Bob and I have been on a road trip for a week and a day now, visiting family, seeing eastern fall, and doing research for our next fantasy book. (We actually finished the first complete draft of the first book before we left home, just barely) I love road trips and writing and Bob's family and have always wanted to see the Smokey Mountains in the fall. so at this moment I'm a winner on every count. I've been posting a bit of our progress on Facebook, so some of this letter is old news to some of you, but I want to get it all together in one place and to those of you who don't read Facebook. I'm also adding a bit, especially about the family part..
We started out last Wednesday after work and, thanks to the beginning of an interesting Tennessee audio book called The Rosewood Casket made it to Louisiana awake, safe, and entertained.
Thursday surpassed imagination - riding down bayous fast in an open boat with Bob, our environmentalist guide, and his wonderful dog. I learned so much - including definitions. A swamp is a flooded forest and a marsh is a flooded meadow. Bald cypress trees grow two ways - wide at the bottom like a teepee and not so tall if they are mostly in water and tall, more traditionally tree like, if on land. I love the look of the "teepee" cypress trees. My peak experience was the time I spent out of the boat . feet on the spongy ground, alone in a little stand of big old bald cypresses. I loved the quiet, the smell of them, the filtered light. Both Bob and I are sad that there are no remaining stands of really tall old bald cypresses due to irresponsible logging and lightening strikes. I was also shocked to find out that people shoot alligators in the swamp for fun and just let their bodies rot. We saw two. Our guide said he loves some individual people very much but that as a species we aren't very good. I'll take that to Ruth's parenting language. I know we have goodness in us, but many of us sure aren't very well behaved a lot of the time. Many of the things I've seen on our trip confirm this feeling for me.
For example, it started out rainy today so Bob and I started inside in the Cherokee Museum in Cherokee North Carolina. It is a well done museum which filled my mind with interesting information (like that the Appalachian area is called the seed cradle for the northern American and Canadian forests because it preserved seeds that repopulated this area after the last ice age) and broke my heart with its presentation of the Trail of Tears. The scene in which a dinner table set with a chicken and carrots served on good dishes was abandoned because the Cherokee family who had sat down to dinner at that table was forced by soldiers to leave for Oklahoma with only what they could carry brought me to tears. It reminded me of scenes enacted in Jewish homes in Poland and Germany in the 1940's and in too many places, too many times. I wish that we humans could get it that we are more the same than we are different regardless of religion race or any other identifying characteristic and that none of us has the right to trick cheat or bully any of the rest of us out of land or any of the other good stuff of life.
Over the last few evenings - after dark stopped sight seeing, I've had an unusual chance to see both some of the best and some of the worst of humans - I've been talking by IM with KK about Dr. King's letter from the Birmingham Jail. I am glad that her school is using that great letter as a focus for literary analysis and I'm more glad I reread it. It has been too long. The focus on individual conscious and doing the right things for the right reasons gets me thinking hard about my life and focus now. I am especially stirred by the observation that time is neutral. It just passes and doesn't heal anything on its own. We have to work together to use time to create healing of all kinds of problems, personal, societal and global. Of course there is still the issue of figuring out what the right actions are at any given time.
The family aspects of the trip showed me how good people can be when they make good choices. It is wonderful to have married into a family that honors and delights in all its generations. Bob's Dad and mom were genuinely surprised and delighted when we turned up as surprise visitors for his dad's eighty ninth birthday celebration cousin Hazel and Jim's beautiful country house outside Nashville. We enjoyed great meals and conversations, serious and light. I even got in two visits with precious year and a half old great niece Micha who is a picture of health and joy - with curls and a burgeoning vocabulary and a sweet sweet smile. People can choose love and do it right. I'm lucky to be frequently among such people.
And then there has been fall in the Smokey Mountains - a new treat for me. It would have been on my "bucket list" if I believed in "bucket lists".
Highlights of early fall across Tennessee included bright red vines (ivy-like) climbing up trunk of tress whose leaves were still green and the way many of the tall trees started turning gold from the tops down. I also didn't know Queen Anne's lace bloomed in the fall, but I saw some near Knoxville..Fall color intensified as we drove into Virginia. I observed that the trees turn not only top down but outside in. It was beautiful to see whole huge trees green at the heart and gold around the edges. I feel that way about aging sometimes, as young as ever in my deepest places but much changed on the surface - both in terms of the wear and tear of aging and in terms of the things I've learned and the experiences I've made part of myself. I'm content tonight to be an autumn tree in good company.
Fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway blew away any expectations, even though some of the Parkway was closed because of the Government Shutdown. Nobody can shut down tees, and oh there were trees dressed in every shade of gold and flame. All the colors of the ground were warm - from softest rose flowers to brightest scarlet tree, and the colors of air were cool - all blue and white and smoke.
I really never have seen anything like the crazy quilt of color from overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and nothing like the quick and capricious way the mist can blot out color in an instant. At one point I stood on an overlook looking at a big triangular mountain covered with spruce. I walked away for a minute to look at a flaming maple and when I turned back toward the mountain it was GONE - completely erased by mist. Good reminder for me that what I have is what I have right now.
I am always happy to see wild turkeys and we've seen them every day since we left Virginia, sometimes six or seven at a time. We also saw a big bull elk today outside the visitor's center at Smokey Mountain National Park (open now).
Today after the Cherokee museum we ate local barbecue (yummy) and entered the Smoky Mountains National Park. I saw a visual phenomena I have never seen and don't even know if I can describe - sunbeams shining through branches in such a way that they radiated out from a central glow and for just the last few seconds before they vanishedd, each ray showed all the colors of the rainbow! Bob tried to catch it with the camera but it disappeared too fast. It will never disappear from our memories though.
Also this afternoon I managed to walk (slowly) the steep half mile to the top of Klingman's Dome, the highest mountain in Tennessee. I climbed it in thick fog, which made the presence of the carcases of the giant balsam firs killed by an invasive species of insect, particularly haunting. The death of so many trees among so much beauty, especially when caused by an invasive species, scares and saddens me. I mean we all die, even trees, but the circumstances of these deaths don't seem right. Even in the presence of death, it was also beautiful up there high in the fog, especially when I got off the main paved trail and walked a little way on a trail with an intriguing name (The Mountain to Ocean Trail).
So that is what we are up to - an inner and outer adventure that I am loving.
We have more ahead of us in the Smokies tomorrow before starting travel days home - hopefully listening to more novel and to a cool audio class about learning to understand the historical context of classical music. I'll never catch up with Bob in that are of knowledge, but it is good to learn more.