May, 2002, Volume 9 Nr. 9, Issue 105

Contemplating Dead Warriors and the
War We all Wage in the Smokey Mountains

Greg Brady

From "Hiking Trails of the Smokies", description of Caldwell Fork Trail in the Cataloochee Valley:

According to old-timers, three Union soldiers are buried in a nearby cemetery. They were killed April 1, 1865 by the notorious federal raider Col. George Kirk, a Confederate deserter, who upon being given a Union commission headed a mountain guerrilla force out of east Tennessee. He and his 400 cavalry and 200 foot soldiers plundered Cataloochee Valley before being driven back into Tennessee by a local Confederate unit.

I walk through these woods almost 137 years to the day this valley held 600 union and an unknown number of Confederate troops fighting for the rights of people, or was it the land, or just an 1860's version of wilding fun or just plain old something to eat? I'll never know, and I don't really care what the reasons were, standing here at the graves of three soldiers. A side trail barely visible, just a 1-foot wide break in the fern, moss and wildflowers that line the trail, indicate something different and the path to the graves.

The graves do not have a sign, but are simply marked by a pile of rocks and a lone Holly tree, with no berries. Hollies need a mate to berry, to produce fruit. I wonder if the families of those soldiers brought that holly to mark the spot. I have not seen any other hollies in these woods. I wonder if the parents of those soldiers were able to come here to see the gorgeous valley their sons were laid to rest in. I am glad there are not 1000 hungry men with rifles in this valley today. It is quiet, birds sing once in awhile, the wind can be heard in the treetops, and as I wind down the trail the sounds of Caldwell Fork fade in and out, a pure mountain stream, cleansing, feeding, nurturing these living things. Salamanders, millipedes, butterflies, snakes, deer, red squirrel, coyote, bear and other beasts still live here. Reintroduced turkey and elk roam around. A ranger said he saw a Mountain Lion in these parts in 1972, but none have been spotted since.

Hard to believe this valley held 1000 or so men at war and has very little to witness that event, just this pile of rocks and an odd holly. Who won that war matters not a rat’s ass to the wild things left here. Later on continuing up to the present other wars raged here and in other parts of the world. In both the human versus human and the constant war of growing-the-economy versus nature, the victims are often the trees. The deforestation of Vietnam with napalm and herbicide must have been a terrible hell to witness for anyone who loves nature. The ideals of the human manifest destiny over the natural world are hard for a tree hugger like me to fathom.

From "Hiking Trails of the Smokies", description of Baxter Creek Trail located in the Big Creek Valley the next valley north of Cataloochee Valley:

Six different lumber companies worked this land from the late 1800's to 1934, but this steep rocky approach to Mount Sterling protected some of its old forest. The early companies tried to float logs down Big Creek, but boulders got in the way. A later company bought land, built a rail line in from Newport, Tenn. And Waterville, NC, and then sold out before cutting a single tree. The Cataloochee Lumber Company logged 100 million feet of lumber before going bankrupt in 1904. The Suncrest Lumber Company cut 1.5 million feet of spruce for the war effort (WWI, for planes) and then left the logs to rot. Raging fires in the 1920's burned not only logs and brush, but also logging equipment. Be careful. This mountain seems to have a way of fighting back.

It must have looked like hell with a million and a half feet of spruce rotting on this steep slope. As I walked down the steep trail from Mount Sterling I was amazed by the diversity of the trees, poplar (tulip trees), beech, spruce, hemlock, fir, chestnut, maple, magnolia and still others. So many Rhododendrons a northeast gardener would wet their pants with joy. A few more weeks and these mountains will look like some irradiated florist shop, and I guess that's what it is, naturally irradiated by the sun. At the higher elevations moss covers the downed trees and fir seedlings spring out of the rotting stumps. Topsoil is so precious up here and the earth so bursting with life, even trees that haven't turned into soil yet become a potting mix. Wildflowers, moss and fern lined all the trails I hiked on these warm April days. Trillium, iris and so many others; I am ashamed to admit my ignorance of their names, but I am going to get a book, this type of study is what one should spend their time on. The whole 6 mile long, 4500 foot vertical down hike, while hard on the feet and legs was soft on the eye and mind. I recalled a stanza from a poem Czeslaw Milosz wrote about a city, but I found it so appropriate for the random patterns of nature,

I was carried by dragons
over countries, bays and mountains
by fate, or by what happens

I am always the most amazed by nature in its randomness. Maybe this is the essence of existence artists such as Pollack and Picasso struggled toward.

The diversity of nature is so mind boggling no artist, poet or songwriter has yet captured more than a glimmer of its splendor, and I find that reassuring. Offering a humbling lesson in the limitations of our frail human selves. Why we try so hard to remove ourselves from nature in suburbia where I live is puzzling to me. I find the practice of hiring someone to landscape your yard quite bizarre. The only piece of nature one has to work with is left in the hands of others. Native species are passed up for the exotics in some weird ego trip of land domination. Mowing and growing the grass becomes some twisted form of earth worship. I don't get it. I like weeds, I like randomness, diversity. Uniformity and orderliness are ugly to me, just more signs, like highway billboards of this human ego trip of domination.

But I diverge, just another war, the war of the attention span, and out here in the mountains it is always wonderfully lost. Something catches your eye and the mind is gone in some other direction. The mind absorbs the streams out here and emulates them. The mind becomes a flowing stream of consciousness seeking the lowest level, simplicity. But, as with all streams, swirls, snags, eddies and falls are encountered. Many rocks are bounced off of but the mind like the water just keeps going on.

From "Hiking Trails of the Smokies", description of Boogerman Trail:

Boogerman Trail was named after Robert "Booger" Palmer, who lived nearby. Booger was the brother of George "Turkey" Palmer who got his nickname after he caught 9 turkeys, put them in a pen to keep them from eating his corn he had planted. When he went into the pen to kill the turkeys "they riz up an mighty nigh killed me instead." Turkey George was a legendary hunter who, it was said, "could kill nine squirrels without missing a shot." Booger, got his name as Blind Sam Sutton remembers it, Robert Palmer was in school when the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. "I want to be the Boogerman," he said. "Don't you want to be something else besides the boogerman?" asked the teacher. "No," he says, "That's what I want to be." Because Booger Palmer, the former owner of much of the property along Boogerman trail, didn't allow his land to be logged, many huge trees remain.
Booger owned a three-room log house, two-room log house, four-stall barn, apple house and a springhouse on 255.5 acres. In 1929, when the land was purchased for the national park Booger was paid $5,375.

I was required to have 2 years of American History to graduate High School, but a class on the natural history or geography of New Jersey was not offered until college and was strictly an elective. We would have a one-day field trip to the beach at Sandy Hook to try to grasp the enormity of the mechanisms that continued to shape where we lived. We consume this world with fervent gusto and waste like so much snack food at halftime of the Superbowl and we still have only an inkling of how the mechanisms in nature make it work. Most of the people I know could name all the major league baseball teams, but not more than 5 types of trees.

On the 12-hour ride home from the Smokey Mountains to New Jersey, we were able to always get a station dedicated to only sports or religion on the radio. There were no shows on nature. Along Interstate highways 40 and 95 in North Carolina and Virginia we passed millions of smaller trees all at least second growth. Lumbering and farming were and are still carried on right up to the 50 foot or less highway buffer. Still the war against the earth rages. Now lumbering consists of machines clear cutting entire fields. The lumber goes to mills the rest is chipped to serve as mulch in suburban gardens. The evolutionized mechanisms of photosynthesis, the trees, the very beings that give us air to breathe, are sacrificed at an unconscionable rate for toilet paper and disposable furniture all over the world. In Brazil the rainforests are cleared for grazing pasture for cattle to make drive-in hamburgers. Bill Gates and Donald Trump have become some bizarre form of urban folk heroes, for amassing extreme wealth. Sports stars are demigods while Euell Gibbons is still the brunt of jokes nearly 20 years after his death and no nature proponent has come along to replace him as a voice for simplicity and connectedness to nature in the concrete confusion of modern times. Rachel Carson is all but forgotten, although the hawks and eagles she championed are again much admired, even in New Jersey’s smoggy skies. Our lives are completely filled with gaining and maintaining the safety nets of healthcare and retirement plans and worshipping some crazed runaway economic train. Subdivisions and strip malls with chain restaurants litter the highways. We really need to get some kind of grip on our egos and the crazed human ideals of bigger, higher, faster, stronger and make a better attempt to work more in tune with the natural world, before the wild places are lost forever.

Up here in the Smokies there is still a Garden of Eden. Actually it is better than Eden, because there are risks and therefore adventures to be found, both physical and mental challenges for the mind and body. The wildness is still here, but as with all places touched by humans, the wilds’ future is threatened. In the valleys and highlands, which were hard to access when logging was carried out here, enormous 6' diameter 150' tall Fraser Firs still tower, although a new human import, the balsam wooly adelgid, a boring worm which bores into and kills the trees at their base, threaten them. Spruce still tower in the uplands too although scientists report their growth and reproduction has significantly slowed and the culprit seems to be air pollution.

The people down in Ashville probably said old Boogerman Palmer was a kook, to live up here like a hermit with his farm way up in these mountains. Not me. He was a hero, a saint, one man who made a difference, who saved these giant trees from the ax and saw for those of us of the future to marvel at. As for those Union soldiers I really don't give a damn about them and their politiricks. Their flesh was consumed long ago by worms and converted to this rich soil, in one of nature’s timeless cycles. The cycle still struggles to go on as trillium buds are again bursting from the ground this April morning.


Our first day in the Smokey Mountains we walked all day along a stream called Big Creek. At night we slept right by it and it was actually loud. As Steve said to me one time, "What is it about being by the water?" I guess it has something to do with the fact that it makes up 80% or so of ourselves, but we all love to be by it or in it. And flowing water is something I really get off on. I just lay on my sleeping mat on a flat boulder in the stream that evening looking upstream at the infinite variety of the paths and motion of the water for like an hour. The constant yet jagged rhythms of the flowing water inspired this little hip hop number. It will be a good one to read out loud. Nature hip hop, go figure.

 
Drinking In Big Creek

Birds sweet song cascades on and on
Water tumbles forever, forever
Downward
Blue/green pools appear
Air entombed in there
Bouncing there then here
Forever, forever
Downward
Big creek travels
Slowly
Swiftly
Slowly
Swiftly
But forever, forever
Downward
Trickle off rock
Adds drop by drop
Countless sources make up
The total
Clouds or time
Swallow sun
Yet on and on it will run
Forever, forever
Downward
Increasing in girth
Free
But of infinite worth
Erupting
Surging
Sluicing
Squeezing
Forever, forever
Downward
Hop off of rock
Or under log block
Forever, forever
Downward
Eyes, ears, lips
Drink it in
Around
Without
Within
Replenishing essence perspiring

April 2002

 
Stabilization
(in the Catskills)

Out here in the blazing sun
Walking down a mountain
The trail hugs the slope
Crossing a jumble of slate
Tilted at a steep angle
Each footfall loosens a piece
And sends it tumbling down
Bouncing and crashing
Birch tree roots reach deep into
The shattered rock to
Hold the ground
Anchoring the slope
When I was last here, this slope
Was sliding down the hill
No trees grew to hold it
Now the trees are mature their
Roots reaching into the rock
To make it stable

No deja vu this time
I have been here before
Hiking with my father
He was less than eight years
From the end of his journey
With the pot belly that
Came from afternoons at
Happy hour, plenty to eat
And not enough exercise
But the joy juice that comes from
Being out in this wonderland
Of water, woods and rock
Was racing around his veins
And we scrambled up to the top
Of Plateau Mountain
Like a couple of kids
To view with amazement
The world around us
My future spread in front of me
His almost at the edge of the cliff

My own roots have spread
In the 28 years since I was
Last on this mountain
Judy, Jed and Hunter’s love
Has grown deep down
Into the cracks of my soul
Anchoring me to my place
But those roots could not have
Grown without a seed
Opening and spreading it’s
Fingers to claw at the
Slippery slope of life
Reaching to drink the
Nourishing waters of
Sustenance and knowledge

My boys will not hike this mountain
With their granddad
But just as these tree roots probe
Into the oblivious rock
His lessons will reach down
Through the openings in me
To anchor them to the
Slippery slopes in their futures
So they can climb their own
Mountains and marvel at
The things to be seen

May 2001

 
My reaction to the usual bullshit that the Grammy awards try to present as awards in recognition of great music. Which amount to putting Pat Boone and all the other dumb fuck-the-soul-for-the-money assholes on a completely undeserved pedestal. The synthesizer, and I guess idiots like me, who donate loads of money to this industry, have really fucked up the art. But sometimes some are able to wade through that shit and get to the heart and soul in all of us. Why they are not recognized as the true saints that can preserve us is beyond me. Steve Earle is only nominated in the folk category? I have to believe they didn't even listen to the fucking record. Didn't we hear enough of the bleaching of rhythm and blues with Motown, why does this dampening down of the soul continue? And I'm not talking about black and white racism here. I'm talking about the dirty truth of death versus the bullshit proficy of a hereafter. The "if I don't mention my wild 1970's to my kids they'll be less tempted to do drugs" horseshit. That's where the real TRUTH is my friends. That's what I want from my music, reality. When life is good it's good, but sometimes it sucks. And I don't want some jackassed bubblegum pop stars confusing it. It's confusing enough and the rawer it is the realer it is. Well there's my rant against the evils of what passes for music these days. And in case you didn't get enough, here is my poem inspired by the current horseshit (love that word) the Grammy's try to present as what we should listen to.

 
FORGET YOUR MISERABLE LOVE LIFE

For Lester Bangs and those who still care

(A thoroughly contrived fantasy railing against the boredom presented by the hypocrisy).

How the fuck do you put the words "music" and "academy" in the same title?
It’s not something you learn in college, music IS what busts up my guts and blows my mind wide open.)

Just after a pathetically energetic, every movement calculated
Britney Spears bump and grind
When all hopes of a musical future are crushed
Into Pat Boone’s white washed rhythm and blues oblivion
Johnny Cash steps up to receive his
Album of the year award from
Mel Gibson and Madonna
No kisses, no handshakes ignores them
Just stands there at the podium
Straight and tall, the man in black
Stares straight over the mike into the people’s faces
Then begins speaking in that hollow, dead preacher tone
Grown shaky with the wear and tear of aged wisdom
"Are you fucking nuts? (long pause as he tries to make eye contact with everyone in the house)
Music isn’t choreography,spandex and production
Didn’t you people hear Steve Earle or R.L. Burnsides records this year?
Where the hell are BillieHoliday and Johnny Rotten when we need them most?"
And throws the award across stage nailing Ricki Martin in the back
Then George Clinton brings him a black Strat
And Johnny and the P-Funk All-Stars
Bust into a funked up version of Neil Young’s
"Welfare Mothers"
Straight from hell
As the place erupts into all the
Raggedy assed glory of a Saturday night fish fry

"People pick up
on what I’m
puttin’ down now"

January 2001

 
Emmylou

If Emmylou chose not to sing
If Gram hadn’t convinced her bell to ring
The world would be a poorer place
And I would know much less of grace

 
Sunday Worship with Monk

Life’s rhythm dwells in those spaces between the notes.
Lead voice speaking with staccato stutter
Pauses to let in vibes of excitement and
Heartbeat of the baseline.

Machinery of drums commerces on,
While the fat laughter of sax
Hangs in the air,

Then gone

 
WHERE TO START

Turn off your television
Put the kids into bed
Sit yourself down
And see what’s in your head

2002 Greg Brady

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