Smoky Music

Clingmans Dome


May 2013

On top of Old Smokey

All covered with snow.

I lost my true lover

For courting too slow.

Everybody knows the first two lines of this song, some know the entire first verse.   If you want to listen to this song again, I recommend the version by the Morris Brothers.  Gene Autry’s version isn’t too bad.  But if you want to really blow out the country style, find this song by Roscoe Holcomb & Wade Ward.  Hold on to your butt!

Have you ever heard the whole heartbreak of a story told by this ballad?  Heavy!  It goes on…

For courting’s a pleasure,
But parting is grief,
And a false-hearted lover,
Is worse than a thief.

A thief will just rob you,
And take what you have,
But a false-hearted lover,
Will lead you to your grave.

The grave will decay you,
And turn you to dust,
Not one boy in a hundred
A poor girl can trust.

They’ll hug you and kiss you,
And tell you more lies,
Than cross ties on a railroad,
Or stars in the sky.

So come ye young maidens,
And listen to me,
Never place your affection
In a green willow tree.

For the leaves they will wither,
The roots they will die,
And you’ll be forsaken,
And never know why.

No one knows who wrote this song, but he (she) could well have been clinically depressed.

There are alternate verses too.  In one version, she betrays him.

But can you imagine!  How sad and pessimistic.  It’s enough to drive you from civilization and to the wilderness.  This may be the case with Holcomb & Ward.

Because of its catchy tune, lots of folks have had a good time with parody.  Probably the most famous version is…

On top of spaghetti,

All covered with cheese,

I lost my poor meatball

When somebody sneezed….

There is an excellent chance that the mountain that is Old Smokey is Clingmans Dome here in Tennessee, but again, no one is entirely sure.

The Cherokee called Old Smokey Kuwahi which means, of all things, “the mulberry place.”  Three types of mulberries are identified in the Smokies.  Now this is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

The Natives knew that mulberries were healthy for you.  They may not have known that mulberries are a great source of resveratrol.  Resveratrol, in inconclusive scientific experiments, not all performed on humans, has been shown to fight cancer and lower blood sugar.  Reportedly, it’s an anti-inflammatory and it might offer beneficial cardiovascular effects.  There’s a rumor that resveratrol can act as an anti-aging agent.  Reminds me of ginseng.  Which reminds me of chicken soup.

And speaking of mulberries…

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning.

Hark:  Mulberries do not grow on bushes.  Mulberries are trees.  In real life, there is no such thing as a mulberry bush.

Many, many verses exist to this song, many of which have to do with household tasks such as, “This is the way we scrub the floor,” or personal hygiene, as in “This is the way we brush our hair,” or instructional, as in “This is the way we put in our contact lenses.”  With the repetitive lines, one wonders if this children’s rhyme has to do with training kids how to keep clean, or if perhaps the parent might have a perseveration disorder.

Originally the rhyme was, Here we go round the bramble bush, which is more botanically accurate but it just doesn’t have the same lyrical cachet.

I’ll tell ya, between the mulberries and the ginseng, this Smokies place is a pretty healthy place to be.  Just don’t fall in love with a man from the Smokey place.

Today we hiked 7.6 miles in the Smokies.  That is only a teensy tinesy percentage of the trails in this national park, less than one percent.  What a wilderness experience the Smokies presents, sometimes coming in unexpected ways.

One night some years ago we were in a backpacker shelter on the ridge.  It is the 4th of July.  I’m an American by birth, by chance, and I will never stop being aware that here in America, with whatever else might be going on, we have it damned good.  Nonetheless, I’ve never been one to dress up in the flag and make a display.

My group of seven crowds into a shelter with some other hikers.  We are on the ridge along the east-west spine of the mountain range and this is one place where you’ve got to be aware of bear.  In fact, unlike most Adirondack shelters along the Appalachian Trail, those of three walls, a floor and a roof, these shelters on the ridge have a chain link fence secured over the open front.  Keeps Smokey out while you are minding your own business, camping.  That being Smokey the Bear.  Or any bear for that matter.

Locked in for the night, we strangers get to talking, laughing, the usual.  At dusk, a bald, haggard hiker with a chest-length beard, who has clearly been on the trail for some time, offers to sing a song.  “Sure,” we encourage him.  This being Independence Day, his choice of a patriotic song is no surprise.  He composes himself and begins the most beautiful, stirring a cappella version of America, bka My Country ’Tis of Thee, that I have ever heard.  I don’t know what an angel sounds like, but this hiker sure sings like one.  We are amused, trying to grasp how this elegant birdsong could emanate from such a schlump.

Go backpacking.  You can look like a schlump too.

These are some of the verses of America, written by Samuel Francis Smith and sung by our surprise balladeer.  They combine the powerful enchantment of music with a brief description of the wilderness in which we are immersed.

My native country, thee,

Land of the noble free,

Thy name I love;

I love thy rocks and rills,

Thy woods and templed hills,

My heart with rapture thrills

Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,

And ring from all the trees

Sweet Freedom’s song;

Let mortal tongues awake;

Let all that breathe partake;

Let rocks their silence break,

The sound prolong.

Let music swell the breeze, indeed.  And although the terrain of the Smokies is more blue than purple, let’s not forget the description in a different song…

…purple mountain majesty…

…because, look around you here in the Smokies. They are indeed majestic. Rapture thrills, baby!

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