Saturday, October 11, 2008

Knoxville, TN & the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Decades ago I came across prose so beautiful it won the author, James Agee, in part, a Pulitzer Prize. Written in 1935 “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” was published posthumously as the prologue to his novel “A Death in the Family” based on the life of his father. The novel was published and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958.

One of my favorite composers, Samuel Barber, set part of the prose to music as a piece, I understand, commissioned by the late soprano Eleanor Steber in the 1940s. Without doubt, this piece bearing the same name, is the perfect marriage of prose and music. Lyrically haunting, I own at least 5 recordings of this amazing work, my favorite being the Leontyne Price recording (I think in 1968) followed closely by a recent Dawn Upshaw recording. Autobiographical in nature, it so exquisitely conjured up images in my mind that I could hardly wait to go to Knoxville, TN.

Thus it is with images of “From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces” and“The dry and exaulted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums” that we drive through Knoxville to find freeway closures, dingy aging buildings, motor vehicle fumes and traffic noise that did anything but “enchant[s] [our] eardrums.”

But wait, it gets worse! Leaving I-40, at exit 407 we take Hwy 441 south to Sevierville, TN to spend one week visiting Great Smokey Mountains National Park. What we fail to realize is the entire strip of highway, from exiting the freeway to the boundary of Great Smokey Mountains National Park, is what the locals call “Hill-Billy Vegas.” Never ending theaters, chain restaurants, motels, hotels, wax museums, Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not, etc. line each side of the highway. Thankfully our RV Park sits below and out of sight of the mayhem. Disappointed, we take no pictures of either Knoxville or the circus surrounding us. On to the national park:


Creek beside a hiking trail

The park is lovely, but compared to parks in the western part of the US, really crowded! Granted, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon are a long way from major metropolitan areas, and offer a refuge when visiting. Not so with Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Taking photos without a bunch of people getting in your view can be a major challenge.

One of several former dwellings we find along the way

We find many hiking trails and take advantage of them when a parking space becomes available. Along the route, you come to cabins which were family homes, many years ago.

Interior of former home

Along the way, we find several of these signs warning visitors about the hazards of graffiti. This is something we’ve not seen in any other park to date.


Warning sign

As we drive along the main road, Bob pulls over so I can take a picture of a stream which runs through the park. The ranger at the Sugarlands Visitor Center tells us to be sure to visit the Little Greenbriar School and meet the teacher who is there today.

Stream along the roadway

After a narrow one lane dirt road up a steep hill, we arrive at the school house to find a small cemetery in the front. Inside are displays of the items used at the time when pupils attended this school.

Picture of former class

Exterior view, Little Greenbriar School


Cemetary next to school NOT for errant pupils!


Articles used by children

School books


Articles used by teacher

We get a chance to meet the school teacher! Robin Goddard, bless her heart is still teaching after 32 years, I believe. The lovely lady on Bob’s right, Gay Thompson, is one of the park volunteers. It is gratifying to be able to talk to people so dedicated to their professions and still excited about their work after so many years. We hope they get a chance to visit this sight and know they are appreciated. They also tell us to be certain not to miss Cades Cove and the loop drive.


Bob waits for teacher inside school


Robin Golldard, to the left & Gay Thompson to the right of Bob

Always listen to the teacher! Tomorrow we take the drive over to Cades Cove and look forward to some great scenery.

1 comment:

The Gunderson's said...

Hello! We are the family that you talked with on the way down Clingman's Dome (had the two little girls in the red stroller). Hope all is well and love reading your blog! I have something for you two and would like to send it in the mail. Would you mind sending an address? melindagunderson@msn.com