The Great Smoky Mountains are far and away America's favorite national park and a glittering jewel of biodiversity. As with Shenandoah, my own "backyard" national park, winter is often the best time of year to visit. I particularly like it when visits sort of happen spontaneously thanks to the gift of a day or two off in between cities, when the Smokies just happen to be kind of on the way.

High Cherokee in distant haze
blanketed in a rhododendron sampler
stitched haphazardly over canyon walls
     and foothill knees

Hemlock hanging water over

Streamside floodwood bleached and battered
helpless awaiting
the next torrent tempest
     compelled towards flatter land and water

From the summits perched high
where the snowmass melt
     births relentless rivers
braiding and churning their way
through the bouldered remnants of what was
     from the firmaments of what remains

Land of lofty leaf and wingwind gathered

Hear the raptor master patrolling the heavens;
Hark the call of the raven poets watching,
     and the stilling spring whispers
as they blossom from the frozen firmament
continuing their quiet insistent assault
     on what is massive and majestic and doomed

Rippled ridgelines drop away in all directions
from these steep crags
     and rocky ramparts
hassling thistleberry plucking at all
attempting to navigate their coarse bramble
     in search of a more perfect view

The smoke clears again and the vista awaits
another transient eyeglance
     brief reward for the visit
tonic for the soul
a reminder keepsake
     and companion back to the flatlands

Soon the redding dusk will glow light these heights
as it has done for ten hundred million days before this one
Back when these peaks kissed the sky on the lips
     and before our eyes could bear witness

It is grander that way,
for now we have their wisdom and experience
     to teach us
rather than the rash arrogance
and boastful pride of young mountains
ignorant of the imminent
and irresistable erosions
     that slowly bring us all

Back to earth



Copyright © Andrew McKnight. All Rights Reserved.

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