Synchronicity  May 20, 2012

This is Sugarland Mountain from the first half mile of the trail that bears it's name.  Doesn't it look fresh and inviting?  Originally, we were supposed to be joining our Muir Brethren in the Dolly Sodds.  My changed school schedule and Dave's personal conflicts prohibited our attendance in that backpack.  We were both anticipating that trip.  We then decided to try and catch the fireflies a week early.  Was it a gamble?  Of course.  I had Jerky Mike and Skid deposit me at the base of Fighting Creek Gap, across from Laurel Falls.  Oldtimers claim that Fighting Creek gap got its name by being the place that mountain folk would assemble in pre park days to iron our their differences in a kangaroo court of sorts.  The end result was usually amicable but if not, the need for fisticuffs would determine the outcome of the disagreement.

A carpet of laurel and heath blanketed this soft, non equestrian footpath that ascends to the Appalachian Trial.  About a mile and half into my ascent, I pass the terminus for Mids gap branch manway which drops down into elkmont.

Pink and white blooms were blazing.  I passed not a soul.

Save for the occasional view of Leconte or some other sweeping vista.

Flame azaleas interspersed with the larger shrub blooms made for a solitary walk on Saturday afternoon.  We Southernhighlanders are typically a winter backpacking bunch.  The cold weather and denuded forest makes the warmth and glow of a winter fire as appealing as a soft down bag and pillow upon which we lay on the frozen ground.  It is the subtle change of season that makes winter and the Spring that promises rebirth in nature and our personal spirits.  We trade the absence of bugs for a carpet of green, heavy packs for lighter loads and cold hands for a sweat filled back.  These are the things that make the Smokies a 4 season love affair.

It even draws the most reclusive of creatures, at times.

We see the strangest things in our camps.  This particular camp is a secret spot in an outlaw location.  It is where we go, solo, to see our secret spot of the fireflies.  This year I gambled that the synchronous lightning bug display would occur early, like everything else.  We were not disappointed. I attempted to video and photograph the display with no success.  We noticed that the insects seemed to perform best when we provided our undivided attention so we just basked in their glory leaving them unfettered.

Everyone in this Highlander group was treated to an early display of God's own personal light show.  It is like doing LSD without doing LSD.  I have never done LSD.  I would never do anything remotely similar.  There is no need when you have a natural, organic display of psychedelic proportion that does nothing but fortify your spirit.  As my good friends from the Muir Faction quote their benefactor, John Muir,  "All is divine Harmony!"  For that brief, two hour window, as we stand in our secret, personal viewing spot, it is as if we are standing in the pews of a candlelight ceremony.  We whisper in reverence and marvel at the splendor of nature's natural, organic temple.

(Highlanders in their natural habitat)

See George.  See George check his pack for rocks.       See George relatively certain that there are no rocks in his backpack.  Why should there be rocks in George's backpack?  There should be no reason for rocks in his backpack, right?  Of course not.  Then again, there should have been no reason for a rock in my backpack on the Crooked Arm, either.    George departs relatively certain of the absence of rocks in his backpack.  Thanks for joining us this weekend George.  (remember, there is a fine for carrying natural objects from the National Park)


Feeasco Update:  Frank has been trying to broker a meeting between the Southern Forest Watch and Ditmanson.  Dale is reluctant to meet with "certain vocal members of the opposition."  We are more than happy to sit down with the Superintendent of the GRSMNP.  We are problem solvers.  We have picked a tentative date next week.  I hope that the Superintendent sees fit to meet with us and problem solve this fee issue.  We meet as a group or not at all.  We meet on condition of discussion about the backcountry fee.  We do not meet so he can check off a box and say he has fulfilled another round of "civic engagement".  Word on the street is that the AT hikers will have to pay a $20 fee to pass through the Smokies.   Locals, under Ditmanson's proposal, will have to pay fifteen dollars per night.  Horses get a free pass, backpackers screwed again.  It really is time for compromise before these lies and manipulations hit the media from our upcoming legal maneuvering.   It doesn't have to resort to all that.  Dale can compromise and work with actual user groups not a bunch of transient thru hikers that have no investment in our Park.  It is my hope that by next week, I can report a healthy and productive meeting with the park staff.  Hope springs eternal.

Also, here is another tidbit sent to me by a friend for you folks to consider with regard to this sudden "crisis" in the backcountry that might help fill in some blanks on this sudden fee imposition:  This is excerpted from the email:

I was looking into the specifics of the "Walk in the Woods" trips that are booked through REI. 
  It states in the park regs that they (CUA's) may not make reservations for shelters more than 
25 days in advance, yet there are trips that are "sold out" as far ahead as July.
  How can "Walk In The Woods"  assure REI that space will be available that far ahead? 
 The reg also states that no trips may be booked for weekends in the month of October.
  REI lists 3 trips that start  in Oct. that begin on a Sunday.  Hmm, I thought Sunday 

WAS a weekend day.  Thought you might be interested.

Well, my friend was right.  I am interested and now, hopefully, you may gain some understanding as to why Vesna Plakanis, (no roots in the Smokies) owner of the big guide service  was so vocal in her support of a backcountry fee to free up the shelters for her paying, largely out of state, Clients.  It also helps explain why Sutton Bacon, head of another large guide service, the NOC, is supportive of these fees.  Doesn't it make sense?  We need your help now more than ever to stop these carpetbaggers from doing this to future Smokies lovers.  Don't get me wrong.  The best citizens of the Smokies, like our brothers in Ohio, don't necessarily live here.  When we say carpetbagger, we mean exactly that.  It is someone who comes here to make money off our natural resources at our expense.  And this will cost every Smokies enthusiast regardless of their geographic location when this 4 dollar fee becomes 50 in 7 years.

Send an email to the NPS director, John Jarvis.

Next weekend, Grady, Will and I will begin our 50 mile segment of the AT into Damascus.  It will complete the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee for me and most of it for Grady.  Jerky Mike and Slap have a NC Smokies plan for those interested.

And finally, I was going to share one of my favorite bluegrass songs by Reno and Smiley entitled Bluegrass Riff.  I couldn't locate an available track but came across this old favorite of theirs instead.  When I think of old time mountain music, back in the days when "country" meant what we call bluegrass, this is the image in my mind.  They dressed up because it was television and these guys were the best in their day and arguably still. Enjoy.