There are only a handful of places that when you walk in, you walk out a different person. Church, school, combat, the place where you had your first kiss, and for me, the mountains.
My love affair with the mountains unfortunately didn’t start until later in life.
I was born right here in the foothills of the smokies. I grew up in the shadows of the park. I went to high school in Sevier County. In college, I joined young life as a leader in Sevier County and later moved into Gatlinburg-Pittman. My life revolved unknowingly around these mountains. While I would venture into them, I never fully grasped it. I was a passer by.
When I was in graduate school, a friend of mine invited me to the park to fly fish. I had never fly fished before but it seemed intriguing so I jumped on the opportunity. The night before our trip, my friend and I sat down and he taught me how to tie flies. Since I had never even seen a fly, I clearly had no idea what I was doing. I tied up two flies that somewhat resembled an elk hair caddis. The next day, with my two flies in hand, we set out to Metcalf Bottoms with one goal in mind, to catch a trout. After a few tangles and wind knots, I did it. I hooked my first trout, on a fly that I tied, and somehow managed to catch him. He measured in at a massive 4 inches. That’s all it took though. That tiny trout, in that place, unlocked a passion in me that has had ahold of me for the last 5 years. At that moment, that place in the mountains became my home. My sanctuary. My heart.
And it’s on fire.
Photo: Jeremey Kwasney, On Location Photography
At the time of this writing, the damage isn’t known. It seems that there have not been any casualties, which is the best news. I personally know people that have lost their home, their job, and in some cases both. The environmental impact on our streams won’t be known for some time.
If you are in a spot where you can donate financially, please do so. Ministries all over the area are collecting donations ranging from food, clothes, dog food, water, and basic necessities. If you can spare anything, it would be put to good use.