licensed dave allen photo

The Great Smoky Mountains
by Jennifer Su

I trusted that my cousin’s intuition was sharper than mine. I glanced at the path we emerged from, a mix of crushed leaves and twigs that tunneled back into a tangle of branches. Sunlight poured over the canopy, tingling the skin on my shoulders. It had been nearly three hours since we last stepped into broad daylight, and the sun had shifted from its sleepy state to a blazing, unsympathetic glow above us. The only ones that challenged its dominance in the sky were unsuspecting wisps of clouds and the smoky mist cast on mountaintops. My eyes panned away from the sweep of green, turning instead to the new terrain before me. The water lapped up against the pebbles on the shoreline. Its gentle ebb and flow either indicated a sanctuary for a quick prayer or a calm before the storm.

With a leap of faith—figuratively and literally—I jumped from the gravel to a light grey stone peeking out of the water. Once my left sneaker left the shore, my arms began making circles—forwards and backwards and forwards—like airplane wings tipping my balance just when I thought I would fall. My momentum continued thrusting my upper body forward, and desperate, I hobbled off to another slippery stone. My eyes darted from side to side, scrambling to find my next destination—the creases around my eyes wrinkled as I braced myself for the icy waves of the roaring river to submerge me—but there was only a splash. My sneakers were soaked instantly, but my knees were dry. Perhaps I overestimated my athletic feat: we were just five feet from the shore. Our laughter bounced from mountain to mountain, and I honestly didn’t mind if we could be heard from miles away.

PHOTO: The Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee .Photo by Dave Allen Photo, used by permission.

licensed darrell young
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. A subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, they are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

PHOTO: Little Pigeon River, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photo by Darrell Young, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I remember this experience quite vividly during my trip to Tennessee in 2013. This account was inspired by a five to ten minute experience when my cousin and I ventured off to dip our hands in the nearby river. I wrote about the experience in my Smoky Mountains journal almost exactly seven years ago, and I’m glad to retell the moment again with some new life.

PHOTO: The author during her visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (2013).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Su is a high school senior who writes short stories, prose pieces, and speeches. Both her written and artistic work has been featured in magazines and in local libraries. Jennifer enjoys creative writing as a means of documenting stories in her life. She finds inspiration everywhere, from a handwritten sign in a small shop to a summer trip across the continent. She is a member of several literary and Toastmasters groups and looks forward to refining her craft.