“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen
and thinking what nobody has thought.”
Albert von Szent-Györgyi, 1893-1986
1937 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine
“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I,
of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people
we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories
in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said,
that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.
If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be
profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”
Frederick Buechner, 1926-
Novelist and theologian
Monday night I heard Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-nur) speak at a local college. I read some of his works in graduate school and have used quotations from his writings several times on my blog. A description of his book Telling the Truth (1977) summarizes not only that book but much of his work, in reminding us that the Gospels aren’t full of unrealistic promises of joy and happiness, but they are an “unblinking reflection of everyday reality. They disdain equally saccharine, happy endings and soft boiled hope. Rather, they record the tragedy of human failure, the comedy of being loved overwhelmingly by God despite that failure, and the fairy tale of transformation through that love.” I encourage you to pick up one of Buechner’s books for your next read.
Noah “Bud” Ogle Farm near Gatlinburg, TN
“We are privileged to live in Sevier County
Where we have a great bounty
Of the beauty of God’s creation
Near the most popular Park in the nation
Where nature’s beauty is preserved
And the songs of many birds can be heard.
Here wildlife does abound
And beautiful wildflowers can be found.
There is beauty in the valleys and the mountain top
So each day we live, we should stop
And thank God so very much
For giving His creation a special touch
Of beauty for the world to see
And for this nation where we can be free
To worship God up above
Who has blessed us with His great love.”
Melba P. Oakley
“Smoky Mountain Memories & Meditations”
This past weekend my parents and I had the pleasure of a guided tour through the Smoky Mountains by the great niece of Wiley Oakley, the “Roamin’ Man of the Mountains.” I discovered that Gatlinburg and the Smokies are much more than what meets the tourist’s eye. Like most of Appalachia, it is an area rich with a history of strong and courageous people who eked out a living in a beautiful, but rough and unforgiving land.
Wiley loved the mountains and blazed many of the original trails. He knew the names of the plants, trees, and flowers, and even gave some plants their names. He served as a guide for many hunters, scientists, naturalists, professors, famous people such as Henry Ford, and the forefathers of the Great Smoky National Park, established in 1934. Wiley’s name and legacy is an icon in the history and development of the Park.
We stayed with the widow (who wrote the poem above) of Wiley’s son, Harvey, who died last year at age 89. Harvey was born in a small log cabin under the foot of Mt. LeConte before the Park existed. Like his father, Harvey also grew up loving the mountains and the Park. In fact, he worked 31 years as the sign maker for the National Park. All the entrance signs to the Park which you see today were routered by Harvey.
Harvey also helped restore the Noah Bud Ogle Place (shown above) on what is now LeConte Creek. As the sign near the cabin says, “With axe, plow, and gun, the first settlers changed the mountains, cutting into forests that were centuries old. They called this place ‘Junglebrook’ after the dense growths of rhododendron and magnolia that bordered the streams.” (According to the Park website, life for many of these families changed with the coming of commercial logging operations around 1900 that stripped trees from three-quarters of what is now Park land.)
When Harvey was a child, Gatlinburg (originally called White Oak Flats) was still a very small village with two country stores and the Pi Beta Phi School. There were few travelers. The valley where the heart of Gatlinburg now stands was used for vegetable patches, corn fields, a few dwellings and stores. Overnight lodgers were accepted in a few private homes where the guest was served breakfast in the kitchen with the rest of the family. How times have changed! (For a great summary of the culture and history of Gatlinburg, click here.)
Next time you’re in the Smokies, get away from the tourist traps and outlet malls, and instead explore the back roads and mountain trails of Sevier County. Stop by the Park Welcome Center (on the right between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg) or at Sugarlands Visitor’s Center on the other side of town. They have a wealth of information, maps, and tips for where to explore — whether you’re wanting a hike or a leisurely drive. Also be sure to stop by the Arrowmont Craft Shop as you enter town (on the left, across from the Aquarium). There’s so much more, as I’m just now learning, but this is a start for all of us.
Special thanks to Jan, Melba, and Michael! (Jan, you inherited your great uncle’s guiding skills!)
Source: “Smoky Mountain Memories & Meditations” by Harvey and Melba Oakley
Mountain Laurel blooms, Buffalo Mountain
“In the name of Jesus Christ, who was never in a hurry, we pray, O God,
that you will slow us down, for we know that we live too fast.
With all of eternity before us, make us take time to live –
time to get acquainted with you, time to enjoy your blessings,
and time to know each other.”
Peter Marshall, 1902-1949
Twice served as Chaplain of the United States Senate
“There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves
in various styles…but there is one order of beauty which seems made to
turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women.
It is a beauty like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle
rippling noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and to
engage in conscious mischief — a beauty with which you can never be angry,
but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend
the state of mind into which it throws you.”
George Eliot, 1819-1880
Pen name for Mary Anne Evans, an English novelist
and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era
Lower Higgins Creek, Unicoi County, TN
“I chatter, chatter, as I flow To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.”
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
and one of the most popular English poets
“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.”
William Henry Davies, 1871-1941
Welsh poet and writer
“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.
Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.”
This weekend I started reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” where he describes his experience as a through-hiker on the AT in 1996. I’m only four chapters in, but I have a feeling I’m going to like this book.
The first time I hiked the Appalachian Trail I was 15. It was the mid-1980s and a summer of drought, not unlike this past one. I came with my parents and a church camp group from Ohio, and we started in Damascus, Virginia, and headed south on a hot Saturday morning. That first day on the trail is one of those days that will forever be imprinted in the Fierbaugh family lore.
The first several miles out of Damascus were all uphill — a long steady ascent to the Tennessee state line. With 40+ lb. backpacks. In 90′ heat. Our group of 25 trudged on and on, spreading out over the course of the day until we were miles apart. By noon, my water bottles were empty and there was no spring in sight (those that were listed in the guidebook were dry from the drought). Our goal that day was to cover 11 miles. 11 miles hiking in the woods with a heavy backpack in summer heat with no water is really, really long.
The afternoon wore on and on as we covered mile after mile. At times I hiked for 30-40 minutes without seeing anyone else from the group. When we did meet up, we shared what was left of the water supply. Towards late afternoon, after about 8 hours on the trail, I came upon the leader of our group, a middle-aged minister who had led several backpack trips in the Colorado Rockies but who, like the rest of us, was somehow unprepared for Tennessee summer conditions on the trail.
He was hunched over in the weeds on the side of the trail, throwing up and clearly suffering heat exhaustion and dehydration. We were all exhausted and extremely thirsty, but I sensed we were near the shelter and our destination for the day. There was no one else around, so I sat with him for a while and hoped that someone else would come by who still had some water. After 10 minutes, he looked up at me and whispered, “If no one comes in half an hour, get the grape juice for tomorrow’s communion service out of my backpack and let me drink it.” He knew it had come to that. Fortunately we soon heard voices and saw some of our group approaching — the fast hikers who had already reached the shelter, dropped their packs, and had hiked back to help the rest of us. And they had water. Answered prayer.
That week we hiked 45 miles — from Damascus, Virginia, to Watauga Lake Dam near Hampton, Tennessee (which, when I just now looked at that trek on the map, impresses me a heck of a lot more now than it did at the time), in 4 ½ days, averaging 10 miles a day. Water was scarce and the hiking was hard. But we had some great memories, too. And instead of scaring me away from hiking forever, it set in place an interest and appreciation for the Appalachian Trail that continues to this day.
The next five summers we returned to the AT, this time hiking a shorter section with amazing views from Roan Mountain, TN, to Elk Park, NC. My Mom and Dad led those trips, and some of my favorite teenage memories are from those days spent on the trail with our friends. I spent my Sweet 16 birthday not glammed up at a party, but sweaty and dirty on the Appalachian Trail. Oh the fun times that can be had around a campfire after a hard day’s hike with a group of teenagers with active imaginations and some forced creativity!
As Bryson writes, “Who could say the words ‘Great Smoky Mountains’ or ‘Shenandoah Valley’ and not feel an urge, as the naturalist John Muir once put it, to ‘throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence’?”
“There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you….
In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other;
only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer,
quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”
Ruth Stout, 1884-1980
An evangelist for the easy way to garden
The above photo was taken during an Ohio ice storm a few years ago at my parents’ former home on the edge of Ashland and Holmes Counties in Ohio. Many people don’t realize that over a third of the state of Ohio — the southeastern side — is considered part of Appalachia (see map). Most people think of Ohio and think flat. But the Appalachian portion is full of rolling hills and a few beautiful gorges, caverns, and land (such as the Hocking Hills) that would quickly remind you of eastern Tennessee.
This beautiful land is where my dad’s ancestors — the Fierbaughs — eventually settled after our forefather, Heinrich Feuerbach, arrived from Germany in the late 1700s through the port of Philadelphia. A century and a half later, my dad was born at the family farmhouse in True Town, a small crossroads in Athens County (now home to Ohio University), deep in the southeastern corner of the state. My great-grandparents ran the Fierbaugh General Store in Greens Run, Ohio, beginning in 1908. My dad’s mother was from nearby Nelsonville. Town names such as Taylor Ridge, Glouster, Trimble, and Chauncey are all names I remember hearing my grandparents mention as they reminisced over the years.
My granddad’s work with General Mills moved the family to Bristol, Tennessee, in 1950 when my dad was a young boy, and this is eventually where I was born — before my dad’s work moved our family, including my grandparents, back to Ohio in the early 1970s.
So both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, Appalachia runs deep in my family roots. And I haven’t even gotten to my mom’s side of the family from Southwest Virginia. Another day…
“O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, and a holy rest,
and peace at the last.