The plane flew east over the Pacific. I slept as we passed over a quarter of the earth, and the clock turned back to yesterday. In LA I changed planes in a daze, and woke up only near dawn, to a question about coffee or tea. I can take bad coffee easier than bad tea. As I nursed a tasteless hot cup, I looked down at a very rumpled landscape cut through by rivers of clouds.
Where were we? The seat next to me was empty, and the cabin crew had done their job and passed on. The announcement from the cockpit was my saviour. We were passing the rockies. I looked down as we flew towards the terminator, the colour changing to a bright gold as the peaks turned gradually towards the sun. This must have been the southern tip of the range; we were perhaps over north Arizona or south Utah.
These 50 million year old mountains were not my destination this time. We flew over the north American continental divide towards the 450 million years old Appalachian mountains. I find it amazing that these mountains continue on into the Scottish hills and the Atlas mountains of Morocco. They were formed in the collision of the north American and African plates as the supercontinent of Pangaea was formed.
My destination was Gatlinburg in Tennessee. Thirty years ago this was still a bustling tourist town. It was amazing luck that someone would actually want to have a conference in this lovely place, otherwise I would never have thought of coming here. Soon enough I had my first view of the Smoky Mountains (see featured photo). I always thought that the “smoke” that hangs over these mountains must be mist. But I read that this is at least partly caused by organic compounds exhaled by trees.
I managed to get away from my work for long enough to go for a short walk through the mountains. Autumn is a wonderful time here. Even after seeing the deliberately planted autumn garden of Nikko in the previous week, a walk through the woods was stunning. I have a fond memory of a part of the path in which all the trees on one side had turned red but those on the other were green.
The mountains have (had? This was thirty years ago) cut through by beautiful streams, with absolutely clear water. This was my first visit to a national park in the US. My memories of the town of Gatlinburg have faded, but not of my walk through the forest. There are so many things left to see around the world that I don’t think I will go back, but it is a memory that remains alive.