Friday, June 16, 2006

The Road Less Traveled By

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost

On Friday the Tuna clan took the high road AND the low road, yet somehow never made it to Scotland afore anybody. Our day included a morning hike on a portion of the Appalachian trail, and an afternoon of whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River. HooBoy!

The Appalachian trail head was located inside The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. What we had planned that morning was a quiet drive winding through the quaint southern hamlets that lay nestled at the foot of the mountains. What we got was more traffic than Super Bowl Sunday swarming through towns stuffed to the gills with -- I cannot lie or mince words here -- CRAP. What kind? All kind. And I quote:

...Miniature golf, go-carts, bumper boats, water rides, laser games, indoor skydiving simulator, Police Museum, Dinosaur Walk Museum, Elvis Museum, Veterans Memorial Museum, Smoky Mountain Car Museum, All styles of music, high-energy dancing, magical illusions, amazing horsemanship, racing ostriches, mind-reading-pigs, fire-eaters, jugglers and the best Elvis impersonator this side of Graceland, and don't forget: Dollywood!

What this page didn't mention that I still have burned into my memory:

The "As Seen on TV" Superstore, helicopter rides for ONLY $10 (I'm thinking this would NOT be the time to pinch pennies), Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, THE MIRACLE THEATRE FEATURING THE JESUS IN A MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA, and a waffle joint whose billboard featured three spiral-eyed zombie bears (either that or they were stoned) walking Frankenstein-style towards a huge stack of waffles. Bears and waffles were a huge theme along this strip, and I can only assume that when the sun goes down they head off to one of ninety-seven thousand Cracker Barrel restaurants for dinner.

This time, getting there was not half the fun.

But once we finally made it to the mountains, things began to right themselves again. The weather was cool and crisp in the deep shade of the trees, and the drive was absolutely beautiful. We finally made it to the trail head and walked for a ways up the winding path to several lookout points before having to turn around. When we returned the number of people had grown exponentially, but somehow this didn't bother me. At least they were there. Outside. Experiencing on some level, a bit of the majesty and wonder and spectacle of the mountains and the forests. Maybe something would stick...

Due to time considerations, the drive to Ocoee ended up being equally stressful, due to the obscene amount of construction that brought traffic to a halt for extended periods of time. Praise the Lord for the invention of the cell phone, which enabled us to call the rafting company several times to apprise them of our location so they wouldn't leave without us. We made it (ticket-free, phew!) with a whopping 2 minutes to spare. Piece of cake!

The rafting adventure was 'wicked awesome' to quote TinyTuna. This declaration, uttered in turn with "we HAVE to do this again next year!" was a far cry from the white faced, scared to death, never birthed no white-water rafting trips before child who rode the school bus to the launching site looking like she was either going to pass out or barf up a pile, as she is so fond of saying. When push came to shove, or in this case, water came to raft, TinyTuna was, in fact, wicked awesome and never fell out once. Tour guide Todd was also (what else?) wicked awesome as he led us through six class-four rapids and several class three rapids with ease.

During the quieter moments of the trip I had the chance to take in everything laid out before me. What a day of opposites this had become. On the one hand, there was nature: an incredible, wonderful, perfect gift. And on the other hand, there was, well, everything else. The other hand was elbow-deep in what we, as caretakers, have chosen to do with this gift. Waffle eating zombie bears. Is this our legacy?

Rafting down the Ocoee river, everything was so alive. The river that rushed and rested in turn. The rocks along the riverbed. The enormous trees that shot straight up into the sky, wrapped in the deepest green imaginable. All alive. The same was true on the Appalachian trail. From birds and bugs to rocks and trees and wildflowers. All alive.

That morning we each gathered two stones -- one for family and one for friend -- and placed them on the trail head sign. Each one signified a life that respected and celebrated nature, and understood that it was a gift. We honored my Great Uncle Albert and PhotoTuna, who each taught us that the best way to look at nature was not through the eyes, but through the heart. We took a moment to pay our respects and honor the gifts they had given us. Then we celebrated their life by climbing in the moutains and rafting down the river.

I know that they were with us that day, and TinyTuna had it exactly right:

It was wicked awesome.


mensch71 said...

Sounds like a hella adventure. The non-Tunas are missing you. Thy yard is looking fantabulous and there's rain a-coming today/tonight. Off to the very much northern parts to take care of Mom's sister. See you soon!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that wonderful tribute to nature and to my special man. I cried, of course.

Sounds like your trip down was a great adventure, especially the whitewater. The Gatlinburg area is sickening, I agree. But oh those Smoky Mountains!

I spent about an hour in your yard today, pulling a few weeds and dead-heading a bit. What a beautiful garden/yard you have!

Hope you've having a great time at the Beach!

Love, PeaceTuna