Yes, it’s yet another post in the series “Remembrance of Hikes Past.” It’s been a pleasant distraction of late to browse through the photos of the little home vacation (popularly known as “stay-cation) that we took back in November, 2010. This time, we went to Cataloochee Valley which is now a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A century ago, however, Cataloochee was a thriving community (which you can read about here.)
One of the main attractions of Cataloochee now are the elk, which were reintroduced to the park in 2001. We enjoyed watching the young bucks playfight in the fields–I loved the clacking sound their antlers made as they played. I also loved the endearing furry butts of a mother and child elk we saw. Another attraction there are the historic structures that remain from the settlement, including barns, houses, and two churches. We found Palmer Chapel to be especially striking in the slanted light of late afternoon.
But my favorite part of our trip was, without a doubt, our seven-and-a-half mile hike on Boogerman Trail (including a bit of the lovely, if muddy, Caldwell Fork trail). And, yes, it really was called the Boogerman Trail after Mr. Robert Palmer, who previously lived partway up the trail and owned the gorgeous forest there. He was a shy and quiet man who acquired the moniker “Boogerman” as a child when on his first day of school , the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A boogerman!” he answered. And he was known as Boogerman for the rest of his life. As an adult, his long, rough beard and brusque manner often frightened children and made his nickname seem even more appropriate.
When I heard that story, I felt a deep kinship with Boogerman. I was also a very shy and quiet child in a family who was quite the opposite. In fact, I felt so unlike the rest of my family that I used to wonder if my parents had actually adopted me rather than my oldest brother and sister (who actually were adopted). And let’s face it–people who are outgoing are always viewed more positively than those that aren’t. Especially here in the U.S., I think. When’s the last time you heard someone say, “I just love her—she’s so quiet and contemplative!” Nope. It’s “I just love her—she’s never met a stranger!”
Anyway, maybe I was just projecting, but somehow I felt like I understood Boogerman. So I was eager to hike the Boogerman Trail and to see where he lived in happy seclusion amongst the huge poplars that he never allowed anyone to cut. I was hoping for (and got) a quiet and peaceful walk in that gorgeous old-growth forest, but I never expected to actually feel Boogerman’s presence.
But I did. As we walked in the same forest he once walked, dwarfed by the towering poplars, I felt Boogerman’s presence so strongly that I was a little unnerved. After all, I’d heard that people, in general, were not welcome on his property—-he loved animals and trees, but humans…not so much. But, as crazy as it sounds, I really did feel as though he somehow knew who I was—someone not so different from him except for the fact that I still think people are worth the effort. Mostly. But I still feel most comfortable with trees and birds and wildflowers that bloom in quiet, hidden forest glades.
I’ve taken hundreds of hikes in my life, but this is one that will always stand out for me. For many reasons. For one, because it was one of the last long hikes we took before Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s knee injury. We’ve both missed our long hikes keenly. For another, as I look at the pictures of that day, I see how much the troubles of the past year and a half have aged me. I had hair back then! And it was brown! Much of what’s left of my once-thick but now sparse hair has turned gray. But that, of course, is not what I’ll remember most. No, I’ll remember the hike on Boogerman trail for the presence of Boogerman himself—how he walked with us a little ways under the towering poplar trees. No, I never saw him, but I know he was there.
We were quiet that day at the end of the hike. I think we both were contemplating what we’d seen and felt. As I walked across Caldwell Fork creek, I paused to listen to the sound of the water flowing over the moss-covered boulders shaded by great thickets of rhododendron as the creek made its way through the lovely green forest. I took a moment to thank Mr. Palmer (who no longer seemed like much of a boogerman to me) for protecting those grand old trees from the loggers ax so that we could enjoy them all these years later. So that we could look up at them and know just how small we really are in this big, beautiful, wonderful world.