Tag: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Taking It In

Taking It In

The beauty was absolute. I found myself struggling to take it in: gray boulders; clear, cold, rushing water; soft, green moss; trees standing naked in their late-winter/early spring anticipation; intense, crystal-clear, blue sky. 

I breathed and opened my heart. It was it challenging to create a space large enough, within myself, to receive such profound and amazing beauty.

I sat and allowed my mind to still. As I scanned my body, I discovered something akin to pain as I attempted to take in such bountiful beauty. In stretching on the inside, and releasing whatever blocks kept me from receiving, I moved deeper into communion, into Oneness.

So many times we expect our growth must arise from dark, difficult times. But what if inner growth can happen just as powerfully from experiencing good things, beautiful things. 

For many years I’ve asked Spirit, What can I do to make a difference?, I received the same two words: GO OUTSIDE. I challenged the answer, doubting the significance of how that could make a difference, yet it hasn’t wavered. I follow that direction more often as I have discovered that Nature draws me into deep communion with all life and helps me be grounded and present. If distractions keep me from the friendship with Nature, I get out of balance quickly.

Today, as I melted into Oneness, I felt intense grief arise for every moment I’m not in deep communion with Nature. I was in my natural state of being…in wonder and awareness of Oneness. I wasn’t separate from the water, rocks, trees, sky…until my mind took me out of that harmony and I felt that deep longing for home.

It reminded me of a story a teacher once told. He said he walked along the sea and saw millions of fish swimming, crying out in desperate need,  Water, water, water, water!!! Sometimes we mourn separateness while the only thing separating us are our thoughts. It’s here, in front of us, within us, all the time. Can we recognize it? Can we feel it? Can we take it in?

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To dive deeper into Nature and the path it offers to wholeness, I invite you to pre-order my new book, Book of Nature. I opened myself for Nature to speak through my photographs and words as It guides us into deeper relationship with Spirit, ourselves, and all life. If you pre-order you’ll get free shipping and a matted 5 x 7 photograph from the book. Send money to a friend ($18 each) to my PayPal email: [email protected]

My two editors….
The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away

Thanks Shawn for taking this photograph of me fishing.

It was a day of extremes. BIG fish and tiny fish. But it was epic!

For months I’ve watched four trout I call the trout magi. They live at a place I walked frequently. In the spring, they stayed in a certain place and have moved to more hidden places as the seasons have progressed. How do I know? Well, my friends, that’s the tale of the fish story.

I’m relatively new to fly fishing but am going into my third season and have done okay as a catch-and-release Nature lover. I wade in cold creeks to connect with the beauty, to learn from wise creatures and to generally exercise complete presence of focus and intention. These trout magi have schooled me in what it means to be a trout…at least as much as I can grasp it as a human. Observing for half an hour or so many times over several months (walking, not fishing) I have become a diligent student.

Bambi fresh out of the tying vise.

A week ago I stood behind a log at the upstream edge of a deep pool and cast across the rushing water to the other side where flat water hugged the bank. I had a feeling…… As soon as my fly kissed the surface, water erupted in a huge splash, my fly was hit and then, as I tried to set the hook, I saw that nothing was left. The fly had vanished. My custom-tied, made-up fly I named Rudolph had flown away courtesy of a trout magi.

Today, a week later, a friend from Arkansas walked up to the same area with me. She fished downstream a bit as I started wading, intent to make it back to the log. And eventually, ever-so-slowly, I made it back to this tricky place and began casting. 

Bambi wet.

I was aiming for some rough riffles. I don’t know why…because it felt fishy there today. The new fly I made, named Bambi, was sinking due to the rough water but I just let it sink. And after a few casts, it felt like a huge, underwater troll had grabbed the end of my line and was bending my 10 foot 3 weight rod nearly double. 

I set the hook and started stripping in line with my left hand, anchored the fly line briefly with my right middle finger so I could grab my net and let it hang behind me then kept stripping line as the fish was shaking her head, leaping and bucking like a wild bronco. My adrenaline level skyrocketed. And I screamed with wild abandon.

I kept a nice bend in the rod and as I directed the rainbow trout magi over into my net, I realized I couldn’t land the fish with the silly log in the way and a lot of deep water on the other side (if I slipped). So I decided to try and bring the fish around the end of the log. With net ready, I shifted my weight on the rock where I stood and turned. 

As soon as I dropped the tip of my rod a fraction in that move, the wise trout shook her head and the barbless hook went flying. Bye bye wise elder.

My knees were knocking and my hands shaking as I brought in the fly for a look. It was fine except for the golden pheasant tail feathers on the rear. Mama trout took those with her. Everything else looked just fine. The deer tail hairs were still there, the grizzly hackle and elk fur wing…all just fine. 

My friend Shawn fishing upstream

We moved upstream another half mile or so and fished. She caught a nice rainbow and released it, I landed a little brown trout and released it. When I say little, I’m not sure how it managed to bite the size 14 hook it was so small….but we had a brief meeting and off it swam.

On the way back, we stopped at a big hole. My friend fished upstream from me and I wanted to try a nice structure on the far side of the creek. It had a beautiful rhododendron sheltering the nice rocky, underwater ledge. It was so fishy I was almost certain there was a big one living there.

After several casts into this tricky area, I was able to float the fly just over the hole where the suspected trout lived. Sure enough, a big fella swam out of hiding to investigate (thank goodness for clear water so I could watch this). After the fly floated past and begin to drag, I cast into the same area and BAM! The Bambi fly did it again! This time I missed the set and the fish swam off in a huff. 

It’s not so much about landing the trout as it is letting them teach me about their lives. It’s learning to trust myself wading in really slippery conditions (these rocks were the slickest I’ve ever walked on). It’s deepening my connection with Nature. And today, deepened a friendship.

Bambi dried out and ready to fish again.

My Garmin watch said I walked 6.46 miles and fished 4 ½ hours with 13,963 steps and 326 floors climbed. My body agrees with those stats.  It was rainy and chilly with the temperature hovering around 52 degrees. The water was 52 degrees. Thanks to great gear, I remained dry and mostly warm. It was worth every step, every incline climbed. 

I’m gradually progressing in the lessons my trout magi teachers are imparting to me. Today, one almost allowed me the honor of netting her….alas, I wasn’t quite ready. But I’ll always remember….the one that got away. And I’ll got back to try again another day. 


Yesterday I bought this little fishing line waste container and hooked it to my vest. I hate losing small pieces of tippet in the water and even if I put them in my vest pocket, they get pulled out when I go back into the pocket. Today, after two casts, I found a HUGE wad of fishing line and a lure left by a spin tackle fisher. It took me 10 minutes to untangle the mess from a wad of wet leaves. I was so very glad I spent $12 for this little canister.

I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

The sweet smell of balsam fir trees hung in the thick fog. Every droplet that kissed my face seemed to anoint me with Nature’s most amazing scent.

I arrived early at the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome, hopeful for fog. Most people that visit want clear skies for the long-distance views. And they were there at the parking lot, but the top of the mountain was blanketed with cloud cover.

It’s a steep, 1.2 mile walk up to the observation tower made a bit more challenging because I was on Day 2 of my ‘Play Tourist’ weekend. Why I chose this weekend—when the leaf lookers were out in full force—I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to see color. Perhaps I wanted an excuse to visit my favorite fly fishing store in Townsend. But most likely it was due to the rivers and creeks I fish running very high due to several days of rain. I wanted to let them drop before wading.

So, I got out the Big Mama Nikon and tripod and grabbed a telephoto lens as well as my wide-angle zoom—heavy equipment that I normally don’t hike with and reserve for special photographic endeavors. But the weather was finally rain-free and the temperatures very nice so on Friday I headed to Townsend, through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wanted to photograph some of the creeks and rivers since the water level was high. Water…the element that balances me, heals me, directs me back into my soul skin without fail. In my wandering, I had a perfectly timed encounter with three kayakers running a big rapid that’s normally not a kayaking river. After that, I decided to head to another watery place near Cades Cove but traffic was at a stop almost two miles outside of Cades Cove. No thanks. I turned around and went to Townsend.

I’ve been fly fishing since April and over the past month started tying flies, which has opened an entirely new, creatively amazing, journey. Little River Outfitters is where it all began for me and the staff there is beyond amazing. And their store…it feels good just to walk in there. I hadn’t visited their second story which is all fly tying goodies. Threads, equipment, furs, feathers, hooks of every imaginable size and kind and an artist’s dream. Color! Parts and pieces to create small versions of insects, or in my case…insects from Wonderland. Alice would be pleased. I had fun…way too much fun.

A drive back through the park, stopping at beautiful waterfalls and creeks and letting my Nikon play, added more fun to my day as I wound my way up and over the ridge through the park, and finally to my home. A late afternoon walk at my usual trail ended the day beautifully.

Saturday, I intended to go to the Upper Nantahala with the Nikon, but when I got in my car it headed to Clingman’s Dome. I explored the magical, foggy, balsam fir forest on top after the walk up. It felt like I was in another realm, like the fairy dimension opened and invited me to explore. Even though it was early, there were other humans there so I headed down to the parking area to leave before the insane crowd developed. But I got to Forney Ridge Trail and decided…what the heck.

The trail was downhill through beautiful moss-covered rocks and boulders. I was surprised at the number of people on the trail, but it was not nearly as crowded as the main trail. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a water bottle or put the heavy telephoto lens in the car so I had quite a grueling hike. But it was worth it just for the beauty. There’s something very special about hiking through terrain that’s over a mile high. The trees are different, the air is cooler, and it seems somewhat removed from the chaos of the parking lot and everywhere really.

While I appreciate the opportunity to do short day trips in the national park—it is the most-visited national park in the country—I generally stay away from highly visited tourist areas until January or February, when visitors aren’t as numerous. When I finished my hike and came back to the Clingman’s Dome parking area, there were hundreds of people milling around, walking, blocking the way. It felt like entering a chaotic, alternate reality. I quickly walked to my car, dodging stopped cars waiting for parking spaces, gulped half a large bottle of water and left the chaos. There was a line over a mile in length just to get into the parking area. And cars were parked all along the side of the roadway. I was glad to be headed to my cabin in the woods.

Finally, Sunday dawned chilly and I took a chance to fly fish at my favorite creek. The water was up but running clear. While I couldn’t wade some areas due to high water, it was amazing to be in 51 degree, crisp air, standing in a mountain creek. 

I chose to fish a fly I tied and it was a huge hit with my trout friends. The first cast got a strike. But they carried it underwater without biting the hook…several times. I’ve never fished a fly that got so much attention from trout. One trout even came up under it, opened its big, white mouth, and acted like it was going to take it but then just backed away. It was the best entertainment I’ve had in a long time. It was amazing that something I created brought entertainment to the trout as well. But they didn’t engage in anything but playing with the fly…and that’s okay with me. I saw a couple of mistakes I made in tying it that created a crippled insect appearance. Sometimes they go for a crippled fly, but it probably makes them more suspicious. And our wild trout in the national park are spooky to begin with.

After nearly three hours of wading and standing in the creek, casting a line, and generally losing myself in the non-linear time of Nature, I felt like a reset button had been pressed and I was back inside my soul skin. 

The leaf looker season is just getting started. Today (Sunday) over 2000 people went through the Oconoluftee Visitor Center—I wasn’t one of them. I’ll be seeking the quiet places, the hidden places, and avoiding the crowds and chaos for the next few weeks. But you can bet I’ll be wading and playing with trout and allowing the creeks to keep me in balance.

Elk of the Mists

Elk of the Mists

Before I opened my eyes, I felt the warm breath of the bull elk on my face. I had been dreaming and as I made the slow journey from Dreamtime to waking consciousness, the sensation of elk breath was so real, when I opened my eyes I expected to be face-to-face with a big elk. 

That dream was about a year ago and since then the elk have a direct line to my subconscious mind. And for sure to my heart. This season of rut, if I have a strong sense of elk, I go and they are there. It doesn’t really matter where I go, if I just pay attention to the urge to go somewhere, they show up. Or I show up. However that works.

This morning I felt that call but the fog was very heavy. I figured I would just drive through the area where they are found and go up the mountain for above-fog views. I took my Nikon and tripod so was also ready for flowing water should the fog and sunrise not reveal something fun to photograph. 

When I got to the park there was a bull laying so close to the road I had to stay behind my vehicle. A woman there said he had attacked two vehicles the day before and I wasn’t so worried about my car but I didn’t want to be skewered by his amazing antlers. Nor did I want to stress him.

I moved after I took a few photographs and parked in a more neutral location. He got up and tended to his harem of cows, carefully checking them. But a rival male, one a bit larger, started bugling and within a few minutes was herding out the cows of the bull nearest me, one-by-one, and taking them back to his territory. It was epic elk magic.

Normally photographing in the fog isn’t that great due to lighting and white balance, although sometimes correctable shooting RAW format (which I always do). But today, the fog added to the mystery. The energy of the elk was wild and watching the strength of the bulls as they ran and charged through heavy fog was elementally very pleasing to the senses. But the most haunting of all was (and always is) the bugle. There was a bull across the creek, hidden by trees, but traceable through his loud and high-pitched, with a low rumble, vocalization. To hear answering calls from the others that were immersed in fog, was glorious.

I’m unsure why the elk have chosen to speak to me so deeply. More and more I trust that little intuitive nudge to go-be-with-elk. I’ve never been disappointed. And it’s not that they are always there at other times, when I don’t get the nudge. I go fly fishing and drive through the area a lot and may not see any. For some reason, the elk and I have chosen to connect in the Deep Mystery.

Nature speaks to me through dreams, intuition, and sensory experiences. The more I listen, the more able I am to dance in that realm of wild wonder.

What is Your Message to the Earth?

What is Your Message to the Earth?

I love to walk at a very beautiful place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I go there regularly and have started picking up trash there because the first mile of trail is used by tubers on the creek and they are really being litter bugs this year. It’s been horrible to see the trash they leave behind.

Yesterday I picked up five bags of litter in that mile and today I thought there wouldn’t be as much. There wasn’t until I got to a popular viewing area. There I found a mound of trash…but it was from someone taking it out of the creek. And they had other piles created from their efforts along the creek.

While I was so happy that others are taking an interest in keeping our beautiful creek/trail clean, I wondered if humans would ever wake up. Can they not see the beauty they are trashing? And it led to this question: What is your message to the Earth? What do your actions say? And I put it to a favorite song in this little video.