This morning we hiked a short trail to Juneywhank Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, NC. It is a terrific spot. At the time we mistakenly thought there were some other nearby falls so we didn’t stay there as long as we would have otherwise. After leaving the falls we hiked on up the trail for about a half hour before deciding we had had enough for the day. I walk a lot, but, since we live in the flat lands, the up and down mountain hiking works the leg muscles in an entirely different way.
It’s a good thing we got our hike in this morning, as we have a drizzly, lazy afternoon going now. We have the awning up and are sitting outside enjoying the 65 degree mountain air. Tomorrow we head up into the GSMNP for some camping. That means no Internet, no cell phone, no electricity. It also means quiet, majestic beauty. It sounds like a good trade to me.
I had a dream last night, well, probably more early this morning. It was one of those “I woke up but I’m going to go back to sleep dreams.” In my dream I arrived at church on a Sunday morning only to remember that not only was it a communion Sunday but we had a wedding at the end of the service (I actually performed a wedding like that once, years ago). In my dream I had forgotten about it and I was scrambling around trying to be sure everything was ready. In the midst of it all, people kept stopping me to talk to me. I was trying to be polite but I was very preoccupied with getting ready for both communion and the wedding. The people who wanted to chat with me were all nice people who were glad to see me and I was trying to be “nice” and move on to talking to the groom and bride because we hadn’t even had a rehearsal. I don’t think we need Joseph or Daniel to interpret the dream. Nearly every pastor and many other people can identify with situations like this: needing to do something but being interrupted by good, well-meaning people. I think my subconscious is still working through what it means to truly be on sabbatical leave.
Our only “big” deal on this trip is a trip to Biltmore Estate in Asheville and today was the day. The $47 per person admission is painful and, in my opinion over the top. That isn’t to say it isn’t an impressive place. We saw it all, well all which can be seen without spending an hour in each room picking out each individual feature. There are interesting things everywhere from ceiling to floor, including paintings, books, sculptures, and world class furnishings. It is all quite interesting and impressive. As usual I maxed out in about 45 minutes. Jackie lasts longer than I do on such things, but after a couple of hours the joy was wearing somewhat thin for her too. Outside in the gardens was pretty neat. Other features of the property were, in my opinion, take it or leave it. I’d give it all 3 and a half out of 5 stars and, now that I’ve seen it I seriously doubt I’ll ever shell out the big bucks to do it again.
I was reminded, though, of the positive side to such wealth. Vanderbilt had more money than he knew what to do with. In his unrestrained spending he amassed many world class things that would otherwise have been lost. He’s long gone, but people today can appreciate the fine craftsmanship and artistry of the things he collected.
As we were leaving Biltmore Jackie suggested we drive some of the Blue Ridge Parkway rather than just coming straight back to our campground. We got on just south of Asheville and enjoyed around 3 hours of driving the amazing parkway. I’ve been on it up in Virginia, and now I’ve seen the southern end of it. What an amazing road across the top of the mountains! By the way when it comes to wonderful and memorable design, God wins!
This afternoon we drove 11 winding miles up and over to the Cataloochee Valley, which is part of the Smoky Mountains National Park. This, we are told is a less visited area and it is also a prime area for seeing the Elk that have been reintroduced to the region. We saw plenty of elk and also enjoyed visiting the old buildings there. More photos are in my photo album.
So what does a pastor do on a sabbatical? In my case, this is a “rest” sabbatical. That means I’m not out here to work on a book or to take a course at some seminary or even to climb some “holy mountain” in search of an encounter with God. To say it more simply, I’m on an extended, month long vacation. That isn’t to say I don’t want a renewal of spirit but my goal is to let that happen in mostly unintentional ways. Some of the personal spiritual things that I do all the time, like writing devotionals, have been laid aside and I haven’t added anything aside from writing this journal. I also brought one book by CS Lewis for some more intense reading and another Christian fiction book. I’m going to keep this journaling going and then take a much more low key approach to spiritual things, just letting things flow in a relaxed state. If I come away from this sabbatical feeling rested and refreshed I’ll consider it a success. Anything else will be a bonus.
Sunday started with a bang. Thunderstorms with plenty of wind swept through the area. There is a railroad right by the campground and right in the middle of the storm a train came through. Of course, we immediately thought of the stories about a tornado sounding like a train. Also, out on the highway some kind of emergency vehicle came through, at least twice, with sirens blaring. The whole event cost us a couple of hours of sleep. That along with the change to Eastern Time caused us to miss the early service at the nearby church. We ended up hanging around till the 11:00 service at the Methodist church. We were last in and first out, anxious to get on the road.
The aftermath of the storms was clear skies but plenty of wind. The little Casita camper tows like a dream and that remains true even in 30+ mph winds. We crossed into North Carolina in good time and continued toward Creekwood Farm RV park near Waynesville. Truthfully, I had debated stopping down the road a bit because of the very windy conditions. Also, we drove back under clouds and spitting rain. We arrived to 60 degrees with wind and rain but managed to get set up without getting too wet or cold. Creekwood is a nice place. Clean, and well ordered. We got full hookups, and I mean full – including 70+ channels of cable TV! Our little camper stayed warm and snug and we got our best night’s sleep of our short journey.
The tire that went flat is showing more wear than I thought. In addition, the other rear tire has some dry rot down in the tread. I decided to replace them both. It will cost over $300, but maybe we’ll get some peace of mind out of it.
We finished the tire business about 11:00 and finally got on the road. Four hundred miles later we are in LaGrange, GA. We didn’t think about the time change, so instead of arriving shortly after 7:00 local time it was after 8:00. For the second night in a row I sat up in the dark. Still we have caught up with our original schedule.
It seems funny to be here in the Hoofer’s campground with a southern gospel concert going on a couple of hundred feet away. In fact, they use the campground for parking and we ended up camping in the corner of the campground because the rest of the campground is filled with concert goers’ cars. The campground is nothing to brag about. Basically it is a grassy field with hookups. Some of the sites are just plain on the side of a hill. Still, the price was right and the people are friendly. Tomorrow we will go to church in town and then drive up toward Asheville where we will stay put for a few days.
Officially I have been on Sabbatical leave since Monday morning, but we couldn’t leave town till Friday so I was in some kind of in between state. More or less like being on vacation but still close enough to be “connected” even as I spent considerable time getting the pickup and camper ready. Finally, on Friday we finished our family concerns and headed out. As we drove across rural southern Louisiana I felt my body relax a bit, feeling confident that the pickup can handle the towing. It even looked as though even with the late start we were going to make the original destination I planned for the first night. Then we came to Baton Rouge. It was a traffic nightmare, stop and go for nearly an hour. That took the edge off of the “relaxation” and weariness was setting in. It was then that we heard a “ping” and the camper began to have a tiny bit of a sway. I immediately pulled off on the shoulder of the very busy interstate and did an inspection of the rig. We had a flat rear tire on the pickup. There was nothing to do but unhitch the camper, ease the truck forward and change the tire. It’s no big deal to change a tire, but it was hot and noisy along the freeway. By the time it was all done, we headed for the nearest RV park which was about 12 miles away and ended up setting up in the dark. Still, it was a success. We got all hooked up and everything worked as it should. After a shower and a late meal we hit the hay.