April Fools’: the one day a year that pranks are not only accepted but expected. Admittedly, I frequently make use of this holiday to humor myself at my coworkers’ expense. However, this year Jason decided to surpass me in the mischief department. He planted several gags in our house, some of which I, the should-have-been suspecting victim, didn’t discover until days later.
First, Jason rendered our computer’s mouse useless with a piece of tape and got a good chuckle out of my failed attempts to use it. Yes, although this is a classic hoax, I didn’t catch on right away. Jason also decided to make my bedtime rituals more exhilarating by pushing a dried cranberry into my toothpaste tube. I, a self-affirmed sanitation zealot, felt like I had fallen into an oral-hygiene nightmare of the Freddy Krueger variety thanks to that red blob.
Jason sneakily stuffed a cranberry into my toothpaste tube. It gave the impression that something out-of-place and disgusting had become part of my oral-hygiene regimen.
Jason’s last trick, at least of those I’ve found so far, was modifying the autocorrect in our Word program to automatically change “the” to “bachHa’.” BachHa’, apparently, means “to make a mistake” in Klingon and was chosen specifically for its insulting significance. This prank wasn’t uncovered until days after all the jokers were supposed to be done with their bamboozling. And yes, I did think our computer was possessed.
Thus, I, the April-Fools’ trickster, became the chronically fooled. Jason believes he arranged a couple more traps that day but he can’t remember their particulars so, perhaps, he will get to be the twofold idiot when he steps into a snare that he set himself.
Since Jason and I were already in the area, we decided to take a road trip from Mississippi to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park. We are, after all, always suckers for a little taste of nature, especially those delightful nibbles we’ve not yet sampled.
Ruby Falls is as far under the ground as The Empire State Building is above it.
Lookout Mountain provided a fine view of Chattanooga.
The drive from Mississippi to the town of Pigeon Forge, which is right outside the park, took us a full day and through parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. We stopped at Chattanooga long enough to check out a cave buried deep within Lookout Mountain, including its 145-foot underground waterfall called Ruby Falls. The cave itself wasn’t too impressive but its tumbling waters were quite cool.
The path to Rainbow Falls shadows Le Conte Creek and Le Conte’s shadows created these icy needles.
After our long day of traveling, we finally made it to Pigeon Forge. We were surprised by this “wilderness” city since it seemed the antithesis of conservationism or naturalness. If you took a carnival, Las Vegas and a high-class daycare, and jumbled them all together, something like Pigeon Forge would emerge. I’ve never seen so many unusually-themed miniature golf courses in my life. There was something mesmerizing in its amusing chaos but I’d hate to find out what this bustling tourist trap is like in its busy season.
Rainbow Falls drops 80 feet onto a labyrinth of boulders.
We spent the majority of our first day in the park hiking to Rainbow Falls, one of its many popular cascades. This path was 5.4 miles in total and considered a strenuous undertaking by most guides. I can’t say I noticed the difficulty of it much though. When you come from a state whose slogan is “Life Elevated,” it’s all downhill from there. However, we did encounter one trail obstacle that we weren’t accustomed to while on this trek: ice. Snow and rain had fallen the night before and mixed to form a slippery blockade on the side of the mountain untouched by the sun. I thought for sure I was headed for a smack down at some point but, somehow, I managed to stay on my feet throughout those slick slopes.
This cabin once belonged to John Oliver. It was built in 1820 and is the oldest log home in Cades Cove.
We spent the bulk of our second day in the park exploring Cades Cove, one of the most visited destinations within its borders. This area was once home to industrious settlers and is now a curious mix of historical and natural sights. Jason and I did the unthinkable to make the most of our time in the Cove; we woke up at 5:00 AM (3:00 AM back home) in order to have a good chance of seeing wildlife on its grassy hillsides. (Shortly after sunrise, animals usually enter Cades Cove with lively enthusiasm for their day or, possibly, their food.) We saw lots of wild turkeys and deer that morning but Jason was really hoping he’d have a bear encounter.
Our daybreak shenanigans resulted in a few great pictures, like this one.
After examining some of the old cabins and churches in the Cove, which were quite interesting, we decided to hike to Abrams Falls, a 5-mile journey. Although this waterfall is only 20 feet high, it makes up for that lack of stature by gushing relentlessly. Jason and I unanimously agree that this trek was our favorite activity in the Smokies.
Abrams Falls is only about twenty feet high but it’s a gusher.
To stay warm in the Smokies, I usually had to wear two jackets, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt and a t-shirt all amassed into a lumpy clump. Here I’ve only got three layers on and was felling pretty good.
Following that ramble, we had just enough time to drive the 4,000-foot climb up the Newfound Gap Road to the state line. We watched the sun sink below the gentle timbered curves of Mount Mingus and Sugarland Mountain from high on an overlook. It was a serene reminder of our limited perspective on the unhurried progress of this planet.
The Smokies straddle Tennessee on one side and North Carolina on the other.
The Smokies were a whirlwind of bygone buildings, pampered wildlife and plunging waters for us. We appreciated this park’s unique outlook on civilization’s impact to its area. It made a point of honoring its past settlers, those hardy humans, while still paying homage to its current occupants, the diverse plant and critter species that have made these graceful giants great once again.
Grandparents are irreplaceable. Unfortunately, some folks don’t realize this truth until they no longer have any left of their own but I am not among that shortsighted group. Not all of my grandparents are living but I do have a set of fantastic grand-folks still around. These extraordinary individuals dwell in Mississippi, deep in the heart of the South, making visits difficult but never regrettable. Recently, Jason and I made one or those worthwhile visits.
My grandma is the sort of woman that loves without restriction.
My grandparents have resided in the same small town of about 6,000 inhabitants for almost all of their lives. When we go to see them in that tiny settlement, we spend most of our hours simply chatting, watching movies, eating delicious Southern food, and playing cards at their kitchen table or Bingo at their American Legion. We don’t pay attention to clocks or schedules and we’ve no agenda other than just being near those grand relations.
Bingo is one of my grandma’s favorite pastimes. She rarely misses a chance to play it.
We played many rounds of dominoes with my grandma. Jason never won a single one.
With all my trips to Mississippi to visit my grandparents over the years, its densely wooded marshes and wide waterways feel familiar to me, like a song I’ve heard a hundred times and know all the words to. And the smell of my grandparents’ house instantly takes me back to my childhood, to the giddy thrill of being loved unconditionally and believing I deserved it.
My grandparents always take us to their favorite seafood place for catfish and hushpuppies when we visit.
Those of you who have never been to the rural parts of the South may not truly appreciate how different the culture is in that region. Hollywood would have us believe that the South is entirely peopled by backward hicks but, before you accept that stereotype, let me paint a different picture of the area. The South’s remote spots have a warmth that more “sophisticated” locales lack. For instance, honking a horn in Mississippi is typically only a means of drawing attention to a friendly wave. Locking car or house doors seems absurd to most of the natives. And halting plans for a handshake or a chat with a stranger at the grocery store is not uncommon because time is unimportant compared to people.
I have lots of fond memories of laughing with my good-natured grandpa.
More on our adventures in the South next week but, for now, may I give a bit of advice? (You know I’m going to give it in any case.) Whether your grandparents live hundreds of miles away, like mine, or just down the street, don’t arrogantly assume that you can be of use to them but they have nothing to offer you. And don’t wait until those predecessors have become birth/death stats to decide to get to know them. Sure, you could research information to understand their lives and perspectives on paper but there’s no substitute for the material gathered from a good conversation or the benefit received from a big hug. Upon frequent association, you may find that your forerunners have strength well beyond your cushy character and that the fascinating story of their times is not merely part of the complicated puzzle of where you came from but a profound clue to where you should be going.
Jason and I typically spend a weekend at our condo in Midway every winter. We’ve invited an assortment of family and friends to join us on these annual getaways. This year we went to Midway in March and welcomed my friends, Robyn and Wendy, to hang with us.
Although we enjoy congregations, Jason and I spent our first night in Midway alone by design. We had a grand time eating dinner at the Snake Creek Grill in Heber and battling for intergalactic deck dominance via the Star Trek Deck Building Game. I easily won that enterprise, not that I would ever consider gloating about it or anything.
The following day, Saturday, we went tubing at Soldier Hollow on sticky wet snow with Robyn, Wendy and Wendy’s husband West. Momentum proved nigh impossible to maintain while sliding down that mountain, even with the encouragement of gravity and pushy men. We rarely made it to the bottom of the hill without multiple stops for further shoving but warm rays and sprightly laughter were ample during this soggy romp.
Our group’s heft helped us speed our descent but it didn’t help enough.
We ate dinner that night at the Loco Lizard Cantina, a Mexican joint in Park City, as a gang. It wasn’t the best Mexican food I’ve ever had but it was better than most places geared toward the cheaper crowd.
Jason and I are very talented at entertaining ourselves, which is fortunate because our company departed later that evening, even though they had previously communicated that they were all going to stay the night. This meant that Jason and I were free to pursue repose…i.e. continue our battle for interstellar control. The winner of this particular foray isn’t important because it wasn’t me.
Midway was, as always, a convenient retreat. Although tubing required less guts and more might than normal and our guest situation didn’t quite go the way that we’d anticipated, our circumstances never neared dullness. From maneuvering (very slowly) down sunshine-drenched hills to outmaneuvering alien foes, I’d say that the obstacles of our Midway holiday were skillfully navigated.