Monday, November 11, 2013

On Top Of Old Smoky

Really, does it get any better than this?

I spent the last week chaperoning Caleb's weeklong (yes, as in five school days!) field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

I love this precious picture of Caleb and his buddy Nicky sharing a book.

As a history buff, my favorite part of the trip was touring historical structures within the park, like this 1800s Baptist church.  

My real favorite part of the week: spending focused time with my oldest son.

The second day, we climbed to the falls. 

Caleb was ecstatic over his snake spotting along the trail.  I failed to share in his merriment and quickly realized the error in my belief/hope that all scaly creatures within the park were hibernating!

Look at the picture above and then this one.  

Notice anything different?  

Yep, we're wearing a whole lot more clothing!  The temperature nosedived on the last day and added showers.  Lovely!  Caleb and I packed on a ton of layers and I borrowed this jacket from a teacher.  

Despite the conditions, Caleb was happy.  He successful caught a salamander.  Score!


Trying to capture the depth of my emotions standing in the cold, wet woods with a pack of middle schoolers.  Pondering why I agreed to chaperone this field trip and not next year's excursion to Florida.  

The rain stopped around lunch, but the cold lingered.  We stuck together, partially just to keep warm. 

What's a field trip without an injury?  Caleb left a little something in the Smokies: a part of his tooth!

I found myself in the middle of the Smoky Mountains wading through a maze of thickets, brush, and wet leaves.  Rain pellets pounded.  The wind howled.  The cold lingered.  (And did I mention there are no public restrooms out in the woods?  When asked about the nearest commode, our guide motioned towards a tree.  Right then and there, I decided I'd rather flirt with a bladder infection than become chummy with bark. Anyway...)

I wasn't alone in the forest.  My hiking companions for the day included a pack of fifth graders—my son included—two other parent chaperones, and a guide.  As a surprise to no one, we seemed to be the only travelers that day in the woods.

Our guide studied our pathetic troop and chirped, "You can call yourselves true Smoky Mountain hiker when you hike through conditions like this."

Translation:  We earned our hiking stripes.

My Thoughts:  I'll trade the stripes for a warm shower, dry shoes, and a mug of hot cocoa.

As I sloshed through the mud, I pondered how on earth I landed there.  

I ended up in the woods because of my son.  He needed me with him.  He being the one that struggles with transitions, new experiences, and social situations.  I was his much needed shadow, companion, and personal tour guide.  

The first day had challenges.  I seriously considered locating the nearest Hertz (do they have those in the woods?) and hightailing it back to the Hoosier state, but then the second day was better.  He fell into a routine of sorts and came to peace with his new normal for the week.

Per a school assignment, each day he journaled about his experiences.  He included what he learned in the Smokies.  He scribbled furiously in his notebook and then read his response out loud.  I listened to his detailed description of wildlife and geology with a mixture of awe and amusement.

I pulled out my own notebook and joined in the exercise,  contemplating what I learned in the Smokies.  Of course, I learned about nature, like that stickers are placed on monarch butterflies' wings to trace their migratory path to Mexico or that black bears don't tend to harm humans (or so they say).  But I learned other things from the experience too, like:

1)  A dining hall can actually be a pleasant experience and one momma can get quickly become accustomed to having someone else cook and clean.

2)  Fifth graders can be a very delightful group.

3)  Flip flops are essential attire for camp showers.

4)  A person can live days on end without cell phone and internet.

5)  Hiking four miles is much harder than running four miles.

6)  S'mores taste good at any age.  

7)  Sometimes being away makes you appreciate home.

Good to be back.    

Thanks to Memaw, Papa, and Chris for piecing together child care so I could go on the trip!!

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