Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America

By Timothy Silver | Go to book overview

ONE
Origins

JANUARY
UPPER SOUTH TOE RIVER

At 2:00 A.M. I hear the wind. It begins as a murmur on the lower slopes, gains strength
as it moves closer, and finally rushes past in a whistling roar. Yellow birches and
white oaks bend. Half-frozen hickories pop and squeak. Hemlock boughs crack and
fall, spraying twigs and bark across crusty, week-old snow. Close to the ground, dark
green rhododendron leaves, shriveled and stiff from cold, rattle lightly as the gust
moves on. Higher up the mountain, almost out of earshot, the blast twists and bends
through red spruce and Fraser fir. Then, for the briefest instant, calm. In the silence
I can pick out the soft tenor of the river moving beneath the ice until, somewhere
down the ridge, the murmur begins again.

On this night my tent sits in a sheltered cove high on the southeastern face of the
Black Mountains, 4,000-odd feet above sea level. Eighteen inches of snow cover the
ground. Three and a half miles north and 2,500 feet up, on the highest mountain in
eastern America, snow depths exceed two feet. At my camp the temperature hovers
around twenty degrees Fahrenheit; at the summit it will drop into the single digits,
typical readings for this time of year.

Kept awake by the wind, I tune a transistor radio to a weather forecast from the
North Carolina Piedmont. There, where the hills top out at a mere thousand feet,
a meteorologist reports current temperatures in the forties. Fed by warm southern
breezes, daytime highs will rise to near sixty. Farther east, where North Carolina’s
coastal plain dips toward the Atlantic Ocean, cities such as Wilmington and New
Bern may see seventy degrees by midafternoon. “Springlike,” the announcer calls it,

-1-

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Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations and Maps ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • One - Origins 1
  • Two - Footprints 37
  • Three - Mitchell’s Mountain 77
  • Four - Modernity 121
  • Five - Government 163
  • Six - Murphy’s Law 209
  • Conclusion - Stories from Four Thousand Feet 257
  • Notes 271
  • Index 309
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