Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Four miles of walking today gave me four miles of nature study, but the last two miles were almost sabotaged by a woman at the Visitors Center of the South Cumberland State Recreation Area where we rambled after lunch. We went to this Center to find out more about the 16,000-acre State Park, which covers four counties.

When we walked into the Center, the receptionist gave me a long, observant stare. Yes, I thought, I have white hair, a few facial wrinkles, and am only five feet tall, but, yes, I want to know about hiking trails. She was twice my size and appeared not to have gone on a hike in quite a while herself, but she was quick to tell us, “This is a backpacking and primitive camping park. Not easy.” We persisted in trying to get information about a short hike near the Center. After ten minutes of stonewalling and showing us every brochure in the Center, she admitted we could walk this two-mile hike back to a lake, but…She looked at me again and pointed to a bandana with a map of the area imprinted on it. “You might need this if you get lost. You wear it on your head so you always know where you are.” I bristled – a map for two miles? And do I absorb directions for finding my way by wearing it on my head? Then, she took a real swipe, “You might need that walking stick ($16 worth) to help you keep your balance.” I wanted to tell her I wasn’t tottering stage yet, but held back. “How about snakes?” I asked. Aha, she had fodder for another swipe. “Honey, there’re snakes everywhere,” she delighted in telling me. “What kind?” I asked. “Copperhead, rattlers, water moccasins…want a brochure on the poisonous ones?” She smiled thinly after her last ditch effort to put me in my place as a woman too old to hike. I declined the brochure and thanked her politely but wanted to tell her that I had passed all my tests for Good Health and was the right weight for my height and age. However, I swept out before she could tell me about chiggers, ticks, deer flies, and any other deterrents to elderly hikers she could think of.

The trail went through a meadow where we found milkweed, Jo Pi weed, and other not-so-exciting plants, then into a wooded area where we found some respite from the sun. For me, the high point was the lake. After living in landlocked TN, in contrast to bayou-ridden Louisiana, I was overjoyed when we spied a small lake filled with singing frogs and a few genuine water lilies. “Hay la bas,” I cried. “Water at last.” I was reluctant to leave the water site but didn’t want the well-wishing receptionist to think that we couldn’t make a two-mile hike in 40 minutes, so we backtracked to the center, nearly running the last lap.

I can’t wait to ask the receptionist about the trek to Fiery Gizzard Trail near Tracy City, which is reputed to be the most rugged and difficult trail in TN. I’m not about to climb the terrain in the gorge, which is extremely steep and rocky (“the millions of rocks you must step on or across all seem to move as you step on them, making the footing very precarious,” the brochure warns), but I’d love to give her the impression that this creaky old lady is planning to step high on that trail --without a walking stick, of course…carrying a loaded backpack, of course…camping out, a la primitive style, of course, under a rock shelter, just as my mother did when she was a Golden Eaglet Girl Scout primitive camping in the Dismal Mts. Who knows, I may rappel off the Stone Door Bluffs –as Mehitabel, the alley cat says, “there’s a “dance in the old dame yet!”
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