There is something effortlessly romantic about the Great Smoky Mountains in early spring.
Driving through this stretch of Appalachia is driving through a stretch of eternity. The beauty of the Smokies is its timelessness: the range having formed centuries ago, breathtaking in its imposition, an impossible eternity in the Carolina horizon.
Paradoxically, spring ushers in life anew, a perfectly continual ode to impermanence, a jeer at eternity. The tragedy of autumn’s loss gives way to the triumph of spring’s revival.
Snowmelt sends creeks and Little Rivers flooding over roadways, reclaiming their rightful paths. It is a lesson in the impermanence of eternity: The waters have always been and will always be, but every rock the stream touches is etched away forever, and not a stone the river carries will ever go back to where it once rested.
This timeless Smoky mountainside is forever changed by each among thousands of springs and snowmelts. As water flows over its bluffs, its eternity is fleeting, eroding.
The trees, too, teach us this lesson. Autumn’s fallen leaves lay under a light blanket of snow, the wet rot already fertilizing the next generation of leaves.
The chill of winter lingers. In the fields of Cade’s Cove, Tennessee, wisps of warm breath drift from the snouts of young deer, patched with dark winter coats they’ve only just begun to shed.
A dusting of snow covers mountaintop branches, while in the valley, ice melts in every hour of sunlight.
Icicles cling to the sandstone cliffs on the roadside where, decades ago, men hacked at the earth to give other men access to its depths. The icicles, like claws, dig into winter, but the sun is winning; each glassy fingertip drips, drips, drips until it’s gone.
In a dream, the historic Carter Shields Cabin is our home. A rustic fantasy. I imagine flickering firelight through the windows at dusk, billowing white smoke above the chimney. In the distance, howls echo off the hills and mountainsides, welcoming the night.
I imagine us, shuddering off the winter, heralding the spring, calling in the dawn.
These are the mountains that gave me birth; they will always beckon me home; but, like spring, my presence here is never permanent.