I believe it began last Fall while we were hiking through the Indiana Dunes, conversing about our respective travels... where, when, with whom, all of our best memories, and almost always noted in time by how old our children were at the time. We were talking about trees and oceans, calm and flexibility, when one of us said to the other, We could travel really well together. It was true. And so last week, after a good six months of anticipation, my friend Mardie and I packed up for a girlfriends' trip down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.
Yes, oh yes, oh yes.
We rented a quiet cabin for four days so that we could be directly in the mountains without any parking lots or Cracker Barrell's nearby, with thoughts of hiking and sitting outside any time we pleased. And then as things sometimes go, we received a call five hours into our drive that the cabin we had chosen and paid for (and were only a few hours away from staying in) had a leak, and we would need to be moved. Upgraded to a bigger cabin at the top of the mountain, even. That was marvelous news!
And this being the view, we indulged completely. Our whole trip was exactly like a retreat. Better than what I hoped for, exactly what I needed. Great conversation, plenty of quiet time, a little exploration and adventure, and four days of running completely in my own flow. We ate when we were hungry, slept when we were sleepy, did not sleep when there were squirrels, bats and lord knows what else creating a ruckus on the rooftop, and sang along with hours upon hours of music.
I spent most of my cabin time draped like royalty, in my soft, worn grey quilt from home. I brought it, sure that I would miss Kevin and the kids, and indeed I did. This was one of very few times that I've spent more than a day or evening away from my crew, and I experienced a strange balance of missing them and blissful immersion into our awesome days and nights. Thankfully Kevin held down the fort so well at home (and is looking forward to his own grownups only Las Vegas adventure in a few months. It's a trade!)
This was the view from the bottom of our road. Smoky Mountain(top) indeed. Hardly any cell phone, email, texting or Instagram abilities at the top of the mountain, we grabbed a handful of moments every afternoon when we drove down the three hundred feet of steep, swirling mountain roads to touch base with our people, and occasionally the Internets. The quiet was amazing. Have I mentioned this?
We spent an afternoon in Cade's Cove, with black bears and deer and horses,
and we hiked for approximately four and a half minutes there. First I realized we didn't bring any bear spray (that's twice now, friends! Remember last summer up in Montana?!) and thankfully my creeps about bears in the woods were assuaged quickly enough with a downpour of rain. I promise more hiking next time, maybe even a walking stick and a little sweat. As long as I remember to plan for where I am hiking, which is the woods, versus our usual, mostly-harmless Dunes and canyons in the Midwest.
I totally look like I just woke up from a nap, here. I probably did.
There were a few truly amazing moments, like this sweet baby resting on my fingers. Twenty minutes earlier he had been dropped on our deck by a crow, half-dead. We hung out together until he felt better and got his courage back. And then off he flew, absolutely not created to be anyone's breakfast.
Mountains covered in trees, sunlight resting on blankets of leaves... I kept thinking the whole time that all of those rows and mountains were comprised of individual trees, standing together by the thousands, rooted deeply, supportively together in the ground. You couldn't begin to count the vast number of trees that covered the mountains, and yet from far away it was just one giant mountain. Amazing.
The misty smoke that came and went as it pleased was equally amazing.
We each brought books to share on the trip, reading everything from novels to poetry to childrens books. This was such a marvelous idea (not mine) that took me back to homeschool, reading half the day with my own kids, and being a classroom teacher, and back to college with my roommate Bree, when we would read to each other at night. Talk about feeling cared for... curling up with a good friend and a book easily does that.
We explored and shared history, here at a graveyard dating back to pre-Revolutionary war. I loved reading the dates, 1784-1840 and such, and the hand-carved headstones. Creepy and so interesting, both.
My one hiccup was where I packed my watercolor journal, paint brushes, tray and markers... and left my paints at home by accident. Though not really a sketcher, I was so in the mood to create by the time I realized what I had done, a black marker and sketch paper was the best I could do at the time. A Sunday morning with some kind, any kind, of art.