthumous work of literary art coming out this month by a Tennessee writer who found his own hometown both vexing and endlessly fascinating: There’s also “The Lost Country,” a new novel by William Gay, who lived almost his entire life in Hohenwald, just southwest of Nashville. “Mr. Gay wrote about rustic Tennessee with an inside observer’s eye for local color and a hyperbolist’s delight in regional idiosyncrasies,” a 2012 obituary in this newspaper noted.

Among the living Tennessee homebodies with new releases, there’s the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham, whose nonfiction book “The Soul of America” was released in May. There’s the novelist Kevin Wilson, who grew up and still lives on the Cumberland Plateau: His new story collection, “Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine,” will be published next month. There’s the novelist Ann Patchett, whose new nonfiction book about Nashville, a joint project with the photographer Heidi Ross, is coming out in November. Ms. Patchett lives two blocks from where she grew up.

People can hardly help loving the hands that rocked their cradles or the landscapes that shaped their souls, but I doubt there’s a single writer in the South for whom life here isn’t a source of deep ambivalence. And yet all the writers I’ve mentioned had opportunities to leave — many actually did leave for a time before returning to stay.

It has all made me wonder: What if being a Southern writer has nothing to do with rural tropes or lyrical prose or a lush landscape or humid heat so thick it’s hard to breathe? What if being a Southern writer is foremost a matter of growing up in a deeply troubled place and yet finding it somehow impossible to leave? Of seeing clearly the failings of home and nevertheless refusing to flee?

I honestly don’t know if I’m right about this. For one thing, Southerners don’t hold the copyright on a close connection to home, and there are many exceptions to the rule anyway. Historically, African-American writers tended to leave the South as fast as they could, and for obvious reasons.

Still. Think about William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, the great pillars of what we think of as Southern literature. Among the living, think about the novelist Jesmyn Ward in Mississippi. Think about the novelists Josephine Humphreys and George Singleton in South Carolina. Think about Wendell Berry and Silas House and Bobbie Ann Mason and Frank X. Walker in Kentucky. Think about the playwright Katori Hall in Memphis, and the poets T. J. Jarrett and Caroline Randall Williams here in Nashville. They’re all living and writing in the very places where they were born.

I think of my old friend Jim Ridley — I think of all these writers, old and young, living and dead — and here’s what crosses my mind: Maybe being a Southern writer has always been more than stereotypes of ceiling fans and panting dogs in dirt yards. Maybe being a Southern writer is only a matter of loving a damaged and damaging place, of loving its flawed and beautiful people, so much that you have to stay there, observing and recording and believing, against all odds, that one day it will finally live up to the promise of its own good heart.

Garland and the Billy Goat

billy goat.jpg

Guest Post written by Garland Davis for Blind Pig and the Acorn

There was the incident of the Billy goat. The doctor had prescribed goat’s milk for my grandmother and my dad came home one Saturday morning with three or four nanny goats and a Billy. Look up worthless in the dictionary and you will see a picture of a Billy goat. I can tell you, they really get mad if you cut their beards off. A whippin’ for that one. But that isn’t the story I am trying to tell here.

I had seen a TV show where the hero roped a wild bull and saved the damsel. I had a rope which I fashioned into a lasso. I was roping anything I could. My brothers went along for a while. They would run and I would chase them swinging my loop and try to rope them. Finally, one of them said, “Why don’t you try to catch the Billy goat.”

Now this seemed like a good idea to me. I chased after the goat trying to swing the loop. He would either outrun me or turn and chase me. I came up with a brilliant plan. I would tie the rope to a fence post and my brothers could chase ole Billy past me and I would rope him. Fantastic plan!

They got ole Billy up to a dead run and as he approached I swung the loop and floated it out toward his head. Now I tell you, neither Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, nor Hopalong Cassidy ever threw a more perfect loop. Right over ole Billy’s head. He hit the end of that rope at a dead run; his feet flew out from under him; bam he hit the ground and didn’t move. Stone cold dead.

We knew we were dead too when daddy found out. I gathered the rope and hid it in the barn. We ran off and volunteered to hoe mama’s garden, trying to build up as much good will as possible before the storm hit.

Right on time daddy came home from work. We had a routine, as soon as he got home we would go to the barn, milk the cow and goats, clean the stalls and feed them and the pigs. We dreaded going to the barn. Dad was in a hurry as usual and rushed us toward our doom. As we turned the corner of the barn, we saw ole Billy standing out there eating grass. I was suddenly convinced that prayers were answered and vowed to be more attentive in Sunday School.



WALLY SMITH29 JUN 18 for Blue Ridge Outdoors

A largely undiscovered oasis in the coalfields is helping communities rebuild.

My hiking partner and I have been walking the Kentucky-Virginia border for an hour across the crest of Pine Mountain, tiptoeing over a knife-edge of sandstone to a rock shelter below the summit. The outcrop is massive, with a hollowed-out area large enough to fit a three-story house. It’s the kind of place a person might choose to ride out the apocalypse.

As the cliffline shades us into darkness under a June sun, my companion sums up the experience with a single word: “Whoa.”

Pine Mountain has that way of sneaking up on people. It’s far from the East’s tallest point, and it hosts no federally-designated wilderness areas. It’s not even your typical mountain: the 125-mile ridgeline, running from Jellico, Tenn. northeastward to Breaks Interstate Park, is technically the uppermost lip of a tilted mass of rock that was broken and uplifted nearly 300 million years ago.

But spend some time on Pine Mountain, and any obscurity fades away quickly. “It feels like it was almost designed in a laboratory,” says Phil Meeks, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, and avid hiker. “Just when you get to the point where you think you’re going to have a boring walk, you come across something new that catches your attention.”

Pine Mountain’s secrets have been steadily gaining notoriety, from long-distance hiking options to popular ultramarathons traversing its slopes. But as that outdoor recreation landscape takes shape, it’s also running up against challenges indicative of the southern Appalachians’ changing economic and cultural climate. In fact, the mountain’s role in creating rifts among users while bridging deep economic divides may hold valuable lessons for an entire region in flux.

Tracing Historic Trails

It’s easy to find those lessons on the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail, a linear component of Kentucky’s state park system. James Stapleton, president of the Pine Mountain Trail Conference, says that the 40-mile footpath didn’t just materialize in a marketing meeting. “We’ve constructed trail,” Stapleton says, “but basically we used what once were prehistoric animal trails that were adopted by Native Americans and by European settlers.”

Today, those routes trace a continuous pathway from Elkhorn City, Ky. to U.S. 119 above the town of Whitesburg, passing sandstone arches, high-elevation wetlands, and overlooks galore. The Conference’s ultimate goal is to extend the trail southwest to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, although getting there now requires a lengthy roadwalk from the trail’s southern terminus. Stapleton says work is ongoing to get some of that route off of pavement and into the woods.

The route has also caught the eye of the Great Eastern Trail, a proposed 1,600-mile pathway leading from Alabama to New York. Pine Mountain’s footpath sits as a sort of blazed island in the midst of the Appalachian coalfields—what Stapleton calls a “fingernail” of intact forest—waiting for a connection to be built north to Matewan, W.Va.

Making those connections means raising the trail’s profile, and that’s just what the route has been seeing in recent years. Meeks cites a growing number of out-of-state hikers as evidence of increased use, while Breaks Interstate Park—located across the Russell Fork from Elkhorn City—has recently added rock climbing options and a zipline attraction. “There’s a growing interest in making this area an ecotourism destination,” he says.

A “Green Strip”

For Hugh Archer, that transformation means more than just a walking path. A former executive director of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, Archer has worked for years with the Trust to protect the mountain, which serves as a biological oasis in an area that has otherwise experienced intense disturbance. “It’s this green strip up through the eastern coalfields,” he says.

Part of what’s saved Pine Mountain is that its rugged ridgeline lacks mineable coal, the result of a geological quirk that—along with its steep terrain—has kept most of the mountain intact. Kentucky’s largest old-growth forest is found on the mountain, along with nearly 100 rare plant and animal species. Despite all of its natural wealth, though, the majority of Pine Mountain has historically been privately owned and unprotected.

Archer and others have been working to change that. To date, Archer estimates that roughly 50 percent of the top of the mountain has been bought or protected. And in the past few years, he says that the effort has been “on a roll,” with 7,000 new acres purchased.

Archer also says that protecting the mountain and enhancing outdoor recreation aren’t separate endeavors. As the region continues to suffer from the coal industry’s decline, new public lands could help route the Great Eastern Trail, providing a piece of the regional economic puzzle. “There’s no silver bullet for the mining towns, but there are silver BBs,” he says. “And we view this as one of those BBs to help communities recover.”

However, that search for economic options is also where Pine Mountain’s user conflicts begin. Communities around the mountain have recently proposed building a sprawling federal prison complex and a casino below the mountain’s summit. Those types of developments could interrupt the protected corridor that Archer and colleagues have been building. And ATV use has run into conflict with hikers along the mountain’s slopes.

“For generations, there have been people who have used the mountain in a certain way,” Meeks says. “It’s been an ATV trail for folks for a long time.” Those conflicts reached a peak in 2016 when a bill introduced in the Kentucky legislature would have opened up much of the mountain’s trails to ATVs. That bill was eventually withdrawn following public outcry, but it’s unlikely that user conflicts will stop anytime soon.

Where Pine Mountain goes from here is unclear, but it’s a region worth watching as communities across the Blue Ridge continue to adjust to rapidly changing economies. Friction between stakeholders is becoming more commonplace beyond Pine Mountain, from conflicts between timber management and hikers in North Carolina’s Big Ivy to pipeline corridors threatening the Appalachian Trail. No single area seems to have hit upon a clear solution for those issues, and the successes and failures of places like Pine Mountain may show a way forward.

Along the Kentucky-Virginia border, that path can be difficult to travel. “It’s sort of like taking a step forward and taking a step back,” Meeks says, but despite those challenges, he, Archer, and Stapleton are all optimistic about the mountain’s future.

For Archer, there’s a simple reason why. “It’s some of the best natural area left in the country,” he says. And for everyone with their sights set on the mountain, that alone seems motivation enough.

Experience Pine Mountain

Head to the Top

Pine Mountain’s highest point can be found at Birch Knob, a 3,144-foot summit with a unique observation platform offering 360-degree views into West Virginia and North Carolina. The knob also doubles as a parking area for the Pine Mountain Trail. Access the tower through Clintwood, Va.

Directions+ Info 

Get Into the Woods

Blanton Forest Preserve, located outside of Harlan, Ky., offers a chance to hike through old-growth forests and snag long-range views atop the preserve’s massive Knobby Rock.

Directions+ Info  

Hit the Park

Breaks Interstate Park sits astride the Kentucky-Virginia border on Pine Mountain’s northeast end. A lodge, cabins, and lake provide less-rustic options, while hiking trails plunge into the rugged Russell Fork Gorge. Recently-opened climbing routes provide access to crags reminiscent of the New River Gorge.

Plan a trip 


Cutting Hay.jpg


Folks in my area have just completed their first cutting of hay. They usually get two cuttings of hay during the summer, and if the weather shines down upon their fields in a good way they might even get three cuttings.

Putting up hay has changed a lot since I was a girl. I remember Whitmire cutting hay on his large cattle farm that borders Wilson Holler. He’d hire local boys to help him and you could see them hot, sweaty, and I’m sure itchy as they threw the square bales onto the back of a slow moving truck. These days its all the large round bales that have to be moved with a tractor.

Jump farther back in time and you can see an even more drastic change in hay cutting time.

When Pap was a boy they cut hay by hand. He told me they only cut hay once a summer in those days. As time went by and things advanced in the mountains of western NC Pap’s family used a cutting machine that was pulled by a team of horses to cut hay. Pap said when that happened they thought they had hit the big time. Cutting hay with a machine and horses was easier and it was so much faster than cutting by hand.

A rake behind a horse or mule was used to pile the hay and pitchforks were used to throw it on the back of a wagon. If you were lucky enough to have a big barn, Pap said you stored the hay in the loft.

Folks that didn’t have a barn or needed more hay than the barn would hold, would cut a small tree, four or five inches thick, and cut the limbs down to where they were short and stubby. The tree was placed in the ground and the hay was thrown around it into a pile of sorts. Pap said the hay actually lasted pretty good with the tree method, not as good as inside a barn, but good enough to provide for the animals.

Over the weekend I had the good fortune of talking to one of Pap’s old friends Bass Hyatt. Bass grew up in Brasstown and went to school with Pap at the old Odgen School. His family has been in the cattle business for generations.

Bass told me when he was just a boy the hay had to be replanted each year. The type of spreading creeping grass we have today hadn’t been introduced in this area so the fields had to be harred and the seed put in the ground each spring. That was an extra burden placed on top of the whole cut it by hand part. Bass said “My daddy taught me to pile the hay in a tall stack and I did it enough that I got pretty good at doing it.”


lingering on object permanence during childhood development

by Bill Graham, Asst. Editor GraciousRoots

I’m pretty sure I lingered too long on object permanence during childhood development – almost certainly at the expense of several other necessities – and it has haunted me to this day.

As a little guy, I was preoccupied with that famous flag the astronauts left on the moon, perched there in the eternal dust, unaware of the chaotic planet swirling down below. (I was also sure that I’d be able to see it with the tabletop telescope Santa owed me, and I was left bitterly disappointed on that).

Another example: in high school, I’d step to the free throw line, and, to block out crowd noise, I’d close my eyes and picture the granite alongside my favorite swimming hole, in the starlight, still warm from the sun, there for the millennia and with no plans to go anywhere and completely indifferent to my plight in a small, sweaty gym in Sylva. Then I’d open my eyes and calmly brick the foul shot.

More recently I sat in a third-floor window of a restaurant in Charleston, looking down on King Street, and I noticed an iron flagpole bracket outside the glass, affixed to the wall a couple of centuries back, and long since forgotten. How many parades had it seen? What flags had it held? Could it see Sumter from its vantage point? So many questions.

Anyway, here’s a window handle tucked away in Sylva, NC corroded shut long ago. During every single triumph or tragedy of your life, no matter how much pain or pleasure you felt, this window handle looked more or less exactly like this.

window handle.jpg

What's In Our Rivers?



Most of us don’t know.Here’s a quick guide to the health of the water you paddle, fish, swim, and drink.

Kentucky’s Stoney Fork isn’t supposed to run an otherworldly shade of translucent red, but that’s what Matt Hepler found in late March last year. Hepler, a water scientist, says the color was due to an upstream storage tank leaking potassium permanganate, a chemical used in treating acid mine drainage. Hepler’s photos of the discolored creek went viral on social media.

The spill wasn’t an isolated case for Appalachian rivers. As many as 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked into West Virginia’s Elk River in 2014, leaving a quarter million people without potable water. Just six years earlier, millions of cubic yards of coal ash flooded the mouth of the Emory River in Kingston, Tenn.

Those incidents all pose fundamental questions about the health of our waterways, but diving deeper into their answers often means descending into a maddening blend of jargon and legalese. Terms like 303(d) impairment and Section 319 funding all complicate an easy understanding of issues that have impacts on each of us. What’s really happening to our rivers, and how do those issues affect the millions of people across the Blue Ridge who rely on them for drinking water and as places to swim, paddle, or fish?


Kentucky’s Stoney Fork was discolored in early 2017 by a leak of Potassium Permanganate, a chemical used in treating Acid Mine drainage.

Kentucky’s Stoney Fork was discolored in early 2017 by a leak of Potassium Permanganate, a chemical used in treating Acid Mine drainage.

Kentucky’s Stoney Fork was discolored in early 2017 by a leak of Potassium Permanganate, a chemical used in treating Acid Mine drainage.

We Are What We Drink

“Every aspect of what we do in our daily lives affects our water quality,” says Stephanie Kreps, a water manager with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The host of threats to water quality is so pervasive that it’s virtually impossible to find a major watershed anywhere across the Blue Ridge that doesn’t have at least some of its streams suffering from water quality impairments.

Headline-grabbing incidents like the 2014 Elk River spill justifiably dominate our public dialogue about water quality, but less-visible issues like sediment and bacteria are often even more dangerous. These types of pollution often stem from “non-point” sources, a regulatory term meaning that they cannot be traced to a single location like a pipe or the site of an accidental spill. Instead, any number of sources dispersed across thousands of square miles of land can all contribute pollutants to the same waterway.

In Southern Appalachia, disturbed lands for development, logging, and surface mines expose large amounts of sediment that can eventually make its way into nearby rivers. It’s more than just runoff; the increased sediment load causes higher concentrations of salt and selenium downstream of mining activities. A 2017 Duke University study showed that several streams impacted by mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia now run consistently saltier for up to 80 percent of the year.

While elevated sediment and salinity levels may sound like a minor issue, they can spell huge problems for the overall stability of the stream ecosystem. Those impacts often show up first in animals like aquatic insects that thrive along the stream bottom, creating ripple effects throughout the stream’s food web, all the way up to fish populations.

In other cases, excess levels of contaminants like selenium can cause different problems altogether. A 2010 study of West Virginia’s Mud River watershed found physical deformities in a number of fish species—including game fish like bluegill and largemouth bass—as a result of selenium toxicity.

Then the hard work of addressing those sources of pollutants begins. “How are we going to fix this?” Kreps asks. That question is answered through the development of an implementation plan, where Kreps says state and federal agencies work with nonprofits, community members, and other stakeholders to draft a blueprint for reversing a stream’s pollution issues. It’s a process that may take years, but it’s a key step in securing the financial resources needed to help communities address polluted streams.

Fish Advisory.jpg



Up Sh*t Creek

Upper Tennessee River Roundtable Executive Director Carol Doss has spent much of her time in recent years grappling with another nonpoint source pollutant: bacteria. The cause of bacterial problems in most streams is fecal coliform contamination, the scientific term for bacteria that originate in the large intestines of warm-blooded animals. The proverbial bear shitting in the woods can be a source of fecal coliform issues, but problems really begin when human waste enters the picture.

Doss mentions that unmaintained septic systems and pet or livestock waste are major sources of fecal coliform bacteria in regional streams. “I think it’s something people don’t think a lot about,” Doss says, but without appropriate control measures, “it’s going to get into the water somewhere.”

Among the cocktail of pathogens commonly found in fecal coliform contamination is E. coli, which can cause gastrointestinal illness in swimmers, boaters, and other users that might accidentally ingest untreated water. In other cases, viral pathogens like those causing hepatitis can even hitchhike with the bacteria found in untreated sewage, further enhancing public health threats.

Many areas have programs that help landowners repair failing septic systems or remediate erosion issues, but those projects can be time-consuming and expensive to complete, especially for low-income residents. Plus, nonpoint source issues can present communication hurdles since they are often not as visible as something like a pipe discharging wastewater into a stream. “With nonpoint sources coming from all over,” Doss says, “you don’t immediately know where (pollutants) are coming from if you see them in a stream.”


Regulating a River

By contrast, identifying and regulating those known locations—called point sources—is much more straightforward. That’s thanks in part to the Clean Water Act, a landmark environmental law that governs how both point and nonpoint sources are regulated.

While the law doesn’t prevent the release of contaminants into waterways outright, it does establish a licensing system that controls the amount of pollutants—everything from treated sewage to chemical waste to even water artificially warmed by industrial processes—that a facility can release into a waterbody. The resulting permits obtained by those facilities allow for regulators to track wastewater discharges and ensure that pollutant levels remain within the safe confines of regulatory standards.

Today, the number of permitted discharge facilities spread across the Blue Ridge numbers in the thousands, ranging from large facilities like the region’s power plants to mining outfalls and even the small wastewater treatment plants serving the region’s subdivisions and ski resorts.

The value of permitting point sources is that regulators can keep track of individual facilities and issue penalties for violations, but that doesn’t mean that those regulations are without controversy. As one example, communities across the Blue Ridge are currently embroiled in a long-term battle over the storage of coal ash—a chemical-laden residue that results from burning coal—in constructed ponds near waterways. Lawsuits and public outcry over coal ash disposal have raged in recent years, especially at coal ash ponds along the French Broad River, James River, and Potomac River.

These often-unlined storage leak toxic pollutants into waterways, aquifers, and drinking water sources. The Southern Environmental Law Center has been engaging in legal action related to coal ash across multiple Southeastern states, including filing a 2017 lawsuit against Duke Energy over its coal ash storage at a power plant near Charlotte, citing elevated levels of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic pollutants in waterways near the site.

New River.jpg


Taking Action

Solving the region’s water quality challenges ultimately comes down to one thing: awareness. Doss’s organization, Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, works across the thousands of square miles to enhance public understanding of water quality threats. Doss says that people “just light up” once the acronyms and jargon surrounding water quality topics are broken down into real-world terms. “They want to help do something good for the environment,” she says.

Anglers and paddlers are especially important in providing input. A recent project led by recreational groups to develop a new put-in along one Virginia stream discovered a location where a nearby building was straight-piping untreated sewage directly into the waterway. “You can’t beat the local context of somebody who lives on the ground,” Kreps says.

And what about monitoring wastewater discharges or catching accidental spills like the one that discolored Kentucky’s Stoney Fork? Public awareness has a critical role to play there, too. Savage and Hepler both say that citizen involvement is a crucial step in identifying and addressing water quality violations. In fact, Hepler says that he originally became aware of problems with Stoney Fork while traveling to investigate a citizen complaint at a nearby stream.

Join a water monitoring group, or submit reports to your state’s environmental agency if you’re out on the river and see something that doesn’t look right. Even the small step of vocally supporting healthy rivers can empower others to action, says Erin Savage, program manager at Appalachian Voices. “Get the word out within your community that you are aware of water quality issues and you value clean, public water.”

Potomac River (West Virginia/Virginia/Maryland)

The Potomac was named the nation’s most endangered river in 2012 by nonprofit American Rivers due to pollution from agricultural and urban land uses. Ongoing issues with coal ash disposal are causing further concern within the Potomac watershed.

Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers (Georgia/Alabama/Florida)

Increasing water demand and pollution from expanding suburban populations in the Atlanta area are putting a strain on wildlife and human populations downstream, triggering a decades-long legal battle among stakeholders.

Dan River (North Carolina/Virginia)

A February 2014 leak of an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash entered the Dan River from a Duke Energy steam facility in Eden, North Carolina, causing concern about potential contamination from metals and other pollutants for miles downstream.

Elk River (West Virginia)

A 2014 chemical leak into the Elk River left several hundred thousand residents without drinking water and raised national awareness about the health of Appalachian streams.

Emory River (Tennessee)

A ruptured dike at a waste containment area near the confluence of the Emory and Clinch Rivers resulted in the largest release of coal ash in U.S. history in 2008.

Saluda River: (South Carolina)

The Saluda, which cascades off of the Blue Ridge into the South Carolina Piedmont, has been plagued by bacterial contamination in recent years. Several guides, outfitters, and other businesses filed a 2017 lawsuit against a regional utility provider, alleging a loss of business due to pollution in the river.

How Can You Actually Do Something About Water Quality?

KNOW your watershed

What stream does runoff from your community end up in? Is it safe to swim, fish, or float a nearby river? The USEPA’s How’s My Waterway? tool allows you to enter a zip code or town and receive info on the status of streams that are found nearby.

Know your point sources

Concerned about what might be getting discharged into your favorite river? Most states keep searchable, online lists of permitted point sources. North Carolina has even assembled its permitted point sources into a map showing the location of each.

Get active

Most major watersheds across the Blue Ridge have nonprofit organizations dedicated to preserving and improving the condition of nearby streams. Find and join your nearest watershed advocacy group to keep track of events in your area. Most organizations host regular public events such as stream cleanups or events to train citizens in water quality monitoring.

Fitness, nutrition go hand-in-hand with good health

Chris Worthy, Contributing Writer/ for Upstate Parent. Published 12:00 a.m. ET April 12, 2018

woman lifting weights.jpg

Health and fitness goals should be as unique as the person making them, but sometimes a reality check and some good advice can mean the difference between success and never getting started.

Pete Townley, head trainer and co-owner of The Upstate Performance Project, focuses heavily on education in training athletes and individuals. He said the myth persists that women should not lift weights.

“I think the biggest thing is that it’s 2018 and we’ve known for many, many years that strength training – resistance training – is one of the fundamental elements of an overall healthy lifestyle,” he said. “You are going to have to touch weights to do that.”

While Townley’s female clients certainly can have the goal of bodybuilding or being a strength athlete, those are specific goals that require targeted effort. But Townley said some women think any type of weight lifting will lead to bodybuilder muscles.

“As a personal trainer, one of the things I hear literally daily is ‘I just want to tone up,’” he said. “What they mean is they want the muscles to look good and they want to be lean. That means we need to lose body fat. Resistance training, cardiovascular training and nutrition are the three big factors.”

If losing body fat is the goal, just breaking a sweat or engaging in moderate intensity exercise for a long period of time – like walking on a treadmill – likely won’t be the most effective way to spend precious gym time.

“There’s a place for that, but it’s not necessarily the best way to lose body fat,” Townley said. “The muscle itself has to be strong and effective to work properly. It actually uses stored fat to help maintain its shape. You can’t get that way if you don’t do strength training. You won’t get bulky unless you want to get bulky. If you want to get big and bulky, lifting weights is the way to do it, but lifting weights alone won’t get you big and bulky.”

It is possible to maintain lean muscle tissue and lose body fat if toning up is the goal.

“Your muscles will look better, and you’ll have those lines you want, but you won’t get them without strength training,” Townley said. “As personal trainers, there’s a science behind fitness. There are a million different things you can do to lose weight quickly, but they aren’t necessarily healthy and don’t set you up for the long haul. The goal should be to get clients to a level of self-sufficiency. We are teaching them to be healthy individuals. Strength training is a huge part of that.”

While weights may look intimidating, Townley said getting help and finding what is fun for you is the key to making it a part of a healthy lifestyle that can continue for decades to come.

“Sometimes when people talk to me about their goals, they don’t want them to sound superficial or vain,” he said. “Your goals are your goals.”

Townley offers a free consultation to help create a roadmap to achieve those goals. He said getting the advice of a trainer can make all the difference.

upstate performance project #1.png

“It’s an appropriate goal, with an appropriate timeline,” he said. “If you have a goal, there is a way to get there, especially if it’s to be healthy and fit. There are people to help you.”

Learn more at

Do You Wave at Everyone You Pass?

Blind Pig & The Acorn (Blog)

Do you wave at folks you pass on the road? Around here some folks wave at every person they meet while other’s don’t wave at anybody-even if they know them.

Several years ago a sweet lady named Lise wrote a guest post for me about what she called the car wave hello. At the time, Lise hadn’t been living in the mountains very long and was surprised and pleased when she noticed other drivers waving at her as she drove about her way.

Lise really studied the various car waves she encountered on her travels through the mountains. You can read her post about the car wave hello below.


The Car Wave Hello written by Lise

One of the things I love about being in the mountains is how friendly everyone is. Almost every single solitary person you encounter says hello, is smiling at you, and is willing to carry on a conversation with you about any topic you bring up. Mostly, it seems to me people are content in these Southern Appalachian mountains.

An interesting custom my husband and I have now acquired is the “Car Wave Hello”. This is the manner in which drivers in cars passing by each other on the steep and winding mountain road indicate a friendly hello.

First please imagine that the driver of the car has their hand(s) on the steering wheel, this could be one hand or both, that is visible to the approaching driver. With that said, there are many manner of car waves:

  • The Finger Wave: no, no, no, not THAT finger, the pointer finger. The lone steering hand will raise the pointer finger. At times the thumb is included in this wave, resulting in an “L” wave.
    • This can also graduate to the 2, 3 and 4 finger wave, not sure what constitutes the difference, but there sure are a lot of variances in this method.
  • The Full Wave: this exudes full confidence from the approaching driver and causes me to hope that their other hand is on the portion of the steering wheel I can not see.
  • The Opposite Hand Wave: this driver has one visible hand on the wheel, but the other provides a full perpendicular lift to the ground and gives a full view of the palm and all 4 fingers and opposing appendage.
  • The Waving Opposite Hand Wave: this driver’s wave extends the feeling to the receiving driver that this driver is a very cheery person with not a care in the world and that perhaps, just perhaps, they recognize you.
  • The No Finger Head Nod Wave: every now and then you get no wave, but after you wave the approaching driver realizes “aw, shucks, I didn’t wave”.
  • The Flappy/Fly Wave: for the very same reason the No Finger Head Nod Wave is given, only there is a delay in the approaching driver’s thought process and The Flappy/Fly Wave is more like, “darn it, you caught me off guard” so you get this wave not so much as an afterthought but a too late thought with no time for The Head Nod.
  • The No Wave No Nod No Nothing Wave: well, what can I say, these encounters are always disappointing, but I have chosen to let it go, not knowing what the drivers mood may been.

When I am the driver, I usually have both hands on the wheel. Mostly because the road is steep and very curvy with blind approaches and very narrow lanes. I feel much more in control when I have both hands on the wheel, enabling me to execute the wave without fear of falling down into a ravine. There are times when I am relaxed and forget my both hands rule and subsequently am not thinking about the possibility of the need to execute the wave until I observe an approaching traveler from the opposite direction, unfortunately usually immediately following one of the blind curves, and I must muster the courage to produce some sort of wave, even if it is difficult for the approaching traveler to interpret or understand.

My usual is The 4 Finger Wave, with both hands on the wheel. Every now and then, I give The Opposite Hand Wave or the Flappy/Full Wave specifically for the reasons described above. No matter what, I wave by golly, because I love these winding steep mountain roads and the people I pass on them. But you bet your sweet bippie, I notice the approaching driver’s wave too 🙂

I will continue to observe the car hello wave and it’s variations, and let you know if I discover anything new. But I have to say, driving up and down the mountain is the friendliest driving experience I have ever had in my life!


I’m a car waver. I use the finger wave Lise mentioned when I’m waving at someone I don’t know and I use the opposite hand wave for folks I do know. And I think sometimes I use the four finger over the wheel wave too. I guess you can say I’m trying to continue the general sense of friendliness Lise found when she moved to the mountains of Western NC.


Roasting' Sweet Potatoes

Candied Sweetpotatoes.jpg


GraciousRoots: John Parris lived just down the road from my childhood home and sat behind me with his wife Dorothy in church each Sunday. A lovely couple in every way.  Beloved by many for his columns in the Asheville Citizen-Times "Roaming the Mountains". He wrote with the crispness of Hemingway and the grace of Thomas Wolfe. Indeed, he was a war correspondent like Hemingway and a decorated hero for his work with the Belgian underground during World War II. 

Posted by The Blind Pig and the Acorn, March 3, 2018

Murphy, North Carolina / written by John Parris

Sitting around a hearth fire of a winter night roasting sweet potatoes in the ashes is one of Aunt Tennie Cloer’s fondest memories.

“Back when I was a girl,” she said, “folks got a heap of pleasure in the simple things. And roastin’ potatoes in the fireplace was one of them. They were all the go back then.”

“Folks would drop in of a night and gather around the fireplace and we’d take sweet potatoes and cover them with ashes and embers and sit around and talk and tell stories while they roasted.”

“When the potatoes were done, we’d rake them out of the fireplace and knock off the ashes and blow on ’em until we could hold ’em without burning our hands. Then we’d have a good time eating ’em.”

“Unless you’ve had sweet potatoes roasted in ashes, you can’t begin to know how good they taste. Especially on a cold night before the fire.”

Aunt Tennie, who is 92 years old, grew up on Sugar Fork River over in Macon County back in the days when the hearth was the center of the home-the source of warmth, sometimes light, and always food.


We’ve been on a sweet potato kick around the Blind Pig house. We’ve been baking ours in the oven instead of roastin' them in the ashes, but they’re still good.

Granny once told me she could barely remember her Grandpa taking her to see an old woman that lived in a log cabin somewhere along Highway 141. She said the lady was old as the hills and she cooked them something to eat right there on the hearth.


The History of Appalachian English: Why We Talk Differently


The History of Appalachian English: Why We Talk Differently

By AppalachianMagazine - 

November 23, 2017

*Note: We LOVE this article we just found from back in November - we think you will too. Put in your 2 cents worth in the comments section below. 

“Where are you from?”  An annoying question asked in a condescending tone I have been forced to endure nearly my entire life.  Whether I travel north into Yankeedom or south into Dixie, it seems that the way I (and everyone I grew up with) talk just seems oddly out of place.

We don’t have a Yankee accent, but we also don’t really speak with a southern drawl. Ours is an accent that is entirely unique and though it’s often the subject of scorn and ridicule, the Appalachian dialect is an ancient connection to our rich heritage and deserves to be safeguarded and honored.

The language we speak is known as Appalachian-English and actually serves as one of the oldest varieties of English spoken in this nation.

But why do we speak it and where did this dialect come from?


Like nearly all things related to Appalachia, there is no one clear answer to this question; however, extensive research has been conducted on this very topic for the better part of a century in order to determine why so many of us pronounce words such as “wire,” “fire,” “tire,” and “retired” as “war,” “far,” “tar,” and “retard” respectively.

Appalachian-English also places an “-er” sound at an end of a word with a long “o”.  For example, “hollow”— a small, sheltered valley— is pronounced like “holler”.  Other examples are “potato” (pronounced “tader”), “tomato” (pronounced “mader”), and “tobacco” (pronounced “backer”).

H retention occurs at the beginning of certain words as well. “It”, in particular, is pronounced “hit” at the beginning of a sentence and also when emphasized. The word “ain’t” is pronounced “hain’t”.

The noun “grease” is pronounced with an “s,” but this consonant turns into a “z” in the adjective and in the verb “to grease.”

And then, of course, there is the unending and longstanding feud regarding what is the proper way to pronounce the region itself, “Appalachia”.  People who live in the Appalachian dialect area pronounce the word with a short “a” sound (as in “latch”) in the third syllable, while those who live outside of the Appalachian dialect area or at its outer edges tend to pronounce it with a long “a” sound (as in “lay”).

Of course on this subject, we all know it’s “App-ah-latch-uh”… or I’ll throw an apple-atch’a!

But why is it that we speak so uniquely?

The predominant theory is that the existence of Appalachian-English is the result of the isolation the mountains beyond the Blue Ridge ensured — making our dialect one of the most ancient and protected dialects in the nation.

While our high-browed relatives who moved to the big city and lost their accent may frown upon our words and pronunciations, it is believed that the Appalachian dialect is a remnant of Elizabethan English.

An evidence of this is the use of words such as “afeared”, a Shakespearean word that is largely forgotten by most English speakers outside of the Appalachian region.

Other ancient phrases include the use of “might could” for “might be able to”, the use of “‘un” with pronouns and adjectives (e.g., young’un), the use of “done” as a helping verb (e.g., “we done finished it”), and the use of words such as airish, brickle, swan, and bottom land all of which were common in Southern and Central England in 17th and 18th centuries.

Interestingly, Appalachian-English has virtually no Native American influences (with the exception being place names, e.g., “Appalachia”, “Tennessee”, “Kanawha”, etc.) while so many other regional dialects in the nation do contain heavy influences from Native Americans.  This is noteworthy, as it showcases something we know and realize today — the people who settled this region are not easily influenced by the accents and languages of others, even if they become displaced, Appalachian-English is a hard dialect to lose.

Further evidence of this reality may be found in several areas in the State of Texas.

Nearly two centuries ago, the sons of Virginia’s Appalachian region (Stephen F. Austin & Sam Houston), as well as men of Tennessee (Davy Crocket) and Kentucky (James Bowie) made the decision to leave the mountains and head into the land of Tejas — eventually forming a new Republic, built by the blood and sweat of Appalachia’s sons.

Despite being some 1,200 miles apart, Appalachian-English is still alive and well in multiple Texas localities.  There, in the Lonestar State, you’ll hear phrases such as “Like’t’a”, proving that you may take the man out of Appalachia, but you won’t be able to take the Appalachia out of the man.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!