Monday, February 8, 2016



Oh! mountain-girt city of Asheville,
The gem of "The Land of the Sky,"
The rose of the beautiful valley,
With the French Broad flowing by,
How grand is the sweep of the mountains
Encircling the hill and the vale,
How pure are the musical fountains,
And soft the caress of the gale.

'Tis here that the zephyrs are fondest,
For they heal with a touch of their wings.
Tis here that the flowers are fairest,
And here the mountain hill sings.
'Tis here that the trill of the bluebird
Sweetly blends with the oriole's song,
As they flit over meadow and hillside,
In the sunlight, all the day long.

'Tis here that the cheeks of the maiden
Ripen out with the roses of health,
And the invalid lover of Mammon
Feels a joy that is better than wealth;
For the skies that are bright as Italian,
With the green wooded mountain and glen,
Bring back the full vigor of manhood,
And life is worth living again.

Oh! beautiful City of Asheville,
Romancer nor poet can write
The beauties that cluster around thee
Like glittering stars of the night;
But the eye of enraptured beholder
Alone, to the soul, of them speaks,
From the scenes on the swift-rolling river
All around to the tall mountain peak.

W. Cotten Downing
February 27, 1890

Friday, December 25, 2015


The Meeting

After so long an absence
      At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
      Or does it give us pain?
The tree of life has been shaken,
      And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
      In the top of the uttermost bough.
We cordially greet each other
      In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
      How old and gray he is grown!
We speak of a Merry Christmas
      And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
      Of those that are not here.
We speak of friends and their fortunes,
      And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
      And the living alone seem dead.
And at last we hardly distinguish
      Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
      Steals over our merriest jests.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, December 22, 2015



Low clouds hang on the mountain.
The forest is filled with fog.
A short distance away the
Giant trees recede and grow
Dim. Two hundred paces and
They are invisible. All
Day the fog curdles and drifts.
The cries of the birds are loud.
They sound frightened and cold. Hour
By hour it grows colder.
Just before sunset the clouds
Drop down the mountainside. Long
Shreds and tatters of fog flow
Swiftly away between the
Trees. Now the valley below
Is filled with clouds like clotted
Cream and over them the sun
Sets, yellow in a sky full
Of purple feathers. After dark
A wind rises and breaks branches
From the trees and howls in the
Treetops and then suddenly
Is still. Late at night I wake
And look out of the tent. The
Clouds are rushing across the
Sky and through them is tumbling
The thin waning moon. Later
All is quiet except for
A faint whispering. I look
Out. Great flakes of wet snow are
Falling. Snowflakes are falling
Into the dark flames of the
Dying fire. In the morning the
Pine boughs are sagging with snow,
And the dogwood blossoms are
Frozen, and the tender young
Purple and citron oak leaves.

-  Kenneth Rexroth

Friday, June 26, 2015



(A plea for the preservation of the globe's oldest
mountain from devastation by axe and fire.)

From out the primal sea I rose on high,
Above the clouds I kissed the sunlit sky,
My rock the oldest in this rock-built earth:
When I was born, it was the great world's birth.
Long million years my crumbling sides did yield,
To rain and frost and wind, a fertile field
For widening Piedmont plain and ocean shore.
Now nature kind assails my life no more;
At last in verdure soft and warm I'm clad,
'Mid sapphire skies my emerald peaks are glad.
But hark! what frightful terror, new and dire!
'Tis human greed for gold! 'tis axe and fire!
O mighty State, prevent this deed of shame,
This great dishonor keep from thy great name!

-George Tayloe Winston.
Asheville, January 19, 1915.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Surprised by Joy

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

-William Wordsworth

Thursday, October 30, 2014


"Blue Eyes " of  "Nantahayleh"*

* This mountain group in Western North Carolina attains to about 5,500 feet. On their summits in September flowers the Fringed Gentian.

"Blue Eyes " of  “Nantahayleh,”
These blossoms blooming fair
When September days dawn grayly,
And the mountain beeches bare;
The vales and valleys under,
Though still leafed, begin to show
Faint glimpses of the wonder
Of the woods,—when all aglow

With .the touch of Autumn's fires:—
Glint of crimson—gleam of gold,
And about the Alpine spires
Soft the sunlit mists are rolled.
E'er October's frosts grow bitter,—
E'er November winds blow bleak,—
Where the golden-rods still glitter
On the prairies of the peak;

On the mountain meadows spreading
From the "Wayah" to the "Wine,"
Though the beech its brown leaves shedding,
Softly fringed, these "Blue Eyes" shine:—
"Blue Eyes" of " Nantahayleh,"
Opening here in flowery guise,
Drinking in the sunlight daily,—
Eilled with secrets of the skies.

Can your lassies show me bluer
When I kiss their rosy lips?
Can your ladies stow me truer
When Life's hopes are in eclipse?
Nay! I'll trust these "Blue Eyes" blooming
Spite of leaf-fall and of frost:—
Though the grayest shadows glooming,
These tell us Hope's not lost.

When "Blue Eyes" of "Nantahayleh"
To the dark days beauty bring,
I read prophecies that gaily
Predict the deathless Spring:—
After the Autumn's fading,
After the snowflakes fall,
Comes Hope—the blind heart aiding,
Comes Love—the Best of all.

"Blue Eyes " of  “Nantahayleh,”
With fringed lids—opening shy,
"Blue Eyes '' that peep out gaily
Through clouds to yonder sky;
Fair signs and tokens given
To show how Nature gives:—
The Soul that loves is shriven,
The heart that hungers lives!

-From “Song of the  Sahkohnagas” (1902) by “Hugh Deveron” (Arthur Middleton Huger, 1842-1925)

Monday, October 27, 2014



Note.—Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a distinguished professor of the University of North Carolina, lost his life, June 27, 1857, while exploring one of the mountain peaks of Western North Carolina. He was buried on the summit of the mountain where a monument later was erected to his memory. The mountain was named Mitchell's Peak in his honor.

On the highest peak of a mighty chain
  Of hill and mountain fastness,
Where nature doth her primal rule maintain

  Amid their solemn vastness,
There's a lonely grave that the mountain gave,
Which the sorrowing moonbeams gently lave.

No echoing sound of the city's hum
  Shall reach the peaceful sleeper;
No note of joy or grief to him shall come

  From plow-boy or from reaper;
But silent he'll sleep, while the ivies creep,
And the angels their sacred vigils keep.

The deafening peals of the thunder's voice
  Shall never break his dreaming,
Though the tempests wild in their might rejoice

  Amid the lightning's gleaming;
His rest still is deep on the mountain steep,
Though his pupils mourn and his loved ones weep.

The tremulous trills of the mother bird,
  As she sings her songs so lowly,
Though a sweeter tone the ear never heard,

  Touch not a rest so holy;
For God keeps him there, in the upper air,
Sleeping and waiting for the morning fair.

The clustering blooms of the flowerets wild,
  Their fragrance sweet distilling,
Though ever himself kind nature's fond child,

   Breaks not the tryst he's filling;
For God knows so swell the spot where he fell
That nothing but Heaven can unlock the spell.

The summer and autumn, they come and go,
  Old winter oft-times lingers,
And spring rhododendrons after the snow

  Lift up their beautiful fingers;
But changes may sweep over the land and the deep,
Yet nothing disturbs his satisfied sleep.

In Alma Mater's halls voices and tears
 May speak the heart's deep yearning,

And oft to the eye Mount Mitchell appears
 When fancy's lights are burning;

But the tolling bell and its mournful knell
Shall bring him no more, for he resteth well.
But a morn shall come, O glorious morn!
 When the trumpet's shrill sounding
Shall reach every soul that ever was born,

  And life anew be bounding;
And God in His might, from the mountain height,
Shall wake His servant to the wondrous sight.

-Robert Brank Vance  (1828-1899)



None may the future read correctly. True,
A chosen few whom Heaven endows with sight
Beyond their fellows,—a prescience rare,—
May, peering through the veil that drops before,
Discern in part that which the years will bring.

But few, indeed, are these; and even they
See as one sees in visions of the night,
By vague, uncertain, half-revealing light,
And more like dreaming does their vision seem.
Such were the prophets and the bards of old.

"He, who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Babylon’s doom pronounced by God’s command.”*

Such is the real statesman, seen but once
Amongst a generation’s mighty hosts,
Who, from the ship of state can look ahead
And note the dangers that beset her course,
And lift the warning voice, and point the way
To peaceful seas through danger’s wrecking shoals.

And such, in part, are those whose judgment clear
Anticipates the future by their acts
And calmly bide Time’s day to ratify.
But we the Present have; and we the Past
May seize upon and hold, if we are wise.

If, in our private lives we may have stepped
To the oblique from rectitude’s straight march,
It but remains for us to compensate
By better course of conduct; but we may,
By action which inspires Pocumtuck’s sons,
In a broad sense the shrouded Past restore,
And give ourselves and public life to come
Proofs tangible, and undisputed facts
Of matters, manners, men and things that were,
And which Oblivion would surely hide.

From his deep grave no resurrection springs.
So, customs of our own, our implements,
Our civil rules, our business methods,—all
That makes and moves the living man to-day,
A hundred decades hence may be to those
Then on the fields which we now occupy,
Objects of interest great, and wonder, too.

Then may the Future say: Those people had
Some knowledge of the way things should be done;
Their search for learning of the hidden powers,
Cloistered in Nature’s store-house, did them good,
And in their life’s economy did aid,
Till they their antecedents far outrun.

Then may our arts, and all our fine machines.
That show intelligence, almost, in work;
Our various uses of expansive steam;
And of the subtle lightnings we’ve evoked
And tamed for use;—our wondrous telephone;
Voices of music, speeches, sermons canned
And stored away, as thrifty housewives do
Their choice confections; these, and like thereto,
Which are our scientific pride and boast.

May to the future man seem tame compared
With his superior skill and methods new.
May be some other relics from our day:—
Ascension robes from Miller’s pattern cut ;
The deft contrivance that up-conjures ghosts,—
Things of that ilk, too numerous to name,
May waken interest and elicit smiles.

Then may discoursings of our friends to-day
Be read and heard with double interest;
(If that were possible),—a brilliant page
In records running back a thousand years.

Perhaps a lock of our Grand Master’s beard,
Saved in a shell of most translucent pearl,
May be a shrine of gratefulest regard
Of one whose aim and spring of action were
To fix the Present and restore the Past,
And whose devotion and most thoughtful care
Filled up for them the lamp of by-gone days.

Are we mistaken? Has our fond regard
For human progress warped our mental view
Of the great Future? Can it come to pass
That when a few more wonders of our time,
Marvels of science and of art, are found,
Till we become as gods in knowledges,—
A mighty, jealous power shall supervene.

Revulsion, revolution dire occur;
Forgetfulness, impenetrable gloom,
Blotting the brilliant science of the age,
Shall fall on man and cast his status back
To Babel’s lost, disintegrated base?
Forbid it, Power Supreme! Amen. Amen.

- Josiah D. Canning, read at the 1881 meeting of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association

* From "The Cotter's Saturday Night" by Robert Burns

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Thousands, and likely millions, of farmers and gardeners have collected bits of pottery and stone artifacts while turning the soil in the spring. It was after just such an event that Josiah Canning (1816-1892) wrote “The Indian Gone!” in 1838.


By night I saw the Hunter's moon
Slow gliding in the placid sky;
Her lustre mocked the sun at noon—
I asked myself the reason why?
And straightway came the sad reply:
She shines as she was wont to do
To aid the Indian's aiming eye,
When by her light he strung his bow,
But where is he?

Beside the ancient flood I strayed,
Where dark traditions mark the shore;
With wizzard vision I essayed
Into the misty past to pore.
I heard a mournful voice deplore
The perfidy that slew his race;
'T was in a dialect of yore,
And of a long-departed race.
It answered me!

I wrought with ardor at the plough
One smoky Indian-summer day;
The dank locks swept my heated brow,
I bade the panting oxen stay.
Beneath me in the furrow lay
A relic of the chase, full low;
I brushed the crumbling soil away—
The Indian fashioned it, I know,
But where is he?

When pheasants drumming in the wood
Allured me forth my aim to try,
Amid the forest lone I stood,
And the dead leaves went rustling by.
'The breeze played in the branches high;
Slow music filled my listening ear;
It was a wailing funeral cry,
For Nature mourned her children dear.
It answered me!

Canning’s early fondness for American antiquities, natural history, poetry stayed with him his entire life. At age 15, he built a printing press and launched his own newspaper, which eventually bore the slogan “The Tyrant’s Foe, the People’s Friend.” After brief stints as a printer in Wisconsin and Virginia, Canning returned to his birthplace in Gill, Massachusetts in 1838 and started farming. Comfortable with seeing himself as a “versifying plowman” Canning spoke of the pastoral origins of his poetry: “My muse sprang from the green turf, and is clad in the rustic garb of the plough.” Later, he would be known as “The Peasant Bard.”

After hearing of the Cherokee removal and Trail of Tears in 1838, Canning wrote “Lament of the Cherokee.”


0, Soft falls the dew, in the twilight descending,
And tall grows the shadowy hill on the plain;
And night o'er the far distant forest is bending,
Like the storm-spirit, dark, o'er the tremulous main;
But midnight enshrouds my lone heart in its dwelling,
A tumult of woe in my bosom is swelling,
And a tear, unbefitting the warrior, is telling
That Hope has abandoned the brave Cherokee!

Can a tree that is torn from its root by the fountain,
The pride of the valley, green-spreading and fair,
Can it flourish removed to the rock of the mountain,
Unwarmed by the sun and unwatered by care?
Though Vesper be kind her sweet dews in bestowing,
No life-giving brook in its shadow is flowing,
And when the chill winds of the desert are blowing,
So droops the transplanted and lone Cherokee!

Loved graves of my sires! have I left you forever ?
How melted my heart when I bade you adieu!
Shall joy light the face of the Indian ?—ah, never !
While memory sad has the power to renew.
As flies the fleet deer when the blood-hound is started,
So fled winged Hope from the poor broken-hearted;
O, could she have turned, ere for ever departed,
And beckoned with smiles to her sad Cherokee!

Is it the low wind through the wet willows rushing,
That fills with wild numbers my listening ear?
Or is some hermit-rill, in the solitude gushing,
The strange-playing minstrel, whose music I hear ?
'T is the voice of my father, slow, solemnly stealing,
I see his dim form, where the gloom gathers, kneeling,
To the God of the white man, the Christian, appealing;
He prays for the foe of the dark Cherokee!

Great Spirit of Good, whose abode is the heaven,
Whose wampum of peace is the bow in the sky,
Wilt Thou give to the wants of the clamorous raven,
Yet turn a deaf ear to my piteous cry?
O'er the ruins of home, o'er my heart's desolation,
No more shalt thou hear my unblest lamentation ;
For death's dark encounter I make preparation,
He hears the last groan of the wild Cherokee!

While Canning was not exempt from romanticizing native people, he recognized their humanity and also anticipated the self-destructiveness of white expansionism. He made that point in the conclusion of one of his later poems, “None May the Future Read Correctly”:
Has our fond regard
For human progress warped our mental view
Of the great Future? Can it come to pass
That when a few more wonders of our time,
Marvels of science and art, are found,
Till we become as gods in knowledges,-
A mighty, jealous power shall supervene,
Revulsion, revolution dire occur;
Forgetfulness, impenetrable gloom,
Blotting the brilliant science of the age,
Shall fall on man and cast his status back
To Babel’s lost, disintegrated base?


We don’t know the exact dates for the Greek poet Tyrtaeus, but his poem The Spartan Creed was written around 650 B.C. Tyrtaeus was a poet and a general in Sparta at the time it was becoming the dominant military power in Greece. Sparta’s social system and constitution were focused almost completely on military training and proficiency. Women in Sparta had more rights and greater equality with men than did women in other parts of Greece. The modern usage of the word “spartan” derives from the austere conditions under which Spartan soldiers lived and trained.

The Spartan Creed

I would not say anything for a man nor take account of him
for any speed of his feet or wrestling skill he might have,
not if he had the size of a Cyclops and strength to go with it,
not if he could outrun Boreas, the North Wind of Thrace,
not if he were more handsome and gracefully formed than
Tithonos, or had more riches than Midas had, or Kinyras too,
not if he were more of a king than Tantalid Pelops,
or had the power of speech and persuasion Adrastos had,
not if he had all splendors except for a fighting spirit.
For no man ever proves himself a good man in war
unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,
go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.
Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is
the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,
and it is a good thing his city and all the people share with
him when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears
relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has well trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside
him. Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions of
the enemy, and sustains the beating waves of assault.
And he who so falls among the champions and loses his
sweet life, so blessing with honor his city, his father, and all his people,
with wounds in his chest, where the spear that he was facing
has transfixed
that massive guard of his shield, and gone through his
breastplate as well,
why, such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
and all his city goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children, and
his children's children, and afterward all the race that is his.
His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered,
and he becomes an immortal, though he lies under the ground,
when one who was a brave man has been killed by the furious
War God
standing his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.
But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies,
and wins his battle, and bright renown for the work of his spear,
all men give place to him alike, the youth and the elders, and
much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.
Aging, he has reputation among his citizens. No one tries to
interfere with his honors or all he deserves;
all men withdraw before his presence, and yield their seats to
him, the youth, and the men his age, and even those older than he.
Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of
courage with all his heart, and so trying, never be backward in war.

-Translated by Richmond Lattimore



The tradition of the Cherokees asserts the existence of a Syren, in the French Broad, who implores the Hunter to the stream, and strangles him in her embrace, or so infects him with some mortal disease, that he invariably perishes. The story, stripped of all poetry, would seem to be that of a youth, who, overcome with fatigue and heat together, sought the cool waters of the river, and was seized with cramp or spasms; or, too much exhausted for reaction, sunk under the shock. It does not much concern us, however, what degree of faith is due to the tradition. Enough that such exists, and that its locality is one of the most magnificent regions, for its scenery, in the known world. Tselica is the Indian name of the river.

’Twas in summer prime, the noontide hour,
Sleep lay heavy o’er the sunny vale;
Droop’d the sad leaves ’neath the fiery vapor,
Droop’d and panted for the evening gale.

Gloomy, lonely, and with travail weary,
Down the mountain slopes the stranger came ;
Droop’d his eyes, and in his fainting bosom
Lay the pulsing blood, a lake of flame.

Oh, how cool in sight the rushing river,
With its thousand barrier-rocks at strife,
All its billows tossing high their foam wreaths,
As if maddening with the impatient life.

Wild, with ceaseless shout they hurried onward,
Laughing ever with their cheerful glee,
O’er the antique rocks their great limbs flinging,
With a frantic joy was strange to see.

They, of all, possess’d the life and action,
Silence else had sovereign sway alone,
All the woods were hush’d, and the gray mountain
Look’d with stony eyes from crumbling throne.

Sad the youth sank down in the great shadows,
Close beside the waters as they ran,
Very hopeless was he of his travail,
Very weary since it first began.

Friends and fortune he had none to cheer him,
And the growing sorrow at his heart
Wrought the bitter thought to bitter feeling,
And he yearn’d to perish and depart.

“Why,” he murmurs, “ still in toil unresting,
Should I strive for aye in fruitless strife ;
Where the hopes and loves that used to glad me,
When I first began the race of life?

“Where’s the pride of triumph that was promised,
That should crown me with the immortal wreath ;
Where the fond heart that in youth embraced me—
Gone, forever gone—and where is Death?

“ Give me peace, ye skies and rocks: ye waters,
Peace yourselves ye know not, but your flow
Tells of calm and rest beneath your billows-—
Coolness, for the fiery griefs I know.”

Thus, with languid soul beside the river,
Gazed he sadly as that hour he lay ;
Gloomy with the past, and of the future
Hopeless,——hence his guilty prayer that day.

Brooding thus, and weary, a song rises,
From the very billows, soft and clear;
Such as evening bird, with parting ditty,
Pours at twilight to the floweret’s ear.

Wild and sweet, and passionate and tender;
Now full, now faint; with such a touching art,
His soul dissolves in weakness, and his spirit
Goes with the throbbing sweetness at his heart.

He looks with strain’d eyes at the lapsing waters,
And gleaming bright beneath the billows, lo!
Flashes white arms, and glides a lovely damsel,
Bright eyes, dark locks, and bosom white as snow.

He sees, but still in moment glimpses only,
Gleams of strange beauty, from an eye all bright,—
As when some single star, at midnight, flashes
From the cold cloud, above the mountain’s height.

As raven black as night float free her tresses,
Outflung above the waves by snowy arms,
Now o’er her bosom spread, and half betraying,
While half concealing still her sunny charms.

And then again ascends her song of pleading——
“Ah, but thou failest with the noonday heat,
Thy brow is pale with care, thine eyelids drooping,
Thy soul is sad, and weary-worn thy feet.

“ Oh I come to me, and taste my waves of cooling;
I’ll soothe thy sorrows; I will bring thee rest;
Thy fainting limbs grow strong in my embraces,
Thy burning cheek find pillow on my breast.

“ Oh l come to me !” was still the loving burden,
With charm of such a sweetness in its swell,
That every fancy in his bosom kindled,
And every feeling woke to work the spell.

Wild was the dreamy passion that possess’d him ;
I Won by the syren song, and glimpsing charms,
He leapt to join her in the wave, but shudder’d
At the first foldings of her death-cold arms.

Fiercely against her own she press’d his bosom ;—
’Tis the ice-mountain whose embrace he feels ;
Within his eyes she shot her dazzling glances :
’Tis Death’s own stony stare the look reveals.

He breaks away, the shore in horror seeking;
But all too late,—-the doom is in his heart :
He sinks beside the fatal stream, and dying,
Deplores the prayer that pleaded to depart.

His dying sense still hears the fatal Syren;
She sings her triumph now, her love no more :
A fearful hate was in the eldritch music,
And terror now, where beauty sway’d before.

No more the pleasing wile, the plaintive ditty:
He strives in vain the wizard strain to flee;
“ Death,” ran the song,——no more of peace and pity,
“To him who madly seeks embrace with me I.”

- William Gilmore Simms, 1853



Hail, loveliest, purest scene!
How brightly mingling with the clear, blue sky,
Thy glancing wave arrests the upward eye,
Through thy grove's leafy screen.

Through thy transparent veil,
And wide around thee, Nature's grandest forms,
Rocks, built for ages to abide the storms,
Frown on the subject dale.

Fed by thy rapid stream,
In every crevice of that savage pile,
The living herbs in quiet beauty smile,
Lit by the sunny gleam.

And over all, that gush
Of rain-drops, sparkling to the noonday sun!
While ages round thee on their course have run,
Ceaseless thy waters rush.

I would not that the bow
With gorgeous hues should light thy virgin stream;
Better thy white and sun-lit foam should gleam
Thus, like unsullied snow.

Yes! thou hast seen the woods
Around, for centuries rise, decay, and die,
While thou hast poured thy endless current by,
To join the eternal floods.

The ages pass away,
Successive nations rise, and are forgot,
But on thy brilliant course thou pausest not,
'Mid thine unchanging spray.

When I have sunk to rest—
Thus wilt thou pass in calm sublimity,
Then be thy power to others, as to me,
On the deep soul impressed.

Here does a spirit dwell
Of gratitude, and contemplation high;
Holding deep union with eternity.
O loveliest scene, farewell!

-Composed by Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809-1870) and published in 1834.



Loveliest and purest Nymph of the mountains,
Cradled in rock and fed by the fountains,
But like some bold hoyden at play!
Behold her wild run as she leaps down a rock!
(Some earthquake river boulder or block)
And is there dashed into spray!
Hark! it's the roar of a wild cataract.
My heart throbs while I in wonder look back,
Up a dark glen wierd and wild,
Twixt rock-cliffs lofty and hoary,
And now I see what? This nymph in her glory ---
She is Nature's fairest, spoiled child
Robed in a veil of mist she leaps into a pool,
That is breezy and pure, shady and cool;
She rests there awhile,
'Til joined by many a sister and brother
She starts on her way home to her mother,
With filial devotion.
And passing Mount Lookout many a mile,
There looms to her view a palm-covered isle,
Where she meets Mother Ocean.

(Silas McDowell, Asheville Citizen, August 5, 1875)



Swannanoa, nymph of beauty,
I would woo thee in my rhyme,
Wildest, brightest, loveliest river
Of our sunny Southern clime!
Swannanoa, well they named thee,
In the mellow Indian tongue;
Beautiful thou art, most truly,
And right worthy to be sung.

I have stood by many a river,
Known to story and to song—
 Ashley, Hudson, Susquehanna,
 Fame to which may well belong;—
 I have camp'd by the Ohio,
 Trod Scioto's fertile banks,
 Follow'd far the Juaniata,
 In the wildest of her pranks,—

 But thou reignest queen for ever,
 Child of Appalachian hills,
 Winning tribute as thou flowest,
 From a thousand mountain-rills.
 Thine is beauty, strength-begotten,
 Mid the cloud-begirded peaks,
 Where the patriarch of the mountains,
 Heav 'nward for thy waters seeks.

Through the laurels and the beeches,
Bright thy silvery current shines,
 Sleeping now in granite basins,
Overhung by trailing vines,
 And anon careering onward,
In the maddest frolic-mood,
 Waking, with thy sea-like voices,
Fairy echoes in the wood.

 Peaceful sleep thy narrow valleys,
In the shadow of the hills,
 And thy flower-enamelled border,
 All the air with fragrance fills.
 Wild luxuriance, generous tillage,
 Here alternate meet the view,
 Every turn, through all thy windings
Still revealing something new.

 Where, O graceful Swannanoa,
Are the warriors who of old
 Sought thee at thy mountain sources,
Where thy springs are icy cold—
 Where the dark-browed Indian maidens,
Who their limbs were wont to lave
 (Worthy bath for fairer beauty)
In thy cool and limpid wave?

 Gone forever from thy borders,
 But immortal in thy name,
 Are the red men of the forest;
Be thou keeper of their fame!
 Paler races dwell beside thee;
Celt and Saxon till thy lands,
 Wedding use unto thy beauty—
Linking over thee their hands.

 -Calvin Wiley -?- (1819-1887)

  Though this was one of the most popular poems of the antebellum South, authorship is uncertain.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Black and White

[A dusty box of old family photos helped convince me to abandon the daily blog routine. I’ve been taking some time to scan the photos and identify people and places pictured in the old prints. I’ve found a few photos that aren’t your usual family portraits or vacation snapshots. Here’s the caption for one of those pictures.]

click on photo for better view

It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race. – John Ritchey

At first glance, nothing is particularly remarkable about the black-and-white photograph, a simple portrait of a visiting team, waiting to play in the World Series of the American Legion baseball league.

Growing up in Albemarle some years later, I knew that one of the most exciting and memorable events in the town’s history was winning the 1940 championship in front of the home crowd. To prepare for the finals, a crew of 100 carpenters added bleachers to the little ball park. All the stores and schools in town were ordered to close early on game days. Governor Clyde R. Hoey came from Raleigh to throw out the first ball.

Thousands thronged to the games. Albemarle’s star pitcher would be known as "Lefty" for the rest of his life.

That was the legend I knew.

But only after finding the photograph of San Diego’s American Legion Post 6 team did I learn there was much more to the story. At the instant that my father snapped the shutter, one player on the second row was partially obscured from view, cap pulled down, chin in hand. The player’s name was John Ritchey.

A powerful hitter, Ritchey was 15 years old when he propelled San Diego’s title run in 1938. The team advanced to the national semifinals in Spartanburg, SC, where officials barred Ritchey and another African-American player, Nelson Manuel [second row, second from right] from the game. Nevertheless, San Diego managed to overcome the racist chicanery and took the national championship that year.

Ritchey’s coach, Mike Morrow, was a San Diego legend whose high school teams included whites, blacks and Hispanics. Well into a successful season of American Legion play in 1940, Morrow wanted to prevent a repeat of 1938's player ban. For the national semifinals played in Shelby, NC, officials did allow Ritchey and Manuel to take the field.

Following their semifinals win, San Diego moved on to the finals against Albemarle. Anticipating problems, Coach Morrow threatened to take his entire team back to California if his players were ruled ineligible.

Two days before the first game, the Charlotte Observer reported it was "understood" that officials would allow them to play. One day before the opener, the newspaper (under the headline "Colored Boys Will Start for Pacifics") added:

A telegraphic poll conducted today by a Charlotte sportscaster brought replies from many North Carolina and out-of-state towns, all requesting that the colored lads be allowed to play.

The next day, reporting on the outcome of the first game, the paper stated that Ritchey and Manuel watched from the dugout because national Legion officials made the request not to use black players.

San Diego took the first two games over Albemarle by scores of 6-5 and 3-2, but Albemarle came back to tie the series with 6-3 and 7-5 victories against the California team.

In the fifth and deciding game, Albemarle held off a frantic San Diego rally to take a 9-8 win and claim the title. Although he was not allowed to play in the finals, John Ritchey was awarded a trophy as the tournament’s leading hitter.

In a wrap-up on the series, September 7, 1940, Observer sports writer Jake Wade addressed the controversy:

A crowd of something like 12,500 wrote history, with frenzied emotion such as has never been witnessed in a ball park in the Carolinas.

The crowd did not always behave so nicely. Parts of the crowd, I should say. The boos for the San Diego colored boys, when Coach Mike Morrow of the Coasters ill-advisedly had them warming up, was brutal. No credit to those who were guilty in this baseball crazy, partisan-mad assembly that overflowed Efird-Wiscassett Park.

Wade concluded:

Albemarle grasped it. Lisk flicked his pitch-out. The runner on third was nailed flat-footed. The ball game was over. Albemarle’s young men were junior champions of the world. The house came down, and tonight the bells were still ringing, the horns blowing, hoarse voices still whooping. The little kingpins were being accorded a rousing salute, and no kingpins deserved one more.

Art Cohn, sports editor for the Oakland Tribune, took a harder line against the ouster of San Diego’s players:

A great club, that San Diego team. It waded through the local, State, sectional and National play-offs and loomed as a cinch for the title. Until it hit Albemarle. Then hell broke loose.

Once below the Mason and Dixon, the most un-American of prejudices, racial discrimination, reared its ugly head, and, as a result, two regulars on the San Diego team were ruled ineligible. It seems that John Ritchey and Nelson Manuel, the two boys involved, had been found guilty…of being Negroes.

Ritchey and Manuel were good enough to play with and against their white brothers in California, Arizona, and even in Shelby, North Carolina, but it was a different story in Albemarle. There the good citizens had not yet learned that the Civil War recently ended.

So San Diego took the field for the first time without Ritchey and Manuel, and San Diego was beaten for the first time. It was a great triumph for Albemarle. The village should be proud of its contribution to American tolerance.

In a 1995 interview, John Ritchey recalled his life in baseball and his disastrous trip to Albemarle:
My earliest memories are of playing baseball, because there wasn't anything else to do. Most of my friends were White. Peanuts [Henry Savin] was a Mexican kid. The others were Nelson Manuel, Billy Williams, William Indalecio, Tom and Luis Ortiz. We played sandlot ball and the San Diego Police sponsored the league. Nelson was easy going and one time he got a job selling ice cream. It only lasted for one day, because he ate too much of the ice cream he was supposed to sell. He didn't get to eat much at home. They were good times playing with my friends....

With Post 6, I was taking batting practice in Albemarle and I hit a couple of line drives over the fence. They wouldn’t let me play for the National Championship game!

During World War II, Ritchey served as a staff sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers and earned five battle stars from duty in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and Berlin. After the war, Ritchey returned to baseball and led the Negro American League with a .369 batting average in 1947. The following year, he broke the color barrier in the Pacific Coast League when he joined the San Diego Padres, had seven hits in his first 11 at-bats and finished the season with a .323 average.

Although he never played in the major leagues, Ritchey enjoyed a successful baseball career until his retirement from the game in 1955. After baseball, Johnny and his wife Lydia raised a family in San Diego, where he worked as a deliveryman with Continental Bread Company for twenty years. Ritchey died in 2003 at the age of 80.

Two years later the San Diego Padres paid tribute to the "Jackie Robinson of the West Coast" by unveiling a bronze bust of John Ritchey. Tom Shanahan writes about what happened when family and friends raised money for the sculpture:

San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank came across some stories that tell us about John Ritchey as a man. "One guy said Johnny Ritchey didn’t know him, but he knew Johnny," Swank said. "He donated $200 because every time he saw Johnny around [San Diego State University] he would smile and say hello. He said he never forgot what a nice guy he was, and he knew what Johnny had been through in North Carolina."

Swank said a woman donated money because Ritchey had once rescued her from being taunted on campus by some bullies. Think about that for a moment: In 1940, Ritchey, a black man, stopped white bullies from tormenting a white girl.

"She said Johnny Ritchey’s bust should be made out of gold," Swank recalled.

Looking again at the photograph, I see nothing particularly remarkable in the image. Young ballplayers, far from home, looking a bit distracted. A team photo, not so different from thousands of others. Light and shadow of one split second from a September day, creating a picture of victory and defeat, pride and shame, back in my home town.