The Nine Course Drive
There’s not much I could say about the Blue Ridge Parkway that wouldn’t sound cliché: beautiful, majestic, magnificent, awe-inspiring, a jewel, incredible, etc. And, yet, the cliché is no less true. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the treasures of our parks system, an invitation to see the finest of God’s handiwork.
My husband and I spent the weekend at the Grove Park Inn and decided to hop on the Parkway for part of our drive home. We traveled the section from the Folk Arts Center just north of Asheville to the turn off for Balsam, which includes the part where the road clings dearly to the side of Mount Pisgah and travels to the highest point of the whole parkway. The trip took us three times longer than if we had taken Hwy 23 the entire way, and those turns and tunnels were 100% worth it.
Driving the parkway is like tucking in to enjoy a nine course meal. Each curve is a fresh bite of a new course, complete with visual deliciousness and delights for the nose. One turn reveals an evergreen forest with rotting needles and a rhododendron grove underneath. The next leads into a stand of deciduous trees, their carpet complete with decaying leaves and a blanket of ferns. As the next course opens ahead, you smell the richness that only comes from the complex flavors offered by Mother Nature. Vintners can only envy the delicate balance of the sweetness of rotting leaves against the sharpness of an evergreen followed by the mellow notes of the freshest spring pollen.
From the photographer’s lens it’s impossible to resist the temptation to stop at every tunnel, every turn off, every collection of trillium and field of wildflowers. At one particular overlook we had pulled over to photograph an unusual geological formation. Once stopped however, I peered towards the side of the road to find a large tree stump crumbling slowly against the rain, wind, and sun of its natural habitat. I meandered through a small grassy area so thick with crickets and grasshoppers IT sounded like rain pouring down as they scattered at the sight of my shoes. I could have spent an entire hour just on that one stump with its swirls like an old woman’s hair and knobs like her arthritic hands.
Deep within us all we are gifted with appreciation of things complex and distinct, not in small part because that’s how God created this world in which we live. The sheer diversity of the collection of ecosystems we call the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains are enough to explain why some of us thrive when surrounded by a plethora of options, flavors, people and places. In just one switchback on the parkway you move from terrain that would make a Scottish Highlander feel at home to another one that would easily welcome a Romanian looking for a second home.
We are encouraged to “Get out there” and enjoy the world outdoors. Perhaps the biggest indictment of our indoor culture is the death of our instinct to walk the woods and explore the richness within. We’ll spend three hours on the sofa binge-watching a favorite show, but a drive that long through the greatest forest on earth can feel like a burden.
Let us set down the value meal that is the walk to the mailbox and instead splurge on the nine course feast that awaits us in our national parks as we celebration 100 years of their existence.