In a poem that celebrates the joys of the natural world, New Englander James Russell Lowell asked the question: “What Is So Rare as a Day in June?” In his Massachusetts homeland that choice of a month of wonder was probably appropriate, but here in the southern heartland it would be better, and more rhythmic, to ask: “What Is So Rare as a Day in May?” I’m writing on such a day—low humidity, the worst of spring’s pollen gone in the aftermath of heavy rains a couple of days ago, blue skies, and high temperatures scheduled for the low seventies. Such a day is one fit to grab the soul, and a natural phenomenon in full swing right now makes it even rarer.

Cicadas on grapevine

It’s happened a few times previously in my life, but either I’ve become more observant with advancing years or else this rendition of what mountain folks used to describe as seventeen-year locusts has been a record breaker. All I know is that a step outdoors, once air temperatures warm up to around seventy degrees, is an adventure in aural shock. You are immediately assaulted with non-stop sound that might lead you to believe you had somehow blundered into karaoke night at the insane asylum. But at least that open microphone situation would have some variety. This is an unceasing cicada cacophony with the volume turned up loud. It’s at once maddening and mesmerizing. There are brown exoskeletons covering everything, and if you are out early enough, before temperatures reach a sufficient level to enable the cicadas to fly, pairs of red eyes on what the unknowing might view as an insect from some other world greet you at every turn.

The non-stop, one-note symphony notwithstanding, the cicadas have provided me ample entertainment in terms of both observation and musing. I was mightily tempted to fry a pan of them until some moderately deep research revealed that those who are in any way impacted by gout should avoid what is variously described as a nutty, crunchy, or shrimp-like food. I occasionally have a bout of gout so decided to abstain. Mind you, I could have harvested the makings of cicada tacos or cicada tempura in just a few minutes time.

handful of cicadas

I have also been entertained by the manner in which various animals have utilized this rare feast. Larger birds are gorging and juvenile hawks find them a fine source of both food and training for tougher meals to come. But my favorite observation, by far, involved a rather scrawny fox that may have been an adolescent chasing and catching flying cicadas. When the kit didn’t notice any bugs in the air nearby, it converted to squirrel mode and nosed along the ground. On one occasion it virtually turned a flip while springing in the air to capture a cicada in flight, but the acrobatic effort was successful. I also found fox scat in my yard, and rather than the likes of hair, berry residue, or persimmon seeds you normally find in their droppings depending on the season, it was comprised almost entirely of bits and pieces of cicada carcasses.

Then there’s the matter of insect romance. Only male cicadas “sing,” and they do so in an effort to attract a mate. How in the world the females distinguish one voice from another is beyond me—I hear it all as one great, pulsating noise that would, as a hunting buddy suggested, drown out a turkey gobble at 300 yards. That being said, if male humans had to rely on their skill as songsters to attract interest from the opposite sex, I not only would have been left in the dark under a bushel basket; I would be singing from some deep cavern after having been banished to that locale thanks to the atonal and aggravating sound of my voice. I couldn’t hum a tune in a large bucket or, as a musically gifted friend once said: “Jim, you sing like a bird. Alas, that bird is a vulture.” 

The non-stop daily whine of these singularly ugly creatures hasn’t driven me crazy, or at least no more so than I was before, while living out the concluding chapter in their seventeen-year cycle, but all that’s required to think you have a terminal case of tinnitus is to step outdoors during daylight hours. Mind you, cicadas haven’t been my only insect nemesis of late. Opening day of the 2024 turkey season brought me a ration of misery on multiple fronts. The worst part of it was missing a fine gobbler—my decade’s old tale of admiring the scene from “on high” and failing to get wood to wood (the wood of my hard head on the wood of the gun’s stock). The result of that is your pattern sailing well high of the target and I guess I’ll never learn. However, I do take a bit of solace from realization that, after all these years of turkey hunting, I still get so excited, experience such an adrenaline rush, that all semblance of sanity deserts me. It may seem the essence of idiocy to admit that a bird weighing somewhere in the 16- to 20-pound range can reduce an otherwise stable soul to a mass of ineptitude, but that’s the reality of the sport.

That particular morning not only involved a miss; it witnessed an onslaught of mosquitoes of rare intensity. Foolishly I had left my ThermaCel behind, and temperatures, along with recent rains, produced perfect conditions for these bloodsucking minions of Satan to be everywhere. Clearly the message went out that the world’s biggest bloody Mary had just been served. I couldn’t swat, not with turkeys coming to the call, and the result was that I became a pin cushion for a horde of hungry insects. It’s not my worst experience ever with insects—pride of place in that regard goes either to a bunch of angry hornets or an occasion when a couple hundred chiggers took up new living quarters in an especially tender portion of my anatomy—but it was miserable.


In early April I traveled to northeast Tennessee to spend a couple of days in stomping grounds from my days as an undergraduate at King College in Bristol. Doing so enabled me to see a dwindling few old friends from long ago educational days, share some treasured memories, and enjoy watching a classmate be recognized as the Distinguished Alumnus of the year. This was part of King’s annual Dogwood Festival, the institution’s equivalent of homecoming. I also had a nice chat with the new men’s soccer coach. King was where I was first introduced to a sport that became an important part of my life.

Ashlyn in field of flowers

While in the area I stayed in Johnson City rather than Bristol, because that’s where my granddaughter, Ashlyn, is in graduate school at Milligan University. She just finished the first year of work on an M. S. degree in occupational therapy, and to her Papooh’s shameless and inordinate delight did so with stellar grades. We enjoyed some outstanding food at a restaurant of her choice (there were enough leftovers to give her food for two more meals, never mind that both of us sat down with hearty appetites) and had a delightful conversation. While I was with her she ironed out details for a summer job day sitting two youngsters five days a week. I’m pleased she’s busy earning some money (she also works some with young gymnasts/cheer participants at a local gym). Our family has never shied from work and in that regard, as well as with her studies, she meets all my expectations.

As ever, I try to keep busy hammering out articles, working on books, and generally exercising my mind to the best of my ability. My recent publications include completion of a series in the local weekly newspaper serving the place of my roots, Bryson City and Swain County, looking back on my high school class and some of my classmates who carved out notable careers in the military, as teachers, in nursing, and more. Other publications include “Elgin Gates: A Legendary Big Game Hunter,” “Sporting Classics Daily,” April 3, 2024; “April Folklore,” “Blind Pig and the Acorn,” Apr. 10, 2024; “Mollygrubs and the Birds and Bees,” “Sporting Classics Daily,” Apr. 10, 2024; “A Tribute to Rain and Tin Roofs,” Carolina Mountain Life, Spring, 2024, pp. 85, 88; “Mollygrubs and the Attack Rabbit,” “Sporting Classics Daily,” April 25, 2024; “The Boy with the Slingshot,” Columbia Metro, May, 2024, pp. 42-45; “Of Catfish and a Smelly Old Codger,” “Sporting Classics Daily,” May 3, 2024; and “Preserving Turkey Hunting Memories,” “Sporting Classics Daily,” May 21, 2024.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Snuggs

The merry month of May also saw me travel to Fontana Village in my beloved highland homeland in the North Carolina mountains for a reunion of some longtime members of the now defunct Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA). The meeting was hosted by the Outdoor Journalist Educational Foundation of America and included an excellence in craft competition for former SEOPA members. I was fortunate enough to win first place in the book category for my Lords of the Veldt and Vlei: Africa’s Pioneer Hunters and second place in the Non-consumptive category (i. e., about the outdoors but not hunting or fishing) for “Rain, Tin Roofs, and Restfulness,” and article that appeared in the May, 2023 issue of Columbia Metropolitan magazine. 

Tipper and Jim in kitchent

The gathering included a hike on Hazel Creek, a lovely mountain stream where I’ve enjoyed many a wonderful day of trout fishing, that was led by my brother, Don, and a delightful young local, Heath Hyatt. Heath is launching a guide business covering fly fishing, backcountry hiking, camping, and more. He epitomizes mountain graciousness and passion for the land where he lives. If you are looking for some Smokies adventure, check him out on Facebook at Hyattcreekoutpostgs or explorebrysoncit.com/listing/Hyatt-creek-outpost/2520/. The next day at the lovely Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, Tipper Pressley, whose “Blind Pig & the Acorn” blog and “Celebrating Appalachia” vlog I’ve mentioned frequently in these newsletters (she’s the webmaster who makes it possible for this information to get to your readers), gave a cooking demonstration using recipes out of the cookbook, Celebrating Southern Appalachian Food: Recipes & Stories from Mountain Kitchens, we co-authored (see “This Month’s Special” below to order a copy). I served as a sort of combination sous chef, go fetch it boy, and MC. We began with scrumptious cornbread salad, enjoyed cube steak and gravy along with roasted potatoes as the main dish, and had a choice of peach or blueberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert. As has always been a tradition with these fine folks, some of my best friends in the world, we concluded the event with a “pickin’ and grinnin’” session the last night led by a guitar-picking and singing wizard, Rob Simbeck, who has long been a prominent presence on the literary scene interviewing and writing about top personalities in the country music world.

Tes and Jim

Tes Jolly and Jim cutting vegetables for cornbread salad.
Photo courtesy of Rob Simbeck

It was pure joy to relax and share a time of consuming joy with some talented, giving, and lovely folks I’m mighty proud to call friends. There was even a special cherry atop this writer’s sundae. A woman whom I’ve known virtually all of my life and who was a classmate for all twelve years of my grammar school and high school education, Mickey Downs Donathan, joined me for the gathering. She was welcomed with warm, open arms, as I knew would be the case, and her presence meant a chance to relive bits and pieces of our long ago, shared youth. It also provided my outdoor communicator colleagues and friends an opportunity to see that a delightful hillbilly gal with flame azalea hair embodied many of the same life-shaping characteristics and folkways as me. I think it’s fair to say, to borrow a phrase that used to appear regularly in little local newspapers with coverage of social events, “a good time was had by all.”


Sales of the cookbook mentioned above, Celebrating Southern Appalachian Food: Recipes and Stories from Mountain Kitchens, have been quite brisk. That’s thanks almost exclusively to the extensive media reach, through her blog and vlog, of my co-author Tipper Pressley. She has tens of thousands of loyal followers and a nice percentage of them have bought the book through the Internet, from her, at a number of book signings one or both of us have done, and from me. The book has 254 fact- and recipe-filled pages (some 200 recipes) and is illustrated with a folio of color images as well as vintage black-and-whites. It retails for $24 and if you order I’ll waive the normal $6 shipping. Also, if you buy two or more copies I’ll offer them at $20 each and, again, will take care of shipping costs.


Since I mentioned Tipper fixing dinner (it might be lunch in some parts of the world, but in my lexicon dinner is the meal eaten in the middle of day and the evening meal is supper) for a bunch of fellow writers, I thought I’d include recipes she used or slight variants on them. She made the cornbread, and hers is somewhat different from mine inasmuch as she uses sweet milk while I use buttermilk. Either way, a good pone of cornbread is mighty fine eating, and when used as the basic ingredient for cornbread salad, that’s doubly true. Add cubed steak and gravy (again, my way is a bit different and I usually use venison steak), some simple yet delightfully scrumptious roasted potatoes, along with a can’t miss cobbler and you have a meal that is the essence of simplicity and fit for this old hillbilly to call a feast.


“My way” simply means cornbread as it has long been made in my family, and with slight variations I think you’ll find the recipe which follows is fairly standard among the folks of southern Appalachia. Some key points, before we even get to the recipe, are: (1) Cook in a well-greased cast-iron skillet. (2) Grease the skillet with a piece of streaked meat or bacon before you pour in the batter. (3) Use stone-ground cornmeal. Store-bought stuff is ground at too high a rate and heat hurts flavor. Also, if you like a bit of crunch in your cornbread, and I do, stone-ground meal, even if sifted has more “body” to it. (4) Use buttermilk, not sweet milk. This recipe makes just the right size pone for a standard nine-inch cast-iron skillet.

1 extra large egg

1  1/3 cups buttermilk

¼ cup bacon drippings

2 cups stone-ground corn meal

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly blended. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and place the pan, well-seasoned by rubbing in a bit of the bacon grease or by running a piece of streaked meat across it after the pan is hot, in it for a few minutes. Then take out and pour the batter into the pan, return to oven, and cook until golden brown.


cornbread salad

A wonderful way to use leftover cornbread or just out of the oven is to make a big bowl of cornbread salad. The recipe couldn’t be easier. The ingredients can be changed according to what you have on hand. The amounts can be adjusted to fit the amount of cornbread you have as well. Crumble cornbread in a bowl. Add chopped onion and diced tomato, a can of beans (pinto and kidney work well), crowder peas from the garden, maybe corn grated from the cob, a handful of shredded cheese, season to taste, and dress salad with your favorite dressing. Ranch works especially well. Peppers, radishes, cucumbers, and other vegetables can also be added. The ingredients can be layered in a glass bowl for a pretty presentation, but I prefer to mix them all together.
Note: The salad is as good, if not better, after it marries overnight in the fridge with dressing.
Tip: The salad makes a perfect quick weekday supper. 


Cubed steak

Cooking oil



Can of cream of mushroom soup

Dredge cube steak  (I use venison steak but beef will work just fine) in flour seasoned to your taste. I like to use salt, pepper, and just a bit of Montreal steak seasoning. Heat olive oil, or whatever oil you prefer in frying pan and bring to medium heat. Place floured, seasoned cubed steaks in hot pan and brown on each side but don’t worry about cooking through. Once both sides are browned place cubed steaks in a crock pot. Add a tablespoon or two of flour to the frying pan like you were going to make gravy from the drippings. Cook and stir flour for a few minutes and then pour in a bit of milk as if you were making milk gravy. Continue to cook and stir while gently scraping the cooked pieces off the bottom of the pan. After a few minutes of cooking, pour this over cubed steak in the crock pot, add a can of mushroom soup and that can filled with water.  Cook on low for a several hours and it will be so tender you can cut the meat with a fork. The extra broth makes gravy that is perfect for pouring over mashed potatoes or rice.


Roasted potatoes offer a different way of serving this Appalachian staple, and they go well with about any meal as a hearty side dish.

1 large or 2 small potatoes per person

Salt and pepper

Vegetable oil or olive oil

Slice carefully scrubbed potatoes with the skin left on in rounds about a quarter inch thick or in half-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl and coat lightly with oil, salt, and pepper (shake the bowl or stir to get uniform and full coating) and place on a cookie sheet. Place in a 375-degree oven. Cook for 15 minutes or so and check to see if portion of the slices touching the cookie sheet are brown. Use a spatula or tongs to turn. Continue cooking until potatoes are nicely browned and slightly crisp with the middle being mealy. Serve piping hot. 

NOTE: Leftovers can be saved and re-heated in a frying pan for a side dish with breakfast.


dishing up a bowl of cobbler


Quickly prepared and simple, cobblers have long been a regional favorite. This simple approach will make the rankest of kitchen tyros a dessert star.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 cup whole milk

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

2-4 cups blackberries

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and milk; stir with a wire whisk until smooth.  Add melted butter and whisk into batter.  Pour batter into 9 X 13-inch baking dish.  Pour berries (amount depends on personal preference and whether you like a lot of crust or mostly berries) evenly over the batter.  Do not stir.  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE: While this recipe utilizes blackberries, it works equally well with about any type of fresh or frozen berry as well as cherries, peaches, and apples.

TIP: For variety and a richer dessert, top a bowl of cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dribble on some half-and-half.

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