Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
See, straddle the line between two states, grasping the sign
Tennessee and North Carolina, which are we in?
(What a state we are in! Bedraggled travelers,
We’ve been on the road quite a while
North Carolina makes our ninth state in as many days.
We camped last night and I’m wearing the clothes
I slept in, full of campfire smoke.)
* * *
A couple picnics on a stone wall next to their car,
balancing food on laps as we edge past
Please, children, don’t jostle so
watch out, look out, there
Look, look at that view… how many layers do you see if you were to draw
that smokey atmospheric perspective?
Flowers, see, these trees here, more trees, then
ridge on ridge on tree-lined
ridge until the trees are lost in the
haze but you know, know they are there
somewhere in the clouds the blue
shift your perspective then to the nearground then
the sandy ground where wildflowers
bloom beside the side-
walks, little pink
horns blowing faint fairy music calling us to faint, far adventures.
* * *
We stand and take our picture with the mountains as our backdrop
Carefully looking over our shoulders to judge the drop first lest
One of the careless children tumble over.
I stumble on a paving stone distracted by the view and turn
my ankle while it turns my head.
We smile for the camera but my favorite shots will still be
the candid ones where the children are looking elsewhere, looking out
* * *
The Appalachian Trail crossing
a parking lot is where the wild meets
the mundane, hiker
What must it be like to come out of the woods and into this expanse of
glittering cars— that’s the part that I never dreamed
thinking of woods and mountains and rustic
places camping and wool socks and mountain streams.
But civilization must impinge more than I’d think.
More than a thousand miles
to Mount Katahdin, the Greatest Mountain, in Maine, the sign
says. We look up the path and imagine
standing on Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island
in faraway Maine just two months ago
picking blueberries and drinking ice cold blueberry soda to quench
our mountainwalking thirst. And looking out for the distant peak on the horizon, Katahdin.
So, briefly, we turn back
North, the trail pulling us like a magnet, like migrating birds
moving against the tide of the autumnal
migrations, waves of birds and butterflies moving south with the
redsyellowsgoldsorangesbrowns of fall. Northward, upstream, we push
again, up the trail.
Let’s just walk a little ways. So we can say we’ve hiked on The Appalachian Trail.
We stumble over roots and steps, into the dark
tunnel of where the trail might lead, out
of sunlight, out of the
familiar, into the woods.
Up, up, we go and then
turn back, regretfully to our car, our lunch, our shopping, our camp, our road home our
far off familiar
beds, beckoning backwards, forwards.
Two parents with three children, pass us then
one of them, a wee little one holding a wee child-sized walking stick, one
Child in a backpack on dad’s strong back
Mother’s backpack slung with equipment that looks like more than one wants on
a dayhike, but not enough for an overnight camp.
Where are they going where
will they stop? Oh why can’t we keep going on and on—
Why are they going where we can’t quite dare
how are they so bold? Or
is it foolhardy?
Before we quite left the trail tunnel we posed for a happy smiling photo with the sign at the place where the trail. . . not starts? . . . resumes?
At any rate where the sign announces that Here
is that famous trail which you will never really hike but you can dream.
Kanchenjunga, The Matterhorn, The Lonely Mountain, The Misty Mountains, Swallowdale and Moria and Darien, Everest and Kilamanjaro and Chamonix and all the landscapes of our waking dreams rolling on and on.
Where might that road have lead us?
Why are we turning back?
Why can’t we keep going, Mama, why?
An adventure I am not likely to ever take but it calls my soul.
I’m no Granny Gatewood hardened with farmwork, though.
I doubt I’ll ever know what it’s like to take off
your floral print dress, slippers,
put on a pair of Keds, and dungarees and pack
a drawstring sack full of food from a cardboard box
and set off into the wild unprepared.
* * *
Two days later and so many miles under our wheels
we will pass under the overpass labeled
crossing I-90 in far off Massachusetts, a pedestrian bridge over a highway strung
between hills and hills — Another
world, a grey misty day with more mountains, different ones.
I could dream of mountains: Smokies, Blue Ridge, Appalachians, Pocanos,
Catskills, Berkshires, Green, White . . .
I can see them like a spine
an ancient dreaming creature stretched from here to there, a dragon
long dead, forgotten
but for this discontinuous ridge of scattered
These mountains are different from that other, newer, sharper spine,
The Rockies, that parallels it in the West. These mountains
sing a different song.
But here back in the Newfound Gap there are cars from a dozen states or more
Where have they come from where are they going?
Far over the Smoky Mountains cold
We must away to seek….
people with cameras, phones pointed at the far blue upon blue upon blue smoke upon
smoke upon smoke mountains.
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