great smoky mountains: part 1

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our first full day in tennessee was spent moseying about our friends’ place tucked away right on the edge of great smoky mountains national park. there’s a stream that runs from right out of the mountains and meanders through the property. we enjoyed the warm sun and complete lack of mosquitoes by poking around in the water and seeing what we could find. lo and behold, Darin found an eastern box turtle! i waded over to it and stood very still until he or she ended up floating right by my feet!

later in the day, after a brief and exciting thunderstorm, we took a drive along the nearby foothills parkway and caught a glimpse of the “smoke” from the rain lingering in the valleys.

on our second day, we ventured into the throngs of tourists exploring cades cove and experienced our first “bear jam”! a “bear jam” refers to the traffic jam that ensues on a one-way road in the park when someone has spotted a black bear. soon enough we came upon the scene. a poor little black bear was up in a tree less than 200 feet from the road and tourists were snapping photos much too close. we hoped a park ranger would come by soon and tell folks to move along.

the meadows in the area were very scenic, though, and we enjoyed stopping and exploring the historical features. we even looked for old family names in the graveyards by the churches, but didn’t come across anything familiar. it’s crazy to think that people who lived in this area for so many years either had to leave or stay with restrictions to their way of life once the park was established. in one sense, i appreciate the landscape that exists today – the “wilds” of nature that we are free to explore and savor. i’m also thankful that the park hasn’t erased its human history. however, i feel regretful that many of our national parks pushed people out – whether it be settlers or native americans – and by doing so reinforced the idea that “nature” and “people” aren’t meant to co-exist in a productive way. so much of our thinking about nature has changed since then, but the purpose of the parks, to preserve, remains everlasting. i guess i’m outing myself as a non-preservationist in the environmentalist-spectrum, but it doesn’t stem from a disregard for what the park system created. it simply comes from a disagreement in what’s worth preserving: “unimpaired nature” or a more complex view of “the wild” that also includes productive, sustainable human culture and life.

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