Smoky Mountain Trees
(Great Smoky Mountain National Park, circa 2006)
There is no place in the world Melissa and I like to visit more than the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Her people come from that area (and I wish mine did) so we both have a real link to the land and the people. We have been there dozens of times and what we really love to do is day hike. We stay in really bad hotels (never stepping foot in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge), pack the SUV with iced Diet Pepsi, trail mix, Nature Valley Granola Bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (we call trail steaks). Our adventures begin early as we find our selected trail head and set out for a day or part of a day. Melissa and I usually part company within a mile or two. She loves to push her body, get off the trail, forge ahead and work through the pain of walking straight up a mountain. She is almost always bleeding somewhere after a hike. While she is a character in “Lord of the Rings” desperately scaling Mt. Doom to dispose of the Ring of Power, I will sit at an overlook for half an hour eating a snack and thinking, Is God like six kinds of awesome or what?! Overlooking those blue, green mountains with their strands of mist hovering about them somehow fills my soul with peace.
What I like best are the trees. In the Smokies you can’t really tell where one tree begins and another ends but the combined result is spectacular. Around our house in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis we have some really great trees located in old subdivisions or cemeteries. They are majestic and perfect! You might infer that the canopy of the Great Smokies consists of similarly perfect trees all lined up in a row but you would have inferred wrongly. As we hike, I sometimes pass by some trees that have been pushed down by a storm and it always surprises me to see that none of them are perfect in any way. Where they enjoy sun exposure, they are well developed and gorgeous but parts of every tree are stunted and deformed where the sun could not reach them. As I walk, nature reminds me that each tree has, in its own way, paid a price to be a part of something greater than itself. I guess that is what being a part of a team is all about, sacrificing to be a part of something greater than ourselves.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois.