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Friends Getting Us Through

“It’ll be a short hike,” Pam announced to us twenty-four women.  We were near the Smoky Mountains for a three-day women’s church retreat.  I listened to the Saturday morning options: a hike, shopping at the outlet mall, or relaxing in the lodge where we were staying. 

            Wearing a splint on my right thumb and arm made me even more unbalanced than I usually am, but I really wanted to be outside in the woods.  “You’ll be fine. The park lists it as an easy hike.  If you need help, we’ll help you,” friends told me.  So, on a cloudy 40° F February morning, I put on the warmest clothes I had packed and double knotted my walking shoes.

            We walked across a gravel parking lot to begin the Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle Place nature trail. A small log cabin marked the beginning of the 0.6-mile trail near the Le Conte Creek. The first trail marker indicating the old road from Gatlinburg gave fair warning: rocks and ruts.  Tall trees, barks covered with moss on the north side, sheltered an open space where Bud and Cindy Ogle built a home and began farming 400 acres in 1879.

            Taking in the smell of the woods and stopping to feel the moss, I heard someone say, “Hold onto the rail and be careful. This little bridge is damp and slick.”  The bridge was a worn twelve-inch plank over a six-foot wide creek. The log rail wiggled as I took baby steps sideways over the water.  After crossing the bridge and tip-toeing around water-filled ruts and slick rocks, we twelve hikers naturally divided into three groups.  Those who were sure on their feet.  Those who needed a helping hand.  And those who went back to enjoy nature at the log cabin.

            I wanted to continue, but thought I probably should turn around.  “Come on. You can do it,” Cindy encouraged me. “You can hold my shoulder.” As we walked, Cindy stayed one step in front of me while I looked at the ground to avoid tripping over tree roots and small pointed rocks.

            Large stumps and rotting logs covered the woods.  A sign told us that the largest logs were the remains of chestnut trees, one of the most used trees by early pioneers. Chestnuts were a staple food and could be traded for shoes and household items.  The timber was rot-resistant, light-weight, and strong for buildings.

            Cindy held my hand as together we made our way over and around a pile of boulders.  Standing in the middle of an evergreen forest, mostly hemlock, we felt raindrops. The trail brochure described this forest as a place where souls of people come for renewal of spirit.

            It was a short hike, but not so easy for me. As I began writing this column, I wavered between focusing on my friends’ encouragement and help or the serenity the Great Smoky Mountains. Then I realized that because friends helped, I could enjoy nature.  I appreciate both.

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