April 13, 2018
NEAR GATLINBURG, Tenn. – It’s a summer day in June, and as my husband and I approach the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor center, I have one goal in mind: I want to see something extraordinary. At my request, the ranger at the visitor center pulls out a map, smiles and immediately points to the tallest waterfall in the area: Ramsey Cascades.
Getting there will require hiking a rugged 8-mile trail that gains 2,200 feet in elevation. Our reward: a 100-foot waterfall – something you won’t find in Illinois.
It is 8 a.m. The sun is shining. We drive over rough terrain to the trailhead. Our backpack is loaded with snacks and water, and we are ready for the rigorous hike, with 4 rugged miles to reach the base of the waterfall.
A short distance into the hike, I hear the faint sound of moving water. This becomes the music of the forest. I slowly walk up the rocky path, focusing on the details. I notice the shapes of the flat rocks scattered along the trail, the muddy tree roots barely peeking out of the narrow dirt path and the bright green plants that line the trail. I see colors lurking in the shadows, the bright green moss on an old worn log, the footprints of travelers ahead of me and wildflowers leaning toward the sun. My eyes take in the details, my ears record the sound. My soul is at peace.
The trail becomes more challenging with every step. About two miles up the path, a single log footbridge sits 10 feet above the river. We cross it, and the narrow path becomes more steep and rugged, with rocks and tree roots protruding from the ground. I tell myself to focus on the ultimate reward. Every step, I know I am getting closer. Every step, the noise increases steadily.
Now, the moment has arrived. My heart is pounding from the effort of climbing over several steep rock and boulders. I have goosebumps! I climb the large boulder, look up and gasp.
Here it is: 100 feet of water falling down the spectacular rocky mountain. Time stands still.
I want to trap this moment. I want to somehow capture the beauty that cannot be contained in a photograph. I want to take in all the details – the sounds, the power, the excitement, the beauty – and share them with others.
For the first time, I realize this is not just a hike to a waterfall; it is the start of my journey in art.
Lori Fuller, an academic records coordinator in the Office of the Registrar, is an accomplished artist. Her paintings will be showcased in the Illini Union Art Gallery, April 18 – May 31, 2018. Her work also is on display on her website.