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How’s the View?

How’s the view from where you are?

I am sifting through my camera roll looking at the pictures I took during a recent vacation that my husband and I took to North Carolina. I would be attending a conference and he would be amusing himself at many of the local shops and the mall, an arrangement that suits us both just fine. While looking for other interesting sites in North Carolina that would be accessible to us before I started the three-day conference, I discovered that the Great Smoky Mountains lies at the state’s western border. Of course, I should have remembered this from geography class, but that was a long time ago, and frankly, I just can’t remember all of the highlights of every state. The discovery that we would be relatively close to the mountains sparked my interest.

On our first mountain day we peppered the rangers at the visitors’ center with questions, armed ourselves with maps of the interesting trails and made the drive to Clingmans Dome. The observation tower at the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360-degree views across 100 miles. Knowing how much my husband enjoys overland pictures, I was motivated enough to accompany him on the steep half-mile climb (trudge) up the path leading to the observation tower.

Pause.

Do you know the song, Jacob’s Ladder?

Verse 1
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder (3 times)
Soldiers of the cross

Verse 2
Every rung goes higher, higher (3 times)
Soldiers of the cross

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The song is sung slowly, as if imitating the motion of slowly climbing the ladder rung by rung. That is the song that settled in my mind as we walked up the steep pathway to the tower. Except there was no ladder, but the clouds that we passed through constantly reminded us of the high elevation. With each step, I felt colder. I put my sweatshirt on and reminded myself that it was still July. I shifted my camera from one hand to the other to ease the burden of its weight. I heard someone ask, “Are we there yet?” more times than I can count. We passed people taking advantage of the benches strategically positioned for rest stops on the way to the summit.

Finally, the tower came into view. I say ‘finally’ because we were practically at the base before we could actually see it, so thick was the cloud cover. We followed the voices of other visitors who had already reached the lookout point, our goal, without a realistic idea of what we could expect. I remember feeling my heart rate increase with excitement as we reached the tower and looked across the tops of the spruce-fir forest.

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the National Park at 6,643 feet. It offers magnificent views over 100 miles with this caveat: when the weather cooperates. Otherwise, visibility can be drastically decreased to less than 20 miles. On the day that we visited, we could barely read the plaques that described the views we were missing. Then it rained.

On the soggy descent, we passed other visitors making their way up to the tower, in the rain, on a day when visibility was only arm’s length at best. Some were resting on benches until they caught their breath enough to continue the journey. Many were laughing and joking about being “on top of old Smoky”. Others taught their children about the vegetation along the way. No one seemed bothered by the obvious—there would be no famous view as a reward when they reached the top. They would read the plaques and imagine what the view looked like on a clear day. They would take pictures of themselves smiling in front of a cloudy background. They would comment to the people they passed on their way back to the parking lot, “Don’t stop now. You’re almost there!”

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So what if there is little to see when you reach the top. As a friend of mine often says, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

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