Pine lost its crown, but not its majesty
Assistant news editor-Waynesville Enterprise Mountaineer

Mother Nature may have trimmed its crown by 35 feet, but at 170 feet, the white pine in Cataloochee Valley is still a majestic sight to behold.

This "tree of peace", as it is referred to by some Native American tribes, stood at 207 feet when it was "discovered" last August by tree sleuths, Will Blozan and Bob Leverett. At this height it was the tallest tree in the eastern United States. But Hurricane Opal and the winter's ice trimmed its top by about 35 feet. On Thursday (May 2, 1996) about 20 members of Western North Carolina Alliance gathered near at its base on the Caldwell Fork Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to honor the standing giant.

National Park Service employee Will Blozan looks up to the top of an old-growth pine he "discovered" in Cataloochee Valley. The tree was 207 feet tall when Blozan found it last August, but it is now 170 feet after winter trimmed its crown by 35 feet.

Cherokee elder Walker Calhoun led a ceremony May 2, 1996 honoring old-growth trees.
The old-growth tree ceremony was led by Native Americans Walker Calhoun, an Eastern Band Cherokee elder, and Johnie Leverett, whose mother was Western Band Cherokee and father was Choctaw.

Despite his soft-spoken voice and small stature, Calhoun, 77, was the center of attention and admiration as he sang traditional Cherokee prayer and dance songs in honor of the tree. He learned the songs as a child from his elders, he said.

Bob Leverett said it was fitting for Calhoun and Johnie Leverett to lead the ceremony since their people once lived in harmony with the trees, rather than cutting them down in a rush to progress, as our society has.

"These great monarchs, these standing people, were everywhere important to the people who were here then," Bob Leverett said of old-growth trees. "This is the Cherokee home as I see it. They found a way to live with (these giants)." Johnie Leverett was raised with the Plains Indians and had only heard stories as a child about trees this large. She and husband Bob now live in Massachusetts where she works with Algonquin and Iroquois. Her Mohawk name translates to Standing Woman in English, and she said her job is to educate people to respect the forest.

She brought messages from the northeastern tribes in the form of a story about the pine tree and its role in creating peace. At one time, the five Native American nations were constantly fighting to the point of clans being wiped out. The peacemaker came and walked the earth and uprooted a pine, burying all the weapons of war underneath it. This is how it became known as the tree of peace.

The Algonquin call the pine Grandfather, she said, because of all it provides. The tribe used it for shelter, for food and for medicine, practices which still continue today.

In closing she shared a prayer from the Algonquin and Iroquois thanking the creator not only for trees but also for the "four-leggeds," such as the deer, "the winged creatures ... those that swim in the ocean ... the standing ones ... the small plants" and the creatures that live in the soil.

Similar to Johnie, Will Blozan's job is to educate people about trees. But his employer is the Great Smoky National Park. The WNC Alliance recognized Blozan for his work with the park¹s old-growth project. Leverett said since Blozan began his job three years ago, he has discovered about 15 national champion old-growth trees in the park.

"It's hard to get people to save trees," Blozan told the group.

But he enjoys his role as an educator. He has even brought loggers to old-growth spots such as the one on the Caldwell Fork Trail and taught them to look at the giant trees as more than potential boards of lumber.

"I want people to be able to recognize ancient forests," he said. Blozan found the giant white pine while measuring other trees farther up the trail, Leverett said.

Blozan was hired by the park for its old-growth project to study species such as the hemlock that officials feared they would lose to the wooly adelgid. While studying these trees, Leverett said Blozan began discovering more and more old-growth trees. This was encouraging news because many had thought the Smokies were on the decline due to things like the adelgid and gypsy moth, he said.

Blozan uses aerial photography and logging records to find some of the giants. But he said his background in forestry helps him know where to look by predicting where they are likely to grow.

While the entire park is very diverse, Blozan said many of the ancient trees are often found in the Cataloochee and Raven Fork areas in North Carolina and in the northeastern part of the park in Tennessee.

This article and accompanying photos originally appeared in the Friday May 3, 1996 issue of The Enterprise Mountaineer and is reprinted here by permission. © 1996 The Enterprise Mountaineer
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