May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey
During the drive in, the first light peeked in and slowly gave form to the trees, animals, mountains, and the to the low hanging clouds that looked like smoke which gives this lovely National Park it’s name – The Great Smoky Mountains. As the light grew in intensity the shades of grey gradually took on muted color then burst into abundant color, myriads of colors from deep reds to shocking yellows. The mist in the air ensured the colors were rich and saturated and pleasing to the eyes.
This land which hosts the greatest numbers of tree species of anywhere in the US or Europe also has the greatest variety of autumn color I have ever seen in one location. I was awestruck at the beauty that never seemed to end.
This is not a land of just color and mountains. It is also a land rich in history. A number of old structures are still on hand in the National Park. Homes built by hand in the 1800s still stand as a monument to those that created a living space in the wilderness.
Churches also built by hand were in the Cove. I went into each one, stood behind the pulpit, sat in the pews. I wondered, how many people were touched by the Hand of God in these little churches.
With each of the three churches, there was also an associated cemetery. I looked at the grave stones reading many of the inscriptions. I was shocked at the number of stones dedicated to children many of whom where born and died on the same day. It gave me a shock reminder at the difficulty of living in the ‘olden’ days. I was saddened by the deaths of those I never met who never had their chance to make a mark in this world. And I was very glad for modern medicine which has ensured my children survived past the day or weeks of their births.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was a 5 mile round trip walk to Abrams falls. The weather was overcast and a bit drizzly. Perfect for hiking. The hike included four significant climbs in each direction. During the 3 hours, the weather was schizophrenic changing from drizzle to bright sunshine and back again a good half dozen times. I quit taking the rain coat off and on and decided to leave it in my backpack. For most of the hike, the river was a companion. The singing river, the trickling river, the surging river, the whispering river.
As the falls loomed close, the river began to talk in loud notes, guttural tones demanding the attention of the ears. Bird song was no longer evident just the roar of the falls. The air around the river smelled fresh and clean. The power of the falls was intense. How much more power did these falls evoke in Spring snow melt. It must be at least double the surging water that was here today. Oh how I would love to see the water crashing over the rocks with double the intensity. Would the noise be so loud that I could not hear myself think? Would the pool be too deep to approach the thunderous churning of the water?
On the way out, I took time to contemplate the grandeur of these mountains. To let the sights and sounds wash over me unfettered and sweep my mind away to careen down the river, bounce over the rocks, swirl in the eddies, caress the legs of the wading birds and filter through the gills of the trout eventually to be sucked up into the clouds and deposited like rain back to my consciousness. Oh what an adventure it must be to live to the rhythms of nature free of the fetters that bind our bodies to our jobs and our minds to making a living.
For now, I do have responsibilities that require me to make a living but someday I will be free of these duties, free to let my wanderlust take over for travel and time to contemplate wild places for weeks on end instead of a mere days here and there. Until that day comes, I will do all in my power to carve out these brief sojourns, to commune with nature and create memories that will sustain my soul.