By: Lisa Metropoulos
Where The Wild Things Live And Roam
My love for the Smoky Mountains is recent. A work-related trip for Innovative Health Magazine in 2016 found me barefoot, tears streaming down my face, meditating at an elevation of 6,644 feet, the highest the point in the Smokies, known as Clingman’s Dome.
Something wonderful happened in those barefoot moments as my toes aggressively dug into the dirt. I finally knew what it meant to have a “happy place.” You know, the place people tell you to go to when encouraged to visualize where you are at your heightened rest. I have returned several times in the last two years, and I get the same feeling every time I drive in view of those majestic, magic mountains. Pure solace.
The name Smoky Mountains is derived from the Cherokee word “Shaconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey), which means “land of the blue smoke.” They are a part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. My last visit to the mountains took me on a long winding drive through fields of wildflowers, elk sightings, a white owl sighting, and finally to the Cherokee Indian Reservation. I crossed the Tennessee border into the western part of North Carolina. Once there, I soaked in the energy that was thick with ancient spirit. I spoke with the locals in their restaurants and small shops throughout the reservation and was told of an old Cherokee legend that reminds us how to live with all life—Atagahi: The Enchanted Lake.
According to Cherokee tradition, deep within the Smoky Mountains, there is an enchanted lake that humans cannot see. Known as Atagahi, this magical lake is an oasis for animals of every kind. In the story, the Enchanted Lake revealed itself to a young Cherokee brave, pure of heart, after he spent several days fasting and meditating. He proved to the lake and the animals that he had no intention of hunting. He then was permitted to see the beautiful, violet waters, and bountiful wildlife drinking and feeding at the crystal pool.
When his vision was over, the young Cherokee marked the location of the lake with a cairn. Shortly after the magnificent view of the pristine waters, a hard winter fell upon the young Cherokee and brought him to the point of starvation. Not considering any other choice, the young hunter returned to the cairn marker he placed on Atagahi. When he shot a mighty black bear with his bow, the creature fell into the pure lake and emerged unharmed.
The bear tells the young brave that he has betrayed them, and the Cherokee is attacked by a furious swarm. The Cherokee tribe finds the body of the young man not long after the storm passes. There are no bear tracks. Legend has it that you can still see the morning mist rise from the magic lake when standing at the top of Clingman’s Dome.
I have come to know a few things for certain in this life, one of them being we are connected to all that is living. I’m certain that on that first trip up that towering mountain, feet buried deep in the soil, hands like clouds at my side, I found my “happy place” because I was pure of heart. I was able to see the good that awaited me because I was connected to all of the blessings surrounding me.
I will be back in the thick of these emerging, alpine peaks this coming spring. I will be one on one with all the leafy vegetation and roam as one of the wild things. I will trek the 74 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains over a seven-day period. There will be more tales to tell and more “happy places” to speak of.
Until then, don’t worry about getting your feet dirty.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.
~ John Muir,
Our National Parks