Journey for Pure Life

That we may be overwhelmed by the wonder and beauty of it all.

Tag: Swain County

Magic Upon the Rocks

Deep Creek, North Carolina.

It is THE quintessential experience of childhood and family camping.

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But when she first mentioned it, I was surprised my friend Lindsey would want to go again. She said she’d been several times over the past few years.

And when we first pulled up and I saw how close the tent pads were (me, who likes a good deal of quiet and space…if quiet and space is possible with six children), I was a little hesitant that this was the place for me (and all these loud children).

Deep Creek 1

After a day at Deep Creek the magic was obvious.

Most everyone I spoke to had begun visiting the creek in childhood…and they just never stopped. Years and years after that initial visit, they come, still, children and grandchildren in tow. They make friends-for-the-week with those at the nearby tent pad. They share their nieces, nephews and grandchildren, who run through the campground with our own to play manhunt through the darkening night sky….catch fireflies while trying not to squish them….take tube runs down the creek, olders helping the littles….and then they all run back for more, giant tubes slung across backs, coldest water in western North Carolina not so cold anymore…again and again and again. And then, all tired out, they share quiet moments by the fire making bracelets and s’mores. Camp friends that will always have a spot in their memories, moments they won’t soon forget, if ever.

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Deep Creek is located in western North Carolina’s Swain County, just inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park via Bryson City. The community of Deep Creek is just a couple of miles outside the city. The creek itself is a tributary of the Tuckasegee River, which flows right through Bryson’s downtown area. Deep Creek runs north and practically all the way to Clingmans Dome at the Tennessee/North Carolina border. A Civil War battle was once fought on its banks, and included more Native Americans than most western NC battles of the war. Today, the creek is one of the most family-friendly spots in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s known for its fishing, hiking, picnicking, camping, waterfalls and, of course, tubing.

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But here’s my truth…

I’m smitten, so completely, with the community of Deep Creek and Bryson City. But the creek itself…it kind of terrifies me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had a child laying unconscious before me and then airlifted by helicopter after a traumatic brain injury. Maybe it’s because I’ve been put in my place by little river rapids before.

I recently saw a short video that described the creek as a “lazy river.” And yes, perhaps that’s what everyone else sees. That is the opposite of what I see.

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Despite the huge smiles, the pure joy on their faces, when I, adventurous though I typically am, look at Deep Creek and watch my kids carry tubes higher and higher (ie. dangerous-er and dangerous-er) it’s all

rocks rocks rocks


rapids rapids rapids

and my blood pressure is rising and I’m thinking everyone should be wearing helmets for this, especially that one with the now long hair and sweet curls at the end.

And that caution at the bottom of the National Park Service website that clearly states that tubing is not recommended within the park because of water-related injuries…though, clearly, this is what people come here for, due to the numerous tube rental spots available just before the park entrance and the hundreds of tubes coming down the icy waters all day long…that warning is still flashing through my mind like it’s a tv screen with the tornado warning scrolling across the bottom and interrupting your regularly scheduled programming and it’s probably all over my face as I scramble to follow along the trail at the edge of the creek’s now-steep bank and and my eyes are scrambling to find my child and I’m trying to stay calm but inside I’m not at all and so I’m praying, pleading with God to keep them safe.

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So there’s me, doing that.

And then there’s my friend, Lindsey. My friend Lindsey who once lived in a tent for a summer while guiding rafting trips on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. My friend Lindsey who has the same last name as me, but who’s lived in Ecuador and whose husband is currently there leading adrenaline junkies over class V rapids and occasionally camping in the jungle. My friend Lindsey who knows three languages, one of them, American Sign Language, chosen for her when her oldest was born without hearing. Lindsey, whose two sons, at ages eight and ten, already know how to roll a kayak in case they are accidentally flipped while in rapids. Lindsey, who grew up looking at a river out her back door every morning, swimming in it most every evening. My friend who often goes without technology and doesn’t seem to mind a bit. Lindsey, who moves to her own beat, rolls with the punches of life with a peace that far surpasses my own, is always content and never, ever not. Mi amiga whose phone was dead for the entire duration of our trip and to whose mom I finally sent a Camp Robles photo just so she knew we were all okay. My friend who, while I’m frustrated with my six when the littlest won’t go to sleep and she’s running crazy all over our tent and I just want her to “go to sleep!” and I’m telling her so and I’ve lost my patience completely, hasn’t at all. Because when I step out of my seven-man tent and pass by Lindsey’s little one I hear that she’s sweetly, patiently, beautifully singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her three and it’s just about the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard. And the most humbling.

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I tried not to think about it, but court was approaching while we were camp-firing and “lazy-rivering” amidst the magic (and terror, but only to me) of Deep Creek. It would be kind of a big deal day for the kids in my kinship care. And for me. I couldn’t control it. Not really at all and not really sure that I would want to.

Deep Creek was there, just at that time, with all its risks and its rockiness and its slippery, steep creek banks, and with its new friends and fun-filled days that no one wanted to end…and with Lindsey and all her calm and her peace and her preparedness and her faith…and I just had to let them go. The kids with their blue tubes, the court outcome.

We prepared, we took it slow and small, learned from our mistakes and how to handle ourselves. But then we went higher, past the waterfall, to the place where the rocks became larger, the risk greater, the fall harder, the waters swifter.

And I let go.

And it was good. Really good.

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Now I see, why she wanted to come back here, why they all did…again and again. Because past that place of hesitancy, past that place of the unknown, the fear, the big and the scary, there was something so very special. So worth it.

Children had the time of their lives, but they also looked out for one another. Left no one behind. Helped out a cousin stuck on a rock. Coached a sibling on how to maneuver a rapid.

Built rock pools together. Learned to make doughboys and foil packets. Honed their fire-building skills. Endured the freezing cold waters and the long hikes up the steep hill. Laughed and played all the live-long day. Communicated in a bit of sign language, or as best they could. Slept one last tent night with a bit of rain dripping down on them because their moms thought rain tarps were unnecessary.

Families unified and crafted moments here. I had discovered that I wasn’t the only one bringing along children in kinship care or similar situations. Others knew this was the place…

The place where we see and learn and feel…without any words at all…that there’s a whole wide world just outside the tent flap, and though it may be scary at first, that world’s got so much more for us than what others may have chosen for us, back when we were too young and new to choose any of it for ourselves. And in that world there are people who do things differently, and those people can be good.

And maybe it’s a place where, though we can’t erase what was before and the ugly that continues and we can’t control the outcome, we can give them this, this gift, this summerbecause magic happens in a childhood summer…and maybe, we can dim those bad memories just the slightest. And all those in-between times can be filled with ones oh-so-good. Ones they’ll hold on to forever. And every once in a while they’ll peek in on that memory and remember, the world was on my side after all. Just maybe.

100 NC Counties: The Quest

     A memory came to me recently of something I must have said over 20 years ago. I was a little girl, and one day I turned to someone I loved and said, “When I grow up, I want to be an explorer.”

“I think everything’s already been found,” he said, shutting me down right there. What he and I both failed to realize at the time is that those places and people that had already been discovered or “found,” hadn’t been explored by me.

A year or so ago I had been really praying about the direction God wanted me to take. I should be “doing” something “big” and “successful” with my life after all, right? It isn’t as often that I feel I hear from God now (who can hear anything with all these kids around all the time?) but I feel like I clearly heard Him say two things.

1. Focus in. Focus on my family, my children, my husband. Focus in. Not out at the world and things I think I should be doing to be “somebody.”

2. Enjoy. Enjoy the beauty of creation and all that has been given to me. God created this amazingly gorgeous world for us and so often I get distracted by what MAN has created that I forget to relax and take it all in and stop doing and simply enjoy it.

That memory came to me around the time of my 30th birthday, and it has helped me begin to understand myself and my tendencies, to know that they are deep-rooted, to peacefully know that God made me just as He did for some purpose that I usually don’t see, that He put some desires in me that haven’t changed for 20+ years.

I get excited by new and different things, people and places. I get bored with the familiar. I thrive in the sunshine and outdoors. I am passionate when learning new things and gaining new skills. I lack passion when I’m not. My decision to homeschool was made in a foreign country and with the motivation that we could go and come as we please. I live on whims and when I get an idea in my head there’s usually no stopping my determination until the thing gets done. I, of all people, know these traits can work in favor of good OR evil, and have done both countless times. But I am what God made me and if I let HIS creativity flow, there’s no limit to the beauty that will result.

There’s another “explorer” I know of, Chris Guillebeau, who wrote The Art of Non-Conformity, among other things. I read his book and then watched through his blog as he completed his goal of visiting EVERY country in the world. All 193 of them! Of course I thought, “I am totally doing that!” But then I remembered my three kids…and our local business…so, scratch that. Besides, that was HIS thing. But the inspiration stuck.

Then, last summer we visited some friends in Florida. While it was lovely to see them it was a long and hard trip with three children, one of whom still wasn’t (and still isn’t!!) sleeping through the night, by myself. After some challenges on the long drive back home to NC, I had never been so happy to see Carolina pines in all my life. I had always wanted to drive AWAY from my home state, never towards. But God had been working behind the scenes to give me fresh eyes with which to see my home. Furthermore, over the past year I had been digging into my family history only to find some rich and affirming information about my family line and where they all came from…and where I come from. It may have taken 30 years but suddenly NC had captured my heart in a way it never had.

With American history coming up on the homeschool agenda for the 2014-2015 Classical Conversations year, I realized what my new practical, completely attainable goal for my family would be (that’s another thing, I like to have a goal and a vision at all times!):

     We will visit all 100 counties of North Carolina!

Obviously, we have already been to many. We will start at the beginning, with fresh eyes, and a focus on history, culture and recreation as much as possible, and thoroughly enjoy all that our state has to offer to us as locals, as visitors and as homeschoolers. We won’t be thorough, of course, but will highlight what is special for our family during a particular visit. Tag along if you like, and please, throw out suggestions if you have stops in mind that absolutely shouldn’t be missed!

Keep reading to hear about COUNTY #1: Swain County, and our new favorite NC spot within it.

The town of Cherokee is technically located in both Swain and Jackson counties, as is the reservation. For my purposes, this post will only be on Swain County.

Indian Dance in Cherokee

Cherokee was a hopping little town while we were there during Memorial Day weekend. We saw Native American dances, we danced Native American dances. We met a guy in the KNIVES and LEATHER store that Carver had to go in who showed us an old New Testament written entirely in the Cherokee language. He taught us how to say Cherokee in the native language. I assumed he was a native but, “no, I just have a deep appreciation.”

Gem Mining

We went gem mining on the main strip in Cherokee, and it proved quite educational and informative. The kids spent hours in creeks afterward looking for similar stones and gems. Carver came home and, at the suggestion of some other homeschool moms, immediately made himself an organized rock collection in a tackle box. Rock-savvy I am not, but we are learning.

Mingo Falls

From the town center we then headed 10 or 15 minutes northwest to Mingo Falls. At 120 feet tall, I gasped when I saw it. Located at the end of a dirt road and up a steep staircase/trail, it was my first waterfall. Ever. And it was perfect. Absolutely stunning and, as everyone on the way up told us, “worth the climb!” I think even my grandma, who had to stop and rest a few times, would probably agree. There’s a fun little trail off the main trail. It’s a bit sketchy and I ended up scaling the space between a mountain rock and a tree to reach the top because we thought the kids had gone through there. They hadn’t gone through there. They were waiting patiently on level ground at the bottom. Of course.

I hadn’t thought to change my lens at the bottom, so I couldn’t even attempt to capture its entirety in a frame. Unless I climbed back down and back up again with two kids and a toddler, which I wasn’t. Just go there if you ever have the chance. Go there first.

And then, we came to the best place of all. The simple flyer had said “Trout Farm, No License, No Limit.” It sounded great for us beginners but I hesitated a little because I wasn’t sure of the quality of the place. Located down a looooooooooong dirt mountain road just outside of Bryson City, you are met at its entrance with quaint cabins on a large property with a well-stocked rainbow trout pond. When we came through to the farm it was even more glorious because we had just come back DOWN the mountain after taking a wrong turn. The signs said all the way in, “Stay to the right” and “follow the creek.” Well, eventually the brush gets so thick you can’t see the creek. Long story short, I took a left when I should have STAYED BY THE FRICKIN’ CREEK and was in full panic mode trying to get my minivan up steep, pot-holed, Costa Rica-like (I was having flashbacks) mountain roads. I can barely breathe just writing about it. So, today’s lesson should you ever visit Cooper Creek Trout Farm, never go even slightly left!

Cooper Creek Trout Farm 1

The staff were super helpful, on the phone as I was freaking out, and when we arrived. They helped the kids fish every step of the way. I was able to take pictures and take care of my littlest one. They had everything we needed, fishing poles, bait (worms), everything. $2.00 per person to fish, $4.50 per pound, you must keep what you catch (rainbow trout don’t have scales as other fish do and will die after handled), $1.00 extra for cleaning. I realized quickly that we could easily have spent several hundred dollars that afternoon. Fish were on the hook almost as soon as the line was cast. The kids were ecstatic. (I had to get a fishing license almost as soon as we got back home.)

Cooper Creek Trout Farm 2

The owner spoke with me for a few minutes as I was admiring the farmhouse on the property. Built in the 1860s, he is doing the necessary upgrades to make sure it and its original stone chimney (unseen in the photo below) remains standing.

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There is also about a 1.5 mile trail leading to falls on this property. We weren’t able to get to it this time, but hopefully on our next trip. We’ll have to start training grandma now.

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We were even able to see fish eggs as the trout were being cleaned. Yum.

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When I asked the kids what their favorite part of our trip was, Cooper Creek Trout Farm was their answer. The property was beautiful and the staff were awesome. They were friendly, helpful, and they made it possible for my 6 and 8-year-olds to bring home dinner that night, and for many nights in the future. We will certainly stop in again.

I called my husband at one point, who was surfing in Hatteras while we were fishing in the mountains. “I feel like I’ve had a mini-vacation in another country,” he said, refreshed and stoked on his trip. I felt exactly the same way. North Carolina, you are pretty good to us after all.

Cooper Creek Trout Farm 5

Thanks for reading and please share your favorite NC spots with us!