May 21st, 4:48pm
Ila Hatter’s lifelong pursuit of botany had made her a leading authority on medicinal and edible plants, despite no formal training. We read about her in Women of the Smokies, and were thrilled when after an introduction from the author, Ila invited us over for lunch at her home in Whittier, NC – just past the south end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and within the Qualla boundary. We pulled into a long driveway where Ila and her husband welcomed us.
Jerry Coleman met Ila Hatter at a prayer circle of the Cherokee tribe. Ila had moved to North Carolina to study plant life in one of the most diverse habitats for plant species in the world - the Smoky Mountains. Jerry, originally from Birmingham, AL, was drawn to Cherokee, NC, to learn more about his heritage after his Cherokee father passed away. It must have been 45 minutes into our conversation before they stopped to ask if we had any questions.
Not that we minded. Ila and Jerry were warm, gracious, and eager to share their lifetime of study of the Cherokee heritage with us. We spoke of hard times, like the Trail of Tears and American policies toward American Indians, but also about colorful locals like the moonshiner Jim Tom, and ballad singers like Sheila Kay Adams. After telling us story after story, and leaving us with books and movies with further information on the diverse plant species, she left us with this thought - that “what you seek, will seek you.”