Take advantage of our beautiful backyard this weekend
My buddy Haig posted some photos to Facebook the other day under the caption, “We’re having fun in our backyard.”
I was instantly jealous. Haig, you see, lives in Key West, Fla., and the pictures were of himself, his girlfriend, his son and his son’s friends, wading and swimming in shallow water so clear you could see the bottom, a small island of palm trees in the distance, white puffy clouds drifting across a sky so blue as to be almost indistinguishable from the water, the sun reflected in every ripple across the ocean’s surface.
But that got me thinking: How often do I have fun in my backyard? How often do I get up to the mountains and truly enjoy the natural beauty of East Tennessee?
Not nearly as often as I’d like, I’m afraid. I love the sight of them — driving down Louisville Road on a clear day, those gently sloping peaks tower over life in our bustling valley, and in a few weeks, they’ll erupt in brilliant shades of gold, red and orange. Thousands of visitors will flock to our little corner of the world to hike their trails, sit by their streams, relax under their trees and drink in the splendor of autumn in the mountains.
How often, however, do we take the time to truly enjoy what’s in our backyard? Sure, a few hardy souls venture into those hills every weekend to camp, to hike, to raft and float and bike and walk. Others go every chance they get, disappearing for the weekend into the valleys and hollers that offer a respite from the workaday life. But I suspect most people are like myself, in that we get so busy with work and our daily responsibilities and commitments that getting away to the mountains seems like a luxury we can ill afford.
After working all week and coaching soccer and taking care of my son, I find myself cutting grass or doing projects around the house or preparing for the week to come. There never seems to be enough time to do the things I’d like to do, and it’s all too easy to dismiss a trip to the mountains as something to do another day, because it’s not like they’re going anywhere.
But when I take the time to consider how long it’s been since I took a simple drive up those winding curves or walked down tree-shrouded trails to a waterfall, I realize just how much I’m short-changing myself. This weekend, however, brings with it ample opportunities for folks like myself to make up for lost time.
The Fall Heritage Festival and Old Timers Day, taking place Friday and Saturday throughout Townsend, isn’t just an opportunity to spend time in the mountains; it’s a chance to get in touch with the way life once was in East Tennessee, when our ancestors and forefathers carved everything they needed out of the land itself. At the Smoky Mountain Visitor’s Center, at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and at the Little River Railroad Museum, festival-goers can experience what it was like when the mountains were the frontier of a young country, when the luxuries we take for granted — paved roads, gravel walkways, cleared trails — were non-existent.
Craftsmen and women will demonstrate skills needed to survive back then but are considered art forms today; food vendors will sell staples of Southern cuisine; musicians will pluck and saw and pick instruments that are considered an integral part of our culture. Storytellers will spin yarns, cloggers will stomp, tractors will rev their engines. You can meet descendants of the settlers of Cades Cove, educate yourself on religion in the mountains, and gather info on things like the Appalachian Bear Rescue.
It’s a grand old time, and it’s right here in our backyard. Even better — it’s free (the only charge is for parking). Don’t let another season go by without spending some time in the mountains.
For more information, contact the Townsend Visitor Center at 448-6134; for a full schedule of events and activities, visit http://www.smokymountains.org _festivals/fall_heritage_festival.aspx.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.