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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/155

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BALSAM PEAKS

THE BALSAM PEAKS—THE HEART OF THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS
By SPENCER TROTTER

SWARTHMORE COLLEGE

An Appreciation

FROM a field near the upper end of the town you could see three mountain peaks, two near together and one farther to the west, that stood out sharply against the cool, yellow evening sky, less defined when bathed in the shimmering bluish haze of diffuse sunlight or when brushed by the trailing vapors of passing clouds, but at all times fascinating in their lofty isolation and in the invitation which they held to adventure and to explore. These were the Plott Balsams. Away to the southeast, beyond Deep Gap on the farther side of Lickstone, we knew of a trail that followed the crest-line of the Divide, higher and higher until it reached the summit of the Richland Balsam, second only to Mount Mitchell in the galaxy of the Southern Appalachian peaks. Down the main street of the town one's eye went beyond the narrowing vista of houses, miles away to the blue uplift of Crabtree Bald. To whatever point of the compass you might look there were mountains, but the Balsams held the loadstone that drew us to their summits. Some persons there were who declared that they could detect a trace of balsamic fragrance when the wind was westerly, wafted from the high peaks six miles away. I, for one, could never reach this exalted state of sense or of imagination, whichever it might be. No man, however, is a competent judge of the condition of another's sensorium. It is enough if he follow his own nose and its teachings.

One Sunday in mid-June we essayed the Enos Plott Balsam by the trail that a horse could follow to the summit. As we turned the corner of a street, where the town fell away into the valley of the Richland, a Carolina wren was proclaiming the joy of life in no uncertain voice. This I remember, and also that the air was crystal clear and flooded with sunlight. Our way led for some miles along a road that followed the stream through the farming land of the valley, past an occasional house and barn and the patch of tobacco that was grown for home consumption. A 'neighborhood' road branched off from the main traveled highway, and this we followed until it ended in the woods at a fence on the other side of which the trail began. Here we plucked some sprigs of the wild indigo (Baptisia), a plant with yellow, pea-like