Joyce Kilmer National Memorial Forest1990 ~ I worked hard back then. Seven days a week in the summer season. Days waiting on tables at Relia’s Garden Restaurant. Nights waiting on tables at the Point After Restaurant. Selling advertising for the Asheville Citizen Times in my spare time and selling Christmas trees during the winter. I was thrilled to be able to schedule a few days off to enjoy a visit from my daughter Kris and her boyfriend Dan Keck. I planned to take Kris, Daisy, Dan and myself for a little day hike on the Appalachian Trail. A grand picnic day-off in the great outdoors. We’d pack lunches and carry water in bottles. Perhaps there’d be room for a thermos of coffee and some fruit in my backpack. We four went to breakfast at old Bennett’s Drug Store in Bryson City on the big day. It was pouring rain. “Daddy. What are we going to do today?” asked Kris. “Whadda you mean?” said I. “We’re going hiking. My companions pointed out that it was raining buckets and that we could not hike. I was crushed! ‘No hike’ was just not an acceptable solution to the problem. I declared that the rain might stop. That a little little water won’t hurt us. That I had to get outside. The trail is so steep. The mud so deep. The hills so slippery. There were many reasons for not hiking in the rain. I believe I heard them all in excruciating detail. For once in my life I stood up to the whippersnappers. “WE ARE GOING HIKING, I declared in my command voice, learned as a federal law enforcement officer in the United States Coast Guard. I did concede that the AT might not be a good idea – too steep in muddy conditions. I told them that we’d drive the 2 hours over wet mountain roads to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest near Robbinsville, North Carolina and walk there, because the trails were not steep. I also told them that I happened to have 4 big umbrellas in the back of my Blazer. (Don’t forget that I was in the restaurant industry – where all good umbrellas go to be forgotten) Despite the ongoing grumbling, I managed to get 3 mad people, PBJ sandwiches, fruit, water bottles and a thermos of coffee into my Chevy Blazer. Since I was driving, the negative verbiage all around me ran off my back like rain off a duck’s ass. There is a little bulletin board at the entrance to the hiking trails that included the history of the park and Kilmer’s famous poem Trees. We decided to each memorize a verse and walked, under the swaying branches of giant trees, in heavy rain and wind. We took turns reciting the 12 lines of the verses Kilmer penned a century ago. Our feet were wet, our umbrellas held high, and our voices brave:
I think I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who lives intimately with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me’
But only God can make a tree.The 3,800 tract of virgin forest is there today, as it was thousands of years ago, waiting for us to visit and wonder at the beauty and strength of the earth. It rained hard all day. I know how Noah must have felt.