Mist hung behind the trees on the morning we started hiking at Black Mountain. We entered on a paved path and explored an old spring house.
Then we walked through a stone door, a crack in the rock through which people could squeeze. We had to half-sit at one point to get through it.
On the other side of the squeeze stood a rock city, with blocky rocks for buildings and streets paved with leaves. This one had yet to get the flow of tourists and knickknacks that Rock City near Chattanooga had. The foggy emptiness of this rock city gave it mystery that more popular tourist joints lack.
“There is a desire deep within the soul which drives man from the seen to the unseen,” said Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet. Fog blurred rocks and hid the world behind them. It made me eager to see what was beyond the fog.
After passing through the rock city, Dad spotted a cave salamander in a pit formed in the bedrock. The pit stretched down into darkness.
After the hike, as we walked on the road back to our car, Dad spotted yet another salamander by the side of the road. This one was a red salamander. He looked dead. He stayed still and grains of dirt covered him. Ants crawled over him, and his tail was broken.
As I reached for him, he fidgeted. I picked him up, and he wiggled in my hand. I put him down in some wet leaves. He ran away, ready for his tail to regenerate.
I had found myself back in my native East Tennessee after trying to move away from it, but now, among boulders, mist and rolling mountains, I saw just how magnificent it could be. Maybe the salamander felt the same way after being placed down in the wet leaves against his will. Maybe he was excited at being back in a glorious place.
For more information on Black Mountain, click here for a great page by Cumberland Trail State Park Manager Bobby Fulcher.