Cades Cove

The hunting grounds of the Cherokee people once, Cades Cove is an isolated valley of supreme beauty within the Great Smoky Mountains. The Cherokees called it Tsiya’hi. Translated, it means Otter Place, hinting at the fact that otters did abound here before European settlers arrived in the 1800s to dispossess the tribes of their land. They say that Cades Cove was named for the wife of a Cherokee chief, but no one really knows how it came about.

The road to the cove was straight out of my dreams. I have a weakness for those that curve through old forests, where the trees tower and look like they have a trove of stories, of the way the landscape has been moulded by the passage of time, of the generations of men that have come and gone. Limestone cliffs, creeks riddled with rocks, and from a sudden spell of shower, the roads gleaming green beneath the shadow of the trees. This had to be the naturalist’s definition of paradise.

At Cades Cove, the humidity was unbearable. We could not brook the thought of a hike despite the lure of seeing a bear. There are so many black bears in the area, roughly above 1,600, that you apparently could not, would not, miss a sighting. But here’s the thing, we did (no surprises). There are cherry trees and fields of blueberries, huckleberries and blackberries in the meadows. Plus there are people landing up with picnic hampers. Irresistible enough for bears to turn up from time to time.

As a result of this promise, every driver turns into an oaf on the 11-mile scenic loop that gently winds through the valley. It is a one-way paved road that follows an old logging railroad track. The traffic here crawls. We spent not less than 3 hours on the loop, well-stewed apples by the end of it if you will, wondering when we would be done with the sight of the driver ahead sticking his feet out of the window, and generally, behaving like a certified jackass.

The only way to let off steam was to take these off-road trails that led us into log cabins of the first settlers and ‘primitive’ churches as they called them in the 19th century. The white log frames of the churches with austere, dark wooden interiors suggesting that they existed to serve the basic purpose of disseminating faith among the few families who lived in and around them. They must have had dirt floors and fire pits inside to begin with.

Within an interval of a few minutes there were three Methodist and Baptist churches, emphasising that life in this Southern Appalachian community must have been harsh. A world where men and women would have needed the crutch of faith to carry on in the wilds. Their reality would have been made up of temperance societies and Sunday schools, of gatherings at general stores and swapping stories. Books have been written by the children and grandchildren of these settlers — they tell of a time when spotting a red ear of corn in a pile of husks was a prize for a young fella, a sign that he could kiss the woman he had been eyeing for some time; they talk of the mettle of children who kept themselves entertained by inventing their own toys, such as fashioning balloons from pig’s bladders. Not to distill (and dismiss) it in the matter of a sentence, but it seemed to me then that those folks paid the price for simplicity as much as we city folks pay the price for modernity.

When we finally left behind the last of those homesteads beneath its canopy of thick vegetation, I could not shake off the image that rose in my mind. Of a lachrymose man upon its porch, in his overalls of faded grey, a pipe stuck in his mouth, strumming a banjo that must have seen better days.

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Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

55 thoughts on “Cades Cove

    1. You said it, the road did have a peculiar specular quality about it. I don’t believe I have seen a road look this appealing before. Thank you for the lovely words as always! πŸ™‚

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  1. Even before I saw the pictures, your beautiful writing took me through the amazing woods! Lovely photos too!
    You travel not only to famous places but also to the unknown lands that holds a lot of history and beauty!
    Keep inspiring people like me to pack the bags and explore the unknown!

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    1. Hiya, thank you for the kind words. Believe me, it is my pleasure to bring places to your doorstep. There is no greater joy than experiencing places new to one. πŸ™‚ x

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  2. Gorgeous photos Dippy, I’m really enjoying your off- piste trips. Not sure I’d have been too happy to meet a hungry black bear!

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    1. Merci Sheree! It is exhilarating to see it in person after reading about it in Bryson’s books.
      I think my husband’s fascination for the black boys of the woods has rubbed off on me alright. To think that they are looking for people to adopt abandoned cubs in the Smoky Mountains — because they have a certain parasite that makes it not viable to exist in the wilds. If only we had a house with sprawling grounds. And no travel plans. Adi rightfully pointed out, ‘Who would babysit a bear?’

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    1. Cheers Pooja! It is a wonderful place – it has my heart. We were there at the end of summer, early September. It is amazing that the world is so full of beauty, yet you can never have enough of it. xx

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  3. Wonderful capture of the scenic greenery Dippy. It’s now on my list to explore as well .I first learned of the Cherokee though my kids when helping with their project in elementary school. Great to read this post , it sure was a different life in those days!

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    1. Thanks Nisha, for all our romanticising the old, it was a harsh existence. The Cherokee presence is strong around the mountains. Some remained even though they were evicted from their own land. I will write about it more in the next post. You must be learning a lot while helping your children out, like a second education of sorts. xx

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  4. They really faced some harsh times and I will look forward to reading your next post.Yes sure enough Dippy second education indeed, had to refer books from the library to get an understanding of the History. Now I don’t have to help as much as they are in middle school and on their own !

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    1. It must have been nice to drop by the library and get into the groove of things. A student all over again. It’s easier to grasp education now that we are all open to learning new things as opposed to when we were young and callow things. πŸ™‚

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    1. No worries, Sophie. I shall hop over to yours too. Been not too regular with updating myself with my feed.
      Thank you for indulging me. πŸ™‚ Such tranquility is blessed. xx

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    1. Thanks hun. They were straight out of the film sets and totally nonchalant to the gawpers hanging about. πŸ™‚ xx

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  5. This looks like a magical place, I just love nature, so driving out to the countryside every once in a while is so important to me! I feel like it helps me clear my head and recharge. I loved your writing in this post and the fact that you included all of the pictures at the end of your recount of the trip, it gave the pictures a lot more context! Oh and by the way, your photos are gorgeous! x

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    1. I hear you, hun. It is the most rejuvenating thing to connect with nature. Thank you for the kind words and indulging me. The photos are a mere reflection of all I saw. πŸ™‚ Have a gorgeous weekend. xx

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    1. And you would have a bear for company. For they too love their berries. Win-win scene. πŸ˜‰ xx

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      1. It is a very hard movie. Directed by George Boorman. Some scenes are quite crude. A typical movie of the 70’s when directors started to break codes. But a good movie it is.

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      2. I shall add it to my weekend watches. We devour crime thrillers, so let’s see how exacting it is upon our sensibilities.

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      3. It may have aged as many movies do. πŸ™‚
        Now from Blyton to crime thrillers, more common ground, ma’amji!
        Do you have any series to recommend? We are running out of “crime” series… Seriously running out. Look forward to your recs.

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      4. I have so many! The Bridge (the Swedish version), The Killing, La Mante, The Tunnel, Wallander (you must have watched it), Happy Valley, Broadchurch, The Fall, Marcella…these are just some. Have you watched these by any chance?

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      5. None, except maybe the Fall (Is that with the X-files actress, whatshername?)
        We liked Person of interest. (Gone.) NCIS (a bit ripe by now). The Blacklist. Are the above on Netflix?

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      6. It has Gillian Anderson, you are right. The above shows should be on Netflix though I am not sure because we might have watched some on BBC. I will look up Person of Interest and The Blacklist. Cheers.

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    1. It was a different world order, isn’t it? I could not help being awed by the industriousness of the old settlers, children included πŸ™‚

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