Blog Posts

2020’s ‘Christmas star’ vs. the original Christmas star

On December 21, a rare phenomenon will occur: if weather conditions cooperate, a “Christmas star” will be visible in the night sky. It won’t really be a star at all; rather, it will be the planets Jupiter and Saturn so close together that they appear to the naked eye as one (even though they’ll actually still be millions of miles apart), creating the illusion of one bright star in the night sky. The last time they were this close together

Continue Reading

Faith in the Appalachians: Baptist roots

Did you ever wonder how and why Baptists came to be the predominant religion in the Appalachians (in general) and the Cumberland Plateau (in particular)? It’s a history that we (the Independent Herald) have been examining for our monthly religious focus series. In this part of the world, Baptist churches out-number all other denominations by overwhelming margins. In my home county on the northern Cumberland Plateau, for example, there is one Catholic congregation, one Presbyterian church, two Methodist churches, one

Continue Reading

Victims of a shocking double-murder buried on a forgotten mountainside

A view of the valley at Bull Creek from the edge of the most recent logging operation. Clear-cutting has left extensive scars along the mountainsides, and these operations result in New River (and the Big South Fork further downstream) being muddy much of the summer months, but the valley floor beneath the clear cuts is beautiful.

The older I get, the more of a fan I become of old cemeteries. Not the well-kept and often-visited cemeteries so much as the forgotten cemeteries that have become lost in the forest. “Forgotten cemeteries” is a bit of a misnomer, of course. These cemeteries usually aren’t forgotten at all. But they’re neglected, left to return to nature, and as the years go by fewer and fewer people know where they exist. Someday, if their stories aren’t told and preserved,

Continue Reading

The mountains are calling: Climbing to the top of Scott County, Tenn.

A panoramic view from an unnamed mountain peak that is the sixth-highest point in Scott County.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” Well over 100 years since John Muir’s death, that famous quote by the great American conservationist still rings true. For all who have the mountains in their blood, the mystique of these towering landforms still draws us. The mountains have been calling me for a while, but it’s been nearly impossible to get away from work. On Wednesday, I decided, I would make time to get away. So after finishing up some

Continue Reading

The Chimney Rocks fire fundamentally changed ‘The Leaners’ at Station Camp

Flames illuminate the famed Chimney Rocks at Station Camp in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area during the 2016 wildfire named for the landform. (National Park Service photo; all others on this page taken by the author.)

It has been four years since the devastating 2016 wildfire season that left an indelible impact on much of East Tennessee. The deadly Chimney Tops Fire that began in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg and eventually spread into Gatlinburg was the most famous example, and the damage from the fire can still be seen simply by driving along the parkway through downtown Gatlinburg and looking at the mountains that tower over the town. But there were plenty

Continue Reading

A super rarity: Twin hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico?

The experts were calling for a strong finish to the 2020 hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, and it looks like things are about to get really interesting in the Gulf of Mexico. It looks increasingly likely that there will be two organized tropical cyclones in the GOMEX simultaneously next week. The first is Tropical Depression 14, which formed a few days ago and is currently getting its act together in the Caribbean. It may briefly reach hurricane strength before

Continue Reading

America’s tightening presidential race

As a University of Tennessee football fan in the 2000s, “prevent defense” became feared terminology in my house. We ripped John Chavis (then the defensive coordinator at UT) for his Mustang package (which was just another way of saying dime defense, where an extra defensive back is added on the field). Chavis was a fine defensive coordinator for three stops in the SEC — Tennessee, LSU and, to a much lesser extent, Texas A&M — before his career petered out

Continue Reading

Tennessee forgot Reagan’s 11th commandment

In 2018, Tennessee voters seemed to reject gutter politics. In 2020, unfortunately, it seems that we took a big step back by embracing that same style of politics. By “gutter politics,” I mean vicious attack ads, mud-slinging, falsehoods, etc. In 2018, Tennessee’s Republican primary for governor was a full-on assault of one another by frontrunners Randy Boyd and Diane Black. And a little-known political newcomer from Middle Tennessee, Bill Lee, took advantage by flying under the radar while Boyd and

Continue Reading

The power of testimony

This is powerful stuff. Jordan Jeffers is my son’s high school basketball coach and he has a pretty incredible story to tell. A star athlete who attended college on an athletic scholarship, he found himself addicted to drugs, kicked out of school, and trying to take his own life. This past year, he led the Highlanders’ basketball team to their best-ever start and a Top 5 state ranking. His story inspired a song by award-winning contemporary Christian artist Matthew West,

Continue Reading

Places I’ve left behind

The very first outdoors column I published in our weekly newspaper. I had published some pieces in various regional outdoors publications, but this was my break into the newspaper industry — the launch of a weekly column that would eventually lead to me taking on a role as a sports writer and, later, a full-time journalist position. Looking back on it now, it all seems so distant and far away. Yet I know that just over the next hill lies

Continue Reading

The ins and outs of St. George Island

The sun sets over the Apalachicola Bay at low tide. If you stay on the bay side of the island's east end, where the waters are shallower, low tide will reveal countless hermit crabs.

A few years ago, I wrote an in-depth guide on St. George Island. It was the most popular article ever posted on this blog. Each year, when I post vacation photos on Facebook, people ask for info on St. George Island. That was the inspiration for this rewrite. Looking for a reclusive vacation, away from the crowds and the hustle-and-bustle of resort towns? Florida has some coastal vacation spots that are well off the beaten path, but they usually don’t

Continue Reading

Site Footer