Recently, I wrote a three-part series on nature experiences. And while I was reminiscing, I remembered a special moment that I feel compelled to share. It’s not on the Upper Texas Coast and is a completely different landscape. But nature is nature and will give you a sense of place no matter where you are.

There is a fairly short trail at the end of the Upper Tremont Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the old logging road, above the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. It is not marked on most maps, and it has no sign at the trailhead. It is becoming overgrown and holds many a fallen log. It feels less traveled.

It starts where the Middle Prong meets the Thunderhead Prong in a swirling mass of cold water. It does not take long before you lose sight of others, and the sound of running water takes over all senses.

A old, narrow bridge soon forges the prong. Up a ways you will cross a small tributary climbing down and up its banks due to its small span having crumbled long ago. Turning a few stones, looking for salamanders as you cross, the trail narrows, and the feeling of wildness surrounds you. The smell of wildlife invades. The mottled sunlight creates shadow animals, appearing here then there.

Suddenly the trail ends, overlooking the prong 50 feet below only to start again above the far bank. Large boulders show signs of a possible span long ago. This feeling of an end causes one to turn, to look, to explore the small area, surrounded by walls of rock and trees.

Looking up, your eyes adjust to the distant sunlight filtered through the tallest of trees. The towering mountain has closed in on one side and the rushing water travels around a bend of boulders, fallen trees and overhanging rhododendrons. Stones are polished, while those above are covered in thick ancient moss. Logs are stacked against living trees from past torrents. The smell of many years of natural progression is strong in the moist air. Every hue of natural color drapes the earth and water.

The sound of thunder across the mountain highs echoes down from far above, seeming fitting above Thunderhead Mountain.

Standing on a large rock in the upper part of the prong before it wildly swings downstream, the sense of complete wonder immerses the soul. The feeling of old, beginnings, voices past and eyes closed long ago pierce your mind as if being watched. The swift movements of more ghost animals catch your mind’s eye. The feeling, whatever it is, is totally enveloping. Your eyes take it all in, your mind relents to the heart and soul allowing you to become one with the place. It is hard to break away, as if you get a feeling of restraint. You have found a place of sense so magical, so powerful you must leave a part of you here.

So I have done.

Martin Hagne is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. The GCBO is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the birds and their habitats along the entire Gulf Coast and beyond into their Central and South America wintering grounds.

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