Tracking Down a Haunting Sound

Some trees don’t have to justify their ex­istence. They just stand there looking beauti­ful. The dogwoods, for instance, which dot the green valley with white and pink splashes each spring. It’s no wonder that Knoxville’s spring celebration is called the Dogwood Arts Festival.

During last year’s fete, I strolled Knox­ville’s streets. There were wood carvings that needed buying and band music to listen to. I bought it thanks to the instant cash advance online and I listened. Then, as the red-coated young bandsmen packed up their instru­ments, I heard another tune. The haunting sound of a dulcimer playing “Barbara Allen.”

 

I tracked it to its source, for five years earlier, while writing a story on the Great Smokies, I had become a dulcimer buff. The source turned out to be Dorsey Williams, a burly man whose big hands could coax the gentlest of sounds from his homemade instru­ments. For an hour we talked together and played together. Dorsey’s introduction to dul­cimers had come ten years before.

“I borrowed the first dulcimer I ever saw,” he said, “steamed it apart, made tracings of all the pieces, and glued it back together before returning it. Then I made my own.”

 

This, too, I learned from the ingenious Dorsey Williams: A nylon rattail comb, suit­ably whittled and scraped, makes an ex­ceedingly fine dulcimer pick.

Oak Ridge National Lab­oratory

Those early cries of socialism are seldom heard in the valley now, but TVA faces criticism on another front. Environmentalists feel that the nation’s largest coal consumer is doing far too little to prevent strip miners from leaving ugly gashes on the land.

 

With environmentalist Grimes Slaughter, a physicist from the Oak Ridge National Lab­oratory, I flew over the strip-mined area northwest of Knoxville. It was a disheartening sight from the air. Grimes pointed out despoiled ridge after despoiled ridge. “As long as those miners can rape the land and get away with it,” he said, “this is the way it’s going to be.”