“You have not beheld the beauty of life if you have not experienced nature in its raw essence.”
I came to the realization of the statement above after I chose to do something different for my vacation and it was the best decision I have ever made. Vacations are all about relaxation and detaching from the usual life realities, but always spending mine in towns degraded the real value of one. Looking for something different this time, I found myself searching for other destinations, and I finally settled for Smoky Mountain. Even as I write this down, I close my eyes to have a moment to take it all back in again. The crisp, fresh air, the smell of blooming wildflowers, the gorgeous green color of nature, the flowing streams, and an endless continuance of the harmony between life and nature.
I was taken aback by this beauty that I had no idea where to start my adventure from. There was so much to explore in so little time; I vowed to make the most out of the time I had. The experience was made more worthwhile because I took the vacation with a group of friends. For the first day, we saw it fit to experience the history by visiting historic sites. There were several in the area including Bud Ogle Cabin, Walker Sisters Cabin, Rockefeller Monument, and Lost CCC Camp. The history was dated back to 1923 when an American named Mr. Willis traveled to the area and was amazed by its beauty. From then, she decided to ensure that the place was preserved as a park. Rockefeller, famously known as one of the men who built America had a monument erected in the area in commemoration of his late wife, and recognition for his 5 million US dollars donation to preserve the park. Cades Cove was initially a settlement area for a small community and is popularly known for its production of medicinal remedies like castor oil, catnip tea, and Epsom salts. This visit was worthwhile because it lay the foundation for the rest of activities we were to undertake. We understood the place better and felt the passion with which it needed to be preserved. Just like Mrs. Willis, we were taken in by its beauty. We retired to our cabins in the evening where we experienced a beautiful sunset and gathered around a bonfire for fun and games.
There were so many activities to select from in the coming days. These included biking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and visiting the national park among others. Other than nature trails, there were other events regularly organized by the administrators. For example, Smoky Mountain Wine Fest, Trout Tournament, Pigeon Forge, and Concert Series. They include a variety of activities like spinning class, weaving, art and craft exhibitions, singing and dancing, fun inter-group competitions, and sports. We planned our vacation in such a way that we had an activity for every part of the day and attended an event in the evening. I was especially impressed by the exotic painting, drawings, and carvings presented in the art galleries.
After a few weeks at the cabin, we were all thrilled at the opportunity to go camping in one of the camping sites for our last night at the camp. The area was huge, so we had a vast territory to select from. Looking back, agreeing with the idea to set up camp near the wild animals side was an idea that seemed not so stupid at the time. In fact, the idea of danger excited us more, having that we had been pumped up for adventure from the very beginning. We vowed to make sure that we made the most of our stay, and imagined the excitement in which we would narrate our escapade to our fellow friends who would respond in total awe. After all, even though no one mentioned it, the vacations were all about who had the most fun and did the most extreme things. Up to date, I am convinced that we must have been idling, giggling, or pre-occupied during the camping and park orientation because nothing prepared us for what came along.
A bunch of excited kids we were, using the little scout’s knowledge we had to set up our camp. We had a forest ranger come in to check on us once in a while, but in our excitement, we threw caution to the wind regarding everything he said. The tents were set, food was sorted and activities for the night set in motion. We must have been deep into singing the ballads over our little fire that we did not realize the Elks were moving in close to our camping area. The site had been fenced, so we were assured of our full safety, and when one of us noted the beautiful creatures, we gawked at them and decided to move closer, with some making a bold move to pet their protruding horns. No one seemed to notice that one elk was on our side of the fence while the others lay close by. Coming from families that kept pets, the most logical thing to do was feed the animals by the perimeter wall. We gathered our leftover sandwiches and hurled at the animals while busy speculating which type of animal it was. We also did not seem to notice that they were getting agitated from all the loud noise and proximity in which we were.
Everything that happened next occurred in a flash of light. The elk at the side of our fence charged forward and next thing we saw was one of my friends flying in the air and writhing on the ground with pain. On turning left, we realize that one of our camping tents is on fire. There is so much confusion by now, and no one prepared us for an event like this. The elk was running around as if in pain causing chaos among us. Luckily, there was a forest ranger close by who took action and tranquilized the animal. The gunshot also chased the others away from the fence. I was still in shock that I did not notice the crowd that had gathered to watch us, or the administrator from orientation going over rules that yet again, I did not get a chance to listen. It must have been the longest sunrise ever as we all huddled together trying to comprehend what had happened.
As I lay my head on back on the plane to finally sleep, I could not believe my vacation was coming to an end. I looked at the bandage on my hand, pictured my parents making a fuss about it, and pictured my friends gathering in pure anxiety to know what happened. I let out a small chuckle then closed my eyes and smiled. That smile made me feel like I had the best vacation ever. Nothing was going to take my joy away, not even a scar of a bruise from my encounter with a wild animal. In fact, I was going to wear that scar like a proud soldier from war. We looked at each other from our seats and smiled in uniform, probably thinking about how much more we would exaggerate the story. I found myself secretly wishing I had the bandage on my head like my friend who got thrown in the air. He was going to be the star for the next few weeks.