Out of the Smokies


We made it out. The Smokies were a wild ride, including the highest point of the entire trail, Clingman’s Dome, at over 6600 feet. Currently we are sitting around a campfire made by a couple of erstwhile Georgia thru-hikers, full of hot cocoa, and Vitamin D absorbed during an afternoon of sunny hiking through shallow snow. It’s a relief to be a bit lower, as the temps are dipping into the low 20s tonight down in the valleys.

The Smokies gave us rain, wind, hail, fog, thunder, cold nights… and vast views, the first flower, the first baby poison ivy sprout, and our first 23 mile day, which was exhilarating.

Unlike other parts of the Trail, hikers are required to stay in shelters, so we left our tent in the bag. I discovered I love shelters. No mice as yet, and the shelters there are made of elegant stone, with tarps blocking the opening from winds, and a fireplace in each. The night of the worst weather, we quit at 4 pm. We were joined by a family on spring break. As it hailed outside, they boiled a giant vat of soup. Then the father brought out a coffee tin in which he had concealed a birthday cake and candles for his son. And astronaut ice cream: lightweight, of course. We have watched with interest the different groups of people we pass: their differing energies, whether we want to share in them, or just observe from outside. We liked this group. Though I bet next time the mom stays home… she didn’t look too happy.

Also, my dreams have been bulging with food. Banquets, hors d’oeuvres, and everything in between. Also, beds. Funny how my desires have become so simple, so primal. Freud would be bored looking at my dreams.

Time to hit the hay now… bedtime is sundown, and we wake naturally before dawn. Before I go, though, I need to thank some more trail angels… in sleepy Fontana Dam, Stick Girl graced us with the trail magic of apples, bananas, tootsie rolls, honeydew melon, and a ride to the laundromat. And up in the hills, Fresh Grounds decamped in a gap with coffee, soup and bread on a chilly morning. Good dreams indeed!


I have long been thankful that humans – and most creatures – require sleep. No matter how determined, how frantic, how executive, controlling, even insomniac a person may be, eventually, sleep’s gonna win. Every pesky little doer is going to be taken out of commission, made vulnerable, and rejuvenated through a host of mysterious mental and physical processes. And on a regular basis. So… may as well find a dark nest and accept it.

I love that it’s mostly unconscious, but still one is aware of time having passed afterward. A solid chunk of relief from I, from thought – and the awareness that it happened, even though there’s really nothing to remember. Long hours of simple bodily being, practically without effort. As a sucky meditator, but one who loves it on the rare instances when it “works,” this is a spectacular reprieve. Being in a body is a strange experience, so damn particular all the time, bounded and defined. But when it gets dark– the sublime melt. Good practice for death, though who knows what that’s like. Good practice for surrender, for succumbing, for giving over what doesn’t belong to me, not permanently anyway.

Of course, it is interrupted by absurdities, which are in turn laced with archetypes – two of the most interesting things around, really. But even without dreams, there is no boredom. Thank the powers of evolution that it’s not possible to lie asleep bored for a third of one’s life.

And arguably, humankind does the least damage while hitting the sack. Arlo Guthrie has said that he prefers a sleeping president. After all, who can you bomb while you’re sawing logs? On a smaller scale, I know I do the world no favors when I am sleep-deprived. Even a few missed hours on a single night, and I’m beastly. This is why statistics on the ever-decreasing average nightly conk-out time of American citizens so alarms me. People of the nation, save yourselves and the world. Hear my impassioned cry for more sleep: (yawns)

Sleep makes wakefulness beautiful, or at least bearable. In these dark days, sleep is even more a confidant, a lover, a land to be explored.  So good morning. I hope it was lovely. And, in not so long – good night.