NORTH CAROLINA - TENNESSEE
On arriving at Charlotte Airport, we had to retrieve our hand luggage from
the back of the plane, as our locker space had been taken up by the
belongings of other people.
Michael had booked a car with Enterprise, and it wasn¹t difficult to find
their office (by the way for anyone interested in hiring a car in the US,
Enterprise service was pretty good, and I liked their attentive and
well-informed staff). From there we took a shuttle bus to where the
Enterprise cars were held, picked up our pale blue Hyundai and were on our
After our experience getting lost in McAllen, Michael wisely decided to also
hire a GPS, a good move. It spoke to us as we headed out of town. The lack
of street names was still a problem, but less so, and we easily found our
way to Boone, named for Daniel. We had to then drive to the gated community
where our hosts, Don and Ros Pevsner lived.
Like most of our hosts, Ros had bird feeders all around her house. Most of
the birds in the area we¹d already seen. However, we saw several well for
the first time, including Pine Siskin and Grey Catbird. There were Tufted
Titmouse, one of my favourite species, and again Chipping sparrows and
cardinals. Ros had spotted a Mississippi Kite perched above her house only
a couple of weeks before, a first for the area. Unfortunately, it had moved
on by the time we arrived.
I also saw a raccoon that was visiting Ros' bird feeders. However, it
wasn¹t the biggest visitor that dubious honour belonged to a black bear.
A bear had never been recorded in this area before, but one morning Ros
awoke to find a bird feeder on a cast iron pole bent to the ground. Another
with a concrete base had been pulled right out.
At Lees-McRae College, Banner Elk Ros, Michael and I met with Stewart
Keate, a lecturer in ecology, and keen birder who had been to Australia. He
showed us around the picturesque campus with its old stone buildings hewn
from local rock. We then walked over a bridge to the Wildlife
Rehabilitation Center where we met Nina who had been a wildlife carer for
many years before being asked to take over the centre and run courses for
students. She had many cute and interesting patients including raucous
nestling Pileated Woodpeckers, several baby Screech Owls, a nestling
Titmouse, some immature Red-tailed Hawks and an injured Mississippi Kite.
The large wooden and wire cages and flight centre had been designed and
built by students with a hand from a carpenter, and were most impressive.
To end our visit there we visited the flight centre where several Red-tailed
Hawks and a Turkey Vulture lived.
Over lunch Stewart asked about arranging a trip with his students to the
Top End. He¹d taken his students to other parts of Australia. I'd received
several requests like this over the years. Nicole, when lecturing at the
University of California, and I had tried to arrange such a trip, but
without luck. I hope this year that we'll succeed!
That night at the nearby La Quinta apartments I gave a presentation to the
High Country Audubon. Jesse had told me that members were not only
interested in birds but in other wildlife, and of course in my Aboriginal
relatives. Most of those who attended were seniors, many of them couples,
and they made for a very receptive, fun audience.
Afterwards a member offered to treat us to dinner. There Jesse Pope, the
prsident of High Country Audubon, joined us. On hearing that Michael and I
would be staying with Professor Ritchie Bell in North Carolina, Jesse said
that Ritchie was one of his ³heroes².
I told Jesse that on reading Birds of Australia¹s Top End Ritchie had said
it ³set a new standard for natural history books². At the time some birders
were ³denigrating² (my concerned distributor?s term) the book (and
sometimes me) publicly, and so Ritchie's comments were of great support.
The next morning we joined the Audubon Society for a bird walk, and for the
first time we saw Cedar Waxwing, a most beautiful bird. While there were not
many birds new to us, Michael and I were able to get better looks at some
birds we¹d already seen, like Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker,
Red-eyed Vireo, and Tree and Rough-winged swallows. Some of the women on the
bird walk I'd met the night before, and as we parted one, Anita, handed me a
quartz and amethyst heart, to keep me safe, she said, and to remember them
by. They were a wonderful bunch and I hope to be able to take up their and
Stewart Skeate's invitation to return.
The next day Michael and I spent wandering around the mountaintop area where
Ros and Don lived. We found a pond that contained newts, my first look at
these intriguing amphibians.
We stayed the next night with friends, Gary and Connie Kallback, who looked
after us like family, feeding us at their favourite restaurants until we
thought we'd burst! After a night in their home town of Weaverville, we all
drove through the Smokey Mountains to meet Dr Ellen Rudolph and her cousin
Ellen and I have been in contact ever since she and Nicole Duplaix came to
Australia in 2000, but as with Gary and Ros and Nicole, we'd never met.
Ellen met us at the corner of her gated community high up in the Smokey
Mountains in Tennessee, and I rode in style (she has a black Mazda Miata)
back to the log cabin she and Lesley have built. However, it¹s hardly a
cabin, being three-storeys high.
The view from the cabin is stupendous. One can see clear to the Smokey
mountains. Ellen and Lesley have only been here for over a year, but are
now thinking of leaving. While they love the view, they both miss the
ocean, and consequently are planning to sell and build again near Ellen's
old stamping ground of Williamsburg,Virginia, on Chesapeake Bay. I've an
invitation to visit!
The huge poles supporting the house and deck were coated in shiny aluminium
to discourage racoons and bears. However, a racoon still managed to climb
up, only to be trapped in a cage set for such ³critters²! I awoke early one
morning and sleepily blundered downstairs to find Ellen waiting for me. As
soon as it was light, she told me, we'd release the racoon several miles
from the house.
The racoon, a young male, sat calmly in his prison inside a large rubbish
bin laid on its side the dark interior was to keep his quiet. However,
he didn't seem at all disturbed by his predicament. We drove him several
miles away and let him go near a pretty stream. He lost his calm demeanor
as soon as the door of the cage was opened, shooting out like a rocket and
into the stream, whereupon he swam frantically for the opposite bank.
On the way home we found a dead snake, a non-venomous Black Racer, Coluber
constrictor which I photographed. We¹ve certainly seen a great range of
snakes on this trip!
Lesley, Michael and I often rambled around near the log cabin looking at
native plants. Lesley particularly wanted to show me a Pink Lady's Slipper
Orchid Cypripedium acaule. However, we only found one of these impressive
plants flowering, and that was past its best. Lesley showed us several
other plants including several Trillium sp. (Lilliaceae).and May-apple
Podophyllum peltatum (Berberidaceae). There were also several plants that
bore edible berries, and they made walking in the woods an even more
We took several drives together between my working on the next lectures.
One was to the highest point of the Smokey Mountains Clingman's Dome,
6,643 feet above sealevel. But its height doesn't protect it from pollution
and users of the area are warned that high levels can pose a threat.
The vegetation community resembles northern coniferous (spruce-fir) forest,
as a result of its high elevation and the Ice Surge that occurred from about
20 000 years ago. Logging, pollution and insect attack (from balsam woolly
adelgid) have decimated these forests, and killed most of the Fraser firs,
Abies fraseri, a tree only found in the mountains of the eastern US.
Consequently, the ecosystem is considered to be highly endangered. Dead
trees line the hike to the top.
The area was the homeland of Cherokee people until white settlers moved into
the area in the 1800s. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian
Removal Act that resulted in Indigenous people being removed in what is now
known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands died of exposure and starvation
including more than 1?4 of the Cherokee. Nola Hadley, the lecturer at Berkley
City College and part-Cherokee herself, had told me about this, and it was
obvious that she and other Cherokee I met still felt this loss keenly.
The air was very cold and misty as clouds swept up from below and covered
the forest. We walked to the summit, a fairly steep climb, accompanied by
cheerful bird song Dark-eyed Juncos. On the way back we encountered the
only new bird of that trip Chestnut-sided Warbler.
We hoped to see a black bear on this trip but that had to wait a few days,
until we visited Cades Cove, the site of early settlement in the area. We
first stopped to admire an Eastern Meadowlark, singing his heart out on a
fallen branch in a field, his fine butter-yellow breast almost glowing in
the late afternoon sun. And then a Tufted Titmouse caught my eye as it
fossicked around the leaves of a nearby shrub.
I spotted the bear as we turned off the main road. Even though a young
animal, he was still impressive. He paused to sit on his haunches and look
at me - I have the photo to prove it. My older semi-traditional sister
Esther is going to say ³that bear know you² when I show her the photo.
Bruno then went on his merry way, digging up roots with his immensely
There were few other birds but we had excellent views of all of them an
Eastern Kingbird, a Bluebird posing on a post, and a Tufted Titmouse busily
searching a bush for goodies. There we also had good views of a butterfly
we'd seen elsewhere (for instance, in LA), Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis
vanillae, another nymphalid.
The next morning we left on our way to Virginia. Ellen drove me to the
turnoff in her little black sports car, and there we promised to meet again
as soon as possible.
The trip to Charlottesville, Virginia would have been uneventful, but for
the hundreds of trucks that filled the highway. I thought Michael, a
history buff, might have wished to stop at the site of some of the great
battlefields, eg Lexington. I certainly would have liked to have stopped to
look for warblers in the forests we passed. However, we had to be at the
Kluge-Ruhe Museum before 4 pm, and considering the traffic, he decided to
keep going, our only stop being for fuel and an uninspiring takeaway burger.
The Museum itself is a grand little mansion set among rolling hills and
gardens. The security guard let us wander the neat little rooms, their walls
studded with Aboriginal art, until he was free to show us our accommodation,
a little white two-storey cottage attached to a brick silo. The silo had
been built in the early 1800s and the house a little later.
The Kluge-Ruhe Museum displays one of the best collections of Australian
Indigenous art in the world.
Dr Edward L Ruhe, Professor of English at the University of Kansas, had
purchased much of the art when he came to Australia as a Fullbright scholar
in 1965. John Kluge had bought the collection of Aboriginal art after Dr
Ruhe¹s death, and also commissioned paintings himself (including from some
of my Kunwinjku relatives). The University of Virginia received the
collection as a gift from John Kluge in 1997. A mission of the museum is to
educate the American public about the art and culture of the Australian
My invitation to speak came about when I sought permission from the curator,
Dr. Margo Smith, to use a painting of Mermaid Spirits, my dreaming, and
painted by a son, in my lectures. Margo said many of their members knew a
lot about the art, but were keen to learn about Aboriginal people as fellow
The next day I spent all morning preparing the lecture, but we had a little
time to go birding in the afternoon. However, a stroll through the
parklands along the river rather late in the day brought us only birds we¹d
seen well before, and few of them.
As in other lectures, I told the audience how I became a member of a clan of
the Kunwinjku people. As an alderman on Darwin City Council I wished to
represent the Indigenous people in my ward. However, they saw me as one of
the whites they hated. To test my resolve a senior woman told me to catch
them a snake, which I did, after spending four hours in a billabong
inhabited by large crocodiles. When I was threatened with prosecution for
catching protected wildlife the horrified elders tried to protect me by
making me ³whitefella-blackfella², so that like them I could hunt legally.
Becoming a member of the Kunwinjku meant that I now had dreamings and an
extended family like you wouldn't believe. Elders had to approve of my
choice of husband, and when they didn't, they began casting magic spells to
break us up.
After I worked with the senior women to rid a settlement of a police officer
they accused of being a serial rapist, elders decided to give me a name.
Seventeen years later they had decided on Lawungkurr, the name of a
Dreamtime woman still respected for her mediation skills.
I talked about how semi-traditional people were presumed uneducated, and
asked how a child of six who understood or spoke as many languages as s/he
had years, had bush skills like you wouldn't believe, and social skills to
die for, could be considered uneducated. Illiterate, sure, but not
Of course, I mentioned birds for instance that I could only marry a man
with White Cockatoo or Pied Heron Dreaming (this latter dreaming causes
mirth with those of my clients familiar with the disgusting behaviour of
Pied Herons at Leanyer Sewage Pond), and how the Kunwinjkuj had set aside
their best hunting billabong for birdwatchers: How we'd trained people for
birdwatching/cultural tourism, building upon existing skills, knowledge and
values, and involving women and families for stability and safety.
I ended as usual with a quote from the famous British anthropologist Colin
Turnbull, that for hunter-gatherer peoples, ³ ³kindness, generosity,
consideration, affection, honesty ?., are not virtues. They are necessities
for survival² (Colin Turnbull, The Mountain People, p. 27).
CHAPEL HILL, NC
The next morning we set off for Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This was to be
another one-night stand the next day at the NC Botanic Gardens where I was
to give the annual lecture, in honour of Evelyn McNeill-Sims, who like
Professor Ritchie Bell, Ladybird Johnson and Fred Weinmann, has done so
much to further the cause of native plants in the US. Stewart Skeate of
Lees-McRae told me that Ritchie¹s Vascular Flora of the Carolinas is
³considered the botanical bible².
We stayed overnight with Ritchie and his partner Dr. Anne Lindsey at their
house in the woods. There were no new birds for us, but at least a new frog,
Grey Tree Frog Hyla versicolor. I find it most interesting that these
amphibians, like the genus of Australian tree frogs Litoria,whom they
closely resemble, are in the family Hylidae.
The next day we dined with Eveyln McNeill Sims, now a sprightly 99 year-old,
and several others including members of the NC legislature. It seems botany
in NC has quite a following!
As I had in previous lectures on conservation, I highlighted Kunwinjku
relationships to land, but this time delving much more into the potential
for transformer weeds such as Gamba Grass Andropogon gayanus and Olive
Hymenachne Hymenachne amplexicaulus to destroy much Top End habitat for
birds and other wildlife.
Two hours after the lecture ended we left to drive to Charlotte in order to
catch a plane the next morning for Hawai'i. By this time we'd been away from
home for just over two months and were beginning to feel the strain.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Mobile: 04 386 50 835
Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
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