Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 6, June 3
Halloway Gap to Double Spring Gap 17.3 miles
Last night I was reading Suzanne Simard’s The Mother Tree— a section where she and a friend had to climb trees to escape a mother grizzly, not exactly the best story to be reading alone in the wilds of the North Georgia mountains. My sleep was undisturbed, but in the middle of the morning, while rounding a curve in the trail I found myself face to face with the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen. We briefly eyed each other, then he turned and ran up the hill. I’ll need to check on my appearance when I get to the next town.
It was a day of up and down. Started with a light rain, then sun, then rumbling thunder all afternoon and I had to trot the last three miles only to have the heavens open about 15 ministers from the campsite. I got the tent pitched in the rain, crawled in with all my gear, and waited it out. Between the rains, it was a beautiful day. Along with the bear, I ran up on an eagle eating some rodent it has just caught. Just before, I noticed the trail was all torn up—not like the way bears do, saw plenty of that today too—it was unusual. The eagle and I both startled each other, with a rush of wings and a mole in his talon made it clear he was not going to share. Later in the day I scared up a whitetail deer, one of many I’ve seen on this trip. I love how their tails flop up, flashing white when they run away.
One of today’s more notable observations involves the blooming rhododendron. They have white flowers and the fallen petals look like little gears. There’s a species of butterfly, tiny and pure white, who live in the rhododendrons. It’s windy on the ridge so the flower petals are often torn from the stem and float across the trail. Sometimes the butterflies take off at the same time, and appear to be flower petals that have decided to fly.
Simard got me thinking about mother trees—few to be seen here so far though today I saw the largest maple I’ve ever seen. There are many more maples in these woods than I expected. But the tree of the day was on the peak of Flat Top mountain. In a small flat open space stands a magnificent old oak. Not really a mother tree as it stands in isolation on that peak, but still imposing. Had to stop to say hello.
T. Hugh Crawford