Above The Clouds

Up above the clouds there exists a plain, wooden sign. It is simple in nature, merely decorating the border of states conceived long ago in the heads of our forefathers. It also serves as an adequate landmark for a Kodak moment that one day will be forgotten. The states mentioned above are Tennessee and North Carolina, and the location of this border is high up in the Smoky Mountain National Park at a place called Newfound Gap. During the summer, the parking lot at the Gap is brimming with cars and campers, full of a city folk craving a real outdoor adventure. This is the Norm. But on one particular night in early December when the wind is low and the cold has settled in, it becomes something else entirely. It is, among other things, a perfect place for a simple vision to be born.

At the entrance to the path, one that is part of the famous Appalachian Trail that extends up towards Maine, a large stone monument stands below the night sky. It speaks of the founding of the park and all the unforeseen consequences that have been brought upon the region as a result, changing the landscape for ages. The widely-held knowledge is that FDR himself dedicated the park on this very spot in 1940, thus fulfilling the hopes of men like writer Horace Kephart and photographer George Mesa – Hopes that America would build grand sanctuaries for nature, at the same time laying claim as its victorious conqueror.  It is surely something to think about. But with a turn ahead and a step forward the trail moves on, inspiring thoughts of a different nature to take hold.

Nearing the top of the dark, winding trail, it is found to be strange that nature is named after humans, desperately claiming ownership on a former home. But these thoughts don’t last long either. Staring at the White Sea on top of Mount Kephart makes the mind wander, or in some cases at least tempts it to only stop working at such a high level. The feeling up in the mountains is one of simplicity, coagulating into a voice that whispers of hidden rivers and the social habits of songbirds in the morning. It tells a story of a place that existed before skyscrapers, McDonald’s, and Nintendo, taking nothing for granted in the rising and setting of the sun. The shivering cold tends to crush these thoughts, though, reminding visitors of their place in the circle.  Meanwhile, a temptation tingles somewhere in the clouds, daring its passengers to discover the depths of its void, to taste something so long feared.

This winter solstice, it is found that the northern Hemisphere begins its journey towards summer, existing as a reminder of a world outside of thought, showing the creatures of Earth the simple quest of life in all its wonder. It is, above all, ¸a love note to the human race, inspiring the travelers of this landscape to not just hike the mountains, like the act of walking outdoors is just another sport or goal to accomplish, but to really be in the mountains. It is a dare from the Earth to feel the elements for what they are. It is a challenge to just exist.

On the winding drive down, the road follows a river, serving as a steady metaphor for the traveling self. The vehicle winds around corners and up and down hills, speeding up in instances but slowing when necessary. Sometimes it is appropriate to merely stop and rest. Although the car journeys its way back towards all the trappings left behind – Restaurants, department stores, hot coffee, and board games, it is important to remember that any moment it can all turn around, and the journey upriver can begin anew. When that happens, it will be found that nothing much has changed, that everything is just as it should be. When that happens the obsessive thoughts will begin to fade away, replaced by the presence of the White Sea, watching and waiting like the image of an old friend. Welcome home, it says. Welcome home.