Tag: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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.

On the Fly…A Way of Being

On the Fly…A Way of Being

It had been a few days since I’d been in the cathedral of water, rocks and trees so I was excited to find myself preparing my fly rod as I stood beside my car parked at the end of the campground. Two boys were riding bikes and obviously just getting to know each other…what grade are you in? second? I’m six years old…look at that tree…oh, yeah, that’s neat.How precious to overhear their conversation as I assembled my rod and reel and rigged it. 

Finally, their curiosity drew them to my staging area. Hey, what kinda fishing pole is that? I replied, It’s a fly rod…a bit different than spin tackle. They took in the answer and then the one that was clearly a fisher said, Oh, yeah. I use spin tackle. That’s a different rod and reel isn’t it? I went on to tell them a little about fly fishing and opened my little fly box to show them the beautiful flies. Oh, wow! Those are cool! Hey, you have a walkie talkie like me, he said. Oh, it’s a satellite messenger that allows me to call for help for me or anyone I meet on the backcountry trails. He said, Oh, yeah it’s sort of the same. I replied, Yes, both allow us to call for help. It’s good that you stay in touch with your parents while you are here.

I suppose my getting everything ready to fish bored them and they eventually sped off on their bikes after saying bye. My heart was smiling as I thought how nice it was to see two children of different races getting acquainted with no prejudice or hate…just curiosity and sharing and exploring the campground in the Smokies.

Warmer weather allowed me to wet wade and the connection to cold water inside my boots was holy water washing my feet. The fly rod is really just an accessory to my wandering and standing in wonder at the beauty of the place. I had two really good strikes and after an hour decided to move on up the creek but first I needed to stop by my car to drop off a wad of fishing line and plastic bottle I found in the creek. While there I decided to change my fly.

As I was finishing up a guy that walked past with his dog as I was in the creek walked over and asked how I was doing. I knew when I saw him on the shore that he was a fly fisher. You can tell by the gleam in the eyes and the keen interest…that spark of knowing how amazing it is to stand in clear, cold water with a fly rod. Once you fall in love with fly fishing…well, you can see it in a person’s soul. And it’s not just the fishing. It’s the rocks and water and trees and the entire ecosystem that calls to us, opens us to beauty that is almost unimaginable.

We stood and talked and shared stories about fish and places we’d fished. Obviously, my list was much shorter since I only began fly fishing in April. His wife and two little girls walked over and we had such a sweet visit. He told me about a different technique he uses, gave me two beautiful little flies and showed me photos of a place four miles up the same trail I love so much. I was so touched by his generosity of spirit to share about his successful fishing technique and gift of flies. 

Immediately after we said our goodbyes, I walked to a favorite deeper pool and caught a sweet little trout who leaped off the hook as I reached out for the line. Actually, this made me very happy because with less handling the fish recovers much quicker. (I use barbless hooks to further reduce injury to the fish). I continued up this favorite little run and ended up having a few more strikes and finally removed the fly and reeled in the line and just sat on a rock in the middle of the creek…for a long time.

That is my favorite way to meditate…feet in the water, seated on a rock, the sound of rushing water providing music along with bird song, green leaves creating a tunnel around the creek. I love diving but this is a good as diving for me except I’m not weightless while fishing.

After spending half an hour or so breathing in oneness with the creek, I stood up to wade back downstream and thanked the life there for our time together. As I arrived at my car another fly fisher was gearing up and asked about the fishing. He and his wife were visiting from out of state and we enjoyed sharing a bit about experience of fly fishing. He said he’d enjoyed it for years and it was so much more than the fish that drew him to wading with fly fishing gear. 

I don’t think of it as a sport because it’s really a way of being.

It was a most unusual morning at the creek. It felt like a celebration of love for the creek and forest and life within them with these beautiful people all brought together by a simple fly rod and reel and a passion for beauty found in Nature. I waved to the family I had chatted with earlier as I drove past their campsite and left with renewed hope for humanity.

Wisdom of the Rock

Wisdom of the Rock

Frustrated to not be attracting any attention from the Trout Magi I decided to switch from nymphs to a dry fly. This is like going from playing with fingerpaints to using oil paints. In the narrow creeks where I wade and fish, there’s not a lot of room for casting and 90% of the time trout don’t go after dry flies but today I had room to cast and figured why not get some practice. 

The casting steadily improved and I was landing the fly right under an overhanging tree branch in the sweet spot. I congratulated myself and on the very next cast my fly caught the tip of the rod and did several backflips around it. I’m quickly learning that ego and fly fishing cannot co-exist. But that wasn’t the real lesson of today’s wading. The real lesson came from a rock in the middle of the creek where I sat and requested wisdom be shared. That’s the real story here.

Yesterday I wrote about fly fishing being the perfect mirror for my life. It dealt with the frustration I have about my life’s work finding traction in the world. This morning I awoke to an amazing dream.

Here’s the dream: I was completing a training curriculum and there was an exam that was a test of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength. In preparation for the exam, later that day, I decided to run through all the tests. One was climbing a high bridge that had very narrow ladder rungs. I could look through and see the water far below and had to stop a couple times to regroup because it was very scary; eventually, I was able to move forward and complete the climb. There was a new class coming into the school so our group was finishing and we were advising the new students.

I awoke feeling very moved by the dream and inspired to continue allowing fly fishing to teach me.

Once again I went to my favorite creek and enjoyed the mists hugging the water, the varied shades of summer green and the crystal-clear water rushing over beautiful rocks. I waded a couple of hours and cast using underwater flies but eventually felt a desire to just sit and listen. So much had been revealed yesterday, I wanted to be still and quiet and stop thinking.

I saw a big, moss-free rock in the center of the creek and waded to it. I gently sat down and said aloud, Please share your wisdom with me. I’m really wanting to learn about my life. And so I sat. My feet were on the pebbled bottom, I held my rod—hook stowed—and relaxed. The sound of rushing water was music as was bird song. It took a while but I finally got quiet inside my mind and heard, Stop looking for trout. Hmmm. I’m fishing. Isn’t that what one does when fishing for trout? Look for them?  So I asked for clarification. The reply was the same: Stop looking for trout.

I sat in stillness and allowed the mantra to work within me…Stop looking for trout. Stop looking for trout. Stop looking for trout.

A memory surfaced from fifteen years ago when I lived in Asheville and heard guidance to go into Nature every day when I repeatedly asked what I was to do with my life. I was like…What? I’m in Nature every day already. But that message repeated and has repeated often in the following years. Today, as I sat on the Wisdom Rock, I heard, When you come into Nature you always have an agenda…take photographs, fish, hike to a certain place. When I say Stop Looking for Trout I mean to stop coming into Our presence with your agenda. There are so many layers of wisdom awaiting discovery if humans would simply be still and be quiet and await the inspiration.

Of course that is true. I feel the need to do or produce to help others connect with the amazing beauty and Oneness. And that’s great but it leaves little room for deeper wisdom to be revealed if I would just be quiet. Take the camera but stop and sit a while and be quiet inside and listen to the music of the rocks and trees and water. Take the fly rod but take time to just stop and rest and let go of all agendas. Allow the real gifts to surface in that stillness.

As I contemplated this ‘exchange’ between the rock and me, it felt like a doorway opening into the bottom of the creek that would reveal many mysteries of Nature. And that’s when, after half an hour or so, I decided to finish the morning by switching to a dry fly and casting big. And it was going great until I congratulated myself on the almost amazing casts. But it didn’t matter. Two days in a row I found myself untangling a major mess after feeling like I was making major casting progress. Fly fishing is a sport that teaches humility.

Immediately after I climbed the bank to head down the trail, I heard loud rock music…not like the rock music I had been listening to…but like heavy metal…way up here on the trail. And then a young guy and his dog materialized and he turned the music off. As we passed he asked if I’d caught anything. I wanted to say how much I had learned from Wisdom Rock and that I received really solid guidance but instead I said, Nope…but it’s a glorious day.

Society expects us to catch a fish if we are fishing and if we don’t we are failures. That’s certainly the message I tell myself from old societal programming. But what if success wasn’t measured by how many fish we land, but how much wisdom we accumulated on the wade up the creek. Wouldn’t that be something.

As I walked down the trail, I came upon a dragonfly that appeared to be dancing on the surface of a small stream…dipping her tail over and over again in a bouncing dance. It was so amazing to observe her and see one of the mysteries of the creek revealed. Trout will feed on the larvae but many will survive to become dragonflies. How amazing is that?!?

The first cast this morning at the magic pool ended with me hooking myself in the upper arm in a location I couldn’t reach without taking off my vest and squirming a bit. I think it was a reminder that this journey is all about learning more about myself…each of us is on that journey in our own way. All the answers are already within us. We simply have to be still and listen or in my case, sit on a rock in the middle of a creek.

——

And to add to the incredible teachings coming from Nature through fly fishing, I found another large, black feather. This black feather journey started when I began yoga teacher training and recently has amped up so much that I ask every black bird I see to share its teaching and of course thank it. I even had a recently-fledged juvenile crow hop in front of me a few weeks ago after I caught a big trout. That was the same day a white-tailed doe watched me land that trout. I have entered the realm of Nature Magic. And it’s a very special place in which to find myself.

NOTE: According to Ted Andrews, Nature Speak, crow symbolizes the secret magic of creation. Crow is the smartest of birds, has a complex language. Working with crows, according to Andrews, can help people see how the winds are going to blow in life and how to adjust our flights. His grandfather told him crows are symbolic of luck. Magic is the Medicine of crows. “They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life and they are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world everyday and available to us.

And dragonflies….the eggs eventually develop into a nymph and remain in the nymph form for almost two years before transforming into an adult dragonfly. Andrews wrote that their realm is the realm of light…spending time outside near fresh water will be beneficial…(no kidding). The dragonfly reminds us that change is coming and that we are light and can reflect light in powerful ways. It helps us cut through illusions and allows our own light to shine brightly. “Dragonfly brings the brightness of transformation and the wonder of a colorful new vision.”