Shakerag Stories

Photo credit: David Haskell

Shakerag light, photo credit: David Haskell

  Before I begin, I would like to thank the following people for the contribution in this project: Annie Armour-Jones, Bran and Cindy Potter, Joan Thomas, Joseph Bordley, Harry & Kathy Clark, David Haskell, Jon Evans, and George Ramseur. Interviewing them was not only a delight, but opened the door to a fantastic number of stories and information concerning Shakerag Hollow and the history of Sewanee. I would also like to thank Mary Priestley, who could not be here today, but was my guide and personal botanist on several escapades through the hollow. Lastly I would like to thank my advisor, Dean Gatta, who has been an inspiration throughout most of my time here at the University. Without his help and encouragement, I would not have taken on my major, Environmental Studies: Arts & Humanities, which then may have not been created and available for other students today.


            What element makes a certain place more sacred or cherished than another? Sewanee, TN has been noted by many travelers and citizens as a place of unfathomable beauty. A well known poem by Rev. Gardiner Tucker describes it as “A towered city set within a wood.” A letter from a federal soldier during the Civil War reads that on the “site of the grand Southern University… is one of the best camping grounds I know of. Near our quarters is a very large spring of the clearest and finest water I ever drank… This place is so delightful and cool that I had hoped we might be permitted to spend the whole summer here…” (Baker, et al, p. 26). One place in particular, the focus of this study, Shakerag Hollow, what Harvard professor E.O. Wilson described as “a cathedral nature,” is a cool valley nestled into the plateau. Sandstone cliffs hedge one side of the hollow as the other slopes gently down the mountain, traversing several more geologic layers. It was not until somewhat recently, though, around the 1980s, that this piece of forest began to gain real importance to locals, children, walkers, climbers, students, and teachers who have found a solace there that continues to nourish and educate.

As Cindy Potter, a sixth grade teacher at St. Andrew’s, put it “Shakerag has raised so many children… It has it’s own personality, it’s own sacredness… Once human beings have lived in a place, they add themselves to it. I don’t think that it’s humans taking care of the place, I think it’s the place saying, you came here and you are part of it.” Shakerag has weathered human use for thousands of years; as one of the University of the South’s esteemed professors of biology David Haskell put it, there were “Multiple native American cultures [here] before Europeans arrived… almost certainly people were using the land there going back thousands of years… the name itself leaves an imprint of humans’ use of the Hollow…. How can we truly piece together the history? We can’t know… but the botanical imprint is very clear… [and yet some] people go into Shakerag looking… for the places where we might see some vestige of what a forest might have been like before humanity impacted it quite heavily… the effects of prior land-use echo down over decades… maybe even hundreds of years…” This place is a home to a world of human and biological stories and experience, which visitors contribute to merely by taking part in its majesty as a natural wonder.

The spirit of God possesses this place and He can be heard in birdsong, seen in green lusciousness, smelled in wildflower sweetness, and felt in its “euphoric magic”; for this place vibrates with the energy of life and experience, a John Muir-esque earthen cathedral for those drawn to the woods in order to attain a peace and familiarity beneath its vaulted canopy that they would not achieve otherwise. In this study, I have collaborated as much as I can with people who can testify to wondrous experiences in order to discover what makes Shakerag Hollow so important to the Sewanee community.

Professor of geology, Bran Potter.

Professor of geology, Bran Potter.

The history of Shakerag is scattered and loosely documented: so I have had to rely mostly on the information passed down from others. Shakerag past remains “shrouded in a certain degree of mystery” leaving the walker to wonder, “who has walked here before me?” As professor of geology Bran Potter said, “It has this lore, in the best sense, that is passed on from generation to generation and what’s happening now in this particular time is that we are unpacking some of that lore, finding some of it is myth, some of it is real.” Who knows how long there has been activity on the plateau? Haskell reminds us that “eight-thousand years ago [people] were using Shakerag Hollow… And that’s the most of the human interactions with Shakerag and every other place around here…” The word “sewanee” is of the Shawnee people and translated it means “south” or “southern,” as the entire Cumberland Plateau was described by the natives. Born and raised resident of Sewanee and graduate of the University of the South, Harry Clark, describes the etymology of Shakerag Hollow as “apocryphal, it is received wisdom.” The March 13th, 1941 issue of The Sewanee Purple expounds upon this story—“In the days of the government distillery near Wet Cave, production was so limited that the mountaineers found it profitable to do extra work on the side. Knowing this, students found it enjoyable, when their spirits were low, to walk to the right of Beckwith Point around the edge of the mountain. After some thirty minutes they reached the high rock in clear view of, and heading the entire cove. After vigorously waving to some ‘little man’ in the valley, they left a small token of their appreciation of the view. After a stroll through the woods, imagine their surprise in finding their offering replaced by a spirited gift of a much higher order. Thus Shakerag got its name, and though the main attraction is now gone, it is unquestionably one of the… most impressive views of the mountain…” This “received” story alludes to the multitudes of human experience that have occurred beneath the canopy, yet today, we can only make educated guesses as to what exactly went on in the hollow in years past. A competing story exists within the April 4th, 1928 issue of The Purple which claims that the hollow “receives its name from the fact that formerly moonshiners in the cove were warned of approaching revenue agents when a watcher waved a handkerchief from the bluff.” Harry Clark’s wife Kathy, also a graduate of the University, sitting on the porch of their lovely home in Roark’s Cove on a breezy spring day recalled that “this area used to be full of people from sharecropping and working the fields and there’s no more of the little houses left, but when I was here in the early 70s you could still see the little shacks…” In other words what seems like such a pure and untouched land is only a few decades into its reclamation as relatively unused forest.

The Mooney homesite.

The Mooney homesite.

Several of the better known families that inhabited the hollow were the Mooney’s, for whom Mooney’s spring is named for, and the Walkers. The old Mooney home site lies down the streambed from the trail, surrounded by daffodils. It is here where Cindy Potter takes her classes for a carpe diem in the spring.” As she says, “I always do Shakerag because one of the very first poems [I teach] in the fall is a poem by Robert Frost called “The Birthplace.” The kids don’t know they’re going to end up at Shakerag at some point in their lives… But I really want them to have a sense of the history of what’s happened there and to know that people long before them were using this place in a variety of ways… When we go down there, I don’t remind them of the poem at all, and in the spring, without exception, some child starts it, because they are getting a sense… of the people who were there before us… For, ‘The mountain has pushed us off her knees and now her lap is full of trees.’ We go down to Mrs. Mooney’s and that’s where the poem really hits them… I want to say, “Oh now, let’s remember the poems we’ve read,” but I’m not going to. And then they said it! They understood what had happened. I think that’s really important.” The Walkers owned a tract on the south-facing slope of Shakerag “around the 1890s” (H. Clark), which is much different in terms of biodiversity and plant life. Mossy stone walls still divide the patches of jonquils in the understory along the edge of the plateau from where Walker Spring spits out of the mountain. At the home site, a 15-foot-deep well penetrates the earth. The Potters’ son Ben “once went down this well to save a turtle.” As Cindy remembers it, “we figured it was a well about 5-feet deep, and then when we saw it… We’re glad that was in hindsight.” Pieces of what may have been a cast-iron stove sit on the ground as if they had been dropped by some wayward traveler. The main Shakerag creek flows through this end of the hollow. What starts as a delightful, babbling trickle near the top, cascades across great boulders, making river crossing an actual issue along the Walker tract.

An old map of Harry's that denoting property lines in Roark's Cove.

An old map of Harry’s that denoting property lines in Roark’s Cove. Harry’s reflection can be seen hovering over the cove.

Hillocks and valleys buckle and wave through the forest floor, and these are indications of previous home sites that rested on hilltops. These sites once laid open the canopy, having helped to nurture the diversity of tree species in the forest today. Harry and Kathy reminisced of the days when Roark’s Cove, which lies adjacent to and includes some of Shakerag Hollow, was a bustle of activity. Until the 1970s, when Harry moved to the cove, there was a general store there and several farm families who would frequent it. Kathy recollects that “The University Archives [has pictures that] show picnics that the Christ Church would have in… Alto and Roark’s Cove where there were masses of people…” Shakerag has also seen the traffic of many walkers traveling into Sewanee from the different adjoining coves. Harry remembers one story of such a traveler named, “Ted Henley, who went to St. Andrew’s in the late 30s or 40s. He would walk up the mountain, up Jacob’s Ladder [on] Sunday night, spend all week at school, and then he would come home Friday evening … He would stop at Elizabeth Long’s, (who had a life estate here [at our house] and would make wine). Ted would stop here and get a gallon of wine from Aunt Lizzie Long before he went on home.”

Around that time Shakerag was subject to logging and mining, the last of which occurred around the 1960s. Realization of this history of resource extraction can be somewhat shocking to those who imagine the space as perpetually isolated and sacred; to think of Shakerag as having been overtaken by machines and revving saws is painful to some. Mining, too, was a common practice in the hollow. The mouth of one mine stills opens its maw up to the earth, and old wooden pins still brace the ceiling. An old wagon road is still visible beneath the leaf litter, and it is easy to imagine shovel loads of coal piled high in wagon beds creaking and straining up the steep slope to the top of the plateau. “We walk up to the old coal mine” Cindy recalls, “and I always try to get the kids to think about children their own age digging into the side of the mountain. What a heritage we have.” Haskell says, “There is a certain level of sensitivity to people not appreciating the way that humans can do things… responsibly. To foresters and geologists in particular, that is an area of sensitivity… the notion that any incursion of logging necessarily degrades the sacredness of a mountain side is kind of insulting to that field.” Humankind’s use of the mountain is what has transformed it into the natural beauty adored by scores of people today.

Professor of biology, David Haskell.

Professor of biology, David Haskell.

So the question remains: what can be gained from whatever we learn about past human experience in Shakerag Hollow? David Haskell responded to this (somewhat daunting) question by saying, “For me, it’s about getting to know my family: my distant cousins—the beetles. About getting to know the ecology of my home community. There are so many stories there. The stories continue to amaze me, it’s a very story-rich hollow, and for me many of those stories are biological, but those biological stories interweave with the other stories from pre-history and history and deep time in biology as well… There are deep biological stories that transcend the human one.” Getting in touch with a land that holds so much human use, wisdom, and experience and yet remains almost dreamlike in its ancient beauty, is a rare and wonderful opportunity. Haskell pointed out that “… There are very few places in Eastern North America that are so easy to access and yet allow you to breathe that forest and hear that diversity of birds singing and see such big trees all in one place… there are other places… but not right in our back yard.”

John Muir with Cindy and her sixth grade class.

John Muir with Cindy and her sixth grade class.

For my own project of stopping to “breathe the forest,” I chose a point of contemplation upon a massive sandstone boulder along the Perimeter Trail, a rock which must have detached and tumbled to its resting place some hundred thousand years ago, leaving a hole in the mountainside and a notch in the belt of Sewanee trails. This piece of Shakerag Hollow upon which I perched, attempting to receive some of its distilled natural wisdom, has been an important part of the landscape for countless walkers and climbers who have clambered up its accommodating, stepping-stone face to recline in this very spot; or who have brushed its cool roughness with their fingertips as they tramped by. I imagine it could have been a useful deer blind for native hunters in the past. My point of contemplation allowed me to observe the woods and its passersby silently, in an attempt to emulate the Emersonian “transparent eye-ball,” and offering me a 360 degree view of this particular piece of Shakerag Hollow and its creatures, human and non-human alike. It allowed me a perspective similar to that of David Haskell in his forest mandala. Cindy Potter tells a story that revolves around my rocky throne, about one of her sixth grade classes: “We were coming up the side of the mountain, by the big rock just off of Green’s View. Kids were spread out all over, I was just sitting there watching them, it was just one of those days,with sunlight and bugs in the air and the young green. Way up the path I saw two or three people, and I realized that it was the person who had given a presentation the night before as John Muir. Some kids were looking for crawdads, most were writing in their journals, and he comes down the trail and I thought, “Oh my gosh… Here’s John Muir!” So, I said, “I know this is your free moment, but would you mind talking to the kids for a few minutes?” So he leaned up against that giant rock and all the kids came down and sat there, and it was one of those magical times, because he became John Muir. And because they had studied him that week, they could ask about what he had done. His companions Mary Priestley and Latham Davis, and I, were not part of the scene at all.It was John Muir, with a great beard, talking to these sixth graders. It was magical—that’s what Shakerag does, you know. After they went off on their walk the kids said to me,“Did you set this up, Mrs. Potter?” and I said, “No, no, it just happened.” That was meant to be. I said, “Thank you God, that was good.”

Sitting on this giant rock on a warm February afternoon, which began bright and sunny but darkened in cloudy overcast, I could see straight across to the other side of the cove where I went to high school at SAS, conjuring memories of the many walks and bike rides I took through these woods as a young student. Before me stood seven straight, glorious shagbark hickories, their sides peeling away like ancient wall paper; countless mighty red and white oaks; several soft and crooked beech trees, somewhat rare in these parts nowadays, and, as Dr. Mary Priestly, curator of the Sewanee Herbarium, so delightfully put it, many “deliciously milk chocolate and lavender black walnuts.”

The wind was strong, blowing the last cold tolerant seeds from the heights of sugar maples and yellow poplars before spring time, and swinging about the thick ropey grape vines that cling and snake their paths around the forest. I heard the shallow moan of the wind blowing road and machine sounds to echo around the Hollow, penetrating the wilderness with the hum of civilization. I saw no walkers out that day to witness the first peeks of spring ­­— deep green and maroon leaves of crane fly orchid. Once spring arrives the forest is littered with trilliums, duthchman’s breeches, rue anemone, blood root orchid, and dozens more. By the beginning of April, the Hollow becomes virtually unrecognizable compared to its winter state. The green forest floor, which is warmest during the spring due to the absence of a thick tree canopy, rolls around me like ocean waves — my rock is an island amidst a remnant sea of long ago that helped carve and shape this place into the treasure trove of experience that it is today. From seas to deltas and swamplands, to farmland and pasture, to Shakerag Hollow.

Joan Thomas in Mooney's Emporium.

Joan Thomas in Mooney’s Emporium.

Joan Thomas, owner and proprietor of Mooney’s Emporium in Monteagle, a Sewaneesian since 1985, and a valued member of the community, shared her stories: “[Shakerag] looks like a fairy land and it feels like Middle Earth. It doesn’t feel like it’s of this world. It feels like… enter[ing] into another kingdom where fairies and gnomes and things must surely rule and dance at night… [Once] I went down and took a clear glass bowl, filled it with water from [Mooney’s] spring, found a little sunny spot filtering through the trees, just one little beam of light, and floated the flowers on the surface, and did it this magical way when you put flower essences into water and decanted it into blue bottles and I gave it out to my friends. And to me that was like essence of Shakerag in a bottle… On [my] wedding day, May 1st, 1989, Sanford [McGee] and I went right to Shakerag after we said our vows and signed the papers… We went straight to Shakerag and spent the day down there because  it was May 1st and the flowers were just going crazy. It was beautiful…” A forest dweller in spirit, Thomas makes regular trips into Shakerag with other walkers and flower lovers, and continues to contribute to the ever expanding history of the hollow. Annie Armour-Jones, University Archivist, and class of 1975, a local who has only made a single trip into Shakerag, agrees that there is a reverence about it, “… like [it’s] completely safe… a safe haven.”

The stories of human and biological interaction which “echo down” through the “essence of Shakerag” make the place more rich, even, notes David Haskell, in the smallest form: “I found a big Ash tree that’s fallen down… I went back in the afternoon and the whole thing was covered in these ash borer insects that hone in on recently fallen ash trees. So just to see all those little pieces of the cloth that weave the world, there are few places to see so rich and amazing…”

But even if the biological and geological stories “transcend the human one,” they indeed help to mold our present experience. Emeritus professor of biology, George Ramseur, and the current professor of biology, Jon Evans, have a story about Dr. Evans’ first adventure into Shakerag. As he tells the story, “My first time down in Shakerag Hollow was for a job interview, and I was brought down here on a foggy, cold day in February, 1994, by George Ramseur, whose position I hold now. I think he was asked by the biology department to find out whether I knew my plants. So it was a test, and not a good time to be testing anybody: it was so foggy I could barely see the trees. So we got down there and as typical botanists, we were testing each other, and we got to this spot where George thought, ‘okay this is it, we’ll see if he knows this tree.’ … and I said, “Aha! It’s a persimmon!” and that sold him.” The persimmon tree still stands today and is a regular stopping point on nature walks. This is only one example of the many times the Sewanee nature fanatics have gone head to head in plant identification competition. On every natural science outdoor lab I have taken, I have heard forestry and geology majors battle over who can name the most plant species or rock types.

When asked about his Shakerag story several weeks before my interview with his wife, Bran Potter said, , “Cindy and I both have classes in Shakerag… And she has her students memorize poems. For instance if they were memorizing Frost’s ‘Birthplace’,” as I mentioned earlier “… It’s just like a geology student finally seeing a rock and understanding that it might have been deposited as part of the stream. [When] somebody hears that Frost poem in the context of an old home site, it has a completely different effect on them than if they were doing it in the classroom. So that, certainly, as a recurring theme, I love, [to] connect the literature with the actual, physical home sites, which then connect to the history and you see that some of that literature is very universal… and what they evoke now in terms of the past and what they represent as a reality of the past. For me the beauty of Shakerag has to do with an institutional will and a continuing institutional desire to consider Shakerag an entity… I love the lack of boundaries in Shakerag. You can walk from top to bottom and stay on University land, stay in the same watershed, and think about both how we’re lucky and how our responsibilities are all rolled into one… Shakerag is a beautiful legacy and with that comes the responsibility to preserve this place… to look at it realistically and enjoy what we have.”

Joseph Bordley at his farm on the Sewanee Land Trust.

Joseph Bordley at his farm on the Sewanee Land Trust.

In fact, much of the Potter family has spent their hours hidden away in the belly of Shakerag. Joseph Bordley tells the story of “The Abode” which he built with Ben Potter and others when the boys were at Saint Andrew’s. “We decided that we wanted to build a cabin when we were in high school,” he recalls, “and [Shakerag] was very convenient. We went down and found a big rock, cracked, like where a boulder fell off the side of the mountain and split open. By pulling all the rocks out between it, we were able to build a door-wall and a fire place. Then we conned a bunch of other people into helping us carry down this gargantuan carpet that we found in a dumpster. (Someday I will have to go pick that carpet up,” Bordley admits, “that’s the only thing I feel bad about.) We put branches and logs for the roof and put the carpet on and put the dirt back on from where we had (somewhat) excavated and replanted flowers on top, so that it was a living roof. We spent a lot of time down there, sometimes weeks at a time. It was just beautiful…” The abode still stands today, although perhaps somewhat decrepit. Several Sewanee students have ventured out to find it, some having found a plastic sword still lingering in their midst; a calling card of sorts; a Shakerag Excalibur cleaved within the chimney of a Thoreau-ian cabin. Apparently the abode was somewhat renowned about Sewanee. Joan Thomas has some memories of the abode herself, “They took Sanford and me there one night. They used to get in all kinds of trouble, the police would see them running across the golf course.“ In fact, there were actual reports called in to the Sewanee Police Dept. about Bordley and Potter’s abode, as Bordley reflects, “Not to be rude, but we still had to cut across [the golf course] and so we had to look to see if people were there or not, and I guess some golfer must not have liked us going down there, so he turned us into the police. He had followed us and found this little stone cabin and reported it to the police saying that he thought it was devil worshipers. And so I saw Ernie Butner one day at the market and he said, ‘Joseph, y’all built that place down there didn’t ya?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah. There’s no denying it,’ ‘Ya’ Ernie replied, ‘I got reports and so I eased on down there.’ I can just see him with his gun partially drawn as he eased on down to the Satan worshiper’s cabin, and as he got down there Ernie thought to himself, ‘I know who did this.’”

And yet, aside from these colorful tales and dialogues, the silence of Shakerag Hollow is profound and euphoric; a phantom hum, ringing in the woods. Every creak of my jacket would disturb the quiet, a constant reminder of my humanness. In meditation, the forest grows more accustomed to my presence, but any move to take out pencil or journal sends the murmurs shifting back into “the forest unseen” (Haskell). My incessant and irritable coughs seemed to upset the few birds in the distance, who discussed their concerns among the dancing trees. The only constant sound is Mooney’s spring flowing straight from the sandstone of the plateau, its trickling presence naturally cutting away at the earth, while my boot heels worked less naturally, but, as I am one of the earth’s creatures, natural all the same.

A view of the golf course.

A view of the golf course.

There is a stark contrast between the trees in Shakerag and those left at the golf course only several hundred feet away, where they stand twisted and haunting on land that rolls, unnaturally manipulated. But even so, Bran Potter points out that  “a lot of people need to get real about how manhandled Shakerag has been and how resilient it is… Some of the charm of the place is that there were fields there and there were people there using the land, and even abusing the land…” There were families living there “less than a hundred years ago.” Their houses made gaping holes in the canopy, the remnants of which can still be found buried in the ground. “Early in [Potter’s] Shakerag wanderings” he found a china doll arm poking out of the soil below Mooney’s spring and “… kind of like an artifact, like putting an arrowhead in your pocket,” he took it and kept it on top of his dresser for about a decade. Later, with his Walking the Land course, he returned the relic to the ground, “This is what we should be doing with these artifacts, leaving them in place and appreciating them…”

As I mentioned earlier, the last logging occurred in the 1960s, giving Shakerag around fifty years of reclamation time. “Resilient” is therefore an accurate term to describe Shakerag because although there were farms, mines, roads, and logging, Thomas is right to remind us that “It seems so pristine and virgin.” As Bill McKibben (who once took a bike ride through the rain with Dean Gatta and others to take a walk through Shakerag) argues in The End of Nature, there is no place on earth that is unaffected by human manipulation, and yet today, in the words of Priestley, “manipulation is our only option.” Some, like Thomas, believe that a place of such sacredness and biological importance deserves to be closed off, forever protected against tramping feet and plucking fingers. In her argument for preservation she said, “I don’t know of any place else in Sewanee that is like it… I don’t know of any place anywhere that’s like it, but I know there are other places… If I could put it in a terrarium and keep it, that’s what I would probably do. It needs to stay in a bubble. It is a remnant of something magnificent that was probably all over this mountain at some point.” Human beings will continue to use and abuse the land despite our best efforts of conservation or preservation, but, given proper contemplation and education, there is still some hope because as David Haskell writes, “Oases of contemplation can call us out of disorder, restoring a semblance of clarity to our moral vision.” (p. 67, The Forest Unseen).

Shakerag presents a interesting conundrum to the people of Sewanee: while experiencing it as revitalizing and magical, we need to remember not to exceed our proper place in relation to it. To me, the heavy construction on the course at this time is a reminder of the accidents that constantly occur between protected areas and construction sites. And without the proper application of best management practices, events such as the golf course erosion fall during the summer of 2012 are likely to occur. At that particular time, dirt and sand had been piled up against a sediment buffer during a dry spell to an extent that during the next heavy rain, tons of loose sand and mud rained down into a stream bed, a surge which, as Kathy Clark recalls, turned the creek “the color of milk of magnesia.” I remember reading an email chain on the Sewanee classifieds that reflected the outrage many felt over this event. Mary Priestley was asked by one such concerned resident, who was not quite aware of the extent of damage, “Is there anything left?” On one of my excursions there, while touring around the Mooney site, I found thirteen golf balls, which I then delivered back to their proper place. As Jon Evans once said on a wildflower walk, they must have dropped from “the golf ball tree! Which is very poorly dispersed. We don’t know anything about what moves those fruits around. Probably dinosaurs once upon a time.” George Ramseur told “a classic story, [of] Mrs. Mooney [who] would come upon where someone had knocked a golf ball. She’d stand there, look around, with her big hoop skirt on [until] they’d come up and look for their balls, and when they’d finally wander off, she’d sail it back to them.” Ramseur also recollects a time when “the CCC built a nice stair case below Green’s View. Then, the golf course suddenly decided it would be nice to build a driving range. So they cleared a bunch of the forest, and in a flood it literally washed most of that staircase away. That’s why it’s so difficult. The upper part is very nice now, but you go down further and you have to scramble.”

The CCC staircase today.

The CCC staircase today.

But, as Potter carefully observes, “You have to be careful about seeing the incursion of lots of sand from the golf course as a ‘disaster.’ It is something that is regrettable. It temporarily overwhelmed certain parts of the ecosystem… It’s not a catastrophe. There is an anger that… is so natural, [even if it is disproportionately exaggerated]. Some of that anger, I certainly felt and that is this: we have an evolving ethic of taking care of parts of the domain in much better ways than we have historically done, and that ethic is very well founded. In general we are more aware of impact on the land. What is really irritating about that ‘disaster’ is that we have gotten to the point that we are doing our projects fast enough that we’ve farmed out the responsibility to people who are not on the domain. The people who are in charge of not [dumping sediment] into Shakerag were… contractors.… The real catastrophes would have to do with overdoing it in terms of human presence. The catastrophe would be to lose some of the intimacy that’s there…”

So where might we locate the middle ground between Potter’s stress on healthy conservation and Thomas’s argument for complete preservation? How do we nurture in healthful ways that which is so dear to us? Is there a way for the walkers and the golfers to live in harmony? Is it possible that separating Shakerag from the greater Cumberland Plateau as “more” sacred and important does more harm than we are aware of? When asked his opinion on this point, Haskell replied that, “… the whole world is a cathedral of nature. Stand in the middle of Times Square and there is a house sparrow singing on the one little scrap of vegetation… to me that’s a cathedral of nature… you’ve got this bird singing out and letting loose this oral energy and where did that energy come from? Ultimately it came from the sun. So you’ve got sunlight streaming in acoustic form into Times Square. We are able to worship in the cathedral of nature wherever we go, and wherever we go we are embodied in our own bodies which are 100% natural and a product of a long evolutionary process. A hand is a cathedral of nature. The five digits echo down to the first tetropods… I don’t like bringing that overtly religious imagery in too much… it’s fine to use those metaphors up to a point, but beyond that we start to impose our human views of the nature of the world onto what is not a human world…”

So what do all these stories from the past tell us about the possible future of Shakerag? My intention with this project has been to communicate to the Sewanee community the story of such a crucial piece of its environment. My hope is for this paper to possibly be continued by other interested parties, as once I began, the world of Shakerag Stories opened up to me like an endless fairy tale. One lesson I have learned and hope to convey is that Sewanee has absorbed human-use stemming back thousands of years. Until more recently than most people realize there were families living in the cove. Shakerag has survived decades of use and abuse, but there is still reason today to honor its relatively unsettled character. As Cormac McCarthy so elegantly writes in the last line of The Road, “In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” His sentiment applies quite well to the story of Shakerag, which is ever-written by the creatures who keep it.

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—. Sewanee—People, Places, And Times. Ozark, MO: Dogwood

Printing, 2006.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 287.

Potter, Cindy D. Personal interview. 22 April 2013.

Potter, Donald Bran. Personal interview. 6 March 2013.

—. “How Firm a Foundation: Sewanee’s Domain.” Sewanee Perspectives: On the

History of the University of the South. By Samuel R. Williamson and Gerald L. Smith. Sewanee, TN: University of the South, 2008. 7-46.

Priestley, Mary P. Personal interview. 12 April 2013.

Ramseur, George S. Personal interview. 17 April 2013.

Smith, Gerald L., and Sean T. Suarez. “The Loveliest Village: Gown and Town in

Sewanee, 1860-1910.” Sewanee Perspectives: On the History of the University of the South. By Samuel R. Williamson and Gerald L. Smith. Sewanee, TN: University of the South, 2008. 47-111.

Thomas, Joan. Personal interview. 14 March 2013


One comment

  1. I came upon your blog while researching Sewanee for an upcoming book. I absolutely loved your descriptive descriptions! I have to visit Shakerag soon.

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