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Zoro's Field

My Life in the Appalachian Woods

Thomas Rain Crowe

Publication Year: 2005

After a long absence from his native southern Appalachians, Thomas Rain Crowe returned to live alone deep in the North Carolina woods. This is Crowe's chronicle of that time when, for four years, he survived by his own hand without electricity, plumbing, modern-day transportation, or regular income. It is a Walden for today, paced to nature's rhythms and cycles and filled with a wisdom one gains only through the pursuit of a consciously simple, spiritual, environmentally responsible life.

Crowe made his home in a small cabin he had helped to build years before--at a restless age when he could not have imagined that the place would one day call him back. The cabin sat on what was once the farm of an old mountain man named Zoro Guice. As we absorb Crowe's sharp observations on southern Appalachian natural history, we also come to know Zoro and the other singular folk who showed Crowe the mountain ways that would see him through those four years.

Crowe writes of many things: digging a root cellar, being a good listener, gathering wood, living in the moment, tending a mountain garden. He explores profound questions on wilderness, self-sufficiency, urban growth, and ecological overload. Yet we are never burdened by their weight but rather enriched by his thoughtfulness and delighted by his storytelling.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi

I wish to thank: Gary Snyder for putting me on the path of the real work. Thomas Berry for the great work. The McHugh family for their generosity and hospitableness and for the opportunity to live simply and well for four years on their land. The Guice family for accepting me and for sharing with me their lives and wisdom. The Saluda, North ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

It happens that the last literary thing I'm going to do before moving from Highland Farm, my own rustic home of fourteen years, is to write a few porch words on behalf of Thomas Rain Crowe's Zoro's Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods, a thoughtful, well-wrought volume which celebrates Thomas's rustic life in western North Carolina. ...

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pp. 1-7

... surrounding the Green River Gorge where his kin had farmed and fought the landscape and the elements for generations, local legend and mountain sage Zoro Guice turned to me and said, "The best way to learn about life, nature, and these mountains is to just go out into the woods and set down in one spot and let the nature and the teachings ...

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pp. 8-16

... is echoed by Thoreau in Walden where he writes: "I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." From an early age these words of Emerson and Thoreau were for me as much a mantra as a dare. A challenge to take my self-motivating sense of self-confidence and self-sufficiency and put it to the test ...

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Sun Time

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pp. 17-22

... footpath for the Catawba, Creek, and Cherokee turned into a wagon-wheel concourse stretching from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Charleston, South Carolina, now known as Old Howard Gap Road—time stands almost still. Stands still in the sense that I am not living according to man-made time. Rather, I am living by the signs and the seasons. By ...

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The Wild Work

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pp. 23-28

... work," I know what he means. He's talking about organizing a local watershed institute, preparing presentations for the board of county commissioners, participating in forest-fire training sessions with the volunteer fire department, writing another poem for his ...

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Johnson's Pond

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pp. 29-35

... he had once inhabited next to Zero's field. I was going to school in Greenville, South Carolina, and had borrowed a friend's car and driven up into the Greenville watershed to try to locate an enormous bridge I had been told had been built over the Green River, sans road, somewhere in the vicinity of the town of Saluda. I had taken Old ...

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pp. 36-43

... is as useless to this life as any member of the natural order would be in trying to reinvent itself as a human and take on the manners and customs of the upright race. I am remembering an experience I had with Zoro, not long after beginning my life here in the woods, and the important lesson learned ...

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Gathering Wood

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pp. 44-51

... as he watches me split a big round of white oak with a single blow. "I've usually got two or three winters' worth, just in case of bad times or a bad winter. One never knows when he might need the extra wood to help himself or his neighbor. And with Bessie using wood for her cookstove all year long, we're always piling in small stuff as ...

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Digging a Root Cellar

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pp. 52-59

north side of the cabin with pick and mattock in hand, digging a root cellar. Digging an underground room. A red-clay pantry in which to store my food. The cabin, it turned out, was built on a shelf at the base of a small hill that was composed almost entirely of sandy shale and hard red clay. Since I had to start the root cellar on my knees—there ...

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A Mountain Garden

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pp. 60-77

... Guice Road farm. He wanted me to have some of the plants from his plentiful rhubarb bed because the field in which I would be gardening was once, he hinted, a plethora of rhubarb. "I want you to take some of this rhubarb home with you and put it in that field of yours. When I was growin' up, that field was almost plumb full of rhubarb ...

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The Pacifist and the Hunter

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pp. 78-84

... of myself as a pacifist. I had lived for thirty years without killing, intentionally, another living thing other than ants, spiders, and a few snakes—which were acts of unconsciousness during my youth. Years later, I became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and went on to protest nonviolently against that war. All this was based on ...

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pp. 85-92

... cabin door. It's still dark outside. In my half-conscious state, my mind immediately leaps to Poe's poem "The Raven": "While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, / As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door/' I am slow to move, and the knocking comes again before I pull myself out of bed and ...

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pp. 93-98

... in the southern Appalachians, everyone has their own story when it comes to the devil's drink. And what stories they are! I could probably fill these pages with nothing other than the tall tales I have heard about local moonshiners and their product—which might be a more entertaining read than what I am writing about my solitary life in the ...

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pp. 99-109

... the edge of the field working the hives. Checking for new honey. In trying to lift the uppermost super gently off the top of the hive, I had inadvertently lifted not only the top super but the lower one as well, as the bees had sealed the two supers and the queen excluder divider with wax. The lower super stayed glued to the upper super for only ...

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pp. 110-118

... knows what everyone else is doing" ever applied, it applies to the borough of Saluda and its environs. In a part of the world where the oral tradition and the art of storytelling is still prevalent, some of the best tales, of course, are true stories. And in a land where truth is indeed stranger than fiction, yarns and rumors abound. ...

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pp. 119-124

... place: Horace Kephart (Our Southern Highlanders), William Bartram (Travels), James Mooney (Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee), Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again). In Kephart one passage in particular spoke to me and my new life here in the woods: ...

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New Native

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pp. 154-165

... my cabin, Tm holed up this afternoon inside. Sitting here in my sheepskin- lined nineteenth-century rocker held together with twine, grapevines, and Elmer's glue, reading Donald Culross Peattie's Flowering Earth and thinking deeply about the time I spent in Gary Snyder's community up along the San Juan Ridge north of Nevada City in the ...

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pp. 139-153

... the Qualla Boundary, as well as Snowbird Cherokee whom I know going back to my boyhood in Graham County, I've taken time to listen intently and have learned a lot about people, their cultures, and how one goes about living in the natural world. The Cherokee and the Scots-Irish settlers have dwelled side by side here in these ...

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The New Naturalists

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pp. 154-165

... gone for almost twenty years, on the surface things looked about the same as they had when I left. With the exception of a few new interstate roads, the countryside, the towns, the rivers, the wilderness that I enjoyed as a boy growing up in Graham County at first glance seemed to have survived intact. I reveled in this misperception as I began ...

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Animal Stories

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pp. 166-178

... tired after working all day, fixing a meal, setting a fire for the night, and reading myself silly; it's the overhead drama being played out in the ceiling at night. It begins as I turn down the wick of my kerosene lamp after climbing into bed. The lowering of the light must be the signal, as that is when the nuts begin to roll. Like a little bowling alley ...

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Snowed In

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pp. 179-185

On a day designated to celebrate the end of winter, when I might otherwise be out searching for the first blooming wildflowers or signs of early tree buds, Mother Nature gives us, instead, a winter wonderland: a blanket of new-fallen snow. In an hour's time the whole mountain world has been clothed in a saggy white suit. From my ...

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A Walk in the Woods

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pp. 186-193

... winter is probably the best. "When the snakes ain't a-crawlin'," as Zoro would say. This time of year, with copperheads and rattlesnakes deep in their dens, one doesn't walk defensively or reach into blind crevasses with fear. With the leaves off the trees, the line of sight expands and vistas open up in the forest giving a better view of the ...

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pp. 194-201

... even victim, to Nature's overriding eccentricities and whims. This was never more evident than in May of 1981, when Nature let loose with one of its more memorable paroxysms. It was a sunny late spring day with the temperature in the low seventies. A little warm for early May but otherwise normal for that time ...

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When Legends Die

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pp. 202-209

... has, from equinox to equinox, seemed to stand still. Last fall Zoro died. And then this spring Mac followed him to that old mountain farm in the sky. During the autumn days and weeks preceding Zoro's death, I spent most of my time over at the Guices' place. When Zoro was first diagnosed with terminal cancer and was feeling the effects ...

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pp. 210-218

... my premonitions and exposing the pristine world where I was living to the gremlins of postindustrial and monocultural America. Various family members appeared from across the country, and soon there was talk of clear-cutting the 250-acre mountain farm as well as cutting down the old orchard in order to graze some Scottish breed of ...


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pp. 219-220

About the Author

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pp. 221

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342405
E-ISBN-10: 0820342408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327341
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327344

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Poets, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Appalachian Region, Southern -- Biography.
  • Polk County (N.C.) -- Biography.
  • Crowe, Thomas Rain -- Homes and haunts -- North Carolina -- Polk County.
  • Crowe, Thomas Rain -- Homes and haunts -- Appalachian Region, Southern.
  • Solitude.
  • Wilderness areas -- Appalachian Region, Southern.
  • Wilderness areas -- North Carolina -- Polk County.
  • Poets, American -- Homes and haunts -- Appalachian Region, Southern.
  • Poets, American -- Homes and haunts -- North Carolina -- Polk County.
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