Before I became a parent, I traced in green highlighter roughly two-thirds of the official trails on my now out-of-date trail map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, worn thin in the creases from more than a decade of use. From all those hikes, it’s the memory of particular natural sounds that holds the most power over me, able to catapult me right back into a high-elevation forest with wind rustling the treetops or next to a rushing stream lined with boulders softly furred with moss.
The first time I heard the eerie flute-like call of the wood thrush on Cucumber Gap trail near Elkmont, the world stopped. The spring ephemerals were on the verge of blooming, and the sound conveyed the essence of life awakening from winter. Spring was suddenly not a season, but now a process—one that was happening around me and also included me as a participant rather than simply the observer I had only ever been before. It was the wood thrush’s call that released me from my other self—the one with the chatterbox mind. I was momentarily transported, yet simultaneously more present: aware of slanted light, the rhododendron-lined path, and the sense that the impersonal woods had been transformed into an intimate space. I never saw the bird, but it had managed to stir in me something I’d not experienced often, nor could sustain: a greater sense of belonging, not just to a place, but to a specific moment in time.
Read the full story in Knoxville Mercury.