MONTICELLO, Ark. — All apologies for the lack of posts in September. But as promised, a cross-post from my personal blog when it relates to the South.
For those wondering, this week’s celebrating the U.S. National Parks and Ken Burns’ documentary showing on PBS. After staying West for most of the week, it’s time to turn attention to the Eastern United States.
The Great Smoky Mountains hold a special place in my heart for many reasons, some of which I will describe. I first remember visiting the Smokies at the age of 5, about the time my parents were going through a divorce. Mama and Papa took me on a tour of the Southeast in hopes of getting my mind off the events at home. For the most part, it did.
It’s amazing that 35 years later, I still remember some of the things I saw, e.g. I remember seeing people outside of their cars trying to get pictures of the black bears. Granted, some of this memory has been muddled as Tanya told me about her dad trying to take a picture of a black bear and getting closer and closer until he realized he was way, way TOO close.
Much clearer, I remember coming into the North Carolina side of the Smokies. A caged bear amused tourists by drinking soda pop from a bottle. I’ll never forget how sad it seemed to see such a magnificent animal behind bars when I’d just seen other bears in the “wild.”
I also remember meeting Chief Fish (at least that’s what he told me his name was) and getting a picture. When I returned to the area a quarter of a century later, I asked about Chief Fish and was told that he had moved away to start a road-paving business. I don’t hold that against him, but I wonder if he got tired of being a curiosity. I know I will never forget him.
I moved to Eastern Tennessee in the late 1990s to work on my doctorate at the University of Tennessee. While there, I took a bunch of trips to the Great Smoky Mountains to clear my mind. It was a special haven, especially after one of the most severe break-ups I encountered in my lifetime. I don’t recommend having personal angst as a reason to see it, but the beauty puts things into perspective.
I turned the camera eye on the Smokies to provide pictures for Scenic Vistas, a special feature in The Southerner online magazine that we started while I was in graduate school. The picture at the bottom of this post and the river picture to the left both came from that period.
One of the best places in the Smokies must be Cades Cove, a nice circular drive that takes you past some of the original settlers’ outposts and pastoral scenes, including this one of deer in the field.
One of the funniest things about the Great Smoky Mountains that I heard actually came from a conversation with a North Carolina resident while I was visiting Boone. She noted the “Flor-idiots” would come up to see the scenery and stop in the middle of the roads, causing traffic jams (at the very least) and occasionally being a health hazard to those not smart enough to get out of the road.
But really, who can blame them when you see sights such as this (below)? Once again, I plan to add a section to my home page of photos from across the nation … but that takes time and right now, time is taken. Soon? I hope. Until then, hope you enjoy what’s shown here, but better yet, get out and see it for yourself. It makes me proud that our government set land aside for future generations to enjoy without having to be wealthy individuals. Truly, it’s one of the best things our government has ever done.
A rock tunnel beckons as you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park…
by Glynn Wilson
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS — When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood at Newfound Gap with one foot in North Carolina and the other in Tennessee on Sept. 2, 1940 at the official opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the visibility into the dark blue ridges ranged about 80 miles. By the year 2000, soot and ozone from automobiles and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal-fired power plants in East Tennessee had so polluted the air that on a good day, you could only see for about 12 miles.
Due to cleaner cars and smoke stack scrubbers on TVA’s three nearby coal-fired power plants, and a 10 percent drop in the number of people and cars passing through the park over the past decade, perhaps, you can now see for about 14 miles, a slight improvement of a couple of miles, according to park spokesman Bob Miller.
Peak autumn color photos from the Catawba River in Marion, North Carolina.
by Glynn Wilson
MARION, N.C., Oct. 22 – It was about 3 p.m. Eastern Time when I finally got the boat in the water after a buffet lunch downtown in what used to be an old hotel back in prohibition days. With the gear all loaded up for what was supposed to be a two or three hour meandering float, I got about 10 yards down the Catawba River and hit the first shallow shoals and the strongest current from Highway 70 to Lake James.
Before I could get my dumbass fully oriented to the strange stream that should have been a cake walk in a canoe, I got tangled in the current next to several downed trees in the water. In other words, I busted my ass and got wet.
But did I pull out and give up? Not a chance.
I grabbed the dry bag with the digital camera and other crucial supplies inside, including a dry lighter and the inspiration, along with one of the two paddles. And with only one boat shoe left, I turned the canoe over on a log and got all the water out then shoved off into mid-stream and took off.
For the first mile and a half it was nip and tuck and stay on your toes and paddle and steer over the shoals in the fast current and around the snake-like bends in the river.
Twice I had to lift my weight off the seat and scoot over the rocks, keeping the canoe straight all along to avoid getting turned sidways in the current. Once I had to put my right foot out of the boat (the one with the rubber water shoe) and push off to get going again.
The first wildlife I encountered was what I call an ugly duck. It was black with a white face and this gnarly red thing on its head, sort of like a chicken. If it wasn’t so late, I would Google the species and provide a link. Ugly sucker. He floated along with us for awhile.
When the river finally slowed down enough to relax and break out the camera, two pairs of mallards took off in front of us on every turn, along with a couple of great blue herons. It was as if we were chasing the fish down stream into their path.
At one point we (the boat and me) scared off a cooper’s hawk and a great blue fishing the same hole.
Two river otters showed up on the trip. The second one came running down a beach and dove into the water in front of the boat, then aimed his head in the water right at me and started complaining like a damn squirrel. Not knowing if he might try to jump in the boat and get personal, I stopped taking pictures and started paddling. He went down and swam under the boat, then came out behind me with a splash. But when I tried to make a stream u-eee, he disappeared.
At the downstream end of one of the campgrounds along the river, a German shepherd dove in and chased me down stream for a ways. He couldn’t keep up.
As the river got wider and deeper and slowed down and got closer to the lake, the bends became covered in autumn color, yellow, gold and red, with some left-over green mixed in. It was hard to keep paddling, even knowing the sun was going down by 7 p.m. and even soaking wet from the cold Blue Ridge mountain water.
These are only a couple of the more than 200 photos. Now if only I could get this slide show function in Adobe Photoshop to work, I could show you them all
The trains are still running through the pass, but the wind has picked up and it’s growing almost too cold for the smoking porch. Guess I’ll knock back one more Yuengling (yes, they even sell it in Marion, but not in the grocery store since it’s a semi-dry county) and kick back with Cody the dog for the night.
On Monday, the plan is to mine for gold and shoot aerial photos of the peak color from a small airplane. If it looks from the air anything like what it looked like in a van on the Blue Ridge Parkway or a canoe on the Catawba River, it’s about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in nature.
And that includes the beach in October…
Photo by Glynn Wilson
The Catawba River is the place to be this time of year, if you chase art on water…
A couple of migrating monarch butterflies (danaus plexippus) feeding on the wide variety of plants in the Ft. Walton Beach Ramada Inn gardens. Read our previous story about the migration in The Southerner magazine.