Category Archives: Tennessee

Hurts So Good

 

On more than one occasion I’ve heard my friend and fellow photographer Slavomir remark, “It was so beautiful it made my heart hurt!”

I’ve never needed him to explain what he meant, because I’ve felt that strange mix of emotion before when confronted with the beauty of creation. But it’s not a predictable experience. It does not always happen at the expected times nor in the most obvious scenic locations. Sometimes this heartache of beauty sneeks up on me.

Such was the case earlier this month as I scouted for photographic compositions in late autumn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Seeking a respite from crowds and cars clogging the main viewpoints, I found myself in a quieter section of the park tooling around on backroads.

As I navigated the narrow winding road in my truck, ascending higher and higher into the hills, solitude soon overtook me as no other humans or vehicles were in sight. It became just me and the hardwood forest, the trees surrendering their leaves to the swirling breeze, low-angle sunlight filtering into the canopy, a cloud-dotted blue sky watching over it all.

 

Autumn Backroad

 

In this moment my heart started to feel the tug of beauty all around me. Thoughts of making photographs disappeared as I was immersed in the experience of just being there. Then my eyes welled up with tears as I felt the swelling of an ache in my heart. Amid the splendor of this autumn forest, all alone, there was a kind of hurting in the deep places of my soul.

“What am I feeling?” I asked myself. “What is this emotion that my intellect cannot decipher?” Continuing to drive slowly through the curves with my windows down, intoxicated with autumn aromas, I realized there was a bittersweet yearning in my innermost being. A yearning for this moment to never end. A yearning to be at one with this place, with this simple beauty before me, to somehow meld with the creation. And the tears started flowing.

I believe this was my soul crying out for more of God. A longing to be free from the fallenness of our world. A craving to be perfectly at one with his glory. To be for all eternity in a place of neverending joy, my field of vision filled with only beauty, being carried by the power of his divine love.

 

An autumn forest cathedral invited me to worship in the Great Smoky Mountains

An autumn forest cathedral invited me to worship in the Great Smoky Mountains

 

I’m grateful for the glimpses of grace I see in those moments of beauty. And I’m also grateful for the heartache that sometimes settles over me at those times. The one reminds me that the glory of the creator is my one true joy, my very sustenance. The other reminds me that broken earth is not my true home, that I am merely journeying toward the hope of eternity, a day when the One who formed me will remove all the heartaches forever.

“while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day

when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”

(Titus 2:13 NLT)

 

Sunset highlights late fall ridges in the Smokies

Sunset highlights late fall ridges in the Smokies


Thirty Years, and Counting

 

There are few people on this planet I’d want to travel with for eights weeks holed up in a 7 x 10-foot camper.

Ok. There is no one I’d choose to do that with. I don’t think I’d be sane for more than a week in such conditions 🙂

With the exception of one person: my high school sweetheart and bride of 30 years, Wendy. That one fact speaks volumes about our compatibility, and how we have survived and thrived in thirty years of life stuff together.

In 2008 we took a 2-month sabbatical and hit the road in our Toyota Tundra outfitted with a tiny Four Wheel Pop-up Truck Camper, making a loop around America starting from our home near Seattle, WA.

 

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

 

We headed south through Yosemite, desert poppy blooms, the Grand Canyon, and the tasty red & green chile dishes of New Mexico. We made our way east through sublime Texas hill country, lush green Arkansas hills, and legendary Great Smoky Mountain National Park (accompanied by piles of mouth-watering barbecue along the route).

 

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

 

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

 

Turning north we discovered the intimate and peaceful splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the colonial history scattered all over Virginia and magically preserved Williamsburg, and the varied wildlife and Atlantic beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore.

 

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

 

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Westward we drove, seemingly back in time through Pennsylvania Amish country, to the shores of Lake Superior, up the Mississippi River Valley in Iowa and Wisconsin, through picturesque Minnesota forests and other-wordly Dakota badlands, and finally to the glory of Yellowstone.

 

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us.

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us

 

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

 

The memories from this adventure are among the very best of my life so far. The photographs from that trip I share today are a tribute to that fantastic time, to the extravagant beauty that is our America.

But more importantly, these memories and images are a tribute to our 30th wedding anniversary that we celebrate this weekend. They are a tribute to my life partner, Wendy. Her grace, her wisdom, her steadfastness. Her beauty that begins outwardly and then keeps on going deep into her spirit. When folks wonder how we made it to thirty years of marriage and counting, I just point to her!

Most days I thank God for the small blessings I get to enjoy, whether it’s the taste explosion of morning bacon, an afternoon bike ride amid lush Florida beauty, or settling in with a fine adult beverage in the evening. But when I thank the Creator for this amazing woman my wife is, I’m talking about a blessing that far eclipses all other things. Wendy is THE blessing for me in this life. All else pales next to knowing her, loving her, sharing this joy-pain-laughter life adventure with her.

She is my great love.

As we celebrate our three decades of marriage this weekend, I’ll be dreaming of the next opportunity to hole up in a tiny camper again (ok, perhaps a more spacious trailer this time) with my very best friend and lover and continue our explorations of America together…

 

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

 


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