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!


The deserted mill was long ago reduced to heaps of rubble and broken rebar. Cracked grasses obscure abandoned construction tools. There is a path alongside, hint of the development that will overthrow and then landscape these acres as soon as the Economy turns around and men resume their habit of expanding. There is only a little faroff morning traffic, and the air is motionless—but for a bit of steam rising. Two unobtrusive mounds, each the width of a truck and the length of two, are tarped in green plastic, weighted with stones. Between the seams, still the steam is rising. These two could be mistaken for smoldering piles of leaves, but for a passage of cut plywood, like the door to an igloo, and for a smell riding on the steam, unnameable but suggestive of southern states, of dampness, of childhood hideouts. The dog walkers do not notice, though the dogs do: this desert has a fruit, and a flower. This desert has a purpose; this wasteland is home.