Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SEE LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN

One of the perks of retirement is the absence of schedule. Days unfettered by time restraints offer opportunities for retirees to explore new towns, travel to places on day trips or week-ends – small adventures that break the routine we develop to make ourselves feel more stable and anchored in this life. I think that people who remain healthy balance routine with peripatetic activity, and I’ve done much wandering since the age of 11 when my father sold all our worldly goods and set out for Diddy Wah Diddy (California) back in the 40’s.

At that time, RVs were almost unknown, and we packed camping equipment, our clothing, and a few dishes and pots in a gray utility trailer, and set out for the West. We were to be gypsies, according to my father, and we gypsied for three months before he admitted that we needed a bit more stability in our lives. All of my siblings, save one who is now deceased, have had periods of wanderlust that equaled my father’s, but we do thrive best on a stable routine. I like the small respites – day, week-end, or week adventures that show me new wonders but don’t cause me to lapse into long “I’d rather be home” trips.

If you travel often throughout the South, you’ve probably seen enough Lookout Mountain signs, and I’ve certainly read my fill, traveling up and down the road between Louisiana and Tennessee. After seeing so many of those ubiquitous signs during my stay at Sewanee, I decided to see Lookout Mountain, to find out why so many billboards touted this tourist spot.

Near Chattanooga, TN, this high plateau peaks at Lookout Mountain and is surrounded by steep bluffs that slope down to the base of the mountain. Actually, the name Chattanooga is the Creek Indian word for Lookout Mountain. The mountain became a refuge for Confederate soldiers following the Civil War, and tourists began to travel to Lookout Mountain in 1868. They’d travel to Chattanooga by train, hire a buggy, and ride four hours up the mountain to a place called Whiteside Park, now known as Point Park. The cost of traveling to the peak of Lookout Mountain and returning was $2. A second road was built, and tourism began in earnest. In 1886, an incline railway was built up the mountain, and another was constructed in 1895. After WWI, automobile travel to the mountain peak became possible.

In 1932, a man named Garnet Carter moved to the mountain and began a development on an overlook from which seven states could be seen. His wife Frieda created a trail and rock garden, and Garnet got the idea to form a tourist spot called Rock City --hence, the famous phase, “See Rock City.” During WWII, Lookout Mountain attracted more and more tourists and by the late 1980’s, the acceleration in tourists to Lookout Mountain caused Chattanooga to spiff up its downtown and to promote Lookout Mountain attractions. The Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga area is a beautiful environment, and I enjoyed the view from a place called Chanticleer Inn atop the plateau. In fact, what I got most is what I get most when I tour sites in TN: it’s called “the bluff view.” Here’s a poem I wrote following this week-end respite:

CHANTICLEER INN – LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
Everyone should leave home for a day,
rent a room in an inn atop a bluff,

a room enclosed in drapes spotted with roses,
mahogany bedsteads, white medallion spreads,

Outdoors, a courtyard fountain, stone birds pouring water into utter serenity,
and beside the cottage, clusters of white impatiens blooming in shade.

Here, a day away from keeping the face of my own cottage,
a quiet afternoon, windows open to light and unknown neighbors,

reading, napping, unafraid of rest, spending a day in Eden
where spirit needs only the nurture of a room in an inn

atop a bluff overlooking stretches of open countryside,
the valley below reminiscent of the calm Pacific

near Carmel on a placid day, the air of Fall languidly defining
…the elegance of freedom and leisure.

P.S. I will be on a short vacation in lake country, FL for a week.
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