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Smoke in the Smokies

In response to:

Appalachian Spring from the January 21, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

In V.S. Pritchett’s engaging reminiscence, “Appalachian Spring” [NYR, January 21] he writes, “The Smokies have been called that name because of the clouds that caught them or lay across the ravines below….”

I believe it is generally agreed the Great Smokies are so named because during the summer and well along into fall, the evaporating turpentine from millions of trees, principally longleaf and slash pines, volatilizes from the sticky pitch which exudes where ever pines are wounded, either deliberately from collecting cuts, or accidentally from falling branches, and produces a haze or smoke.

Before modern distillation methods the by-products of this resin or pitch were distilled over open woodburning fires, and, in addition, the smouldering fires producing charcoal and tar, created an even heavier haze and smoke than we see today. Of course, the resin-covered trees may accidentally catch fire in dry weather and smoke will cover hundreds of square miles.

Charles Schwartz

Farmingdale, New Jersey

V.S Pritchett replies:

I am fascinated by the scientific explanation of the source of the cloud lakes in the Appalachians. When I was walking there in the 1920s, the mountain people used to tell me that they were due to evaporation of the heavy rains. Turpentine seems to create the only known beautiful form of smog. How strange! Thank you Charles Schwartz.

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