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Home / Picturing Our World / Member Stories (31) / Other (5) / North America (4) / Environments: Mountains (1)


The Cataloochee Valley

Lessons from the Old

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It is the journey, not the destination that counts. I liked walking through this tunnel. I imagined that somehow it would transform me. I think it did.


The journey of service has no boundaries. It can take one into the the deepest of caverns within an environment or community, and simultaneously into those hidden places of ourselves. Service takes us into the projects of south central, the reservations of the Apache Indians, the sea, the desert, or in my case the majestic woodlands of the Cataloochee Valley. I had this epiphany while standing at the base of an old growth hemlock tree, standing at 100 feet, wide enough to wrap my arms around it, twice. I realized that if I became part of the of the world around me, and worked to co-exist with it, maybe my roots would grow as long, and maybe my wrinkles like the rings in the hemlocks, would tell stories of a long and courageous life. Sometimes it takes feeling really small to know how big one can be.

I spent that week rehabilitating a damaged horse trail: putting in water bars and chipping rock for erosion control. In actuality I spent a lot of that time playing in the dirt. I would push my hands down into the wet crimson earth and clay, squeezing it between my fingers, and i would begin to understand it. The Smokies are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the country as far as I know, part of the eastern Appalachians, that while smaller and less dramatic than the peaks out west, have a deeper history. I listened to it's story in the rain falling though the hemlocks, in the hawks circling above, and in the creek rushing past us, without fear, without looking back.

Spending a week in the wilderness and being part of the worldwide conservation effort to protect it, helps one to realize who they are and what they are a part of. And how deep that runs. Without these experiences I wouldn't know what my roots were reaching for. May all of us have open hearts to listen to those who know best, our true teachers. They my not be there much longer without us.


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