I have been admittedly absent from both this blog and the twitter recently, but with good reason. My time has been equally consumed, I would say, by both working out in the field and doing all sorts of research at the library and archives here at park headquarters.
I’ve seen some of the most amazing things in these mountains over the past week. Black bears climbing trees in search of acorns. Little lizards snatching up insects before they can fly away. Young bucks practice fighting, their antlers all a tangle. Monarch butterflies, migrating from Canada to Mexico. And did I mention mountains?
The early morning mists of Cades Cove offer one of the most inspiring sights of the Smokies. (Click to enlarge)
I got some great footage of most of those things, but I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to show most of it until after I return home. Why? Because I’m so dang busy! I don’t want to spend all my time here glued to a computer!
Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve also spent a good chunk of time here doing research, and I’ve somewhat alluded to what it may pertain to. Well, let me introduce you to Art Stupka.
Born October 24, 1905 in Cleveland, Ohio, Arthur Stupka was in love with wild things from the earliest years of his life. He was a summer camp counselor, nature writer in his high school and college newspapers, and worked a summer as a park ranger in Yosemite before even graduating from Ohio State. He then spent several years as a ranger and naturalist in Acadia National Park before arriving in the Smokies in 1935, where he served as the park's first and chief naturalist for the next twenty-eight years.
He was the pioneering force for species identification in the Smokies, documenting 18,000 different plants, animals, and insects with handwritten observations and hundreds upon hundreds of pages of daily journals.
See, things worked differently in the parks back then. There was no such thing as teams of biologists, entomologists, botanists, and so on, traveling around the park with computers, scientific gadgets, and machinery (no offense to the incredible NPS employees nowadays). Back then, it was a man, his own knowledge, a journal, and maybe a camera or a pair of binoculars.
Right: GSMNP naturalist staff, summer 1942
But it wasn’t just Stupka’s accomplishments that make him so noteworthy. The way he experienced and wrote about nature is just breath taking. It’s akin to the work of John Muir, lacking only the frequent religious references. He wrote about his experience in the outdoors in a way that was, quite frankly, poetic. Now, I don’t want to spoil too much of his work ahead of time, but here’s an example that shows despite the meticulousness of his work, he still carried with him a pretty endearing sense of humor.
"Sign at Tricorner Knob damaged by bears. Several markers of this type have likewise been mistreated by these animals. Tooth marks usually present and it is possible that bears may be attracted by oil used in the paint--or are bears simply opposed to signs in a national park?”
–GSMNP Monthly Report, August 1936
So why all this info about this random guy? Well, I haven’t just been researching him for fun. So let me announce, for the first time, the exciting news of my latest venture into both filmmaking and conservation.
The title has a great significance that I won't reveal just yet. For those who don't know, "thrush" refers to
I’m incredibly excited to share this news with everyone, and while most of the work is still ahead of me, I can’t wait to finish so that I can share this man’s amazing story. What’s next? Well I’ve still got more research to do. I’ll be working on scheduling interviews before I leave the park, and I’ll be getting as much related footage as possible while I’m here. Most likely, I’ll have to come back several times so that I can flush out the many different aspects of this story.
A finished product is a long ways away, but I hope to be able to give you a little taste of what to expect in the coming weeks. It will be a very much a biographical documentary, not too far from something like the work of Ken Burns. However, using the beautiful writing of Art Stupka as a guide, I also hope to bring some of his observations to life and expose some beautiful scenes from the Great Smoky Mountains.