Strange Sky Happeings

Today's guest post was written by Ed Ammons


Photo by Nelly Volkovich on Unsplash

I remember seeing what we thought were the "Northern Lights" from Wiggins Creek. They looked like waves of colors going across the sky. At the time we didn't know that the aurora borealis couldn't be seen that far south (or so said the teachers in school.) So we assumed we were seeing lights from a city to the north of us. The nearest city in that direction would have been Knoxville. Of course you have Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge now but they were only villages at that time.

I remember seeing these lights in the northern sky several times. It happened only on clear, cold, moonless, winter nights. Brother Harold speculated that the lights were coming from experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory which was in the same general direction. This was during the height of the Cold War and we were sure that the Russians were bound to blow up Fontana Dam and Oak Ridge at any time.

Further study reveals that the Northern Lights are visible at times as far south as the 35th parallel.

You'll have to stay up until around midnight to get the best chance of seeing the lights. February and March are the best months according to NOAA.

One other incident I remember was when I saw one cloud around midnight in an otherwise cloudless, moonless sky. It was roughly the shape of a football but had no definite borders. In other words it appeared fuzzy. Ordinarily you can't see clouds under those conditions, but this one appeared to have a glow. A pinkish glow! Kinda like the red clouds at sunset but the sun had been down for hours. Like pink cotton candy. The cloud first appeared in the northeastern sky and drifted slowly southeast over the course of about 30 minutes until it disappeared over the ridge toward Licklog. Once again I got Harold up to watch. Once again we attributed it to an accidental release of radioactive gas from Oak Ridge. This manifestation only happened once to my knowledge and has never had a viable explanation.

My mother talked about seeing a ball of fire with a long tail moving across the sky when she was a child. She was born in 1924 so I assume she was talking about the late 1920s or early 1930s. I asked her if it flashed across the sky like a meteor or lasted for days like a comet. She said it was neither. It moved slowly across the sky and looked like it was something on fire. It was visible for quite a while and other people in the community saw it as well. She said it didn't look like an airplane on fire and was still burning when it went out of sight. According to her some observers speculated that it was a sign of the end of time. I never asked but I assume this object was visible in the daytime. I also don't remember asking her where she was when she saw it but it was probably over in the Long Branch area because that is where she was born and lived when she was little.
I hope you enjoyed Ed's memories as much as I did! On Monday a whole lot of folks made themselves some memories. During the total solar eclipse The Deer Hunter told the girls "This will be something you'll always remember seeing. And you can remember seeing it with your Momma and Daddy."
If you have any strange sky happenings I hope you'll share them with me. 

Unearthly Lights

By Theodor Kittelsen (1857 – 1914) (Fra Lofoten 1891) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Excerpt from More Than Moonshine written by Sidney Saylor Farr

"In addition to drying and canning apples, Father also made sulfured apples; I shall always remember the first year he did them. It had been a sticky hot day in August with clouds that moved sluggishly and looked like great wads of used chewing gum. Father brought in some barrels and boxes of sulfur from the store. Mother, my sister Della Mae, and I were set to peeling and cutting the apples for him. Father put the barrels in the smokehouse which was empty at that time of the year. The smell of burning sulfur drifted out and the evening air carried it all through the house and yard.

Along about dusky-dark a bad storm came up, with lightning and rolling thunder bouncing from the mountain tops. The storm struck the orchard. Some apple trees were uprooted, others had limbs broken off, and apples, even green ones, blanketed the ground under the remaining trees. We went to bed with the smell of the rain-wet earth and the sulfur from the smokehouse still around us. 

Later in the night Father called us from the front porch and we all tumbled out of bed. I thought that daylight had come until I saw how strange it looked outside. Lights-first yellow then blue and red, moved over the hills. Father said it might be the end of the world and Mother leaned against the porch railing praying out loud. After awhile the lights died down and it was dark again. I learned that the strange phenomenon was called the aurora borealis, but people on Stoney Fork spoke of the "Northern Lights" for years. That was the only time I ever saw the aurora borealis in our part of the country. The thunder and lightning, the smell of the sulfured apples, followed by the unearthly lights, all made an impression that will always linger in the recesses of my mind." 


I first read Farr's account of the aurora borealis several years ago. The story stuck with me. Thinking of the family working together through the stifling heat to provide food for themselves, enduring the raging storm, and then experiencing an unearthly event that frightened them into thinking the end of time had come really struck a chord with me. 

I've heard folks talk about the end of time ever since I can remember. Just last week a lady about my age told The Deer Hunter she thought the eclipse might be the the end of time and if it was it was okay by her! 

Although the end of time talk and the praying aloud are certainly part of my upbringing and familiar to me, I believe the picture Farr drew with her words of a close knit family is why I'm so drawn to the piece. I was beyond blessed to grow up in a loving close knit family that shared almost every experience together whether it be frighting, mundane, or wondrous and I've tried my dead level best to provide the same sort of home for my daughters. 


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The Solar Eclipse In Appalachia

Solar eclipse in brasston nc

Today there will be a total solar eclipse over a large swath of the United States. My county of Cherokee just happens to be in the direct path. In fact the town of Andrews has taken on the moniker of Totality Town because the totality of the eclipse will last for 2 minutes and 38.4 seconds at that location. The maximum totality time anywhere on the globe is 2 minutes and 40.1 seconds. So for eclipse lovers it doesn't get much better than Andrews which resides inside Cherokee County. 

Folks in this area have been talking non-stop about the eclipse. Local law enforcement and emergency management services have been planing for the event for well over a year. In other words, the 2017 Solar Eclipse is big doings around here.

Depending on who you ask or what you read, there's thousands or tens of thousands of people who will make their way to Cherokee County to view the eclipse.

When I hear the estimated number of possible visitors I think the forecasters are being ridiculous. But knowing every local hotel and cabin in the area have been booked for months and that local schools are renting camping spaces in their parking lots and that local folks are even renting out their extra bedrooms makes me think maybe the hordes of people are coming.

Since I plan to be right here at the Blind Pig abode I won't see the teeming millions for myself if they do arrive or have arrived, but I'm sure I'll hear all about the chaos once its finished.  

Drop back by this week for a few other stories of strange happenings in the sky.


p.s. I'd like to say a huge THANK YOU to each of you for your prayers, comments, emails, and cards. I'm feeling much better and hopefully I'll continue to improve until I'm back to full Tipper strength. I truly appreciate you all!!

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Beyond The Starry Sky

Twilight Is Stealing

The old hymn, Twilight Is Stealing, was written by Aldine Kieffer in the latter part of the 19th Century. According to the Mudcat Cafe:

The earliest printed reference is 'The Singing School Tribune' (Dayton Va: Ruebush, Kieffer & Co 1880). It was recorded by Dykes Magic City Trio as 'Twilight is stealing' in 1927 and by the Stoneman Family as 'Twighlight is stealing o'er the sea' in 1928, but neither of these was issued. The earliest issued recording was by The Carolina Quartet (vcl qt unacc) in September 1927 as 'Twilight is stealing' in Winston-Salem, NC, and issued as OK 45189 in April 1928. Also recorded as 'Sweet Happy Home' by Christian Harmony Singers in NYC in October 1929 and issued as Paramount 3241. [Meade et alia 'Country Music Sources' p 653]. has an entry about Aldine Kieffer. The page tells about his life and shares several letters written by Kieffer between the years of 1860 and 1901. The page also tells the story of Kieffer's first love, Sally Clay.

Sally and Kieffer fell in love and knew they should spend the rest of their lives together. The wedding date was set and they both anxiously awaited the day they could become man and wife.

At the last minute the road to holy matrimony was blocked by the Civil War. Kieffer signed up against his true love's wishes and was called to serve the very day before their wedding.

The two love birds kept up their romance through letters for a while, until one day Sally just quit writing Kieffer. He never heard from her again. As most people would be, Kieffer was heartbroken. Unfortunately he turned to drink to ease his troubled heart. Thankfully Kieffer met up with Josephine Hammon who would be his wife and friend for life.

You can read more about the newly married couple's life on the page, but you must skip ahead through the years till almost the end of Kieffer's life to find out what happened to his first love, Sally.

One day while traveling, Kieffer stopped at Sally's house by chance for a drink of water. The broken engagement from years before came up in the conversation. Seems Sally's parents were not very fond of Kieffer and hoped their daughter would marry better. Once Kieffer headed off to war, her parents took the opportunity to nip the relationship in the bud. They placed an obituary in the local paper telling of Kieffer's death in the war and trashed all the letters he mailed to Sally.

Just as Kieffer had, Sally went on to marry and have children. After the deceit of the broken engagement was brought to light, the two promised if one should die first they would let the other know they had left this world.

Sometime later Kieffer was awakened one night by the voice of Sally telling him goodbye. A few days later he found out she died on the very night he heard her voice.

Sally was gone and Kieffer had lived his life and was ready to go as well.

Twilight a-stealing, over the sea,
Shadows are falling, dark on the lea,
Borne on the night wind, voices of yore,
Come from the far-off shore.

Far away, beyond the starry sky,
Where the love-light never, never dies
Gleameth a mansion filled with delight,
Sweet happy home so bright.

Voices of loved ones, songs of the past,
Still linger round me, while life shall last,
Cheering my pathway while here I roam
Seeking my far-off home. 

Far away, beyond the starry sky,
Where the love-light never, never dies
Gleameth a mansion filled with delight,
Sweet happy home so bright.

Come in the twilight, come, come to me,
Bringing sweet message over the sea.
Lonely I wander, sadly I roam,
Seeking my far-off home.

Far away, beyond the starry sky,
Where the love-light never, never dies
Gleameth a mansion filled with delight,
Sweet happy home so bright.


I hope you enjoyed the story and our version of the old song!


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in August of 2012

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Mean As A Striped Snake

My life in appalachia Light -  Mean as a striped snake

The other day I ran into an old friend.  After catching up with each other a bit he said "Well where in the world have my girls been? I haven't seen them around this year. They're still mean as striped snakes ain't they?"

I told him the girls stayed pretty busy these days so they were't around as much. I also assured him they were still mean as striped snakes. 

Truthfully, the girls aren't mean at all. They are slightly mischievous and tough as a pine knot when it comes to taking care of each other or anyone they care about for that matter. 

The phrase mean as a striped snake is one I've heard my whole life. In most instances the phrase is said in a teasing manner about a person who is mischievous but not truly evil spirited. 


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Did You Ever Play With A Button On A String?

My life in appalachia toy made with buttons

Did you ever play with a button on a string? My mamaw made one for me when I was just a child. I swear I can remember exactly where I was standing when she showed me how to make the button dance along the string.

The other day I pulled everything out of a closet to see if I still had one in my old jewelry box. I found two in the closet so it was worth the effort.

After looking at them, I decided neither was the one Mamaw made for me so many years ago. Most likely I made them myself after she passed away.

I googled around and discovered a button on a string was a common toy for kids in days gone by and that they were often called zizzer or buzz buttons. You can go here to see a page full of old time toys including a buzz button. 

Ever play with a button on a string?


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Look the Beans

My life in appalachia look the beans

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

Look transitive verb To examine (food), inspect for dirt or foreign objects.
1982 Slone How We Talked 62 Some of the greens we used were not cooked, but eaten raw. They were "looked" (checked for bugs and rotting spots), washed, sprinkled with salt and wilted or "killed" by pouring real hot grease over them. 1990 Bailey Draw Up Chair 12 I told her, "Now you be sure to look the beans," 1933 Ison and Ison Whole Nuther Lg 40 Look the beans = to inspect dried beans or other food for foreign objects. 


2017 Brasstown "Why those beans were so pretty you didn't even hardly need to look them."


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See If You Can Help Liz Out

Camping in the mountains of wnc

A few days ago Blind Pig reader Liz left the following comment:

Tipper, will you put something on your blog regarding longstanding campgrounds that are safe for an old lady (70+) and a 6 inch tall, 3 pound dog? My heart longs for the mountains but I'm hesitant to go alone.


I think all the campgrounds in Cherokee County NC are safe, but I don't really know anything about them.

Do you think Liz could contact the Forest Service or some other state agency to find out more about campgrounds in the mountains?

If you have any suggestions about campgrounds in the mountains please share them with Liz.


*Photo courtesy of Starlite Camping Resort

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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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What To Do With Leftover Cornbread

Cornbread salad

We eat a lot of cornbread around the Blind Pig house, but sometimes we don't eat the entire cake of cornbread before it gets a little stale. When that happens I either feed it to my chickens or make cornbread salad with it.

Recipe for cornbread salad

The recipe for cornbread salad couldn't be easier. The ingredients can be changed up according to what you have on hand or what you prefer. The amounts can be adjusted to fit the amount of cornbread you have as well.

First-crumble up some cornbread in a bowl. Some folks layer all the ingredients so you can see the different items,but I think it tastes a whole lot better if you mix them all together. 

Cornbread salad recipe

Chop up onion and tomato and add that to the bowl. Add a can (or partial can) of beans. I've used pinto beans as well as kidney beans and both work great.

Best cornbread salad

Add a handful or so of shredded cheese. We like sharp cheddar.

Cornbread salad in nc

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Dress the salad with Ranch dressing.

Some recipes call for an entire bottle of dressing, but I've found it easier to add a good amount and then taste to see if it needs more.

Cornbread salad in appalachia

Stir all the ingredients up and that's it! The salad is better after it 'marries' in the frig for a while or even overnight. Sometimes I add peppers if I have plenty on hand and I'm sure you could add in other items as well.

The salad is really quiet tasty and makes a perfect lunch for The Deer Hunter to take to work. It goes pretty good with a hamburger too.

Ever had cornbread salad?


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in July of 2013

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