Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Old Juney Whank Home Place

Following is the much-belated epilogue to the past two blog entries written by my research partner, Don Casada.  As a disclaimer, this hike is best-taken by those in good physical condition and who are comfortable navigating in the backcountry.  It is also best-taken during the late fall and winter months, when the deciduous foliage in the area is down and visibility much better.  Should you undertake this trek - enjoy!  It is a very special place.
Several folks have gone up Juney Whank Branch looking for home places and have asked me about location and directions to the Casada place, so I thought I’d provide them here.

From the parking lot area near the mouth of the branch, it is – in the words of my father – a country mile to the home.  According to my GPS unit, his country mile is about 1.25 customary miles.  Along the way, you pass three other former home sites, as indicated on the Figure 11 map. 

Those undertaking off-trail wandering are well-advised to study maps before heading out, especially if you’re seeking a particular location.  Juney Whank Branch has some of the standard vegetation that you have to deal with in the area – rhododendron and greenbriers – but relative to many other locations in the Smokies, it is a relatively easy bushwhack.  One important point to remember is that if you get turned around or confused, simply follow the stream downhill as it winds its way toward Deep Creek. 
Here are some general directions to what was once the Casada home place: 
Figure 1: Juney Whank Branch map, with former home places marked

 Starting at the parking lot, located near the mouth of Juney Whank Branch and the trailhead for the Deep Creek trail.  From the parking lot, turn left to follow the trail toward the Juney Whank Falls.  The climb, by trail, to above the falls will get both your heart and lungs pumping; the trail portion is actually the hardest part of the trip.  Continue on up the trail to above the falls (which you’ll see to your right as you ascend).  Cross the branch, turn left and start on an unmaintained wagon road, immediately passing a springbox with a pipe water spout.  If you want to follow the old wagon road from this point, that’s fine, but I usually veer off the road to the left just as it starts to climb a bit and walk through the quite open woods.  In late winter and early spring, you’ll spot a patch of jonquils just after getting off the road.  Continue to wander up the drainage, staying on the right (east) side of the branch. 

About 0.2 miles after leaving the road, be on the lookout for an old washtub, lying alongside a patch of jonquils.  This is all that marks a former home place which was owned by A.T. (Tom) Lollis.  I don’t think that Tom’s family ever lived in it, however; they once lived near the mouth of Hammer Branch (to the north) and later near the mouth of Durham Branch, near the pavilion in the Deep Creek campground area. 

As you continue on up the branch, the walls will pinch in on either side, and you’ll run back into the old road as it closes in on the branch.  I normally go ahead and wade into the rhododendron at this point and follow the road.  There are a couple of trees that have fallen across the road which you’ll have to crawl under or navigate around, but overall, it’s not a bad go. 

Shortly after crossing a small feeder branch coming in from the right (coming out of Hall’s Holler – a story for another time), you’ll pop out of the pinched-in section to where things open up substantially.  Leave the old road and cross a small branch which runs right beside the road and traveling through a two-or three-foot deep gouge.  Look for a patch of yellowbells, washtubs, and in the midst of a thicket, a fallen chimney.  This was the Lee Wiggins home.

Beyond that home, bear a little off to the west, away from the road.  Cross Juney Whank Branch and look for the home of Ben Lollis.  Although the marker in Figure 1 shows it on the east side of the branch, it is actually on the west side of the branch (the topo map is off). Just below where the home stood is a sizable collection of automobile parts, including the driveshaft and rear end, brakes, engine mount and other pieces.  The home spot is marked by a fallen chimney pile just above the vehicle parts.  Also nearby is other detritus, including terra cotta pipe and bits of galvanized metal roofing.  Not far above the chimney pile is a flattened out spot where a barn once stood.
Cross back to the east side of Juney Whank Branch and continue up the drainage.  If you watch closely, about 0.15 miles above the Lollis home, you’ll run into the wagon road, with some sizable rocks on either side of it.  I don’t usually follow that road – although it will take you to the home place.  Instead, I cross it and continue until I reach the noticeably larger trees toward what was the lower end of the garden area.  On the left is a good-sized maple; on the right is a two+ foot diameter red oak.  On up above are other fine tree specimens – all second-growth.  The largest yellow poplar in the area, which my wife, Susan stands next to in Figure 2, is a good reference point.

Figure 2:Casada home place area. Vegetation - japonica, daylilies, and mock orange - mark the home site location. About 20 yards beyond the home is a rocked-in spring, below which, in a broad flat section, there once stood a spring house.

 Above the home site, a rock wall runs an east-west course across the hollow.  The area above this was fields.  On above that was pasture.  About a quarter mile above the home site is a two-hundred yard long rock wall which winds along a section of wet weather branch.  That rock wall served a dual function – a place to relocate rocks from the pasture and field areas and to provide erosion control from the considerable flow that courses that wet weather stream following heavy rains.
Figure 3: Part of the long rock wall along the wet weather branch
Light and set
Let me close by saying that in my view, were the folks who once called these places home still alive to ask, I think that they’d be absolutely delighted if someone came by to visit – either before or after they left the place behind.  So, by all means, go by and “set a spell.”
When I visit a home place – particularly this one – I like to sit on a log in the sun in winter or a rock by the branch in warm weather and let my mind carry me on a journey back to when there were sounds of children’s laughter as they hemmed in spring lizards and the satisfying crack of white oak splitting from a solid whack; the smells of wood smoke and freshly-turned soil; the sights of a barefoot boy carrying a bucket of spring water to the house in the gloaming and strings of leather britches hung across the porch in late summer to dry.  Those were hard days, inhabited by folks tough beyond modern measure.  I’m confident that many would not trade the lives that they had later on for those earlier, harder ways (my grandparents and parents certainly included).  Still, there was –and is, among the dwindling few who once called these remote places home – a deep sense of affection for the time and the place where they were raised. 
Figure 4:  The old spring.
Random Thoughts and the Musings of a Mountaineer, written by Judge Felix Alley and published in 1941, is a book long out of print and hard to come by.  Alley was a man whose love of these mountains was surpassed by his love of his kindred mountain people.  He noted that the poem below by “Mr. J.W. Clay, citizen and poet of Winston-Salem” expressed his sentiments fully.  It does mine as well, particularly when I pay a visit to the Casada place, a country mile up Juney Whank Branch.
A Little Log Cabin in the Mountains
J.W. Clay
A little log cabin in the mountains
A spring, and a creek running by,
The deep solemn silence of the wild-wood,
Broken by the screech owl's cry.
A meadow that harbors a hay-stack,
A field where the golden-rod blooms,
A hill where hides the arbutus,
Where tall the great oak tree looms.
A garden of old-fashioned flowers,
The hollyhock, marigold, and rose;
A plot with vegetables growing,
With onions and cabbage in rows.
The whinny of the horse in the pasture,
A cow in the shed, and a calf,
A pig in the pen making a noise,
That is neither a cry nor a laugh.
A cock with a dictator strut,
Some pullets and hens running 'round,
A fretting old 'cluck' with her brood,
Scratching for worms in the ground.
A blazing wood fire in the winter,
When snow is covering the ground,
A cat on the hearth-stone purring,
And a lazy but faithful old hound.
I have traveled the far-away places,
I have crossed over mountain and sea,
I have seen the great cities in splendor,
But their splendor holds nothing for me.
For I love my log cabin in the mountains,
It is humble, but still it's my home,
And never again shall I leave it,
Across the wide earth to roam.
Of course I live in the city,
Like you, and other poor devils I know,
But my heart and my soul are in the mountains,
Where memories, like warm embers glow.