I admit it! I’ve always had the vision that Georgia and Tennessee are too far into the South to seriously consider a visit… especially in the summer. Heat and humidity are just not my favorite things. So it took alignment of the opportunities to visit 3 sets of good friends, some promises of flowers and the chance to visit yet another National Park to get me to plan a trip. Wow… what a lesson in the perils of hasty generalizations. OK… it was hot and humid but it was tolerable as long as the air was moving. Ceiling fans and AC are essential equipment in homes. We were given a world class lesson in southern hospitality by our friends who compromised their lives to show us the area, teach us the history, and welcome us into their homes. Hospitality, generosity, friendship… call it what you will… it’s a wonderful gift to share time with nice people.
This whole trip started last year when I was traveling in the Canadian Rockies with my mother and sister. We met and became friends with Johnny and Kathy, Joyce, and Shirley and Bob. Over a series of bus rides and dinners we learned about each others homes and lives. Johnny and Kathy invited us to visit Flag Pond, TN to see their extensive day lily beds. The hook was set. Add in the fact that we had not seen Jean and Keith for some time and I had an outstanding promise to photograph Jack’s hand made guitars and craftsmanship and it was clear that the time had come to suck it up and plan a trip to “the south”. A few e-mails and phone calls and we had it set. 10 days split between friends seemed workable to us since we tend to not want to over do a good thing by staying too long in any one location.
Keith and Jean became our base camp and proceeded to show us the Atlanta and Marietta, GA area. We topped out on Kennesaw Mountain, wandered around the Atlanta Zoo with them and their grandkids (I had mentioned I wanted to see a panda), laughed with the entire family over dinner, drank some wine, broke some furniture (sorry Keith) and visited Cyclorama to learn about the Atlanta campaign. We spent a day with Jack and Carol to photograph his luthier business and products. Another great lunch filled with fresh food and laughter. A pattern was developing.
After a few days we headed for Johnny and Kathy’s place in Flag Pond, TN . Keith and Johnny plotted a great route up to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, on to Flag Pond, and back to Marietta. Our little Tom Tom GPS unit made it easy to enjoy the drive without worrying about the route. Hey… I only got messed up once… a record or personal best! We toured the Cades Cove area of the Park the first afternoon on our way into Gatlinburg. What a wonderful 11 mile route that is! We spent one night in Gatlinburg, TN along with thousands of others. Tourist towns all seem to feel the same. Get in, get out… that’s my plan. We did. After hiking into Laurel Falls the next morning we headed out to travel leisurely to Flag Pond. We pulled in about 4:00PM where Johnny and Kathy welcomed us to the Jones Barn.
There is a lot of history in the Rice Creek valley and Johnny and Kathy are adding their chapter. Extensive lawn, wonderful lily beds, iris beds and vegetable gardens nestle upslope from the pond. It has to be a lot of work but the Jones family seems to thrive on the process and the results. Joyce joined us for dinner and we retreated to the dining room when the rains started driving in under the patio roof. After dinner we retreated to the front porch and our first experience with fireflies. Quite a nice way to end a great day.
The following day we traveled a loop out of Flag Pond through Unicoi, Roan Mountain Park, Bakersville, Spruce Pine, Little Switzerland and Weaverville. We were impressed with the care that homeowners show in their yards. Well kept gardens and lawns… even in a drought… were more common than not. It was great to drive through the deciduous forests of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Bob and Shirley drove up from Marietta and joined us in Weaverville for dinner. We all returned to the Jones Barn for the night and shared laughter and libations on the front porch as the cool night air coaxed us under blankets rather than retreat indoors.
The next day we drove back to Keith and Jean’s place in Marietta via the Nantahala River gorge. A beautiful river that is seemingly overrun by rafts and kayaks. All sorts of folks having fun… raft after raft after raft. We appreciated the light traffic going back into the city after several days “up country”. Our last day in Marietta found us driving to see some historic covered bridges and relaxing as we packed. Our thoughts turned to home and the long trip back to Oregon.
We know now that we will return to GA and TN sometime in the future. Apparantly we didn’t wear out our welcome and we do want to see the area when the deciduous trees light up. So, watch out Keith/Jean and Johnny/Kathy… we know where you live! Thanks so much for making us so comfortable and for giving us a new appreciation of your part of the world.