Benton, Tennessee, where I am staying with my Cousin Larry, is famous in this part of the state for its luxuriant forest and many waterways. Writing this I am staring out at an extensive, wooded mountainside that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Its stately green mass constitutes the western edge of the Cherokee National Forest. The Hiwasee River flows out of the forest through a mountain pass. The Park Service regulates its flow. When they open the sluices it flows mightily. People tube down it. People from nearby smallish cities travel the 30-40 minutes here to come enjoy the country.
Two days ago we got in the car and drove five minutes down the main road (Route 411 - Larry calls it "The Information Highway") to Gee Road. Another 5 minutes brought us to the end of that narrow road where the trail to Gee Falls starts. We followed the trail up into a ravine alongside Gee Creek.
Making the ascent, surrounded by green and the sound and sight of cascading water, I was blissful. Going up the ravine we passed a series of cascades. Below each was a stone-lined pool of water, knee or thigh deep.
The day was hot, at least outside the shade of the forest canopy it was. That heat still clung to me. Add to that the warmth from the effort of the climb. I had to resist the refreshment I knew would come from plunging into one of those cold, but idyllic baths. My goal was the largest pool, which I was told was at the highest fall. And so it was.
Today we went to Benton Falls. At 80 feet tall, it's far more spectacular than Gee Falls, more spectacular when there's more water falling after it's rained, such as it hasn't here for three weeks. Still, to my way of thinking, it's far less inviting than Gee Falls. It's the same way I feel about the Rocky Mountains. They're just too big. Their Olympian beauty renders them awesome, beyond human scale. I suppose it's what you get used to. In New England we call things "mountains" that out West would be called "hills."
No, I'm not looking for Olympian grandeur. Not partial to Zeus or Hera, my taste runs more towards, wood nymphs and water sprites. When people in semi-desert San Miguel ask me what if anything I miss about the States I tell them the green and the water.
I miss chlorophyll on grand display, the verdure of a forested mountainside or of a large, solitary tree. I miss the lush growth of grass, both the large expanses of parks and school athletic fields and the smaller lawns associated with suburban houses. Walking barefoot across a lawn is good for my body and soul.
Then, my idea of heaven is jumping into fresh water, a pond, lake, river or stream, on a hot summer day. A couple years ago, up on my roof, I smoked the exudate of the Soñoran Desert Sapo Frog. The liquid, milked from the gland of this amphibian, is rich in DMTA. The effect of smoking this substance is immediate and profound. It's a hallucinogenic trip that lasts ten minutes, a quick visit to another world. I get a similar (although admittedly much less intense experience) when I dive for the first time into water; I enter a different, refreshing, buoyant, quiet, fluid world.
Up there at Gee Falls, up above the topmost fall, were a few smaller cascades. One channeled all the stream's flow down a short slide. My feet on the rock upon which the flow crashed and foamed white, I braced myself and sat down in the torrent. The seat was perfect, receiving my body into its contours as I reclined back upon it. There was even a comfortable headrest holding just my nose, eyes and mouth out of the water. I felt like my whole body was in the flow. The water was cold. I meditated a few moments, said a quick prayer, sat up for a few seconds and then rose to dry off a little and warm up a lot on a nearby, sun-filled boulder. It was just too perfect. I repeated the process twice, returning for two more immersions on that watery throne.
It was a profound homecoming, great therapy, just what the doctor ordered.
We're always standing in the middle of a sacred place. But for me that's easier to see in the cascading waters of a deep green ravine.
photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)
Dr David has been publishing this online magazine for 4 years now. He is about to expand the format of the magazine and publish it under a new name, San Miguel Sunday. Anyone with any interest in contributing articles is heartily encouraged to contact him at the email below. The "Best City in the World" deserves a good lokkal magazine.
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