Appalachian Thursday – Bee Hunting

Honeybees aren’t native to WV, but they came to the state with European settlers and, escaping their hives, decided to settle in themselves. Locals soon discovered the sweet treat inside the wild hives and began developing techniques for discovering bee trees. Of course, bees aren’t what you’d call sneaky and when traveling home to their hives they travel in a […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Dog Days

You’ve almost certainly heard this time of year referred to as the “dog days” of summer. But do you know WHY it’s called that? I always thought it’s because this hot, muggy time of year isn’t hardly fit for a dog. And I had a professor in college who talked about the humidity of late summer making stepping outside feel like stepping into a dog’s mouth. An apt metaphor. But turns out there’s more to it than that. Turns out it’s because this is the time of year when the sun is in the same part of the sky as Sirius – the Dog Star – part of the constellation Canis Major. In late July Sirius actually rises and sets with the sun. And way back in the day, folks thought the star actually added to the heat of the sun. So the dog days are the 20 days before and after Sirius and the sun line up–July 3 through August 11. Which, ironically, is often the hottest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, a scientific explanation should never prevent us from embracing some good old-fashioned superstitions. So here are a few related to the dog days of summer: During this time snakes are blind and will strike at anything. If it rains on the first dog day, it will rain every day afterward. Dogs are more likely to go mad during these days. Sores and wounds […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Brown Mountain Lights

I love mysteries and unexplained phenomenon. Miracles even. Lately I’ve been reading about the Brown Mountain Lights–a mysterious occurrence people sometimes see on a mountain about an hour east of where I live in NC. Brown Mountain is in the Linville Gorge near Morganton, NC, and there are two popular overlooks for folks wanting to see the ghostly lights–the Brown Mountain Overlook and Wiseman’s View. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll see them if you go, but October and November are said to be the best months during clear, moonless nights. The lights seem to appear both in the sky above the mountain and among the trees. Sometimes they’re brief and other times they dance and linger. Theories/stories include: Swamp gas (of course, there aren’t any swamps around there) Headlights from the valley (except people saw them before cars were around) Foxfire (phosphorescent light from decaying wood–my favorite theory!) Moon dogs (moonlight shining on haze–oh wait, they show up on moonless nights) Lanterns being carried by ghostly Indian maidens looking for braves killed in battle A slave looking for his master who disappeared while hunting (there’s a song for that one) The souls of a woman and her child murdered by her philandering husband A revolutionary war hero searching fruitlessly for his family Scientists from Appalachian State University have even studied the lights and, yes, have recorded them. And yet we’re no closer to knowing what they are. Which I […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Spring Planting (by the signs)

It’s finally March and while we still have redbud, dogwood, and blackberry winters to go (at a minimum), country folks are thinking about plowing the garden. When I was a kid my father and one of the more mature ladies of the church would have pretty much the same “discussion” every spring. She believed strongly in planting by the signs and Dad was determined to convince her it was not only silly, but un-Christian to do so. As far as I know, neither one ever came around to the other’s way of thinking. I suspect it would have spoiled the fun they had rehashing the subject every spring. There are still plenty of folk who plant by the signs in Appalachia. Here’s a quick primer, in case you want to give it a try this year: Plant ABOVE ground crops when the moon is waxing (getting bigger). Things like peas, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, etc. Plant BELOW ground crops when the moon is waning (getting smaller). Things like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc. That’s the BASIC rule. Now, let’s look at the signs. Each month, the moon passes through each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided into four elements: Water – Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn Fire – Leo, Ares, Sagittarius Air – Gemini, Aquarius, Libra Water and Earth are FERTILE elements while Fire and Air are BARREN elements. Generally speaking, you want to plant […]

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Christmas in Appalachia

While I suppose we were relatively modern when it came to my childhood Christmases, the old-timey traditions are still hanging on in the mountains. And there are some I very much think we should revive for broader use. Here are a few of my favorite Appalachian Christmas traditions: VISITING – My 85-year-old cousin and I were lamenting the fact that no one visits anymore. It was customary throughout the year, but especially on Christmas day. The idea was to simply get out and see your neighbors. In my experience, the older folks stayed at home awaiting company while the younger ones did the traveling. You didn’t stay long, but there were refreshments–fruitcake, cider, cookies–and it was bad luck not to partake lest you spoil the Christmas Spirit. CHRISTMAS GIFT – If you go a bit further back, there was a tradition of carrying small gift items like candies in your pockets as you went visiting. If you met another visitor the first one to say, “Christmas Gift,” would win a gift from the other. DECORATIONS – There was plenty of greenery to be had–pine, holly, or even bittersweet–and it was simple enough to cut a tree. Decorating the tree was another matter. Common decorations included popcorn strings, paper chains, seed pods wrapped in the foil from chewing gum wrappers, gingerbread cookies, and scraps of bright fabric. SERENADIN’ – No, not caroling. The idea was to gather as many noise-making items […]

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