After decades of staying away from where I felt at home, I returned to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.
In my childhood years those who went to Gatlinburg were hikers. There was a gas station, a general story, and the Greystone Hotel, built like the grand hotels in the other national parks.
At breakfast we would order and receive a box lunch, one choice: turkey sandwich, an apple, a cookie--all homemade.
Hikers were in the mountains all day, often returning the next day.
In these years Gatlinburg is teeming with people who come to shop, causing a massive daytime traffic jam.
So I was out the motel door at 5 am and in the mountains before the traffic lights were turned on in town.
I drove up the Newfound Gap road just as the morning light was appearing. The road climbs from 2300 feet to 5600 feet by many hair pin turns.
Each turn opened up a new wonder.
In one such turn a huge cliff of stone appeared in dawn’s first light; red-orange and cyan and purple, with Rhododendron growing out of rock.
I become small before such a towering cliff of Beauty. I wonder, "I couldn't possibly, ever imagine create this feat of Rhodi's growing out of rock."
It must have taken several human life-times just to start the Rhodi's, let alone the 100 million years for the layers of rock to be thrust up and over others, one centimeter a century or too.
Sometimes in a retreat I ask, "Where do you go to become small again, right-sized, with your feet on the ground, rather than flying to the sun like Icarus? Where do you go to become small and honest?"
This is one place where I go, and I'm grumpy and irritable until I become small again, and realize again, how short and precious life is, and how powerless I am,
except for when I can give away what I have, within, freely, or have an hour with someone who can't leave their home, anymore and so are often forgotten. Where do you go to become small again?
The Beauty of the Earth is best seen in the soft morning light with the stillness and morning dew making everything so saturated with color. This enormous cliff of color was arresting.
I stopped at a pull off opposite the cliff of Beauty, walked over, and just stood there, transfixed at the wonder of it all.
Now I remembered the many times I had gotten out of the car with my dad, both of us quietly excited and captivated.
I had the same little magnifying glass on a leather strap around my neck like him. We both looked through our magnifying glasses to see Beauty in all her tenderness, resilient in arctic winds, yet so easily harmed by a careless gesture.
Those days our magnifying glasses were also our mirrors. The beauty we gazed at was the beauty hidden within. All this, in silence.