Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Last summer I wrote a lot of poetry about the forests of kudzu shaped like huge human forms blanketing the roadsides near Pickens, South Carolina. This summer, we haven't seen see so much kudzu in the mountains around Cashiers, North Carolina, but the roadsides everywhere are inundated with lavender blossoms of Jo-Pye weed.

"Every state has its weed," I told my botanist friend, Vickie, who is one of the experts on Eupatorium plants in the U.S. She disapproves of my derogative remarks about "weeds," especially when I question the uses of them. If Joe Pye weed had some widespread useful purpose, residents of Sapphire Valley could make a fortune from harvesting the gracious plenty along the road from Sapphire Valley to Lake Toxaway, North Carolina.

Wildlife also abounds here (including a backyard chipmunk), and at Whiteside Mountain, you can glimpse peregrine falcons nesting on the granite cliffs. If you're the hearty type, you can climb a two-mile trail above a 750 ft. high cliff, which is no hill for a stepper, but neither my mind nor body feels inclined to become that kind of stepper. The landscape is forested with yellow pine, and spring-fed streams meander through the deep woods.

Meanwhile, on the drive to Toxaway Lake, we discovered one of the ubiquitous Farmer's Markets in the area. This one advertised South Carolina peaches, homegrown tomatoes, and their specialty: tomato pie. "You know you're in the tourist South, when you find the New York Times in the news rack at a fruit market in the boonies," Vickie quipped. There it was--the current issue of The Times, and I had to buy a copy--just to keep abreast of all the bad news about the country going to the dogs. Only the day before, I had read an account online about the Dominionists who think that Christians should rule the world and all its institutions. It was a scary article. I'm a Christian, yes, but I don't belong to any exclusive group that denounces all the world's major religions except for Christianity. Shudder, shudder, my Jewish great-grandmother on the Marquart side must be turning in her grave.

Cashiers and Highlands, North Carolina offer artists and writers a haven for their work -- writers' groups and art galleries flourish in both towns. Highlands has a Performing Arts Center that stages performances to benefit the Literacy Council of Highlands, a program that provides after school tutoring, adult literacy English as a second language and Spanish classes. Currently, the Council is sponsoring a play called "Sirens," based on the ancient Greek myths of sirens who sang and lured sailors to shipwreck on rocky coasts.

If you want to shop up here, you need to bring a large satchel of money because the high-end shops in Highlands (from interior enhancements to antique jewelry) are only for the idle rich, and aren't for starving artists and writers. Highlands has become the home of Bil Dwyer, a nationally-syndicated comic strip artist whose comic strips, "Dumb Dora" and "Sandy Hill" ran in the newspapers during the 20's - 50's. He has become noteworthy for his study of southern euphemisms that resulted in Southern Sayins for Yankees and Other Immigrants and Cooking Yankees Ain't Et. Excerpts from The Dictionary for Yankees and Other Uneducated People include: "Rum--Enclosed area within a building," "Tar--What you change when you have a flat," and "Lust--What you are when you don't know whar you are."

Well, this is what comes of going to the Mountains to woodshed; i.e., work on a new book that has nothing to do with mountain culture!

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