Its funny: it was the same ol’ Sun and the same ol’ Moon I’ve seen nearly every day of my life, but put the latter in front of the former and the whole world comes to a standstill. It was the Great American Eclipse that brought me to Haywood County, NC; the mystical line of totality — the three minutes of complete darkness — swept right through it…and it’s slice of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even the grandest celestial events need a good backdrop.
I gushed about the eclipse here, but there is more to this story: Said-backdrop. It put on a show all by itself. It was high summer, and I was in the most popular national park in the country. Of course I was going to check it out.
Not far from my hotel at the Twinbrook Resort is Purchase Knob, one of the many literal highpoint of the Great Smoky Mountains. The local literature will pump up the science station at the summit, and also Ferguson’s Cabin, a gen-yoo-ine log cabin from the 1800s when these parts were still the boondocks of the US and “mountain men” were a real thing.
But it is also site of possibly the most picture-perfect Appalachian meadow in the park. I’m guessing it is “managed,” that is, mowed every year to prevent the forests from moving in. In lieu of the trees, a jeweled blanket of Queen Anne’s lace, thistle, red clover, yarrow, and lots and lots and lots of other flowers flings itself in every direction. The bees buzzed the air, and I never saw that many butterflies in one place outside a zoo.
It’s these little, unexpected discoveries that make travel what it is. The Great Smoky Mountains are hardly exotic, but for a first-timer like me, it may as well have been the Amazon. I should also mention I’m from New York, so finding any plant not pruned to within an inch of its life and/or living off dog pee is quite the novelty.
And there is just something about walking through a meadow. There is, of course, the whole “getting back to nature” allure, the fresh air, all the colors a wildflower can crank out. But what struck me was the quiet. Even without a national park surrounding me, it was already a serene part of North Carolina, but high up on a mountain top and it’s a whole new world. The birds took off to the forests because of the heat, and the insects were low-key.We city-slickers are used to noise; it’s always in the ether — car horns, people in the next building over, pedestrian traffic — and we get to a certain magical moment where were hear it, but don’t really listen. It’s like a psychic silence. Actual silence is something new.
And just like that, the world slowed down. Suddenly, there were no schedules to keep, no lists to follow. I had nothing else to do but run my hand though a thicket of Queen Anne’s Lace. Or watch a butterfly flit. Or lay back in the clover and guard the clouds. And quite frankly, that rocked. If I had some melodic trance music to go with the tableau, I probably would have taken off running la-di-da style. This is what a vacation is all about; sometimes you just feel like running. With music, of course.
Anyhoo, I would later discover that sprawling out in a meadow is a local passion. The Great Smoky National Park is, in addition to the most popular national part in the country, is one of the top outdoors destinations in the world. Soaking up the summer Sun on a mountainside is par for the course, whether you are hiking, biking, or just kicking back. At least, it is during the day; come evening, everybody hits the local beer halls (woo!).
That’s another story.