ELIZABETHTON — To love someone or something is to dedicate your life to that love. By that definition, Jennifer Bauer loves Roan Mountain. She loves the mountain, its people, its ecology, its history and she loves to talk and write about this incredible place.
Bauer has dedicated a great deal of her life to the mountain and the community she loves and her love and dedication come through on every one of the 171 pages of her newly released book “Roan Mountain, History of an Appalachian Treasure” published by The History Press.
This is the second book she has written on the mountain. Her first was “Roan Mountain, A Passage of Time.” She said the new book is much different from the first, reorganized, updated and “very unique to the last.”
“Of course it’s the same history. The same people are there. You still have General Wilder and the Overmountain Men,” Bauer said. But her first book helped make her second book better because the first book made her a magnet for Roan Mountain stories.
Once she became a published author on Roan Mountain, people kept coming to her and telling her their own stories. There were many stories about growing up in the community or their memories of their ancestors’ experiences.
Some of those stories found their way into the new book. As a result, she not only tells the story of the involvement that great men had with the mountain, men like John Muir, Asa Gray and John Wilder, but also the colorful tales of such men as Tweetsie conductor Cy Crumley and Tweetsie engineer Sherman Pippin.
Crumley was so colorful he was invited to New York City to appear on the national radio show “We the People” in 1938. He kept the national and studio audiences enthralled with stories of his experiences on the narrow gauge railroad, including the time he and Pippin stopped the train for a logger who had just accidentally cut his leg off. Crumley and Pippin tied a string around the man’s stump to stop the bleeding and then ran the little engine wide open around the many curves until they got him to the hospital in Banner Elk, saving the man’s life.
The book has many such stories that Bauer has learned during her long association with the mountain. She has the kind of love for a place that a native can never have. The kind of love that comes with making a rational decision of where is the best place to spend your life, even if it means leaving childhood friends and family.
Bauer made that choice. She grew up in Baltimore, but after high school she was undecided about what she would do with her life. She took a trip to the Smokies to help sort it out and there she met a park ranger, Troy Brown, who inspired her with his love of nature.
That experience led her to East Tennessee State University, where she studied to be a botanist and would take three degrees. It was Professor John Warden who would introduce her to the wonders of Roan Mountain.
After graduation, she worked as the ranger naturalist at Roan Mountain State Park for 21 years, growing ever more familiar and ever more in love with the mountain. When she was promoted to park manager of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton, she chose to keep her home in Roan Mountain.
When asked about her love for the place, Bauer said it is “the place, the people. The environment is real. ... The people of Roan Mountain are the kindest, most down to earth, sensible people you can ever ask to spend your life with.” She said she hopes to still live there when she is 90 years old and snowbound. “I will spend the winters up there, I will do that.”
Bauer’s book is not just a history or a nature book. It is a chance to see a place, its people and its history through the eyes of someone who has dedicated her life to living there and learning as much as she can.
She has spent time tracking down old legends. One was the tale that people standing on top of the mountain can sometimes see a rainbow in a complete circle. The legend has it that the circular rainbow is God’s halo, left to protect the mountain and its people from evil.
Bauer tried for years to find someone who had seen the rainbow but all her attempts were unsuccessful. Then she went to the top of the mountain one stormy day to check on whether a planned guided tour should be canceled.
She writes that as she drove up the mountainside the clouds suddenly gave way to clear skies. Looking down on the storms in the valley, she said, “I saw the most unbelievable phenomenon I have ever witnessed. A rainbow began to materialize at eye level, and as it developed, it took the form of a compete circle. And then a second rainbow formed within the circle of the first. I can’t say how long we stood there. It seemed like a short eternity before the elusive rainbow faded from view. I reaffirmed my faith in legends on the spot.”
Stories like that and a faith like that can only come from someone who has dedicated their life to a very remarkable place.
The book is available at the gift shop at Sycamore Shoals State Park, Barnes and Noble in Johnson City, Jaclyn’s Hallmark in Elizabethton, Twigs of the Roan in Roan Mountain and on Amazon.com.