FAMILY TIME (PART 1)
September in the mountains marks the end of summer and brings the first of the color season to the high country. As Bryson City began to shed the last of the summer’s scorching heat, the ancient Great Smoky Mountains began to breathe the cool and colorful commencement of autumn. To me, the fragrances in the air were sweeter then than at any other time of the year.
Fall creeps slowly into the Smoky Mountains—almost unexpectedly early at first—at least to those of us who were used to the flatlands. It begins around the forested peaks and the craggy balds of the higher mountains and slowly creeps down the slopes to form soft layers of mist and fog that begin to descend each morning into the lush, fertile hollows and coves.
By the end of September, chilly breezes sweep down from the ridgelines early in the morning, and the folks in the Smoky Mountains know autumn is just around the corner.
Even though autumn’s peak color generally occurs around the middle of October, trees growing above four thousand feet will not uncommonly begin to proudly show off their coats of many colors between mid-September and early October.
After Labor Day and before mid-October, the summer crowds are gone and the swarm of color gawkers is yet to come. On most weekdays during this time period, locals have the national park to themselves. For our family, early fall became the ideal time to spend free weekends exploring the nooks and crannies of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Although Barb and I enjoyed walking and hiking in the Smokies, with two children we enjoyed learning about many of the almost unknown but easily accessible roads into this pristine wilderness. We took immense pleasure in the solitude of these drives and the fact that they forced us—allowed us—to slow down a bit from the fast pace of the medical practice.
During these fall drives, the grandeur of this park captured our hearts. We would stop often just to get out of the car and listen to the sounds of the forest. We would walk with the children down quiet pathways—often seeing turkey or deer, and even on rare occasions a black bear.
It was like entering another world. The ice-cold tumbling streams sparkled crystal clear. Small rounded boulders made great “mountains” for Kate to climb and summit. She was walking better and better in her leg braces but still with a noticeable limp on her bent left leg, and she loved to collect the gorgeously colored leaves carpeting the forest floor. Barb enjoyed the verdant mosses, soft as velvet, while the rich smells of earth and moisture and humus captivated me. The gentle fall breezes blowing through the trees and the mountain laurel enchanted us all, and many times we’d stop along a lonely road to sit and talk—or just sit and listen while the forest talked to us.
The high-elevation road through the Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain area became one of our favorites. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more—the startling vastness of the mountain peaks as we rounded a curve or the sound of Barb’s sudden intake of breath and the hush of her voice as she compared these views to favorite memorable scenes from our backpacking days.
One beautiful fall day we drove about nine miles along this road and chose a picturesque picnic area next to a small, rushing mountain stream to spread our blanket for lunch.
We were all alone and for some reason totally silent when I heard it. At first it was hardly noticeable and then more apparent—but we all tilted our heads to listen to a soft symphony of bird sounds. We all easily recognized the soft but clearly enunciated chick-a-dee-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee-dee of the Carolina chickadee. Kate had learned to mimic the sound to a tee.
As we lay on our backs and looked up to the forest ceiling, we spied them flitting from branch to branch. These aerial acrobats performed their gymnastics, flitting from trunk to trunk, as easily hanging upside down as perched right side up. The children recognized their distinctively patterned black cap and black bib with white cheeks and buff sides.
Then we noticed another chickadee in some of the lower branches. At first I thought it was just the Carolina chickadee. But as we watched, Barb pointed out that these birds seemed larger and their call noticeably different—more rapid and higher pitched. Several came close to us, and we noticed a distinct white streak on the wing. Only later, conferring with Rick, did I come to realize the rarity of what we had seen. The larger chickadees were called black-capped chickadees. Usually found farther north, they could on occasion be found in the lower Appalachian Mountains—but rarely in the same habitat as the Carolina chickadee.
Kate gasped and pointed to the nearby trunk of a massive tree. We all smiled as we watched a small bird climbing down the tree headfirst! It had a black cap over a white face; small, black, beady eyes; and a beak that was both longer and sharper than that of a chickadee. Its tail looked stubbier than that of the chickadee, and its white breast contained no black bib. Aha, I thought to myself, it’s a nuthatch—one of the few birds in the eastern United States that go down a tree headfirst. The children giggled as they watched this one—a white-breasted nuthatch—almost woodpeckerish in behavior, tapping the wood in search of food, but totally upside down.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY SEASONS
- Dead Man Standing (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Eyes Wide Open (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Auspicious Accidents (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Answered Prayers (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- Rotary Luncheon
- Death by Emotion (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- The Invitation (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Barbecue and Bacon (Part 1), (Part 2)
- A Touchy Subject
- Family Time (Part 1)
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.