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It all began with a shriek in the night

This is the post excerpt.

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One of my earliest backpacking memories began with night falling quickly in the woods. It seems to go from light to dark almost instantly in the woods, particularly in the late fall. Our backpacking party had just bedded down in our sleeping bags. Out of no where there was a shriek that pierced the cold dark silence.


It was a female voice.  The panic grew with each cry for help. Unsure what to do, I threw on a T-shirt and stumbled into the darkness with flashlight in hand. With fear and trembling I moved toward the sound of the screams, unsure what I would find. Was it a bear mauling? An a assault by another person? I felt like I was living in a horror movie. I could now hear banging AND screaming. Armed with flashlight and nothing more this young teenager was prepared to go into battle.  The beam of my flashlight landed on what appeared to be a shack and I could tell the noise was coming from that direction. Despite my own fear of what might be attacking I used my deepest and most mature voice as I hollered, “Mam, how can I help you? Mam? With backup right behind me, I hoped my voice would maybe scare off the attacker. And then the most bizarre thing happened…

In a quieted and somewhat annoyed tone I heard her say, “yes, somehow I locked myself in the outhouse.  Can you let me out?”


Crisis averted! Upon returning home I was rewarded for my heroism and awarded a Superman T-Shirt by the lady who I rescued. Good natured teasing ensued from all my fellow camping mates, including my mother, who was on the trip. They were all right behind me that night and had keenly observed my crouching as I prepared for a ghastly and frightening scene. It was just someone stuck in an outhouse!

These days when danger is near and I don’t know what to expect, especially in the dark, I still have a tendency to brace for the worst. I think we all do. Fortunately, the handle on the outhouse door was jimmied and it was an easy escape, but you couldn’t tell the captive that her plight was no big deal. It was dark, she was trapped and she needed help, with a capital “P”. 

Sometimes the smallest things elicit the greatest reaction from us especially when they strike at our deepest, darkest fears. As we grow and mature it is my prayer that we learn techniques that allow us to breath and stay calm in the midst of the whirlwind. After all it might just be that the latch on the door is stuck. 

History of Wit’s End – Part 2 – The Cherokee Nation

(Photo looking west up the Conasauga valley. It was customary for the Cherokee people to hunt and make their homes in mountain valleys like this one. By John Moeller 3/10/2017)

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years indigenous people lived in the valley around Wit’s End, and made it their home. They called it Conasauga, meaning possibly “grass” or “grassy”. However, by the early 1800s Conasauga and current day Gilmer county, originally part of the Cherokee Nation territory, was being encroached on by white settlers looking for land and opportunity. This mountainous area was the last stronghold of the Cherokee people. As a result, it became the geographic center of the rapidly shrinking Cherokee Nation territory. The map below shows that the Cherokee land holdings had once stretched from Georgia to Ohio and Virginia to Missisippi.

(Cherokee Nation Territorial Limits map, by C.C. Royce, 1884 shows the original territory limits, and in order the shrinking of those land holdings 1-35, until their final territorial boundary (36) before their removal in 1838) 

During the late 1700s and early 1800s the Cherokee people and the territories they occupied stood in the way of a growing number of white immigrant settlers from the east (many Scots-Irish) who were looking for land and opportunity in the west. The only thing that kept white settlers from settling in lands occupied by the Cherokee was the fact that the US government and the chiefs of the Cherokee nation had negotiated treaties that clearly delineated the lands that belonged to the Cherokee Nation and thus prohibited the white settlement of these lands. For more than 100 years the US government had negotiated a series of treaties with the Cherokee nation that provided access to lands for its citizens in the west essentially encircling the Cherokee nation. By the early 1800s the treaties had the effect of massively shrinking the eastern land holdings of the Cherokee and pushing them onto a fraction of their original land. The last treaty in 1820 provided the nation with a remnant territory made up of the mountainous areas of northwest Georgia, and contiguous parts of extreme east Tennessee, extreme southwest North Carolina, and northeast Alabama. At this time and under pressure, many Cherokees moved out of the area and headed west to present day Arkansas and Oklahoma, where land was more abundant. However, those Cherokees who wished to remain in the east moved into this last bastion of land, hoping against hope that the treaties with the U.S. government and the rugged terrain of the maintains would hold and protect them and their families and would allow them to peacefully remain in the area in perpetuity. Unfortunately, the discovery of gold in the north Georgia mountains near Dahlonega in 1830 brought prospectors to the region, who encroached on the Cherokee’s land rights and further added pressure to the remaining Cherokees and their way of life. As their territory shrank, New Echota was established as the new capital of the Cherokee Nation around 1800 near present day Calhoun, Georgia, a mere 37 miles away from Conasauga. For generations Cherokees (and Creeks too) lived in Conasauga and the surrounding mountains right up until 1838 when the government hunted them down, rounded them up and forcibly deported them to Oklahoma. 

(Map of the 1838 Cherokee roundup and mass deportation) 

The Cherokees were a bright, peaceful and civilized people who in the decades before removal had adopted many of the ways of white settlers, including developing their own written language, and adopting the modern farming techniques of the white settlers from the east.
It has been documented that the Cherokee settlement at Conasauga along with the one at nearby Mountaintown, were both located on the route of the “Old Ellijay Turnpike”. This turnpike was established by Georgia Governor Gilmer and the state legislature in 1834 to link Dahlonega with Dalton and ultimately, Chattanooga. The route most likely followed an early Indian path that connected Indian settlements like Conasauga along the way. One could speculate that this road was created to hasten the forced round up and removal of the remaining Cherokees in 1838. The Old Turnpike was a toll road and the western toll gate was established at Mulberry Gap just a mile and a half to the west of Conasauga (Loretta Coker).

When the time finally came in 1838, the US military forcibly removed the Cherokees from the Conasauga settlement (and surrounding Frog Mountain, now called Fort Mountain) and took them via the turnpike route 10 miles southeast to Fort Hetzel at present day Ellijay, the site of another former Cherokee settlement, where they were held until all the Cherokees were gathered from the immediately surrounding mountains. From there the Cherokees would have been force marched right back northwest up the turnpike past the remains of the Conasauga settlement through the toll gate at Mulberry Gap (I wonder who operated the toll gate), before they made their way to Chattanooga. Therefore, Conasauga was not only one of the very last Indian settlements in the east, it was likely one of the earliest stops along the route of the Trail of Tears. From Conasauga they made their way to Chattanooga, where they met up with other Cherokees from other parts of the nation, before being moved along to Oklahoma.

To be continued…

History of Wit’s End – Introduction

A Brief History of Wit’s End – An Introduction

(Photo by John Moeller, of Wit’s End, 11/3/17)

Wits End, currently owned by John & Laurie Moeller, sits at the epicenter of the former community of Conasauga, 10 miles northwest of Ellijay, GA in what is today, Gilmer County. The community, which appeared on maps for the better part of a century, sat in a valley at the foot of the rugged and remote Cohutta Mountains (currently one of the largest designated wilderness areas east of the Mississippi River), which are part of the Unaka Range at the southwestern End of the Appalachian Mountains. While all that remains to the naked eye today are the remnants of a subsistence farm, including a barn, a chimney and what’s left of an old farm house (yes the old white house in the meadow just 100 yards from our driveway), this exact spot was at multiple times throughout history, the hub of community life. For centuries it served as a resting and resupply point for weary east west travelers before the advent of the automobile. In addition, before the white settlers moved into these mountains, Wit’s End was the site of a Cherokee Nation settlement, also named Conasauga.

It’s hard to imagine that in this small mountain valley that an entire community could have existed. However, from the middle 1800s to the early 1900s this mountain valley had a post office, general store, church, saw mill, and a boarding house for weary travelers.

The property sits at the confluence of three streams and the verdant mountain valleys that each stream drains. Here, in a relatively broad valley, the streams join to form Conasauga Creek. What made Conasauga significant was the fact that it was located near the 1/2 way point along the only east-west route between the civilized communities of the great valley to the west and the mountain towns to the east through the infamously rugged Cohutta mountains.

The name, Conasauga, has long ago been removed from maps, but the farm and immediately surrounding area has a rich history. The valley was originally a Cherokee settlement. The derivation of the name, Conasauga, is not clear, but it could mean “grass” or “grassy”. It’s possible that the name could go back to even earlier times when the Creek Indians occupied these parts.

Stay tuned for the next installment…

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Unplug and Re-connect

As I write I am holding my phone. It is plugged into the car charger because it is nearly out of gas. That’s because it has become a fairly permanent fixture to my body.  In many ways it has become my portal to the world. In other words, I interact with reality through my phone. I get my news through the phone. I interact with work through my phone. I conduct my personal life through my phone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I glanced at before closing my eyes at night. I used to get on to my kids and be annoyed that they were on their phones too much. Now they could claim that the reverse is true.

The tough thing is that it is genuinely hard to put the phone down and leave it alone. That’s partly why we created Wit’s End. At the edge of the wilderness, with no cable, internet, Wi-Fi, or cell phone signal to speak of, Wit’s End is our place to break away from the artificial reality created by our connection to the cell phone. For our family and our guests it’s a place to clear your head, remember who you are, and reconnect with people, ideas, and the tactile beauty and complexity of creation. I am convinced that humanity needs these kinds of places to unplug and reconnect.

Time and time again the wilderness is lifted up in my faith tradition as a place to encounter the Holy. It’s likely that humanity has needed quiet places away from the din of society since the beginning of time in order to more fully taste, touch, receive, feel, listen, see, and encounter truth, love, and healing.  Natural places of quiet beauty grant us a break from our experience of reality, and provide a soothing tonic to our minds, bodies and spirits. They also allow us the space to connect and reconnect with activities, concepts, and people that fuel our growth and development as members of humanity and creation. 

To get a feel for one such “quiet” place or to book your own recuperative stay investigate the links below. 

https://m.facebook.com/WitsEndConasauga/

http://abnb.me/EVmg/w9BfIUKuwC

Until next time,

John

Consider the lilies…

The trout lilies (above) are among some of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom on the forest floor. Short in stature and typically growing in large clumps, they get their name because their leaves resemble small trout. The effect is pronounced because the clumps look like schools of fish. 

As a budding amateur naturalist, I am naturally curious about what grows in the forest. While I still love the stunning mountain vistas and breathtaking waterfalls that can only be reached by journeying, with each passing year, I am more and more fascinated by the rich plant diversity growing in the Appalachian mountain microcosm right under my nose at Wit’s End. Trout lilies are among the earlies spring bloomers. They grow prolifically near cool damp places and near creeks. While they are common, I have very  rarely caught them in bloom. I believe that is, in part, because the conditions they require to bloom are quite specific. Like almost every living thing in the forest they require just the right cocktail of soil, moisture and sun light conditions in order to thrive, bloom and propagate. Imagine my surprise when I found a patch of trout lilies all abloom growing under a massive blanket of kudzu (argh! That’s right I am still battling Kudzu more than 20 years after becoming the owner of this patch of ground). Despite my ongoing hostile relations with Kudzu, I had to appreciate the fact that it was contributing to the happiness of the lilies. This group of trout lilies make me think of the Matthew 6 text, “Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin, Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

I love that the lilies in the text and the ones I  discovered all abloom, can not add one day to their lives, nor do they have any real say over how long they live or whether or not they bloom. Their very life and blooming is completely dependent on whether or not they have the right growing conditions, i.e. the right amount of moisture, sunlight, soil & mineral complexion. 

Like the original audience that Jesus was speaking to in the text above, I find that I worry and fret about my financial destiny and that of my wife and our children, but more often than not, I tend to get most anxious about my own fulfillment and happiness in life along with the wellbeing of those who I love. I worry that I’m too removed from things the simple things that feed my soul and the souls of those I care about. I am often restless in my contrived world. It causes me to be frustrated and sullen. As an adult I have tried to isolate the triggers that lead me to these periods of general discontent, and after years of trying to diagnose my periodic failures to thrive, I have traced it, like the lilies, to not having the right growing conditions. Here is a true statement about me – if I get too removed from the natural world of trees, plants, clean air and water, and find my way a little too far into the man made contrived world my entire physical, spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing suffers.
While I don’t want to project my version of truth on others, I have to wonder if people aren’t a little like the lilies in the referenced text, each requiring just the right conditions to grow and thrive as well. I also happen to wonder if human beings, made of matter, and ultimately returning to dust, don’t all consciously or unconsciously crave a stronger connection to the natural world. Do we need a rootedness in creation that serves to nurture our bodies, souls and minds? I’m not suggesting that we worship nature, nor am I suggesting that it is all that we need. However, I am wondering if the natural world is not a gift from our creator that contributes to our wellbeing, well beyond providing food, water, and oxygen for mere subsistence. As I write, I feel lighter and brighter because I have spent time with loved ones on spring break in a tropical spot where warm breezes, clear waters, lush plant life combined to provide a tonic for my soul. Is it possible that some of our angst and frustration with our very lives can be traced to losing touch with our truly natural roots?

After a long weeks of moving between the concrete and commercial jungles of the city and suburbia, and my constant, seemingly unavoidable tether to the digital world through my handheld device, I often feel numb, anxious, sometimes  even a hint of despair. I fear that a major bridge collapse last week on my route to work in metro Atlanta will contribute to much longer commutes and time spent in my car each day, further robbing me of my zeal for life. Among other simple things, a simple stroll through my yard, or a walk with the dog down the street helps. But I really feel as though I need  a good dousing or better yet a soaking in the natural world in order to recover my spirit and my zeal for life. Quite simply I have learned that my soul flourishes or withers based on whether or not I tend to my connection to the created order and my required growing conditions. 

As a sojourner, and not a master theologian, I can’t tell you that this is truth for all human beings. However, I do believe that there is truth in these thoughts.

If you find yourself feeling similarly I welcome your thoughts and questions on these matters. 

In case you would like to read it, here is the full version of the Matthew text 6 text.

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:25-34‬ ‭NIV‬‬

http://bible.com/111/mat.6.25-34.niv
‭‭ 

A Hopeful (Wanna be) Gardener’s Prayer

As much as I love the outdoors, plants, flowers, and good food, you would think that I would also be a vegetable gardner. There was a time many years ago that I kept a garden and what a joy it was. It sounds crazy, but I can’t seem to make room in my life, at the moment, for this joy-filled activity. However, I have made a promise to myself that I will get back to it and now I am making that same promise to you. In the meantime I live vicariously through my neighbors in the mountains. At this time of the year I see them returning to their garden plots. The smell of rich earth is back as last year’s tender growth is plowed under and the soil is prepared to receive fresh seed. While not automatic, but like clockwork, the cycle of life that God created on earth continues in perpetual motion with the dawning of a new spring.  I am amazed that the earth and all its complex systems, spring to attention with resilience ready to bear a new season’s worth of life.  I wonder about myself.  Do I share any similarities with this resilient earth?  I think so. Can I too bear a fresh crop of fruit and new life? Maybe. Like the earth, I believe I need a little cultivating by the Master Gardener…

SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD, be the gardener of my soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, as I anticipate the bud break of spring, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds, opens and flowers.

May it be so. Amen.

**** I adapted this prayer, entitled “Be the Gardener of My Soul” that was originally written by Richard Foster.

Family Fun | Georgia | Mountains | Lake Conasauga

Spring is finally here and it’s time to make plans to take advantage of the warming temperatures and the ever-changing beauty of spring. Here’s a great idea to get into nature!

My kids and my niece and nephews all enjoyed swimming in the cold clear waters of Lake Conasauga on Labor Day. 

Looking for a great day trip this spring? Maybe something a little off the beaten path? Check out the area around Lake Conasauga in the Chattahoochee National Forest of north Georgia. It is an awesome adventure for the whole family. At 3200 feet above sea level, Lake Conasauga, located near Ellijay, GA, is the highest mountain lake in the state. Due to its elevation and cooler temperatures, going there is like taking a trip to Pennsylvania for the day without having to get on a plane. The remote lake, surrounding campground, hiking trails, and nearby fire tower (which is an adventure all to itself), are all set on the edge of the western blue ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains. Even the gravel road which carries explorers to the area is a fun adventure (4 wheel drive is NOT required). The link below has outstanding information about the lake and the surrounding area. 

http://www.sherpaguides.com/georgia/mountains/blue_ridge/western/lake_conasauga.html

Consider staying nearby: As the crow flies, Lake Conasauga is just 60 miles from Atlanta, but due to the nature of the topography, its remoteness, and the fact that you can only get there  via a dirt road, it could take up to 3 hours to get there. Hence, you may want to check out cabin rental accommodations in the area. One option is Wit’s End. It is located in a picturesque valley at the very foot of the Cohutta Mountains about as close to the lake as you can get before entering the national forest and climbing into the mountains. 

For a photo montage of this remarkable property go to https://m.facebook.com/WitsEndConasauga/

To check availability go to http://abnb.me/EVmg/BKEhfJiIEB

Happy Spring!

John 

If spring is almost here why do … Winter Leaves Hang On — Center for Private Forests — Penn State University

The photo above could have been taken on a cold bleak November day, but I snapped it this morning (March 18) while standing on my deck. While I am ready to move on to the new life and growth associated with spring, this oak tree is bent on hanging on to the past. Why DO some trees hold onto their leaves throughout the winter and into the spring? I did a little research and found the article below. It sheds some light on the issue, but doesn’t answer the question definitively. It’s another unsolved mystery of creation. The good news is that when spring finally gets underway, this oak’s marcescent (see below) leaves will finally fall when they are thrust off the limb by new leaves taking their place. Sometimes we are like these leaves. We hang on to old growth, and don’t move on until we forced to…

In my reasearch I learned two vocabulary words. The first is “marcescence”, the term used to describe leaf retention by deciduous trees. The other is “abscission”, the process a tree uses to shed their leaves. Enjoy the article below and the fancy words that illuminate but ultimately don’t explain “why”. 

http://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/2012/winter-leaves-that-hang-on