I knew on the drive home from work that I needed to go to the mountains.  So, I came.  Not far from the Elijah Loop trail off the Cades Cove loop, I took my books and Josh’s camp chair and walked down from the road and off to the right, skirting a wooded rise through grass up to my shoulders.

I found a big barn with a tin roof, no walls, and a wind blowing through.  Wasps and swallows were nesting in the wooden rafters, and all the space between the four rows of crooked wooden poles was full of solitude and the busy hum of wild places.  I wandered around for a while and then sat down just outside the barn to write … I must have been completely absorbed by swatting at the gnats hovering around my face, because (after being aware almost to paranoia of any wildlife) I heard a rustling, and thirty yards behind me was a black bear the size of an upright piano and three cubs scampering up trees beside her.

Now, being a native East Tennessean, and having visited the Smoky Mountains at least twice a year since my birth, and having developed a great love for this park in spite of tourism and bear attacks — I mean my mom’s family has only recently moved away from the foothills of the Smokies for heaven’s sake — in spite of all this, the file in my cerebral library entitled “What to do when a mama bear is in your face” is disturbingly empty.  This bear was obviously interested in me, sniffing the air and even rearing up to get a better look at me in my chair, but I was too far away to just throw myself on the ground and play dead, right?  Surely this was only the modus operandi for angry or actually approaching bears.

So, since the cubs were scared enough to climb trees, and she was calm enough to be waiting for me to do something, I figured it was time to go.  I also figured that folding up the chair and taking it back with me could be rather fatally punctilious.  Articles reading “Woman was seen running with a large bag and folding camp chair when the bear caught up to her” kept popping in my mind like bubbles, and who wants their brutal mauling to be even slightly humorous,  so I picked up my bag and without making eye contact walked not-too-fast out toward the clearing and up around the rise toward the parking lot.  Sans chair.  I feel, under the circumstances, Josh will forgive me.  It took the rest of the loop to wash out that adrenaline, but the inner jerk and flash of wonder has stayed with me.

On my way back I stopped at Thunderhead Perk and am here now at a window table, surrounded by log walls, jars of local honey, quilts, and black-and-white prints of Smokies scenery.  The Avett Brothers keep coming on.  There seems to be, if it can be believed, a hummingbird on the feeder outside the window.

I wonder if the time will ever come when I lose the genes that tie me to these mountains, the wild places and wild bears, the danger and the beauty.  I keep wanting to draw lines between this place I have inherited and my actual genes, in my mind.  Since I’ve had ovarian cancer and my grandmother died of breast cancer, there’s a possibility that I may have a damaged set of genes somewhere that’s predisposed me to cancers of the female system … thoughts of inherited damage, of irreparable things, and of slow-growing disease drift in and out.

Today I feel like I’ve been washed out of all the terrible anxieties and led into a quiet place.  Surely if I can be broken into by reality like this, so unexpectedly, I have a lot to hope for.

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