Monday, August 15, 2011

Atop the Mountain

Mark and I generally travel with ideas of destination in mind but let the path reveal itself as it happens, and so typical to form, we have covered many acres and miles in our past two days in our escape from the hot lands of Alabama, and the responsibilities of home sweet home. Now after five hundred miles we have arrived at our lodge, Snowbird Lodge (near Robbinsville,NC) our base camp for the next week. Mark will teach a workshop and I will have the luxurious chance to be on no time frame other than when meals might happen and adventure is coming up. Bags are unpacked, wine is poured, shoes are off. There will be no agenda, save dinner at seven tonight, and an early sleep.
Perhaps I should recount our yesterday sights and doings, as we were so far into the boonies that there were no cell signals and no wi-fi at most locations. We did find one spot high enough on a mountain to get a signal, but for most it was communication isolation, which all being said, is not a bad way to spend a few days.
After our first night’s culinary caper with the antique car dudes and hamburgers served by the amply girthed maidens in the middle of somewhere east Tennessee, we drifted closer to the north western  gates of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, found a place to light and spent a quiet night. Not too early up, we sought a breakfast at a diner across the highway from the hotel that showed promise.
There were lots of cars and lots of big fat tired Harleys there, and one thing we have learned is that bikers like food, and if they are there it might stand of chance of some nutritional value. Well, that might be pushing it,  and we did figure that it might be difficult to mess up and egg. Our guess was right and between the “papa bear” portion or the “momma bear” portion, which was a paragraph of a listing of everything from and including a serving of country ham, bacon, ribeye steak, with three eggs, grits or potato chunks, gravy, toast or biscuits, and coffee to wash down the gastronomical overload. One could also add a super sized pancake to go with the muffins as well.
It was too much for me and I ordered, what turned out to be, an enormous bowl of oatmeal, of which i finished not half. There were some ladies behind at another table who did venture into the “momma bear” servings when they ordered. They may be there still trying to get that much  food down. After that we headed into the mountains towards Cade’s Cove.
Cade’s Cove is place we love to visit and done so often in the past many years. It is ten mile long valley with a loop road that takes you on a one way road around the perimeter of what used to be a very remote farming village and community in the middle of a circle of tall mountains. It was rich dirt, high in calcium, eroded alluvial soil deposited there over millions of years, and excellent for raising cattle and crops, and enough to keep a family growing. There are several churches built mostly in the mid to late 1800’s, several log structures of varying degrees of skill of workmanship and affluence, vast open fields now growing a bit wild and unkempt with a dashing of Queen Ann’s Lace white flower tops waving in the breeze with the grass heads, and a mill to grind the large quantities of  corn that was once grown there to sustain both human and beasts alike.

While walking around the remains of the mill, which were being refurbished, we met a family playing in the water of the long flume that still directed the flow of water into the turbine which turned the grind stone. There was a mom and dad, and their three girls and upon conversation it turned out that they had made a game of using the flume for afternoon cooling off in the cool waters and also, a way to race boats. 

The dad showed us his hand made wooden tiny boats which each child would chose for a particular race. Brightly painted, they were different shapes, each carefully thought out to be the most competitive in this venue. The dad’s favorite was yellow doughnut shape as his theory was it not getting hung up on rocks and snags as the boats floated to the finish line. 
Each child had picked a winning boat that day and all seemed content to have played with such a simple concept as floating a wooden boat down an old flume, racing beside it as they headed to the finish line. I marveled at the difference of the stimulus of the modern child in our world where computers and x-boxes control their brains, compared to these kids who were out here learning things about the natural world and their environment, turning over rocks to find creatures who live here, too, and enjoying reality of dirt, air, and water. Who is the more lucky, the learned?
The Cove is a return to a place which remains fixed in time, a glimpse of the past, and a place for us to reflect and use this place to reconnect to both a way of simplicity and hardship. This was not a place for the faint of heart when it was settled. Indians, who were beginning to be no so amused at the presence of white man, still were prevalent, as most of it was their home turf. There is also the very real problem of getting there and, most importantly, getting your stuff there. There was no paved road courtesy of the Park system. The remnants of the rough trail could still be seen following the creek bed, that our modern road crossed back and forth on the winding roads over easy paved bridges, their trails crossed rock strewn barres, trails only wide enough for the wheels of a wagon. 
We visited several of the home sites but decided to move on as the day was warm, not as hot as home, but we knew of cooler temps just ahead on our drive, and left the loop road to the bicyclers, and truck loads of sight seers literally loaded in the back of their trucks, sitting atop their coolers and keeping hydrated with various assorted beverages.
We drove up the mountain, winding turn after winding turn, the varieties of deciduous trees giving way to the spirals of the few remaining hemlock, spruce, and fir trees. It was astonishing at the difference in the view of the mountains and valleys and gaps below us when we reached the pinnacle of our destination, Clingman’s Dome. In recent years the pine beetle invasion has become sadly so evident, but now the huge loss of these giants of trees is painfully clear, that their time here is fleeting. The standing white bones of these monuments stood now as reminders of how fragile our time is here, whether tree or human, it is the fact for us all. Nature moves on. 
For the moment however, we parked at the top of a ridge in a parking lot that faced south and west. A thunder storm had already passed the area before we had arrived and a cool breeze was driving folks back to their cars for jackets.  To go from the valley far below at a humid, and relatively warm, eighty something, to now a soothing sixty degrees and breezy, was what we were here for. The view of the mountains surrounding us on this peak loomed in blues and purples, with valleys, gaps, and ridges draped in cool greens.  
We were astonished at the number of foreign accents there were around us. One Japanese young girl was walking along speaking in what sounded to me like a foreign language, (you think?) but I heard her words, among the jibberish i could not follow, “The Great Smoky National Park”. She repeated this phrase in a very excited tone, several times to whoever was listening on the other end of the signal.

It made me think that this Park which we have visited so many times, and have become so familiar with, is a totally new wonder to others from far away. It was a wise move that was made that came to form this area as Park and to preserve it so all could share. I admire the vision and am grateful. 
These mountains are so beautiful, peaceful, and give to the soul a much needed change of perspective. I sigh...

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