The Great Smoky Mountains, USA

Ever wondered what it is like to visit the great wilderness of the Smokies? Two British Idiots did, and this is what they found.

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Look below for an English idiot’s view of the Smokies, including a stay in the deep forests, and visits to Clingman’s Dome, Elkmont, and Pigeon Forge. If you are travelling here, this is a must-read before you go.

Pelting rainfall followed by swift summer heat, incredible panoramas of mirror-still lakes, verdant trees and winding roads as far as the eye can see, slipping like gloves into thick cloud coverage. A Vegas-style town dumped in the middle of the wilderness—lights, music and alpine rollercoasters. Ghost towns nestled in the trees, a still image of times long gone. These are the most intense memories of a place beyond splendid.

The dream was a wooden cabin in the thick of the woods, quaint and secluded in trees, and fifteen miles from the nearest town. Branches hung thick over what might be described more accurately as a tree house; the perfect location—we thought. The reality was actually two English idiots living in the wilderness, frightened by the calls of wild animals and the worrisome nightly noses that seemed to close in after dark. Insects threw themselves wildly at the windows, yowls and barks filled the silence. We soon realised we were very poorly prepared to deal with the real American outdoors. The dark was a complete dark, open eyes or closed eyes made no difference. We made sure we had everything ready for the night to come before the sun fell. Feeling vulnerable was an understatement. In reality, we found, the thick of the wilderness was a daunting place to stay. Even during the day we didn’t stray far on foot and kept our eyes about us. We carried walking sticks, not really knowing what we would do with them, but they did offer a little comfort.

Clingman’s Dome is a major tourist attraction; the highest mountain in the Smokies, and therefore presumably, boasting the very best views. We looked forward to a secluded, possibly romantic spot, to look out over the clear horizon, over heads of trees and blue waters, and soak in nature at its finest. The reality, when we got there, was insufficient parking, thick crowds of people and a foggy outlook. We circled the inadequate parking lot for nearly half an hour before admitting defeat. Jumping out a short photo session was possible, only to realise the low cloud coverage had all but obscured what would have been an incredible view. Even at 2000 metres, the humidity was stifling, so I was glad to recline back into our air-conditioned vehicle. This is probably best visited on off-peak times of the year, or if this is not an option, early in the morning, before the crowds.

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Elkmont ghost town is also a stop worth seeing for most tourists. It is situated in the Little River Valley of the Smokies, in the state of Tennessee. In the early 20th century, it was the base for logging, providing nearby places with their building needs. Now it is deserted. The wooden cabins stand hauntingly like statues of times passed by. Being English idiots, we assumed an abandoned village would have hundreds of years of history; we were surprised to find that the buildings were just over 100 years old. This is old, perhaps, for America, but is barely scratching the history books for an English country couple; I was raised in a black and white cottage, in the English countryside, with a plaque over the fireplace reading ‘1601’, where my mum often digs up little medicine bottles from the 1800s, and arrowheads from the Stone Age in the back garden. Despite this, Elkmont had an awful lot of charm and told an enchanting story of a life and a time that is nearly forgotten. It was only a snapshot of what life must have been like, and undeniably immersive.

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Pigeon Forge was a town that immediately struck us as tourist central—it was Dolly Parton’s Vegas. A seaside resort, slash theme park, dumped in the thick of the forest. We enjoyed the ‘only in America’ feel of the area with its bright lights, and attractions in an onslaught of colour. There are all manner of entertainments to be found: alpine rollercoasters, go carts, mirror mazes, out-of-this-world crazy golf courses and a choice of excellent night time horse shows. It is a shame a lot of people might go here thinking they had seen the Smokies, when in fact there is a lot more to offer. It is in stark contrast to the tranquil hills and treetops half an hour’s drive outside town.

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Of the more ‘different’ attractions included ‘Goats on a Roof’. Which, surprise it or not, is exactly what it says on the tin; The goats live between a hilarious inter-network of platforms between the buildings, and can be fed by tourists by a pedal-powered conveyor-style device which lifts a cup of food to the storey above; the goats are well accustomed to this. Often, the goats allow the food to comically fall over their heads before devouring it. The best view for this is an upstairs window overlook, which can be entered from the ground floor shop. The goats seemed to worship this contraption, rubbing their head against the still mechanism, waiting for it to move.

One of several shows available is the Dixie Stampede—which seems to get the best reviews of the area. It is a dinner show, with fantastically behaved animals. I was brought to tears by the beautiful bond the riders had with their horses, and there is the chance to pet them if you get there in good time before the show. You can see herded buffalo, ludicrous little racing Shetlands and baby pigs. If you are an animal-lover then this is a must-see! It was a powerful and entertaining show with a patriotic ending. I left with a feeling that I knew more of what America is really all about by the end of it.

The meal that came with it was more than sufficient—but that might be coming from an English girl with a very small appetite. I was saddened to see the waste at the end—whole chickens left uneaten—especially when there was the choice of a doggy bag to take the food home. Being that we were travelling, we took all our excess food back, and it lasted us two days and was superbly good. When booking seating, we didn’t understand—being English idiots—that you get to choose North or South, and on the night it determines whether you are on the North or South side of the civil war.

 

Death Through a Pinhole

One person’s experience of bereavement.

 

Most of us fear the passing of time and the ailments of age upon the body; conversely most of us hope to eventually complete this journey one day. No matter how carefully one traverses the minefield of life, it is still a minefield.

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Forty-eight hours passing in pink ribbon streams and Satin Bow sobs, tubes of sealed roses and hobbling septuagenarian shop keepers. Teary-smiles shift around the fuzzy images of family long-passed, a half-way dead arm struck numb by the potential to save lives.

 And the final moments of her final grandparent.

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Spirit-marinaded, sitting mid-field on a tartan picnic blanket and soaking up the day in denial, while seventy-odd miles away, her Nan—her last grandparent—lay comatose on a bed in a ‘nursing’ home some forty miles away. Alone. And dying. Her body suffering the signs of self-starvation and hyper-dehydration: her mind diluted in the end stages of Parkinson’s. The lucid moments were far and few between; one can only hope her self-famishment was due to a choice not to continue rather than inflicted by a disease-mauled mind.

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Emotions borne by a close-one’s death are something of a curiosity to her. One would imagine loss is the sum emotional burden the bereaved would be dealing with, in actual fact ‘bereavement’, she learned, is an intricate web: guilt, anger, remorse and feelings occurring as a result of unresolved conflicts or negative memories, and often denial.

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When her granddad died, it was sad that predominantly negative memories of her Nan flooded everything. Something had filtered out all the colours; she was watching a pinhole-video of memories when she needed to watch widescreen. You may wonder how it is possible to focus on a few fallouts, a few misjudgments on both sides and hold them against everything that person was? It was so irrational, but sat like a stubborn stain on her white blouse.

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Everything was clouded, it was only with speaking to family, and with time, that the curtains opened and the clouds parted allowing her to view in widescreen once again.

Her Nan and Grandad spent the best years of their retirement going to stay with her parents and looking after her and her brother. Every week, they cleaned the house thoroughly from head to foot so her parents didn’t have to, meaning her Mum and Dad could then spend that time with her and her brother.

Every week they were superbly generous with pocket money—especially as her mum and dad didn’t give her any.

Every week they brought her and her brother a bag of chocolates—gratefully received as her mum and dad didn’t buy chocolate.

Every week they would attend her sport events or assemblies, without fail—and on-time; a sweet refresher from her parents’ guaranteed tardiness to every important event—ever.

How could I have forgotten?

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Nan would knit jumpers, school cardigans,gloves, hats and scarves; we were never cold. Nan was the maker of possibly the best pickled onions the world has ever known and would make them on demand because I could happily polish off a jar a week. Nanny also knitted me an exquisite rainbow scarf when I was sixteen, because it was the cool thing to have. It was all colours of the rainbow with long wispy tails and she never even asked for money towards the many tens of bundles of wool she had to buy for it—and probably never used again.

How could I have forgotten?

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These things remembered, it dawned on me that I had committed my greatest crime: I cannot remember ever thanking them.

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As children you simply take these things for granted. As I grew older I began to realise the gravity of what they gave up, but the opportunity to thank never presented itself when they were alive, or so I thought, and then it was too late. I committed a crime of silence, possibly a crime of pulling a blind-spot on thanking them, always thinking I could do it later. Maybe it was a crime of reluctance to dredge up and deal with the negative memories. The resulting feelings following my grandparents’ death were self-inflicted, but the symptoms are partially permanent; I will always regret not thanking them. I will always regret not clearing the water.

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I always hate these cheesy little bits of advice people spoon in at the end of entries, but this once I will make an exception, and I apologise profusely for it!

Make amends in the moment; later may not be an option.

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(Thank you http://www.pixabay.com for the image.)

 

 

Sleeping Lions

I do not usually solve life’s turmoil using poetry, but this time my writing spat out in splintered hiatuses and unpolished turds. I took a deep breath, dried my eyes and instead approached it by milking my condensed rage into stanzas. It behaved more like a well-mannered lady and less like a clangorous buffoon.

Long into short, fat into thin, spherical into triangular – or however you wish to put it: I had an upside-down smile sort of a day. This is the kicking, fighting, biting ball of blackness that my day disgorged transformed daintily into polite little stanzas. I call it ‘Sleeping Lions’.

Curses stitched shut,

My mind’s eruption,

A stifled sneeze in a silent audience.

She struts the sow’s strut,

Power-crazed.

Her throne isn’t gold leaf but burlap sack,

But,

Make believe becomes real.

The catbird seat is licking his paws after a large kill,

He is too full to be bothered by such things.

 

‘2 + 2 = 4’

‘No’

‘Why?’

‘No’

 

Justice is dead,

Logic is wrong,

Prey are sleeping lions,

Because we can only get sad,

We can’t get even.

 

And in the branches of the trees they are licking their paws

and sleeping.