A Beautiful Place to Live, if we Live up to our Potential
It sauntered over at a lackadaisical pace, its head down rooting around for something to eat. When it looked up, we were able to snap several great pictures. It was a black bear strolling alongside the route that loops around Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a bucolic place, that is until the tourist traffic plows through in a non-stop parade of visitors from around the country (not so many foreign tourists are back yet after the Pandemic). We were on our second go-round, on the way to a remote gravel road over the mountain with spectacular views.
Initially, Barb and I had biked the loop early in the morning before the vehicular onslaught took place. (Let me be honest and admit we have pedal-assist electric bikes-which make the trek “way” more fun, even if it reduces the caloric burn). In addition to turkey and deer, we saw another bear farther off the road, likewise rummaging for berries in a field. At that time, the Smokies truly lived up to their name. A hazy mist hung over the hills, creating a kaleidoscope of greens and greys as one hill faded to another off into the horizon.
A visit there is something special. It is a rural fantasy world frozen in time in the 1940s when the National Park Service designated Cades Cove as a historical area and restored several of the older structures: cabins, barns, and chapels. It is quintessential East Tennessee.
The array of different state license plates seen in the park is impressive. It struck me as we ambled around the campground that so many people make this their summer vacation (particularly in a world of Covid-constrained travel). It is easy to understand why this is the most visited National Park. It attracted 12 million visitors in 2020 and may see more this year.
It also occurred to me that nothing in the park is particularly unique in our area. The only thing we miss locally is the chaos of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (something I can do without). Actually, if one can’t do without a trip to the outlet malls or Dollywood, it is just a short daytrip to satisfy that fix. I think that qualifies as being in our back yard.
A simple drive from Greeneville to Johnson City opens a panorama of the mountains every bit as spectacular as a vista in the park. Play a round of golf at Ridgefields and you will see a particularly tame fox unperturbed by the passing carts. Deer (herds of them) are not just ubiquitous, but pests in many subdivisions.
We live on 20 acres just outside of town (my commute is less than five minutes). From my back porch I’ve seen flocks of turkey, bear, deer, fox and coyote. We’ve caught a bobcat on a trail cam. I don’t have quite the sweeping vistas, but can look out in the morning and see mist on the ponds. We have duck-houses where migrating waterfowl nest and raise their offspring (we’re a popular stop since I throw out cracked corn).
There is nothing like the vision of Bays Mountain as you come down I26. Every season has its particular character, and it says “you’re home” when you return from a trip or even a quick jaunt to a sister city. The serenity of the lake trail in Bays Mountain Park is magnificent when it bursts in Fall colors. What other locale has such a stunning jewel?
Sadly, we have a particular malady in our region. We lack the confidence that our forebearers had. We don’t seem to have a true sense of self-belief. We have allowed “outsiders” to define us (at this point I will confess that 30 years still does not make me a native). We’ve allowed Appalachia to become synonymous with “Third World.” And yes, I drive by dilapidated single-wide trailers and rusting vehicles on my way home.
Yet none of that should define us. It does not negate the natural beauty. Our accent belies the natural practicality and talent. We produce strong, intelligent children with the capabilities to do anything the world can think up.
So today, stop and enjoy the bird songs welcoming the morning. Rejoice in the blaze of sunset over the hillside. Smile at the cacophony of dueling frog croaks as night falls. Most of all, dig inside and find the best of yourself and bring it to the table to help our region fulfill its potential. This is what God designed us to be. We are world class in a rural setting!