Riding a train in familiar territory makes me look at my home in a whole different light. Saturday, a special person in my life and I rode the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (the one featured in the movie “The Fugitive”) from the Bryson City depot over to the Nantahala Gorge….actually the train goes past the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC – a Mecca for whitewater rafting and kayaking in the area) up to near Nantahala Lake, where they then switch the engine from one end to the other, then it starts its journey back and stops for a 1-hour layover at the NOC for lunch, a walk, stretching, relaxing, enjoying the river, taking photographs, etc. At the turnaround, the passengers switch sides with their neighbors so that going back we get to see the view from the other side. There were lots of couples, families, and children, and the train was full of chatter and laughter and a few quieter ones (like us) and even some sleepers. Everyone is pretty friendly and seems in a good mood, full of anticipation as if this were a 5-day cruise instead of a 4-1/2-hour train ride.
We started out about 10:30 a.m. armed with drinks and a backpack of peanut butter and jelly burritos, chips, homemade (sort of) chocolate chip cookies, and my camera. We had the windows open and it was a beautiful day. Some of the pictures I took were terrible and blurry, thanks to most of them being taken from the moving train. Although it wasn’t moving too fast, it was kind of bouncy and shaky (but actually very soothing, kind of like a big rocking chair). On the way back after lunch I almost fell asleep. Some people slept through most of the trip. We got to cross a high trestle across Fontana Lake. We saw houseboats and skiers and boaters, and then once we entered the gorge and the track runs alongside the Nantahala River, we saw lots of rafters and kayakers. Everywhere the train goes, along the river, rafters, picnickers, walkers, and in cars at crossroads, people waved enthusiastically to us, and some of us waved equally enthusiastically back.
Some of the time I knew where I was compared to how the road runs, as I’m quite familiar with the road along this route, but then sometimes we were far off from the road and seeing views and houses and camps and little driveways that I had never seen before, though I had been all over this country dozens of times over the years. I don’t even know how you drive into some of those spots, no idea where the roads are, but some of them were really charming, with the train riding almost through their front yards. One old rock house was built so close to the tracks that you could touch it out the window. I realized yet again what a beautiful place I live in, how amazing it is, and how big the wilderness area is, how little I really know about it. I try to imagine it through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time and I wonder what they feel. I can see it day in and day out and I’m still awestruck by the beauty of the rushing white water and the vastness of the lake, the trees and the blue mountains and the flowers and the smells. But if you ever feel bored with familiarity and can’t afford to go away on a long trip, take a trip through your own area, take a different route, ride a different vehicle so you see the familiar sites from a different vantage point. It made me appreciate it more and take less for granted. Come to think of it, that might be a metaphor for dealing with lots of things in our lives that get boring or too familiar, to look at them a different way, through different lenses.
I saw ferns growing in huge groups that I never really remembered noticing in the woods so much before, and beautiful wildflowers that inspired me to go buy a new wildflower book so I could identify the beautiful shades of pinks and purples that were unfamiliar to me. The air smelled sweet and felt so good, the sun was warm on my arm as it stretched out by the window, and the movement of the train was like a noisy lullaby.
Then we rolled back into the depot past houses and sawmills and stores and more waves as people in town welcomed us back as if from a long long journey. We got off and walked back to the car, then rode over to nearby Deep Creek for a brief wade in the cold creek, because by then the mid-afternoon sun had gotten hot once we were no longer riding and getting a breeze. Lots of adults and squealing children were tubing down the river trying to cool off in the cold water on a hot summer day, and the smells of grills and charcoal wafted through the air and made me feel so cozy and hungry again too! It made me miss my old camping days.
Each season of the mountains has its own unique specialness, its own feel and character, and its own charm. I would love to ride the train again in the fall when the colors are so bright and the sky such a rich blue and the air with just a little bit of a chill so a sweater feels good.
It was a relaxing and wonderful day.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Raindrop Ridge Press