DOWN BY THE RIVER IS A ROAD SIGN — the words read simply, “Needmore” and “High Lonesome” — at the spot where that gravel road claws its way up the mountain from the river valley. Except for the names of the roads, it could be a signpost in any North Carolina town. However, this one is different. The settlement has vanished, but its main street remains.
Needmore, the remote remnant of a once-thriving community, borders the Little Tennessee River in northern Macon and southern Swain Counties, starting near High Lonesome Road where Tellico Creek empties its waters into the Little T, and running with the free-flowing river until it dies in the backwaters of Fontana Lake. Along the way are such names as Licklog Creek, Painter (Panther) Branch, Rattlesnake Creek, Bull Hollow, Sawmill Creek and, of course, High Lonesome, boasting the most stolen road sign in western North Carolina. The names alone take you back into another era.
Needmore is wild country, wilder than it was a century ago, and quite possibly the most untouched stretch of major river in the southern Appalachians. It is unique and irreplaceable. Three and one-half miles of the road are unpaved. The pristine water in this part of the river supports endangered aquatic species and rare plants grow on its banks. The branches of trees from each side of the road beckon to each other, forming a shady canopy appreciated by all who will gather there. …
from the story, A Cry in the Mist
… Tsalina loved to sing, particularly when she was by herself in the woods, but she could never explain where the words and melodies had come from. “They’ve always been in my head,” she would tell her family. And rather than being frightened by her human presence, songbirds would often come closer and follow her on her forays on the mountain. When Sunrise felt Tsalina had been gone too long, she would step outside and, surely as with a compass, locate her daughter by that small distant voice.
One cool, breezy afternoon Tsalina had been exploring longer than usual and her mother was becoming concerned, since she had not heard the distant singing in well over an hour. But just as Tall Bear and the boys climbed out of the truck, Tsalina streaked out of the woods with obvious excitement. “You’ll never guess what I found today! Way up the mountain! Near a falls on the creek! A medicine wheel!!”
Her dad and brothers gathered around while her mother stood by the woodstove, flipping the trout that were frying in the heavy cast iron pan. Tsalina had their full attention. “It was overgrown with ferns, but the rocks were beautiful, a shiny white color. Large stones marked the four directions, and of course I know the other three — Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Spirit that dwells within me.
And I know that spot — it’s exactly as grandmother described it with the ancestor trees — it’s near where her grandmother’s family once lived before our people were driven from these mountains! Grandmother, last year when she was still alive, said that our ancestors’ spirits still come there in times of great need.” Tsalina paused to catch her breath.
Dad was excited too, but cautious. “Tell us where the place is, Lina. Which creek flows nearby?” As familiar as Tsalina was with every ridge, each clear spring and the few ancient oaks that still stood, she had no trouble pinpointing the location of the medicine wheel.
But her dad’s face had taken on a serious look. “That’s Panther Creek and it’s on Old Man Sullivan’s land. You’ve no business there, and I hate to think what would happen if he caught you trespassing. Remember the boys who tried to put a snake in his mailbox last summer? He fired his shotgun over their heads, but nobody was sure whether he meant to miss or not.”
They all fell silent.
Old Man Sullivan’s family might have been the first whites to live back in this cove. No one really knew, nor did they know him. His cabin looked almost as run down as Sunrise and Tall Bear’s rented one. A few chickens scratched around the small barn. Rats had scoured the old corncrib bare.
But Sullivan had a fair piece of bottomland where Panther Creek entered the valley. He raised a couple of acres of tobacco for a cash crop and plowed with his mule pulling the blade while he put his weight to the handles. His garden produced enough potatoes and turnips to see him through the winter. As far as anyone could recall, there had never been a visitor to the old man’s place.
Sullivan had lived alone beyond anyone’s memory. He might have been ninety; he might have been a hundred and five. His weathered and wrinkled face seemed to hold no discernible expression; tattered coveralls, undershirt and stained felt hat seemed to comprise his whole wardrobe.
When he traveled to town, which was about once every two or three months, it was on the back of his mangy mule. He would hand Hargrave at the Snowbird General Store in Milltown a scrap of paper with the items he needed scrawled on it, count out the cash due, and head over to Tilley, the blacksmith, or down the street to Halley’s Hardware. No words were ever spoken.
“They say he’s lived by himself so long, he can’t talk,” volunteered Raven.“He can talk,” piped up Tsalina.
They all stared with amazement at the small, sweet-voiced oracle. The trout sizzled in the pan. Fireflies left silent streaks of light between the window and the woods.
Sunrise finally found her voice, “Just how, my little bird, do you know that the old man can speak?
“I took him a bunch of spring wildflowers last week.”
“You did what? And what happened? Did he chase you or threaten you?”
“No, but he asked me my name. And what’s more, he asked how to spell it, so I know he can write, too.”
“I don’t like it,” her father responded. “I don’t want you setting foot on his property again, Lina. It’s just not smart.”
Tsalina was silent, her gaze turned toward the floor. From her body language, they could tell that she didn’t agree with her dad’s judgment. …