by Kensey Baker, teacher/naturalist at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
I am thankful for the fall season in the Smokies. And, it’s not because of football season, pumpkin carving, or upcoming turkey dinners. I am thankful for fall because it’s a time when all life enters into a period of reflection and preparation for the coming months.
Fall is the time of year when nature admits that it has reached its climax for the year and begins shutting down. During this process, the movement of energy from the canopy to the forest floor causes spectacular changes to occur in nature. The fall season is one of the most glorious times to behold in nature. The changing colors, the falling leaves and the sights, sounds and smells of the forest in the Smokies, excite me like I was a kid again.
My appreciation for the Smoky Mountains has grown this particular fall. It is one of the four seasons I have not fully experienced since I lived for the last five years in the Northern Rockies of Montana and Wyoming.
In my most recent move to the Smokies, I left behind another national park, Grand Teton. That part of our country, like Great Smoky Mountain National Park, is also a most treasured natural resource. Grand Teton, of course, has different natural draws for tourists who visit. Jackson Hole has averaged 456 inches of snow over the past five years, with 200 inches already this year. So if you love to ski, this is a well-known paradise. In fact, if you were to ask someone in Jackson Hole what he or she is thankful for during the month of October, the answer would most likely be “snow,” or “the coming of snow.” I am somewhat of a snow addict myself, and yet it is such a gift to finally be living somewhere with four distinct seasons. The Northern Rockies lack a true fall or spring; it is either really, really cold, melting, or warm.
My thanks begin when I open my front door here at Tremont, walk outside, and look up into the changing tapestry of color transitioning above me. The cove hardwood forest I live in is a sensory overload of new sounds, smells and sights. The bustle of forest life draws me into all the minutia that is happening around me. I no longer hear the migrant symphony of songbirds, for they have left for warmer weather. But, the resident birds still trill very clearly as they prepare for winter.
I no longer hear the buzz of insects. They have mated, laid eggs, and recycled their bodies into the system. But, I see bees so cold they can barely move, or the occasional moth or beetle finding a place to hide until next spring.
During the government shutdown, we all realized how thankful we should be that these public lands exist from the Smokies to the Rockies and beyond.
This year, in the height of the leaf season, it became even quieter. Park visitors became a rare sighting during the government shutdown that closed the park. The forest unusually void of human noise was more open to the sounds of wildlife. Black bears could be seen more often, fattening up their bodies for the cold days ahead.
Tomorrow morning, when the black-capped chickadee outside my window awakes me, I will get dressed and step outside. I will once again be stunned by the collage of fabulous colors from light green all the way to burnt orange and deep red. I will breathe in the cool slow smell of decomposition. I will hear the Middle Prong’s voice a bit clearer. I will feel a soft cool breeze against my skin, and know that the cold and snow will come in time. I will again awaken to what’s right in the world…and I will give thanks.
During this ‘season of thanks’ I am most grateful to the people who thought to preserve these parks for the enjoyment of generations to come.
During the government shutdown, we all realized how thankful we should be that these public lands exist from the Smokies to the Rockies and beyond. We are blessed to live in a country where these kinds of resources are of national value.
As parents and caregivers, these places await you and your family. This fall, grab your family, go someplace wild, and offer them a deeper appreciation for fall. Whether it’s the park or your own backyard, lie down against the earth, stare up at the magnificent colors, and take a deep breath before winter is here. There is no better medicine than that.
“The dynamics of the fall of the year have the sweep of a great symphony or an epic poem. From the vast conflict of light and dark, the greater powers of night and quiet emerge.” (Christopher Hill)
Kensey Baker is a teacher and naturalist at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, which is located at 9275 Tremont Rd., Townsend,TN 37882. For more information about programs and events, visit GSMIT.org or call 865-448-6709.