by Jennifer Lee, ’08
Right now, as I sit in my room in my house in New Jersey, I can hear the hum of my laptop and the emphatic sound of footsteps against the hardwood floors…I hear the odd noise of a faucet… [and] these noises are strange to me. I miss the eerie silence that saturates the woods...
View video of Jen and her crew at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Right now, as I sit in my room in my house in New Jersey, I can hear the hum of my laptop and the emphatic sound of footsteps against the hardwood floors. I hear the whoosh of the cars passing by through the open windows and the odd noise of a faucet being turned on in the upstairs bathroom. All of these noises are strange to me. I miss the eerie silence that saturates the woods and the buzz of crickets and cicadas at night. I miss being able to hear Jackie, our crew leader, wake us up every morning before the sun rises by singing a song from The Little Mermaid, making up the words as she goes along. I miss the satisfying crackle a piece of bark makes as it’s peeled from a log of a Locust tree. I miss these sounds, along with the smells and sights and tastes of the Great Smoky Mountains.
They say that if you’ve stayed in one place for more than a month of your life, you have not merely visited that place, you have lived there. Our crew’s campground, in the backcountry wilderness off the Little Cataloochee Trail, was our home. We slowly realized that we were all part of a unique social experiment—a group of drastically different people from all over the country thrown into the wilderness to live together. Therefore, we created a close-knit community amongst ourselves and, in my opinion, we prospered.
We learned how to cook delicious meals over a propane stove and grew accustomed to sleeping on a slightly sloped hill (which would explain why we woke up every morning curled up in a ball at the corner of our tents). We encountered rattlesnakes, elk, millions of no-see-ums, and of course, black bears—including one that seemed a little too friendly and chased us out of our shelter the last night of our rec. trip.
We documented our adventures, advancements, and setbacks in our brightly colored Lisa Frank community journal and recorded the many zany moments of our day with the pink Flip camera. By the end of our crew, we were a cohesive pack of trail building experts (Okay, maybe I’m exaggering), fully equipped with inside-jokes, flashes of hysterical laughter, and moments of deep contemplation.
My experience in the Smokies taught me what it truly means to live. It also opened up my eyes to the vast possibilities and the potential of a small group of people. We developed a special bond that can only be formed out there in the wilderness. Together, we built a massive turnpike and installed the first and only crib walls in the entire national park. Together, we formed our own community in which we began as strangers and ended as a family. The experience is over, but I still carry the remnants of it with me wherever I go. And whenever I stop to catch my breath from this hectic world back here in civilization, I miss home. I miss the Smokies.
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