Have You Been Hearing Jar Flies?

Jar Fly in Appalachia

Jar Flies play the soundtrack to late summer in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Since I grew up hearing their raspy sound, most of the time the noise doesn't even register with me, but I've heard other folks say the sound is bothersome to them. 

Even though jar flies have provided the music for every late summer I've ever experienced, I've rarely seen one.  Most of the ones I've seen have been dead or I probably wouldn't have even seen them. The photo in this post was sent to me by Don Casada who just happen to catch a jar fly emerging from its dry husk. 

Jar flies play a large role in writings (fiction and non-fiction) set in Appalachia and in the south in general. Discussing their unique sound helps writers set the scene. See the quote below:

1996 Parton Mountain Memories:

"The faint sound of a barking dog, a mooing cow, or the loud "eeee-ar-eeee-ar" of a jar fly vied for the attention of the congregation." 

Want to hear a jar fly for yourself? Click on the words jar fly below. Once you've listened to the jar fly you may need to hit your back button to return to this page. 

Jar fly 002

As luck would have it every time I tried to capture a clear sound of the jar flies in my yard someone start a weedeater up down the hill, the rooster would start crowing, or The Deer Hunter would crank his truck-like he did in the recording I did use.

This page shares the sounds of cicadas from all across the country and beyond. If you'd like to hear a clearer louder version you can visit it. 

If you'd like to read scientific facts about jar flies (cicadas) in NC go here. The information is pretty interesting, but I'd rather think on how jar flies color the pictures of summer that I carry around in my head. 

Are there jar flies where you live?


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in September of 2014

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Terrapins in Appalachia

Terrapin in appalachia

Every time it rains Granny's phone gets filled with static. It's been doing that for years. Pap called and complained about it way back and was told their phone line was one of the oldest in the county and there were no plans to replace it anytime soon. We no longer have a land line and our cell signal is more than a little patchy. All that together makes talking to Granny on the phone a nightmare.

Granny called Chitter yesterday all excited about something, but Chitter couldn't understand what in the world she was talking about. A quick trip down the hill revealed the cause of Granny's excitement...a terrapin on the back porch. 

Terrapin is one of the words I loved to hear Pap say. Maybe I say it the same way. At least I hope I do.

My niece used to catch her a terrapin for a pet at least once a summer. She'd build a little pen of sorts to keep it in and try to feed it grass or vegetable peelings. After a few days she'd grow tired of playing with it and let it go at the edge of the woods. Before she turned it loose, she'd paint a small streak on it's shell with finger nail polish so that she'd know if it ever came back to her.

One year we saw a pink streaked terrapin way up the creek. Knowing it was one of hers I said "It's probably making tracks for Georgia hoping it's never loved to death by a skinny little girl with big brown eyes again."


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The Owl is Still in Wilson Holler

Appalachia owls

Several years ago I shared a story about a plastic owl with you, if you missed it you can go here to read it.

The fake owl is still alive and well in Wilson Holler. One day last week I noticed he'd moved out to Granny's to keep an eye on her garden. 

The only owl folklore I can think of off the top of my head comes from an episode of Andy Griffith: if a couple sees an owl in broad daylight they're bound to marry.

I checked out the Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore and found these tidbits:

  • When you hear an owl hoot after night it will rain in about 3 weeks (Sounds kind of vague if you ask me!)
  • To make a hoot owl stop hollering, take a string and tie a knot in it and it will stop (Ah ha! This must be the origin of the whippoorwill story Pap told me.)
  • When the dogs tree, if an owl hoots on the left there is no need to go to him, because he will leave before you get there; but if one hollos on the right, you will be sure to catch whatever has been treed. (Makes me wish I could ask Papaw Wade if he followed this folklore when coon hunting-I sort of doubt it.)
  • If a coon hunting party hears an owl laugh just as they are setting out for the night, they will go back home. But if he "holloed" "Coon," they will have good luck. (Never heard an owl laugh but now I want to.)
  • Someone dies every time an owl hoots. (Like much Appalachian folklore this one is pretty extreme!)
  • If an owl hoots on the west side of the mountain it denotes good weather. 


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Have You Been Hearing the Katydids?

Katydids and folklore

Have you been hearing the katydids at night? We've been hearing their chatter for a few weeks now. 

Granny and Pap didn't have air conditioning when I was a girl and with all the windows open on hot summer nights the katydid voices came through in true surround sound. 

Can't remember if I read the story of the katydid or if someone shared it with me somewhere along the way, but here is the gist of it:

There was a lovely maiden named Katy who fell in love with a handsome man. She loved him with all her heart and soul and only wanted to please him. Fate turned against her when the handsome man fell in love with her sister. The pain of seeing them together was to much for Katy and in a fit of jealous anger she killed them both. No one in town would have ever believed she killed them, but the bugs turned against her telling the towns people: Katy did it Katy did it.

Other katydid folklore:

  • katydids sing to bring in cold weather
  • 3 months from the first katydid chirp there will be frost
  • the earlier in the summer you hear the katydids-the earlier the first frost will be that fall
  • the first katydid you hear in July-it'll frost on the same day of the month in September

Here's a video I made a few years back of the katydid chorus around my house:

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me if you've been hearing the katydids this summer too.


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Grasshoppers in Appalachia


Grasshoppers in Appalachia

During the summer it's hard to walk through the yard without flushing out grasshoppers. I found this little guy in a 5 gallon bucket that was sitting on the back porch. He was missing a leg, but other than that seemed to be in good condition.

Pet grasshoppers in childhood

I couldn't resist seeing if he was hungry. My new friend made short work of the blade of grass I offered him. 

I'm not sure who taught me grasshoppers would eat a blade of grass if you stuck it in front of their little mouths, but when my nephews, girls, and niece came along I showed them the trick. 

The first one I taught was Ben, Pap and Granny's first grandchild. Ben's arrival made me an aunt for the first time and I doted on him. Actually we all did. 

Ben called me Auntie Titter and he thought I was the Queen of the Grasshoppers. I showed him how to feed them grass, how if you were extra gentle and quick a grasshopper would hop from arm to arm and I fascinated him when I showed him grasshoppers will sometimes spit 'tobacco juice' on you. 

There were a few summers that every time I seen him he wanted nothing more than to hold my hand and walk through the yard looking for grasshoppers because Auntie Titter could find them like no one else. 

Thanks to Ben and his wife, in a few months I'll become a great aunt for the first time and I'm already looking forward to passing my Queen of the Grasshoppers knowledge on to another generation.

If you want to learn how to make Grasshopper Chairs-go here

And if you have warts the grasshopper's tobacco juice will make them go away...at least that's what I was always told.


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing on Friday July 7 @ 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Art Walk in Murphy NC and on Sunday July 9 @ 1:00 p.m. at the Festival on the Square in Hayesville NC.

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Grandaddy Longlegs

My life in appalachia - Granddaddies 

I call it a Granddaddy. Some folks call them Daddy Long-Legs or even Granddaddy Long-legs. When the girls were babies I didn't want them to be overly scared of creepy crawlies so when they pointed one out, I didn't make a big deal out of it even though I didn't like them myself.

Over the years I've wished more than once that I had passed my fears on to them. Like the time they brought me a handful of hairless baby mice they found in the wood pile or the time I saw two long kicking granddaddy legs sticking out of the corner of Chitter's mouth. I never found the rest of him I'm positive it's cause she ate him.

I've heard the story of the granddaddy being the most poisonous spider ever, but not being able to bite you because it's mouth is too small. You can go here to find out if it's true or not (it's not). Frank C. Brown's collection of North Carolina Folklore has this to say about Granddaddies:

7611 When ones cows have strayed from home they can be located by saying this to the granddaddy spider: "Granddaddy, Granddaddy where are my cows?" He will point one foot in the direction in which they are. 

I asked Pap if he'd ever heard of a granddaddy helping you find your cows. After he quit laughing he said no he must have missed that one.


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Blacksnakes 1893

Snake sightings in western north carolina

"Now, there's blacksnakes around here. One morning I went into the kitchen and opened a door to come into the room there. And when I opened that door, there was a big old blacksnake a-layin' right on top of the door and it fell down on top of my head! I had an old mop a-settin' there, and there was little back porch there, and I opened the door and got the mop and just mopped him right out into the yard! He crawled off. I didn't kill him. One time we had a springhouse out there. Shady. Had two spring-run troughs in there. And we'd milk the cows and skim the milk and make butter and sell it. And so one day my mother told me to do something here at the house, and she'd go churn. She always sat on the nail keg. So when she got done churnin', she moved the keg and there was a big blacksnake under it. She'd been settin' on that snake all the time. I heard her hollerin' for me to come and bring the hoe. Well, I went down there, but we never got the snake."

Hazel Campbell, 1893 Ashe County - Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie by Patsy Moore Ginns


I've heard more snake stories this summer than I ever have. Having a boss who is deathly afraid of them might have something to do with it, but still lots of snake stories around Cherokee County NC this year. Including two incidents of blacksnakes getting in buildings at work. 

The most recent blacksnake incident at work happened when a maintenance man found a six-foot long snake in a bathroom. How did he find it? When he entered the room to check the trash it struck at him! Much like Ms. Campbell above he ushered the snake out the door and down into the drainage ditch where the snake politely took off straight back to the building and tried to squeeze under the front door! I hate to think about what sort of tasty snack the snake was after inside the building.


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Listen to my Whippoorwill

Dog barks at whippoorwill

We've had a whippoorwill hanging around our house since about mid May. It sends out its call just after dusky dark each night and just before dawn every morning like clockwork. The bird seems to start on one side of the house and then make its way to the other side usually ending somewhere very near the front porch.

Ruby Sue does not like the Whippoorwill. As soon as you hear the bird's call you know what's coming next: a fit of barking from a barky little dog. 

I recorded the whippoorwill in the video below in 2012. I wonder if the one hanging around now is a descendant of the first bird. 

Because of various songs and pieces of written word we often associate whippoorwills with being lonesome and sad. I've never found their whistling call lonesome. To me whippoorwills sound like they are calling out with an inquisitive hope that someone will answer them. 


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The Mountain Whippoorwill - Stephen Vincent Benet

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome all the time,
(Sof' win' slewin' thu' the sweet-potato vine.)

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome for a child,
(Whippoorwills a-callin' when the sap runs wild.)

Up in the mountains, mountains in the fog,
Everythin's as lazy as an old houn' dog.

Born in the mountains, never raised a pet,
Don't want nuthin' an' never got it yet.

Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin' ragged thu' the cockleburrs and corn.

Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.

Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin' thu' the trees.

Never had a brother ner a whole pair of pants,
But when I start to fiddle, why, yuh got to start to dance!

Listen to my fiddle -- Kingdom Come -- Kingdom Come!
Hear the frogs a-chunkin' "Jug o' rum, Jug o' rum!"
Hear that mountain whippoorwill be lonesome in the air,
An' I'll tell yuh how I travelled to the Essex County Fair.

Essex County has a mighty pretty fair,
All the smarty fiddlers from the South come there.

Elbows flyin' as they rosin up the bow
For the First Prize Contest in the Georgia Fiddlers' Show.

Old Dan Wheeling, with his whiskers in his ears,
King-pin fiddler for nearly twenty years.

Big Tom Sargent, with his blue wall-eye,
An' Little Jimmy Weezer that can make a fiddle cry.

All sittin' roun', spittin' high an' struttin' proud,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh better bug yore eyes!)
Tun-a-tun-a-tunin' while the jedges told the crowd
Them that got the mostest claps'd win the bestest prize.

Everybody waitin' for the first tweedle-dee,
When in comes a-stumblin' -- hill-billy me!

Bowed right pretty to the jedges an' the rest,
Took a silver dollar from a hole inside my vest,

Plunked it on the table an' said, "There's my callin' card!
An' anyone that licks me -- well, he's got to fiddle hard!"

Old Dan Wheeling, he was laughin' fit to holler,
Little Jimmy Weezer said, "There's one dead dollar!"

Big Tom Sargent had a yaller-toothy grin,
But I tucked my little whippoorwill spang underneath my chin,
An' petted it an' tuned it till the jedges said, "Begin!"

Big Tom Sargent was the first in line;
He could fiddle all the bugs off a sweet-potato vine.

He could fiddle down a possum from a mile-high tree,
He could fiddle up a whale from the bottom of the sea.

Yuh could hear hands spankin' till they spanked each other raw,
When he finished variations on "Turkey in the Straw."

Little Jimmy Weezer was the next to play;
He could fiddle all night, he could fiddle all day.

He could fiddle chills, he could fiddle fever,
He could make a fiddle rustle like a lowland river.

He could make a fiddle croon like a lovin' woman.
An' they clapped like thunder when he'd finished strummin'.

Then came the ruck of the bob-tailed fiddlers,
The let's-go-easies, the fair-to-middlers.

They got their claps an' they lost their bicker,
An' they all settled back for some more corn-licker.

An' the crowd was tired of their no-count squealing,
When out in the center steps Old Dan Wheeling.

He fiddled high and he fiddled low,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh got to spread yore wings!)
He fiddled and fiddled with a cherrrywood bow,
(Old Dan Wheeling's got bee-honey in his strings).

He fiddled a wind by the lonesome moon,
He fiddled a most almighty tune.

He started fiddling like a ghost.
He ended fiddling like a host.

He fiddled north an' he fiddled south,
He fiddled the heart right out of yore mouth.

He fiddled here an' he fiddled there.
He fiddled salvation everywhere.

When he was finished, the crowd cut loose,
(Whippoorwill, they's rain on yore breast.)
An' I sat there wonderin' "What's the use?"
(Whippoorwill, fly home to yore nest.)

But I stood up pert an' I took my bow,
An' my fiddle went to my shoulder, so.

An' -- they wasn't no crowd to get me fazed --
But I was alone where I was raised.

Up in the mountains, so still it makes yuh skeered.
Where God lies sleepin' in his big white beard.

An' I heard the sound of the squirrel in the pine,
An' I heard the earth a-breathin' thu' the long night-time.

They've fiddled the rose, and they've fiddled the thorn,
But they haven't fiddled the mountain-corn.

They've fiddled sinful an' fiddled moral,
But they haven't fiddled the breshwood-laurel.

They've fiddled loud, and they've fiddled still,
But they haven't fiddled the whippoorwill.

I started off with a dump-diddle-dump,
(Oh, hell's broke loose in Georgia!)

Skunk-cabbage growin' by the bee-gum stump.
(Whippoorwill, yo're singin' now!)

My mother was a whippoorwill pert,
My father, he was lazy,
But I'm hell broke loose in a new store shirt
To fiddle all Georgia crazy.

Swing yore partners -- up an' down the middle!
Sashay now -- oh, listen to that fiddle!
Flapjacks flippin' on a red-hot griddle,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Fire on the mountains -- snakes in the grass.
Satan's here a-bilin' -- oh, Lordy, let him pass!
Go down Moses, set my people free;
Pop goes the weasel thu' the old Red Sea!
Jonah sittin' on a hickory-bough,
Up jumps a whale -- an' where's yore prophet now?
Rabbit in the pea-patch, possum in the pot,
Try an' stop my fiddle, now my fiddle's gettin' hot!
Whippoorwill, singin' thu' the mountain hush,
Whippoorwill, shoutin' from the burnin' bush,
Whippoorwill, cryin' in the stable-door,
Sing tonight as yuh never sang before!
Hell's broke loose like a stompin' mountain-shoat,
Sing till yuh bust the gold in yore throat!
Hell's broke loose for forty miles aroun'
Bound to stop yore music if yuh don't sing it down.
Sing on the mountains, little whippoorwill,
Sing to the valleys, an' slap 'em with a hill,
For I'm struttin' high as an eagle's quill,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose in Georgia!

They wasn't a sound when I stopped bowin',
(Whippoorwill, yuh can sing no more.)
But, somewhere or other, the dawn was growin',
(Oh, mountain whippoorwill!)

An' I thought, "I've fiddled all night an' lost,
Yo're a good hill-billy, but yuh've been bossed."

So I went to congratulate old man Dan,
-- But he put his fiddle into my han' --
An' then the noise of the crowd began!


Whippoorwills and fiddles - wow what a great story!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday June 10, 2017 @ 8:00 p.m. at Vogel State Park - Blairsville GA.

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Whippoorwills in appalachia

When the Whippoorwhills Call by John Parris

There's an old mountain saying that when the first whippoorwill calls it's time for the corn to be in the ground.

Bert Hensley, a mountain man with a sharp eye and a keen ear for nature's signs, heard his first whippoorwill of the year a couple nights back.

"When I heard it start to calling out there in the dark, and me sitting here by the fire," he said, "I told myself, "you'd better get your corn in the ground'."

So, yesterday, after a tardy sun had burned off the frost of a dogwood winter's day, he hitched up his mule to the old plow and took to his new-turned ground to set his rows for his seed corn.

"My daddy and my granddaddy always said when the first whippoorwill calls, it's time for the corn to be in the ground," he recalled. "Most times my corn's in the ground when I hear the first whippoorwill. But this year, I sort of held back, what with all the uncertain weather . . . "Speaking of whippoorwills," he said, "some folks don't like to hear 'em in the night. Say their call is monotonous. But I like to hear 'em. To me they make a pretty whistling."

"Back when I was coming on, some folks said when the first whippoorwills of spring was heard you ought to get out and turn head over heels three times. They said it would keep you from having the backache during the year."

"And there was another saying that when you hear the first whippoorwill of the year, you should walk three steps back, pick up whatever is under your heel, spit on it, and make a wish."

"I've spent a lot of time listening to whippoorwills and observing their habits. A whippoorwill's about 10 inches long. It has a small bill but a big head. And it's got big eyes, tiny feet, and very long wings."

"During the daytime the whippoorwill sleeps on the ground where its color blends in with the dead leaves. At night it feeds by waiting for insects from some perch or pursuing them swallow like and snapping them up in its huge maw."

"The whippoorwill don't make a nest like other birds. It lays only two eggs and they're plain white or lightly spotted. It lays them on the ground among the leaves where they stand right out where you can see them if the bird leaves them."

"The whippoorwill rolls them about until they hatch. I've seen the eggs over at the edge of the field in the morning and then over at the other edge late in the afternoon . . ."The whippoorwill's loud, three-syllable whistled call is heard in the darkness more often than the bird is seen. As a matter of fact, you hardly ever see a whippoorwill."


I hope you enjoyed the piece by John Parris. As you can tell, I'm still studying on whippoorwills. 


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p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday June 3, 2017 @ 1:30 p.m. Art, River & Music Festival - Murphy NC and on Saturday  June 10, 2017 @ 8:00 p.m. Vogel State Park - Blarisville GA.