Sunday, January 15, 2017

Birding & Brunch: raptors

Love 'em. Love 'em. Love 'em. They are intense, watchful, ever-ready to strike, eyes like opera glasses, grappling hooks for feet. An active red-tailed hawk needs to find and kill four to six mice a day. Don't fret, death comes quick. With bald eagles and osprey, well they eat fish but the same is true. If you are born prey, buy life insurance.

Thanks to all who attended my Birding & Brunch Saturday morning. Our topic was local birds-of-prey, their life histories and how to identify these raptors with minimal clues. Ijams offers one Birding & Brunch a month. In February we'll be talking about bird nesting and building bluebird boxes.

Thanks to Christie and Kim for preparing the brunch and thank you to Ijams' friends Jason Dykes, Jim McCormick and Chuck Cooper for providing these photos.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

dove love

Are they starting to look at each other a little too soon? Dove love can start early and we have another week of warm weather forecast for the valley. The doves may be singing a different tune.

 "I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, The love that's all around me, And so the feeling grows," originally sang by the Troggs in the 1960s. 

And, it's nice that we are having a reprieve from cold weather for a couple of weeks but I am a bit worried about the amorous mourning doves.

How so?

Oddly, I have encountered several people over the years that do not like these birds. Some folks even shoot them in the fall during dove season. But I just love the chunky, puffy ground-feeders. I provide food for them on my back deck and they will eat the cheapest seeds. They are about the only bird that touches milo and they are fun to watch waddling about. Pigeons and doves are like stuffed animals, you just want to pick them up and cuddle them.

But, you see, mourning doves are the most family-oriented birds that live in the valley. They can have six broods a year, but only two per clutch and both Mom and Dad are supportive parents. The papa dove even handles the tutorial after the nestlings fledge.

And because they can raise six families per year they like to get an early start on the production line and I'm a bit worried that the warmer weather may lure them into clutch number one too soon, in January, and that seems a bit early especially when cold weather returns. 

I may have caught a pair of doves looking longingly at each other on my deck with loving on their minds. Dare I discourage them? Speak to them about climate change and how it is affecting all kinds of natural patterns and rhythms.

But then again, mourning doves just love making babies. Maybe I should just let nature take its course.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Birds-of-prey brunch

Red-tailed hawk. Photo by Jason Dykes

Saturday, January 14, 10:30 a.m.

Birding and Brunch at Ijams

(All Ages) Join me at Ijams as we take a closer look at the aerial hunters of East Tennessee: birds-of-prey. We’ll talk about adaptations and hunting strategies and how to identify them with minimal clues. We're talking falcons, hawks, harriers, ospreys and eagles, oh my. You might even get to meet one or two of our resident raptors. A light brunch will be provided. The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register. 

Photo by Chuck Cooper

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #14

"The first 18 years really shape you forever. It's like a glass of water filled with mud. You can pour clear water in until it appears clear, but there's still mud there," said Bruce Springsteen recently. And the mud that's in my blood washed down the north slope of Mt. LeConte. Once known as Bearskins Creek because Ursus americanus blood was also spilled into its waters, Baskins Creek was the center of our kid world. We walked it, waded it, fished it, swam it and watched it flood its banks, muddy and mad.

Homer Daniel Bales 
In the late 1940s, granddad Homer Daniel Bales witnessed small tourist courts open along the creek. He even helped Everett Trentham build his and got the idea he could do the same although he didn't have much flat land to work with. He was in the "holler" just the side of a mountain with the creek at the bottom. But true opportunity only presents itself every so often in your life, once or twice, who knows. As the old timers were apt to say, "you strike while the iron is hot."

Spending his boyhood at the Jim Bales homesite on Roaring Fork, he hopped the ridge and moved down Baskins. As a former logger, he was used to uneven terrain, granddad Homer was a mountain man. He made the most of what he had. He could be rather stoic and taciturn but what he understood was what he could build with his own two hands. That was real. Like the trucks he always drove, he was built Ford tough living just shy of 100 years (5 Jan 1899 to 3 Jan 1998).

Bales Cabins "on the banks of beautiful Baskins Creek" was in continuous operation from 1949 to 1996, just little cottages on the creek, knotty-pine paneled walls and chairs on porches, nothing fancy. But they were solid and serviceable like himself built for working class tourists who needed to stay for a week for less than $100. On a slow night you could rent a cabin for six dollars and buy a RC Cola or Nehi orange for a nickel sold from an outdoor fridge. Open every April through October, all you had to do was phone the Gatlinburg operator and ask for number 167. The first three decades granddad Homer ran the business with the help of Mom and Flora Williams who cleaned all the cabins and washed the linens. We kids: sister Darlene, Gordon Williams, plus neighbors Ben and Larry grew up "en plein air" on the mountainside around the cabins and in the creek with the crawdads.

We were one big extended family. Guests came every year from all over the southeast listening to Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney on the Motorola car radios. See Rock City signs were everywhere including birdhouses. Men wore slacks, narrow brimmed straw hats called pork-pies or caps and short-sleeved shirts of scratchy rayon or maybe simply plain white teesThey came to the creek to relax. The women wore Bermuda shorts and flip-flop sandals in the latest bright colors: chartreuse, turquoise and saffron. America had found a bright palette once again after the drabness of war. And everyone smoked, everyone except granddad Homer, either Lucky Strike, Camels or Pall Mall, the Marlboro Man came later. All the rentals had multiple ashtrays, they had to.

Initially, the cars had rounded butts like bugs but as the decade wore on, they stretched longer, grew brighter and sprouted finsDad bought a coral and white 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner that made him the coolest Dad in the history of Dads. It was my dream car and still is. Mom was mad at the extravagance and I swear we ate beans, beans, beans for months to pay for the financial setback, but jeez it was worth it, even a dorky kid looked like a cool cat in that backseat, daddy-o. The car was cranked, it was a Skyliner. I'd eat 75 cases of pintos to have it in the driveway today. 

The Smiths and Maxeys and Foxes, all good folks, returned to the cabins every year to sit by the creek sipping colas from returnable bottles worth two cents. They brought their Kodak Brownie Hawkeyes and took photos of each other smiling, hugging. They were happy. They were on vacation in the Smokies. The park boundary was only a half mile upstream. For entertainment? They'd buy another Nehi and watched the kids play in the creek some more trying to catch minnows in a cup. They were there to relax and watching the mountain stream was entertainment enough. 

Granddad Homer even built a concert dam to hold back the water creating a manmade swimming hole, a kid haven. Who needs a heated pool when you could swim in creek water like Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan? It was an atypical childhood growing up in Gatlinburg.

Sister Darlene standing in
flooded road. 1966. © Bales family archive

After a heavy rain Baskins rushed muddy brown down from LeConte. Sometimes it would bolt out onto the road, wild like a stallion. Heavy rain wore down the mountain and it bled sand and silt and clay mud.
For many, many years, Baskins Creek and those cloistered little cottages were my cosmos, my all and everything. But on Monday, November 28, the cabins built by Homer Bales depicted in these photos burned to the ground in less than an hour. It was Old Testament wrath or as close as I ever hope to come near itEverything is gone—My Wonder Years—only ashes remain and the fire muddied the creek that flows through my veins yet again.

I'm a child of the creek. I'm a child of that creek, the same creek of Baskins Falls located three miles upstream where Grandmom Pearl once took her showers.

At some point you realize that everything you knew and loved is gone. And you're all alone.   

© 2017 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1969
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, January 9, 2017

oh, possum for supper?

Is this ironic? Or a generational gap? Perhaps a change in sensibilities? Or, better still, a change in necessities?

Homer brings home supper:
 opossums. © Bales family archive
Granddad Homer Bales hunted opossum for supper. He had to, living deep in the Smoky Mountains, my ancestors had to grow their own food or hunter-gather it. The only things you went into town for were coffee, baking soda, maybe flour and sugar, but you kept bees for honey. That was your sweetening. You also grew baskets and baskets of apples because they would keep in a cool place. And who had money for anything store bought?

Your meat came from your slaughtered hog (notice pig in background of photo) or the game you found in the forest: squirrel, bear, opossum. But the latter wasn't prized. It was too fatty and chewy. 

And today, only two generations removed, instead of possum for supper, it's supper for possum. I routinely give the nature center's adopted opossum her supper. 

Olivia is lame with an injured right front leg she uses very little. Yesterday, it was broccoli, apple, sweet peppers and grapes. She loves grapes. Smack. Smack. Smack. She eats them with great relish. Olivia also gets dry cat food for a little bulk, but she always eats her fruits and vegetables first.

She's a good girl. And look at that sweet face.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #13

Mountain folk are resourceful. They were used to making something from nothing, because nothing is all they had. And they knew how to build a cabin, they had been doing it for generations, since the days of their daddy's daddy's daddy. If you owned an acre of land in Gatlinburg, you sold the cow, stopped planting corn and built a business. 

The arrival of the new big hotels along the Parkway through Gatlinburg in the late 1930s and early 40s was not enough to accommodate the many tourists visiting the new national park. After World War II finally ended, the returning veterans wanted to go on vacation and relax. Three cheers for FDR, happy days were here again.

Marshall's Creek Rest Court postcard
In the late 1940s, smaller businesses began to appear. Much like the roadside sleepover in the movie It Happened One Night, (released in 1934, the same year the national park was founded) five or six little rental cabins snuggled together could be built on a modest amount of land. They started popping up like morchella after a spring rain. Property owners realized, they too could be proprietors

The Mountain Press publisher of the weekly Gatlinburg Press and owned by Bill Postlewaite was located at the corner of Newton Lane at the bend of the creek. (Today, it's the location of the Mountain House Inn.) But next, along Baskins Creek Road from where it diverges from Cherokee Orchard Road several new establishments appeared in only a few years after the war. A couple places used the moniker "court,"  a shortened form of motor court or a place where you could drive your car, park at the door and spend the night in a lodging much smaller and homier than a hotel. 

Guests didn't rent a room and a lobby, that was too swanky. They needed a place for the kids to play, so the vacationers rented a little house with a yard, shade trees and metal lawn chairs. It was their home away from home and the beginning of the Baby Boom. Families grew with each passing year.

Many of the rental cabins were brightly painted, festive but all had one thing in common, they were nestled on the shoreline of Baskins Creek.

It was the early days of Gatlinburg as the host to the Smokies. People returned to the same location year after year because they liked the friendly people who owned the place. Regulars would not deign to stay elsewhere, they'd phone ahead and reserve "good old number 7" for four or five days, maybe a week. The former mountaineers were not franchisees they were "owner operators." Their names were on the businesses. They didn't have a national presence, all they had were homespun hospitality and a mountain stream. Each had the latest in comfortable amenities, as their post cards stated:
Marshall’s Creek Rest Court
Located on Baskins Creek, 12 units. New rock and yellow pine paneled cottages. Private bath (combination tub and shower). Electric heat. Quiet, shady and restful atmosphere, conveniently located for downtown shopping centers, theaters, restaurants and churches. Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Trentham, Owners and Managers. For reservations phone 497.

Everett’s Court
Modern Cottages in the heart of the Great Smokies, conveniently located in the city limits, away from heavy traffic. All 14 units air conditioned. Mr. & Mrs. Everett Trentham, Owners. Phone 495-J

Ogle’s Creek Bend Cabins
In the foothills of the Smokies. Creek Bend cabins with or without electric kitchen. Electric heat. Private swimming pool and ample playgrounds. Some with three bedrooms. All with private baths. Accommodations from two to eight per cabin. Mrs. Elder Ogle, owner and Manager. We are open the year round. Phone 145.

To those, three more were added: Benson's Cabins, the Nestle Inn and farther upstream, the last on the street, Bales Cabins. All were clustered creekside along Baskins, the wellspring of my youth. 
As of the summer of 2016, only two of these were still in operation: Nestle Inn and Marshall's. After the firestorms of Monday, November 28, only Marshall's Creek Rest remains.

© 2017 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1969
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

Everett's Court postcard
Ogle's Creek Bend Cabins postcard

Saturday, January 7, 2017

watch for the raspberry ones

OK. We are snowed in today. Watch your feeders for one of my favorite birds: purple finches. They're attracted to black oil sunflower seeds.

Wow, how I love this colorful bird, but they are only in the valley in winter and very irregularly at that. It's been a few years since I saw one at home or the nature center. I took the above photo a few years ago at Ijams. 

Needless to say, they really are not purple but softer shades of pink and raspberry, like a rosé wine from the Provence region of France. Joie de vivre. And that describes this beautiful creature. Although only the he birds are so hued, the she birds dress in browns. (Yes, real guys can wear pink.) And the females are attracted to the most intensely colorful males. The drab boys may have to sit this breeding season out and the quality of color is controlled by the diet the year before. 

Purple finches nest much farther to the north: Great Lakes into New England and Southern Canada and they only migrate this far south some winters to find food. This snowfall appears to be more south of us and it takes a good snow fall to the north, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to drive purple finches to us. But let me know if you see them.  

And don't confuse them with the far more common house finch

For them the males are more cherry red and it's frontal not behind the head. And the streaks down the sides are brown (note photo at left), not the lovely raspberry streaks of the purple finch. 


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #12

Pi Beta Phi opened its first school in the timber town of Gatlinburg in 1912
using a borrowed building. Students stand on a footbridge over Baskins Creek. © Arrowmont archives

It was a blessing when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park came to Gatlinburg in 1934. Where the city limits end, the park begins. But the isolated mountain town had been blessed by the outside world once before, 22 years earlier.

Horses were the main mode of travel
in early Gatlinburg. 
© Bales family archives 
The kindness of strangers originally came to town in 1912, that's when Pi Beta Phi, the first international Fraternity for Women, singled out Gatlinburg as the most deserving of all the towns they looked at in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. The good women searched for two years for the most inaccessible Appalachian community they could find. Travel was done by horse, buggy or wagon, and none of it was easy. 

Pi Phi wanted to bring opportunity and education to the isolated youth and establish a school for the needy children. The word "needy" would have offended my ancestors. They strongly felt that they needed nothing! And at first they proudly resisted any such aid. 

The resident mountaineers were tough, resourceful and stubborn. If they couldn't make it themselves, they didn't need it. No ma'am! They didn't want outsiders teaching their children and they didn't need charity. But Pi Phi offered something more. They brought a glimpse of the outside world and ultimately what parent doesn't want their children to have a better life than they had?  

Downtown Gatlinburg with Pi Phi's first built
schoolhouse in center. 
© Bales family archives 
Pi Beta Phi Settlement School was founded on February 20, 1912 in the center of town at the confluence of Baskins Creek and the Little Pigeon River across the street from the First Baptist Church and Ephraim E. Ogle's store. The school started small with only 13 students in class but slowly it grew. The early students who attended: the Ogles, the Reagans, the Whaleys, the Maples, were all my kin. Their blood is in my blood; their heart beats in my chest. That's what your heritage is. Strands of their DNA can be found in my DNA and their culture is ingrained in me since the day I were born. 

Pi Phi's first "modern" six-room schoolhouse known as the
"White Building" built in 1914. 
© Bales family archives 
It took a few years before the mountain folk accepted the outsider's help, but the mountain kids slowly began to gravitate to the new school on Baskins. The first "modern six-room" schoolhouse was built in 1914. Its first enrollment was 75 students and it marked a sea change for Gatlinburg. The new teachers were determined and their graciousness made all the difference in the mountaineers' lives and in turn in mine.

My sister Darlene by the 
52-year-old "White Building," 
1966 © Bales family archives
We live in an age when self absorption is common, but true happiness comes when you help others. A good deed never goes unrewarded. The women of Pi Phi knew this because they lived it. 

My sister Darlene and I went to Pi Beta Phi, first through eighth grades. I clearly remember the four buildings at the time. My favorite was the oldest, thcreaky floored "White Building" with huge windows as big as life rafts that looked out onto the world wide-eyed.  

When I advanced to that big intimidating Moby Dick of a schoolhouse in the middle of the campus, I was no longer a kid. I was in the fourth grade.

The "White Building," Pi Beta Phi's first built schoolhouse, is in the large blue circle. Inside the small blue circle is the newly built home of my grandparents Homer and Pearl Bales. To the right of the White Building is the "Rock Building" that housed Pi Beta Phi High School. The ridges to the left and behind are some of the areas that burned on November 28, 2016. circa 1930s. 
© Bales family archives 

© 2017 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales