Early one October morning, I was looking out from our rented vacation cabin near Gatlinburg, TN. The cool Smoky Mountain air brushed past me like soft feathers and the sleepy sun was barely above the horizon. The mountains were covered in a haze of multi-faceted shades of gray. I wondered how long the fog would last. In the Smoky Mountains, fog is mostly an ever present friend. Sometimes I feel like I am surrounded by clouds.
When I am in Gatlinburg, I feel at home…just like I feel at home in many mountain towns in Colorado. Evidently, I was supposed to live in the mountains. I have truly made this statement many times. The majesty and beauty and mystery of the mountains fill me with awe and wonderment. I visited Gatlinburg many times when I was growing up and I still visit every chance that I get. Several years ago, we went to Atlanta for a wedding and were totally compelled to drive to Gatlinburg for a few extra days. The drive from Atlanta to the Smoky Mountains was more beautiful every mile. And interesting too…antique stores in every small town.
We drove through Cherokee, NC…a very pretty town that is close to the eastern entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. Many years ago, I had a friend who originally was from Cherokee. As we drove through the town, I wondered why someone would ever leave such a beautiful area. I suppose that the lure of the University of North Carolina and an excellent education were too enticing. It is often later in life that people realize the reality of their heritage and hometown. If I was from a town near the Smoky Mountains, I wonder if I would leave. I doubt it.
I had never entered the Smoky Mountains from the eastern side. The road was very winding and narrow in some places. The forests were very thick. I was reminded that before the Smoky Mountain National Park was opened, there was controversy from small land owners and timber companies. The small land owners did not want to give up their land. I imagine that the timber companies did not want to give up their future profits. Now that we have a family farm, I realize what it would be like to be asked to give up your land for a national park…no matter how much money might have been offered. We were told that a pipeline was going to be constructed through a portion of our land several years ago. We were not happy, but there honestly was no recourse. We did receive some monetary compensation, but nothing would compensate for a pipeline placed in the part of our land with the prettiest view. I have thought many times of those original land owners where the Smoky Mountains National Park is now located. How did they feel?
I am in awe of the Smoky Mountains and I am sure that they were in awe of the Smoky Mountains. Their home in the mountains taken away…sad. Yet, the joy I feel when I am there is deep. The Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. When you enter the park from Gatlinburg, you can drive on a loop that goes through a valley called Cades Cove. We once saw a mother bear with three small cubs following her. You might see a white-tailed deer, a coyote or two, wild turkey plus the illusive bears. The most interesting part of Cades Cove are the original log cabins. Restored to reflect the lives of homeowners from the 1800 era, I think of the cabins as a gift…a way to honor those who gave so much to future generations.
Nearby Gatlinburg does not really offer much homage to original inhabitants. Gatlinburg is more tourist oriented and that is fine with me. I like the shops, the activities, the crafts, the home-cooking restaurants, the people. But mostly…I like the view of the mountains, the hazy air, the tall trees, and the remembrance of those who lived in the Smoky Mountains so very long ago. My mother grew up in Nashville, my grandparents lived there, and I still have many relatives in Tennessee. I like to think that some of my relatives once lived in the Smoky Mountains. Actually, they probably did. And to those original residents…I say thank you for giving your land for us to enjoy. I am in awe of your generosity.