There's nothing like a few days in the mountains to recalibrate your settings. Mine have been reset to Mindful after being present - and humbled by - the quiet magnificence of the Great Smoky Mountains.
I took too many pictures to post on the blog, so if you want to see them you'll have to go here to my Photobucket Slideshow.
If you want to read about my trip, here's what happened:
We arrived at my folks' place in Maggie Valley early enough on Saturday to head over to Waynseville for a walk in the downtown. There are a lot of quaint shops, art galleries and coffee shops. My parents used to live there so Dad enjoyed showed us around around the neighborhood where he and mom used to live.
On Sunday we headed over to nearby Dillsboro for the Day Out With Thomas event. If you have or know a kid under six years of age, then you know how major Thomas the Tank Engine is. It was really well done. We all enjoyed a 35-minute ride on Thomas, which was fun not just for the kids but for the adults as well. Our trek took us past the original bus and train wreckage from The Fugitive, over a trestle bridge and past the cabin of an old man who has waved at every train on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad for almost 20 years now.
While waiting our turn to board the train, I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt showing the figure of a backpacker. Under the picture it said, "You could run out of food and die. You could get attacked by a bear and die. You could fall off a cliff and die. Or you could stay home, fall off your couch and die."
I liked that.
The Day Out With Thomas, while pleasant, was also a merchandising boondoggle. There were no less than two places set up to buy Anything Thomas. John got a hat and Lucas got a train and a T-shirt. We'd arrived early so by the time we got our souveneirs the crowds were getting thick. We were glad to get out and on our way. By 11 o'clock we were on our way to the Cherokee Indian reservation for some sightseeing.
Lucas' ears popped on Mt. Soco, and he yelled, "Hey, my ears! What's happening?" I thought Dad was going to run off the road, he was laughing so hard.
After the sightseeing and some lunch at a non-touristy diner, we went back to the cabin for some relexation before making the winding trek to the Cataloochee Valley to see the foundation herd of North Carolina's elk reintroduction program. It was a scary ride, but I felt safe with Dad who -as a young man - got his start in business by hauling repossesed cars up and down the mountains. I kept my eyes closed for much of the ride. John played his Game Boy. Alex and Lucas looked out, wide-eyed. Lucas swore that he saw a hammerhead shark in the ravine.
But as gut-wrenching as the ride was, it was worth it when we reached Cataloochee.
The elk are truly awesome, and I was pleased to get a close-up of one young bull, but not see pleased when a larger one "escorted" me back to my car. He never charged, just walked after me with a menacing gaze. He didn't have to do anything more threatening; those antlers may have been covered in velvet but something told me they'd still hurt.
We spent a lot of restful time at the cabin, and even though I only brought a few playthings for the kids, they never got bored or fretful. They were wonderfully calm, as was I, and that just reinforced my deepening belief that it' s not things that make you happy, but simplicity, quiet and togetherness.
At night, after the kids were asleep, Dad and I would sit on the porch and talk as - one by one - the lights came on in homes that dotted the surrounding mountains. We talked alot about our family, our lives, his childhood and I learned alot about him and how he became who he is today.
On Monday, Dad hung out with John at the cabin while Alex and Luke and I hiked along the creek that runs near the cabin. It's a beautiful creek, and at night its gurgling was the last thing I heard before drifting off to sleep.
We took pictures at the creek and then took more of insects and wildflowers in the meadow. I also got a nice shot of a felled tree, its demise angering someone who wrote "Why?" on the trunk.
I owe my parents a debt of gratitude for the quiet weekend away. Their grandkids will never forget it, and neither will their thirdborn daughter.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.
It was a lovely weekend.