Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Daylight Savings Time ended at two this morning, and as if on cue, a more wintry weather pattern moved in. It is mid-morning, but the house is still dark and quiet: Buck at his writing desk, me at mine, and Maggie stretched out in between us, alternating snores with dog dream yips, one paw quivering. At 3800 feet above sea level, it feels like we’re adrift in a fog-enshrouded sail boat. Rain has targeted the remaining leaves, and by morning the sleeping doves will be exposed in their tree house just off the deck.

Time to pack up for our winter migration back to the flatlands.

The rain, fog and cool front blowing in reminded me of an early November drive we took in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few years ago.

It was extraordinary in so many ways. A strong cold front was sweeping in. The day began with rain, but it soon stopped and the heavy clouds simply blew away, leaving a blue, cold sky.

We drove through Cherokee, letting the Blue Ridge Parkway be our guide. Along the way, the Nantalaha River ran beside the road. We stopped to walk down an embankment to admire the water, dry crisp leaves swishing and crackling around our legs. It was not as cold as I had expected and very clear. Since that time, we have rafted the Nantalaha’s white water many times.

The park was almost empty of people that day. A few days past the leaf lookers and their RVs, it was almost a private show. There was basic splendor all along the way. But close to Newfound Gap, when Buck spotted ice on trees all down the side of a gorge, the excitement of a really unique experience began to increase. It was only November 13, but all of a sudden I felt Christmas, inside and out. At Newfound Gap there were hundreds of trees with bare branches, decorated by nature for us with thick, white layers of soft-looking ice.

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Ascending another 1400 or so feet to Clingman’s Dome took us above the marvelous, fast-moving clouds to a clear area of absolute, bright cold — and a 30-40 mph wind, too.

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I was well-bundled into my new thinsulate parka with hood drawn tight and gloves, but the vicious wind drove us quickly back into the car.

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We stopped again at Newfound Gap to gawk at the ice sculpture garden.

As the sun was beginning to set, we were still hovering around 5,000 feet elevation . We drove in the clouds for about an hour, thoroughly enveloped. One particular cloud moved toward us. It stopped in front of the windshield and curved upward — like a beaconing finger — very inspiring, not scary. We both felt it.

Continuing on toward our dinner destination in Dillard, Georgia, neither of us could shake the feeling that something mystical and life changing had happened. Looking back, I know it did. That day was shortly before we made the decision to buy land and build the home where I am now writing.

 

Spectacular ice storm at Newfound Gap (about 1991)

Spectacular ice storm at Newfound Gap (about 1991)

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