Clear-day thunder

The American chestnut tree used to be a mainstay of the economy and culture of central and southern Appalachia, accounting for some 30 percent of the region’s forests and providing a steady supply of mast, food and durable, rot-resistant wood. But a blight accidentally introduced from Asia around the turn of the century quickly changed all that. “Within 50 years, the blight ravaged the American-chestnut-tree population in this country,” explained Leah Florence, administrative assistant in the Asheville office of the American Chestnut Foundation, during a recent telephone interview. The trunks of the blighted trees, Florence added, would stand dead for years; and the sound of them falling became so familiar, it was known as “clear-day thunder.”

But that day is, hopefully, now past: The American Chestnut Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by a group of scientists in 1983 to breed a blight-resistant tree, recently launched a Carolina chapter. More than 30 people attended a ceremony and meeting on May 8 at the North Carolina Arboretum. Among the group’s first projects are mapping the location of existing American chestnuts, particularly “mother trees” — those, in other words, that are still flowering and producing nuts (shielded underground, the roots of some trees still live and continue to send up new shoots, though they, too, eventually succumb to the blight).

For more information, or to get on the Carolina chapter’s mailing list, contact Robert M. Wilson, c/o TACF Asheville Office, 46 Haywood St., Suite 213, Asheville NC 28801, or call 281-0047. You can also e-mail

Now that’s a back yard.

Some parts of WNC are unbelievably pristine, blanketed with mature and old-growth forest; but even small patches of cultivated land can provide valuable wildlife habitat. Consider Tulipwood, the Weaverville residence of Leigh and Barb Svenson, whose back yard has just been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat site. By cultivating trees, shrubs and flowers that offer food and cover for wildlife, the Svensons are attracting butterflies, birds, frogs and small mammals, while reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides and watering.

According to a recent National Wildlife Federation newsletter, more than 23,000 property owners in the U.S. and Canada have established backyard wildlife habitats — in urban, suburban and rural settings — since the program’s inception in 1973. It’s also a wonderful way for students young and old to learn more about the complicated — and complementary — mysteries of Mother Nature.

To find out how to have your back yard designated a Wildlife Habitat, call (410) 516-6583, or send a check for $12.95 to: Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna VA 22184.

Smoke on the water

The recent fire that damaged RiverLink’s headquarters (and eight artists’ studios) on Lyman Street has left the nonprofit scrambling for funds to repair the historic structure. To help meet that need, Carolina Power & Light has stepped forward with a $10,000 donation. RiverLink board Chair Doug Wilson praised CP&L for its “ongoing and visionary leadership for the economic and environmental revitalization of the French Broad River. … We are especially grateful for your contributions of land for greenways along the French Broad River and your gift that will enable us to maintain our riverfront and provide artists and craftsmen [with[ work space [in the] burgeoning river arts district.”

In other, less incendiary, RiverLink happenings, the French Broad River Yacht Club will hold its eighth annual Admirals’ Dinner at 23 Page Restaurant. The sumptuous meal will be accompanied by specially selected Biltmore Estate wines. To make a reservation for the Admirals’ Dinner ($75 per person for Riverlink members, $100 for nonmembers), call 252-8474 by Friday, May 28.

This year’s special guests will be Wesley Warren, chief of staff of the White House’s Council of Environmental Quality, and Wilma Dykeman, a pioneer in efforts to restore the French Broad River corridor. Dykeman is the author of 18 books, covering such diverse topics as population control and the corporatization of family farming. Warren, who helped shaped the 1990 Clean Air Act and the 1992 Energy Policy Act, has served as an energy and environmental analyst at the Northeast Midwest Institute, a policy center established to advise members of Congress on issues related to economic development.

The Admirals’ Dinner celebrates the historic, educational, environmental and economic importance of the French Broad River. Membership in the semimythical yacht club is open to anyone who has ever been on the French Broad to fish, paddle or play, according to a RiverLink press release.

The twin faces of free speech

In the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings (among other things), the Internet has taken a beating lately for the easy access it provides to such previously hard-to-find information as how to build bombs, how to find someone who is hiding from harassment, and so on.

On the other hand, the Association of Digital Journalists, based in Chile, recently published an Internet edition of a text banned in that country. Called El Libro Negro de la Justicia Chilena (“The Black Book of Chilean Justice), the book was written by Alejandra Matus, a journalist who spent many years covering the Chilean Ministry of Justice; the text details the personal and political corruption of Chile’s top jurists, based on more than 80 interviews with people inside the Ministry of Justice and the courts.

Dedicating her book to several judicial-system journalists who were murdered in recent years, Matus explores the contradictions of a legal system that she says pays lip service to democracy while acting in the interests of the country’s more powerful forces, with judges and officials appointed and protected by the military. Matus also recounts her own fears about writing and publishing the work, describing her efforts to tell the truth while “skirting the rigors of the Law of State Security, using all kinds of euphemisms and linguistic subterfuges,” according to a recent press release. “That law, as is well-known, protects the political authorities, administrators, the generals, the judges, even the bishops. I was censored many times because some article offended one of these untouchables.

“Without freedom of expression,” she continues, “journalism is perverted, it loses its high ethic, and can be transformed into a monstrous parody: inquisitive, lurid, indiscriminate, even cruel towards those who don’t have the laws to protect them; tolerant, obsequious and servile towards the powerful, especially to authority and those it is called on to police.”

The Black Book of Chilean Justice can be found at For more information, e-mail

Cool … or healthy?

Peer pressure is a well-documented factor in tobacco use by young people. Clearly, being healthy is not as highly regarded as being cool. But there is always more to learn when it comes to the minds and hearts of young people across the nation, and that’s why UNCA is participating in a new study about the “need to conform” when college students use the insidious weed.

Sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and directed by The Bacchus and Gamma Peer Education Network — a Denver-based, national student-health organization — the study hopes to accurately assess student tobacco use on each of the five participating campuses and then use that information to promote health, by means of posters and other advertising. Earlier research found that college students consistently overestimate how many of their peers drink heavily and/or accept drunken behavior.

“We’re excited to be part of this project,” said UNCA counselor/substance-abuse consultant Vicki Brunnick in a press release. “We realize that positive change can occur as students contemplate life’s decisions, and we want to be a part of this positive lifestyle change,” said Brunnick, an adjunct faculty member in the school’s health-and-fitness department.

Other participating institutions include the University of Maryland, Texas Christian University, Oswego State University and Gustavus Adolphus College.

To learn more about the study, call Vicki Brunnick or Dr. Keith Ray at 251-6513.

The many faces of these mountains

Notwithstanding persistent stereotypes, the Southern Appalachians are home to an ethnically diverse population, and people of many racial and ethnic backgrounds have made significant contributions to this fascinating region. Now, two students at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., are putting together an anthology of Appalachian literature that seeks to represent those missing voices. Called Appalachia Uncovered: Voices of Difference and Descent, the anthology hopes to give voice to mountain residents of different ethnicities: African-Americans, Mexicans, Native Americans and so on.

Project Director Andrea Fekete, an English major at Marshall, is compiling essays, poetry, short fiction and photography that focus on ethnicity and gender in the Appalachian Mountain region. Herself a descendant of Hungarian immigrants, Fekete plans to donate all proceeds from the project to an Appalachian-studies program at MU. “Unfortunately,” she wrote to Mountain Xpress, “I don’t have the funds to pay contributors. And we’re still taking donations from organizations, businesses and individuals to raise funding for things such as long-distance phone calls, letters, brochures, etc.”

Fekete is accepting submissions through Dec. 31. For more information, see the official Appalachia Uncovered Web page at:

— chromosomally compiled by Paul Schattel

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