Sunday, June 19, 2011

“You don’t know the true sense of freedom until your smiling, wonder-filled eyes watch the sun play across the tops of mountains.” ~Nicotye

My (Nicotye) favorite sign... so many options and
all hold the promise of an amazing day.
There is an inherent fear to sharing anything you passionately love... but the love for the thing itself often pushes you to share it. ~Nicotye

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.  ~Author Unknown

So many people in my home state live so close to some amazing geography yet they never take the time (or maybe they can’t physically manage?) to see what our amazing state has to offer.  Have you ever  been to the Smoky’s?  Cumberlands?  Nantahala?  If you’re physically fit, take a walk through them.  Don’t spend all of your time chatting up your family and friends, don’t listen to your ipod, and don’t go so fast that you only have time to look where you plan to plant your next footfall.  This region of the world has gorgeous scenery, even if we lack the rugged, jagged snow-covered peaks of the Rockies or Tetons. 

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.” ~Standing Bear

Nicotye's pic of one of her favorite signs.
You know what stresses me out and scares me to death?  People in “my” nature.  I get irritated that so many people don’t take the time or effort to visit and appreciate the amazing joys of nature.  The sounds of birds and babbling brooks replacing the constant drone of cars or television or people.  The amazing feeling of raindrops on a warm summer afternoon.  The solidarity with nature as your feet lead you on a path you’ve never taken.  The exhilaration of cresting a hill and feeling like the only person in the world graced with the beauty of your new discovery.  The lazy afternoon clouds playing on summits.  A shaft of sunlight streaming through the treetops and illuminating a mountain laurel.  Letting the wind play with your hair.  Hearing the distant thunder and feeling the music from your heritage haunt the air.  All of these things are amazing and irreplaceable moments in life.  These moments calm you.  They quiet your worries.  They ease your tension.  They let you forget about work and stress.  

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.  ~John Burroughs

But then, what scares me to death is fear that others will discover my nature… my peace.  If history has proven anything at all, it is that humankind has generally not protected nature or its inhabitants.  We trash it up, poach it to extinction, ‘develop’ it…  Who are we kidding?  We ruin it for the sake of ‘advancement’.  So yes, nature may not be suited to cater to the masses as they seem to not heed the ‘pack in, pack out’ or “leave no trace” mentality. 

Nature is my medicine.  ~Sara Moss-Wolfe

Nifty things you didn’t know you wanted to know:

Horticulture of the Smoky’s:  When you get to the peak of a summit, you’ll notice that the hardwood trees are replaced by spruce or fir trees.  Know why?  These trees are relics of the last ice age which made the average climate of the higher elevations too cold to sustain other species of trees.  The most common are the red spruce and fraser fir.  Granted, most of the fraser fir’s were killed off by invading insects that were brought from Europe to the US in the early 1900’s.  When you’re nearing a summit, like Clingman’s Dome, you’ll notice a lot of dead fir’s that were killed in the 1960’s by this insect.  Because of that, the red spruce became the dominant tree on the summit landscapes.    

Herpitology 101, anyone?  There’s only 2 poisonous snakes that you may encounter in your trip to the Smoky’s, Cumberlands, or Cherohala/Nantahala/Cherokee.  In the lower elevations you may have an opportunity to glimpse a beautiful Copperhead (aka cottonmouth) and, higher, the timber rattlesnake.  Three things to remember:  1.  The non-venomous corn snake is usually mistaken for a copperhead, 2. Eastern Diamondbacks don’t live this far north (I think their northernmost region is southern North Carolina), and 3. Snakes are more scared of you than you of them… promise.  Imagine how big you look to one of them!  You respect their turf and I’m sure they’ll respect yours.  ((Never EVER forget with ANY wildlife - including snakes - that you are in THEIR habitat and you should leave them alone and not disturb or EVER hurt them!))

Fauna of the Smoky’s: I’ve wanted to see a black bear in the wild for quite some time, and I’ve actually had the joy to have already seen 3.  One of the three was in the Smoky’s and the other two were the BIG guys in Glacier National Park.  Other cool animals to note are the endangered northern flying squirrel, elk (which were reintroduced awhile back), and the most diverse families of salamanders you’ve ever seen (and they are in almost every creek you cross!). 

Heritage of the Smoky’s:  This region is rich in both Native American and Appalachia. 

So sure, stroll through Gatlinburg and maybe hitch a ride to Ober.  Drive to Cherokee and enjoy the casino.   Drive the Cherohala Skyway and marvel at the views… but don’t forget to hike Mount Lecont in Gatlinburg.  Hike Mount Guyot in Cherokee and walk Ocanluftee. And at the end of the amazingly scenic Cherohala Skyway, stop and hike through Joyce Kilmer. 

Nicotye's photo of a hiking bridge in the Smoky's
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.  ~Rachel Carson

So tell me, why haven’t you gone?  What auspices have bolstered your  excuses?  Too little time?  Too far away?  Too expensive?  Look around.  Hiking (especially day trekking) is very little monetary investment and I promise you that enjoying a day out beats a day in front of your computer or TV.  Have kids? Take them.  Let them see the beauty of nature and help them learn to respect that you take OUT more than you take IN (meaning you pack everything you brought back out, pack out any other trash you come across, and have not only the memories but the feeling of doing a small favor back to nature).   

Human nature is just about the only nature some people experience.  ~Abigail Charleson

Nature isn’t something that we own or something that is just ‘out there’… it's something we marvel over, spend quality time in, nurture, and care for....... 

“You don’t know the true sense of freedom until your smiling, wonder-filled eyes watch the sun play across  the tops of mountains.”  ~Nicotye

Want to see more of my hiking photos? I'm working on building a 'personal portfolio' on trips where I can handle the added weight of my good camera.  Feel free to take a look!  Nicotye's Hiking Photos

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