The Mountains are Calling

“So, I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now
Over the hills where the spirits fly…”  -Robert Plant

K2 and I both love the mountains. There is something about being in places that rose into existence from the depths of the Earth long before my birth, surrounded by trees that were standing when my Great Grandfather was still walking this land, wading up streams to waterfalls that were born with a trickle of water over limestone rocks. Whenever I lose myself, I can head for the mountains. It is there, in the cool mountain air, under a canopy of stars, or in the silence of a grass lined meadow, that I find myself again.

In the eastern part of Tennessee and into western North Carolina, is one of the truly iconic National Parks in the lower forty-eight states, the Great Smoky Mountains. Its location is both convenient and accessible from our home in Middle Tennessee. The unfortunate part of this location is that it is also convenient and accessible to most of the eastern seaboard and with that, most of the population centers of the United States. Thus, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited of all the parks annually with just over twelve million visitors seeking peace and solitude in 2020. Given those numbers, it can be difficult to get away from it all. And is not that why we escape to the mountains in the first place? With all that in mind, K2 and I decided to take a mountain excursion recently to our American version of the Misty Mountains of Tolkien lore. The Cherokee called it Shaconage (sha-kon-a-hay) or “place of the blue smoke” and considered it sacred. It is hard to argue with their sacred assessment. Mountains are mystical by default in my book, and these mountains are mist-iful as well. Truthfully, it is true that it is not really mist or smoke that clings to the mountainside, but vapor given off by the abundant plant life that rises from the forest below. The fog-like blanket of blue clouds does however give the Smokies an almost surreal or spiritual aspect that is something everyone should experience in person.

Any visit to the Smoky Mountains would be incomplete without a trip to Cades Cove. Unfortunately, like most wonderful places, it also attracts the most visitors and it can be hard to navigate the 11-mile loop road that winds and turns its way through the park.  K2 and I were fortunate we visited in a down time for tourists, and so our drive was unhindered by the crowds, and thankfully so. It is not just a drive through the park, it feels like a drive through time itself. It is hard for us to imagine now, but places like this were once lived in by Native Americans, settled by early pioneers in the area, hiked and hunted by young children. We are walking, or in the loop drive case, driving on history. Imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place as this, when there were only a handful of cabins scattered along the meadows, when Cherokee still roamed the mountains surrounding you, before phones, the internet, and webinars. K2 and I discussed such things. I was quick to say that I would love to be alive at such a time to be free to explore with as little human interference as possible, to live off the land like my native ancestors before me. K2 had a different opinion and quickly pointed out about advancements in medicine, disease prevention, and all the sanitary sundries that we take for granted daily, like clean drinking water. Ok, um, those things are good…But you will be glad to know that I was sticking to my guns triumphantly, until the indoor plumbing issue came up, and I must admit, I wilted like a lily in the snow with the thought of going outside at 3am in 15-degree weather just to use the restroom. It seems, I too have a line I will not cross! After this setback to my manliness and my pioneering spirit, it then dawned on me that this very thing is what makes the history in Cades Cove so fascinating. People arrived here, they settled here, they survived here. They had no choice about their appointed time here, as we ourselves have no choice in ours. It is our time now just as it was their time then. You do what you must do. You cannot worry about what you have and what you do not have, you just work and make the most of what you do have to survive. It sounds simple, but those of us that are older know that it is not. It takes patience and resilience, heart and grit, love, and respect. If you go to places such as this, put away your phone, close your eyes and listen…you will hear their voices in the wind and feel their presence in the smoky mist. We stand upon their shoulders now just as our children will stand upon ours. It is a legacy of love that is worth protecting.

Just north of the Great Smoky Mountains and serving as a gateway town for the park, lies Wears Valley, Tennessee. It is a small farming community that grows exponentially in size during the peak visitation season to the big park that sits just south of the town. Luckily for K2 and me, we visited during the offseason. And while nearby Pigeon Forge was still a nightmare to drive around in, Wears Valley and neighboring Townsend were exhaling from the recent Fall foliage deluge of sightseers to the Southern Appalachians, which made for easy access to the park and the surrounding small towns. Our criteria for choosing housing, especially cabins in this type of mountain setting, is quite simple:  How is the view…i.e. Can we see a lot of other cabins as we sit on our deck and is there a fireplace? While the latter is commonplace in the world of cabins in the Smokies, the former is increasingly harder to come by these days as new developments are engulfing the mountain side like newly hatched locusts on a field of green crops. Seeking seclusion in our stay, we stumbled upon a truly Unforgettable cabin to relax and recharge in for a few days and nights. No, really that was the name of the cabin—Unforgettable! Quiet and secluded with a magnificent view of actual trees and the western sky, it was everything we could ask for and more. Places like this are inspiring. They stir your spirit and awaken your soul or as author Victoria Erickson so eloquently put it, “Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty.”  I must concur with Victoria. Nothing beckons me more than the allure of the mountains out my window, trees that stretch to the heavens, a seldom traveled path that disappears into the brush over the horizon, and a stream snaking its way through the woods and freefalling over a wall of rocks and earth that were cut into the side of a mountain by unseen hands, in a time so long before my time.  And like our cabin’s namesake, a quick get away to the mountains, well, it is always Unforgettable!

Cades Cove

Happy Wandering!


Unforgettable Sunset from the Cabin
The Misty Mountains are Calling
Cades Cove Loop Road
A Roadway into Yesterday
A look back in time…John Oliver Cabin

The Great Smoky Mountains
Whitetail Buck in the Meadow

Cable Mill Area in Cades Cove
Mountain Meadow

Carter Shields Cabin

Hey look..
No subdivision.
A Storm Rolls into
the Meadow
Hard to argue with the beauty of a mountain stream.

Rocks from the basement of time…”
Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” -A River Runs Through It
Much history here in the Cove.
Snaking our way through time.
If peace had a face…

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