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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Walking At Night

        Halloween can have a brighter side, but darkness is what we associate with that special day. However, darkness does not have to always refer to that which is bad, evil, or scary.  One definition is that darkness is merely the absence of light. Normally, though, the absence is not absolute. Often it is quite easy for most of us to see in the dark once our eyes adjust. We just might not see everything or see as well as we might if there were more light present. Walking in the dark can sometimes be illuminating to the mind and soul.
        I've been thinking more about my past experiences with walking at night in the mountains.  When I was in my years between about 19 and 25 I did a lot of night walking, not for any bad intent, but just because it was interesting and it was something to do. I was still living at home with my parents in Maryville, Tennessee while attending the university in Knoxville. One of my favorite places to go any time of day was the Foothills Parkway, at that time a 16.5 mile stretch transversing Chilhowee Mountain going from the town of Walland to Chilhowee Lake. Foothills Parkway is still mostly unfinished, but should one day extend a total of 71 miles all the way to Interstate 40 near Cosby, Tennessee.  Back in the early 70's the Chilhowee Mountain stretch was the part of the Parkway that was most accessable to me.  It was about 15 minutes from my parents house to the parkway entrance so it was a easy place to go for a pleasant drive, to watch the sunset, or park and enjoy the city lights at night. The views were spectacular--the Great Smoky Mountains to the south and the beautiful Tennessee Valley to the north.  If it was really clear, looking northward you could possibly see past Maryville-Alcoa to Knoxville and as far the Cumberland Mountains. No matter what the time of day the views were picture postcard perfect.
           My friends and I probably went up to Chilhowee Mountain at night almost as much as in the daytime. At about the midway point of that stretch of the parkway there is the Look Rock Observation Tower which  is a circular concrete structure easily accessible by a ramp. The view from the top is amazing and attracts many visitors throughout the year.  Most people don't go at night. That's when I usaully went.  The Look Rock Campground, which is operated by the National Park Service, is nearby.  Sometimes we would camp at this beautiful campground and walk up to the tower during the night. There were usually very few people who camped here.  Most of the time the campground was closed and when that was the case we would park across the parkway from the tower access road and walk up to the tower.  This way was much easier than the designated hiking trail which wound up from a scenic overlook area up through the woods.  The access road was not as steep, it was wider, and much easier to follow in the darkness. We never brought flashlights. We never needed them. There was plenty of starlight, moonlight if the moon was out, and whatever ambient light exists that typically lights the night.
        After reaching the top of the tower we would nearly always spend the first several minutes silently taking in the view around us-- the shadowy majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains silhouetted against the night sky, a glimmering peek of Chilhowee Lake behind the foothills, the darkness of the valleys, and the expansive spread of the constellation of lights between us and Knoxville and beyond.  We could see the lights of the Knoxville McGhee-Tyson Airport and watch the coming of going of the air traffic.  There was the continous movement of the lights of the ground traffic flowing the streets below.  The world of the night time spread out all about us as we watched in a sort of awestruck silence.
        Then after our meditation on the night, we would begin our musings on the possibilities of not only the night, but our lives, the world, the universe, or wherever our imaginations took us.  Much like conversation that is traded around the campfire we would tell eerie stories and ponder the mysteries of the unknown all the while watching the skies in hopes of seeing a U.F.O. or at the very least a streaking meteor.  It was a time of dreams and wandering thoughts.  Eventually we would make our way back to the campsite or the car with renewed spirits and unanswered questions.
          After night has come, most of us sleep and dream.  I've heard some people say that they don't have dreams. According to research, we all do dream and dreaming is essential for good mental health.  Research tells us that on the average humans spend six years of their lives dreaming.  Even animals dream according to scientific studies.  Those who say they do not dream probably just don't remember their dreams or recognize that they are dreaming. Darkness inspires the dreams of sleep as well as the dreams of wakefulness. I'm sure you have heard people say, "Close your eyes and imagine...".  What happens when you close your eyes?  You create a personal state of darkness where there are no overt visual distractions and you can focus on an inner state of peace. It's good to dream whether it be nightdreams or daydreams.  So close your eyes and dream of things as they have been, as they are, and as they could be.  All that has been accomplished was initially dreamed.  Let your dreams work for you.  And don't be afraid of the dark.

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