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The Roaring Fork
(Photo by Sue Davis)
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The Roaring Fork
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The Roaring Fork
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The Roaring Fork
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Suzie and I
(Photo by Sue Davis)
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Cades Cove
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Metcalf Bottoms
(Photo by Sue Davis)
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Metcalf Bottoms

The Roaring Fork
Nov. 2
8, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff

(Part IV)

Our last couple days in the park, Suzie took me to two of the most magnificent places Iíd ever seen, or likely ever will again.

Both were "motor trails" in the park. The first was the Roaring Fork trail, and there I saw a place I am sure was enchanted.

The Roaring Fork is a small river or stream in the Smokies. It begins up about 5,000 feet, and as multiple little springs and drains create it, drops an incredible 2,500 feet in just two miles! It eventually empties into the Little Pigeon River near Gatlinburg.

The trail is a circle, and you can stop and see several historic Appalachian structures, including the Ephraim Bales Place.

Ephraim and his wife, Minerva, farmed about 30 acres, and they lived in a cabin near the Roaring Fork. As we toured the fantastic outbuildings and main house, I could hear the water just over the ridge out back, and itís beckoning was irresistible, so while Suzie was still checking out the various structures, I grew weak and succumbed. I had to go find the source of that sound. Just had to.

I trotted down a faint trail, not far, but near a stone wall the Balesí family had constructed over a century ago. The sound of the stream was louder, almost a choir, a symphony by then. As I rounded the ridge, suddenly, like a sudden epiphany, it was there.

Iím not well-traveled, bit Iíve seen Otatso Creek high, high in the Rockies dang near to Canada in Montanaís Glacier National Park. It was a magical, astoundingly beautiful place that will always haunt me because of the sheer power it held over me, power of Blackfeet Indians and power of Chief Mountain on the horizon. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring. I regularly fish creeks in north Louisiana and it is a gem, a jewel unsurpassed this far south and each time I leave it I leave a part of me behind on its sandstone terraces and rushing rapids. Iíve not been a lot of places, but Iíve seen Grand Canyon, and Meteor Crater and a few other things.

But I tell you now, Roaring Fork was the most drop-dead gorgeous place I have ever laid these old eyes on.

The voices of the tourists behind me was gone, drowned out by the water tumbling, leaping, bounding and laughing over green-splashed boulders around which every hue of orange, red and yellow was dappled by fallen leaves. I might have well been a thousand miles from the cabins and the people behind me. It was lush, more lush than anywhere else I had seen in autumn in the Smokies, and it captivated me by snagging me in the heart.

Even without my "wading boots" with the felt soles, I leaped from boulder to boulder and shot photos. I had to show this place to everyone I knew! Then I stopped. I tore myself away from it and went get Suzie, told her she had to see this, and she came down to the Roaring Fork with me and, I could see, was captivated, under its spell at once.

We stayed there a long, long while. I hiked, leisurely, upstream and downstream a bit, and the majesty of the place never diminished or increasedÖit just differed. If I sat and looked just right, let my mind stop dividing time and living it instead, I could easily have expected Indians to walk upstream from the trail, carrying gifts for the Balesí family; or mountain lions, or black bears, hunting trout or just taking a draft of cold, clean water. I thought of Mole and Ratty and their famed conversation from The Wind in the Willows:

"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!"

"By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "Itís brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. Itís my world, and I donít want any other. What it hasnít got is not worth having, and what it doesnít know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times weíve had together!"

Eventually I had to tear myself away, and we departed, and I proclaimed loudly that I would be back to that place one day. No matter what.

Later, we took the second motor trail, around Cades Cove.

An isolated valley of rolling hills surrounded by the Smokies, the Cades Cove tour is only a few miles, but the road is narrow and you canít go very fast, so it takes a couple hours. You wouldnít want to go very fast, anyway, because like the Roaring Fork as a river, Cades Cove was absolutely stunning as a valley.

Itís known that the Cherokee had trails across the valley, and at least by the late 1700s had a village there called Tsiyaíhi, or "Otter Place." Early European hunters would see to it that the abundant otter along Cove Creek would be extinct by the time the first wave of settlers arrived.

It was actually named after the leader of the Cherokee village, Chief Kade, though that is probably a rough expression of his true name. By 1819, the Cherokee had been evicted from Cades Cove and settlers moved in to create a small, very isolated community here for a century more. The Cherokee lingered around in the neighboring forests, until they were removed to the Oklahoma Territory in 1838 on the Trail of Tears.

We say deer grazing everywhere, but no bears, unfortunately. We toured a working corn grinding mill, and that was cool as the dickens. At the visitorís center, Suzie was kind enough to ask for the discouraged, crestfallen fisherman at her side of there was any good fishing nearby.

"Sure is," said the nice lady. "Abrams Creek. The Horseshoe is right up the trail to the falls. Itís the most treacherous, dangerous, hardest one-mile of stream in the entire park."

I started to open my mouth and say, "Iíll take it!" then remembered negotiating minefields of boulders, falling in to my neck, and decided that anything these people considered the most treacherous, dangerous, hardest one-mile stretch of the Smokies was not for me.

After that, we returned to Metcalf Bottoms as I hadnít fished there before, and had no luck. I passed another fisherman on the way in, a fly-fisherman at that, and said, "Tough right now, ainít it?"

"Not really," he said. "I did pretty good on tiny dries right there at the riffles by the rocks." He smiled and walked on and I silently cussed his back then asked forgiveness.

And thatís about the size of my trip to the Smoky Mountains. While we were there, the area got two or three inches of rain, mostly at night, so we were proud to have brought a little luck to them.

It was truly one of the most astounding places Iíd ever seen. Though our trip was rather impromptu, I wouldnít have missed it for the world, as though I was bruised, battered, sore and aching from too many tumbles with slick boulders, climbing back up steep river banks and hiking tall trails, I left the Smokies sure that Iíd return.

And on the way out, I thought of Harry. Of course. Iíd like to thin he would have been a good friend, had we known each other. But I carried him with me as we left those grand, ancient old mountains and he said to me, yet again:

Many a time have I merely closed my eyes at the end of yet another troublesome day and soaked my bruised psyche in wild water, rivers remembered and rivers imagined. Rivers course through my dreams, rivers cold and fast, rivers well-known and rivers nameless, rivers that seem like ribbons of blue water twisting through wide valleys, narrow rivers folded in layers of darkening shadows, rivers that have eroded down deep into a mountainís belly, sculpted the land. Peeled back the planetís history exposing the texture of time itself.

Amen, Harry. Amen.