In which I at long last travel to Bryson City, home of my great grandfather, Horace Kephart

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I have written of my great grandfather here on this blog and elsewhere (Tin House magazine) many times. Horace Kephart has been credited with helping to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He was an author and a campcrafter, a brilliant librarian who left academia to live among the Appalachian people, to understand them.  He has been the subject of countless articles, at least one novel, a stunning song cycle, a lengthy segment in the recent Ken Burns series of National Parks, theatrical productions.  He is celebrated yearly during Horace Kephart Days (an event largely organized by my cousin, Libby).  He has been praised by Barack Obama.  He has been lovingly attended to by George Ellison, a biographer of heart and intelligence.  He has been discussed, parsed, debated, and he continues to be the subject of ongoing scholarship and interest.

I had never had the opportunity to visit Bryson City, where Kephart lived for many years and where he is buried.  I hadn't been able to go, in fact, until this past Sunday, a misty day in the Carolinas.  We had been in Asheville for a glorious wedding.  My husband drove the mountain roads.  When we found Bryson City, we stopped and walked.  Seeing the Historic Calhoun Hotel and Country Inn, I made the decision to be bold.  To knock on the door and see what might happen, for I had heard that this innkeeper had a Horace Kephart library and a respect for Kephart's work.

We were in the south, and so politeness ruled.  Mr. Luke D. Hyde, the Calhoun innkeeper and a key player in the ongoing sanctuary that is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, didn't just open the door; he invited us in.  He told us his stories, shared images, took us up to his Kephart library (see the portrait of my great grandfather on that wall), even gave me a copy of Kephart's work on the Cherokee Indians.  Then he sent us on our way, and I will always be touched by the time he took and the generosity he showed.

Kephart is buried on a hill beside a small church.  He is buried no more than a half mile away from one of my best friends' childhood homes.  I heard from Ann as we were walking the incline.  I saw her home in the near distance.  I felt her spirit beside me.  Ann has visited Kephart's grave for many years; members of her family are buried nearby.  I wish I was with you, Ann wrote.  And how I wished, too.

Finally, as I was making my way through Bryson City, I heard from my dear friend Katrina Kenison.  I have known Katrina since the beginning of my publishing time (truly) and written of her often here.  Once, years ago, Katrina, who so deeply understands and loves the natural world, sent me a copy of Kephart's Camp Cookery, which sits right here on my shelf.  I had written of Katrina's gift when it came.  On Sunday I was the recipient of yet another kind of gift, for Katrina was reading Handling the Truth and there in the hills of Bryson City, I read her thoughts about its early pages for the first time.



kelly said...

You are descended from greatness.
And it shows.

AmyMak said...

What a wonderful legacy! What an honor (and you have a beautiful blog.)

Katrina said...

Just love the serendipity of this: that once again, in a way, it was your Horace who connected us. How perfect, that I was reading here while you were exploring there.
Feeling extremely lucky to be one of this extraordinary book's first readers. I am underlining, exclaiming, savoring, admiring.

Beth Kephart said...

And I am grateful.

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A.S. King said...

Wow. Now I really want to go visit that exact same place. Fantastic post.

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