Tag: Smoky Mountains



I’ve been searching for a way to describe what I feel when wading small, pristine, remote creeks while fly fishing. As a writer, it’s been especially frustrating not to be able to find words that adequately express my experiences. 

Last weekend, I came to understand that the English language would, if I were to attempt explanation, put boundaries or limits around my experience and the Mystery would be lost. I surrendered the idea of labeling my profound experiences of renewal and peace. I accepted that they would simply remain unexpressed through language and in a feeling state within me.

Just after giving up and accepting that there were not adequate words to fully convey what I was feeling, I was reminded of the Cherokee word Tohi. A beautiful smile erupted from within as I sat and listened to Dr. Tom Belt, a Cherokee elder, describe the meaning of the word.

Tohi is the Cherokee word for wellness, the ideal state of being. It’s a word full of meaning…peace, harmony, balance. Lisa Lefler, in her book Under the Rattlesnake: Cherokee Health and Resiliency, wrote: “Tohi is a fully confident sense of a smooth life, peaceful existence, unhurried pace, easy flow of time. The natural state of the world is to be neutral, balanced, with a similarly gently flowing pattern…All aspects—physical, mental emotional, and spiritual—figure into the Cherokee concept of good health.”

So, there is a word—one word—that fully describes my experience in the sacred creeks of this place. It’s in a language that is based on verbs instead of nouns to communicate. It doesn’t label life but rather describes the connections and expresses an active way of being in the world. 

Tohi—one word tells the story about what is taking place within me as I wade, fly fish, and open myself to the beauty around me. It doesn’t take away the Mystery to use this word, rather it deepens the Mystery and draws me ever-closer to It.

Big Adventure, Small Creek

Big Adventure, Small Creek

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Mists of the morning filtered light rays as we entered the creek. The sight and sound of clear, rushing water was the focus of our attention, but every tree, moss covered rock or flower added to the beauty. But perhaps even more beautiful than all of that, was the colorful glistening shimmer of pink, silver and dark green of rainbow trout or the bright orange-red fins and dots of native brook trout. 

Photo by David Knapp

When leaving the pullout parking area on this busy mountain road, it’s like walking into another dimension. Heavy foliage hides the road, the sound of rushing water filters out traffic noise. It’s like walking through a doorway into another world…of Nature, of magic.

Newfound Gap. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Higher elevations call when the July fry begins in the mountains. This summer seems hotter than usual here in the Smoky Mountains. Melting hot. Stay-in-air-conditioning hot. Icky hot. 

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

In fly fishing catch-and-release for trout, warmer water is not good. Trout are a cold water species and they thrive in water temperature is between 55 and 65. If a fisher catches and releases a trout in water much above 65 degrees, their recovery time increases and their chance of survival decreases. This also depends on how long they are on line and how quickly a fisher is able to release the fish. Quick landing, quick release, cool water are important pieces of catch-and-release practice for trout.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

I had been looking forward to a guided trip with David Knapp, owner of Trout Zone Anglers, for many months. I chose July because I’m off the entire month from my usual job and thought I’d be doing lots of fly fishing this month. The heat and thunder storms have made that challenging, but on our day of fishing, we had higher elevation temperatures and no lightning. And trout. And beauty. And rocks. And clear water.

David scouting for trout. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

I thought I had fished a small creek before but I found out that small is relative. And what I had thought wasn’t fishable without great difficulty, while looking at the water along Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I discovered was indeed fishable and fun and beautiful. 

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Like many places in the Smokies, entry and egress points are scattered along the roadway. In between those points are dense rhododendron thickets, nearly impossible to push through, along steep banks, nearly impossible to climb. So going with a guide who knows the area or scouting and marking places on a GPS app is important to safety and peace of mind. In fishing a completely different type of water, it’s important to go with someone who knows the area and can guide through it, not only for safety but for instruction on learning to fish this very different environment.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

When one thinks of fly fishing, those big loops might come to mind…the graceful back cast and forward cast where the dry fly lands like a kiss on the water’s surface. Forget all that in a creek that might be 15 feet wide with heavy vegetation on both sides and overhead. New skills are needed. Thankfully, David is a wonderful teacher so I learned two new casts and techniques that broadened my skill set. From reading the water, to a modified bow-and-arrow cast, I came away with new tools, but more importantly I came away with memories of cascading water, flowers, trout and wading cool water in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

On a small, mountain stream at high elevation, the mundane fades away and the mystical realm of mists, rocks, rushing water take over the senses. Trout become the teachers and jesters, the humbling masters. We’re lucky just to have a few hours to be in their presence.


Featured image of Simone by David Knapp. Check out Trout Zone Anglers for more information on booking David and the guides that work with him. The level of learning and fun is a perfect balance.

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.”

Befriending the Flow

Befriending the Flow

The force of the rushing water was pushing against my legs. I stood in the creek and allowed my body to feel the strength of the flow, the pressure somehow comforting instead of frightening. I’ve had a ‘thing’ with fast-moving water for many years. It’s a control thing…you know…I can’t stop the flow of water pushing me, pushing anything in its path. I don’t know when it started but it really amped up when I was learning to cave dive in the high-flow caves of north Florida.

I wish I could admit to liking that flow but really the only time I did was when the dive was turned and the flow carried me back, effortlessly back to calmer waters, a safety stop and then the surface.

My former spouse signed me up for a swiftwater rescue training he was assisting with several years ago. I learned a lot but still found the flow intimidating. The swims we did were just above a nasty little rapid and every time we crossed I feared being swept off my feet and going through that washing machine of foamy water. Helmet, dry suit and PFD were all secure but it still scared me. And then I hurt myself by leaping into the water and knocking the living life out of my femur…I thought I had broken my leg it hurt so bad but it benched me and who could argue with that?

Swift water…running water…rushing water…white water. White from the turbulence of air mixed with water as it slams into rocks. You cannot fight it. You just can’t. I guess it’s like life. You can’t fight the flow of life.

So learning to fly fish here in the Smoky Mountains is giving me opportunity to really embrace the flow and stand in it and with it and even sit in it.

Waders make wading in these cold streams comfortable but they also create a lot of drag and resistance. A wading staff makes it so much easier. Having something to lean on that supports me as I step over and around slippery rocks is vital. Every time I pick up my foot in knee-deep water the current tries to take it. But I’ve gotten used to the sensation.

Yesterday found me at ease in the flow…comfortable and making friends with the water that was rushing past. Last week that same creek took my wading staff but also returned it after I spent two hours fishing and learning to trust the creek, trust myself. After fishing I walked downstream and it was waiting for me, pushed up against the shore. 

I’ve called these trout my Jedi masters as they teach me about their wisdom, the water, the insects but mostly about myself.

As that flow pushed against me yesterday I stood in open acceptance of it. I found stillness within and went into a meditative state of Oneness with the water, trees, trout, rocks, chilly air. Everything else faded as I walked deeper into the creek, the forest and my own depths.

Learning what we have control of and what we don’t have control of is part of the process of healing as a human being. Learning to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference….the Serenity Prayer. I cannot change the flow of the river but I can learn how to navigate it and little-by-little befriend that precious, life-giving flow.

While fly fishing yesterday I had one hard strike that made me squeal but not one other nibble…so of course I’ll return again and again to learn from those Jedi Trout. I’m so grateful they called me to the water. I’m making progress fly fishing and in navigating our beautiful creeks and rivers…today while using my housing I actually sat down in the flow and held my housing in a little rapid. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so peaceful. The flowing water showed me just how beautiful it really is…when I stop trying to fight it.

Just a shout out to Miss Mayfly Waders…they are amazing and come in sizes to fit different women’s body types. I am so happy to have them in my adventure kit.

So Much Magnificence

So Much Magnificence

Chilly morning air, washed clean with an all-day rain yesterday, awakens me to beauty…more beauty. More magnificence. From my perch on the front porch, the far mountain ridge is draped with clouds—moving beings of white mist. Bird song fills the space between here and there…tom turkeys…wood thrush…nut hatches…blue jays…red-bellied woodpeckers…carolina wrens…towhees…and as I write this a hummingbird, the first of the season, buzzes the porch.

Colors of spring creep slowly up the mountain, each day offering a new shade of green or pink or light orange. My favorite color season is spring…the tom turkeys tend to agree as they gobble, gobble, gobble searching for their alluring hens. The near ridge is robed in those sweet spring colors but that far ridge, the one with the dancing cloud, is still winter-bare.

The other day I rode up Highway 441, the road that goes through the Smoky Mountain National Park from Cherokee to Gatlinburg. I started in a lush, green spring and climbed to winter where icicles still clung to cliffs. When the road lowered in elevation it was an amazing rush of colorful leaves that enfolded all who entered that tunnel of green.

Wildflowers this year have been amazing, probably due to a very wet winter. They are thriving and as the lower elevations fade, the upper elevations have yet to see trilliums, lady’s slippers, showy orchis. Spring seems eternal here. 

In spring the trees share their beauty by the daily movement of color up, up, up to higher elevations while in the autumn the colors begin at the highest peaks and slowly move down to lower elevations. It’s a never-ending dance of temperature, moisture, position of the sun…life continues on and on and on.

The sun illuminates the far mountain ridge now as clouds turn golden in their swirling, whirling—dervishes worshipping through sacred dance. The turkeys still gobble for their sweethearts, the wood thrush fluting near the creek below.

Sadness found me this morning as yet another loss of life shocked me. Not her! She’s such a light in this world. I felt a pull to the porch, to Nature…to life. Keep living, keep breathing, keep opening and opening and opening.

I just noticed the red bud starting to bloom as I glanced up and gazed into the woods. The turkeys must be dancing, their gobbling reaching a new frenzy. The sun kisses the closer ridge as it breaks through dark clouds…that green, the green of early morning sunlight, is perhaps the most precious of all the greens.

The magnificence of life reminds me to treasure each moment…the glorious ones filled with springtime magic as well as the sad ones filled with grief. We knew coming into this physical body that it would fade, just as the flowers fade, the trees fall during storms. Perhaps that’s what makes life so incredibly sacred. While we are here we have been gifted with a present so glorious…if only we would remember to notice…the colors of spring as they creep up the mountain…so much magnificence.