My family and I recently visited Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I hadn’t been there since I was a child. The drive in, leans easily into rolling green hills. Just when you think the views can’t get any more awe inspiring, the park sprawls out ahead, peak, after magnificent peak. The lush tops are shrouded in a veil of clouds, even on the sunniest of days. I yearn to be close to them, to be embedded in their midst.
Standing out on the covered deck of our cabin, my eyes scan the trees. The sweet melody of an Indigo Bunting, swirls in the pristine air. There he is, perched at the highest limb of a decaying tree. His small blue form pops against the forest landscape. I watch him for a few moments through the lens of my binoculars. The stillness of everything covers me like a weighted blanket. I draw in breath, slow and deep. Holding on to this slice of time, pressing it into my chest, not wanting another minute to pass by.
We are here to celebrate our parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. This milestone, fraught with uncertainty, in a world that seems to have gone mad, still glimmers with light. We are together. We are healthy and able. Our photographer takes us to a location, with a backdrop that only God could have created. We draped ourselves in navy and yellow, casual and flowing, hoping to compliment the nature around us. Mom and Dad are front and center, flanked by the products of their love, grit, tears and commitment. Two people, three children, four grandchildren, still reaching for the sky.
The next day, we climb. Up the trail, curving left and right, contouring it’s respective mountain. Giant rhododendrons and leggy tulip trees provide cover. The kids scale stone outcroppings, around every bend, crying “take a picture!”, so I indulge them. Then, to our amazement, we are greeted by a rustling black bear, as he makes his way to the canopy. We watch from afar, allowing him his space. Safely continuing, I hear the rushing sounds of our reward ahead. Coming into view, the waterfall tumbles over boulders, landing in a cool, clear pool below. Shoes and socks are removed in earnest, seeking out relief for our cramped feet.
Our last evening, within the hills, is spent in communion. We grill chicken and cook arroz con gandules, washing it all down with cold lemonade and sodas. I help myself to seconds. After dinner, Dad sits in the recliner watching a documentary about WWII, while Mom is distracted by false claims about the dryer downstairs. I quickly open the box to the buttercream frosted cake and set out wine glasses and a bottle of red. I snap a few pictures, before it is revealed and devoured. This unexpected final touch, brings Mom to tears. They both cut the cake with a single knife, hand over hand. We all toast. To them. To us.
It is so very hard to leave, to say goodbye. I want it to last forever. There is nothing more I crave and nothing more I need, than to be enjoying the company of my people, my tribe, and the outdoors.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”-John Muir