On a recent trip to the northern most part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I experienced something deep in my being that reminds me why we photograph. It’s that getting lost in the moment, something special that resonates in the images of that moment.
The Middle Prong Little River is a special place – one that beckons returning. On this particular day, the light wasn’t helpful for photography; but, I find a place of shelter from the harsh sunlight. In a moment, camera, tripod and I are on the rivers floor; however, not alone. A lady on the bank is casting and retrieving. It’s quiet, except for the sound of the rushing water further up ahead. I know how sensitive this moment can be, as the wily fish don’t cotton to disturbance on either land or water. But, I’m already there. Just a few images then I’ll move on. I include the lady in an image. She seems oblivious to my presence; so, I take a few more, grouping them to catch the movement of the fly line.
Back at the studio, a few images seem to have promise for publication. E-mailing the lady copies and asking her for her comments, what I receive back is like a mirror of the photographers experience with camera.
“I don’t know that there is a short answer for some of your questions… so here is a long-winded explanation that probably leaves you with more questions than answers.
“I try to fish at least twice a month. Middle Prong is my favorite because of accessibility – I can be there in fewer than 40 minutes. I usually hike beyond the gravel road and find my way up to Sam’s Creek. The water is small but it is quiet – you rarely see another human. The water is typical of the Southern Appalachian Highlands – the trout are usually about the length of your palm but I get just excited over the fingerlings. The big fish of sister waters are usually stocked and dumb, but the wild Smoky Mountain trout are smart so catching a fish, whether it is four inches or ten inches, is a craft. I’ve fished tailwaters and rivers stocked with trophy fish, but when you are bluelining in the Smokies you have to work for your catch. As quoted in the book A River Runs Through It, “All good things- trout as well as salvation- come by Grace.” Flyfishing is an active endeavor that requires physical and mental awareness, but something happens in the casting cadence while you’re watching a fly ride a current.
“When you hike you spend a lot of time trying to catch your breath or aching until you reach a destination. You stand there in awe for whatever amount of time seems appropriate, and then you return down the same path by which you came. Fishing is different. You hop from rock to rock, fjording streams, becoming completely aware of your surroundings. How can I sneak up on that pocket? If I catch a fish, will I be able to land it without harming it? You see nooks and crannies and blossoms and critters – complete exposure to the mystery of creation.
“I wrote the poem below while I was fishing a few months after a major family disruption (divorce). I had prayed for healing and help and direction. Over the course of a few months I went from a spiritual high – fully sensing God’s presence – to an incredibly low place, like the light of God’s glory had been made completely dim.
“There’s a light in the fog, shines down trough the trees
Falls on the earth, leaves dew on your feet
Just after the rain there’s a chill in the wind
Smells crisp like a river and kisses the skin
If you’re not from around here you can’t comprehend
The power of the mountains for a heart on the mend
The day would come, from the mountains you’d part
But you were made with the beat of the hills in your heart
Wanderlust beckoned and pulled you away
Now you’re firm in the concrete, consumed by the day
Succumb to the mountains, the glory you’ll see
Experience the healing and fall to your knees
Find what you’re seeking when finally you feel
The God of creation alive in the hills
You left for the world to find a new start
But you were made with the beat of the hills in your heart.”
— Rebecca Tatum