My drive out of the Trail of Tears National Forest commences through a fog of flat farmla nds.
I rendezvous with my sister, Kristen. Sharing a meal, we catch up. Despite having seen her a few days prior for holiday break, we have plenty to catch up about.
Oddly enough, I feel a touch of home upon going into the restaurant bathroom. A song very close to my heart comes on the radio station as I walk in. A seemingly normal event brings me a sense of comfort, carrying memories of loved ones from back home. Thank you random bathroom soundtrack.
We finish our meals and go our separate ways. My itinerary takes me to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area; a 170,000 acre island in between Western Kentucky and Tennessee. Having heard about the area and what it has to offer, I make the trek to find out for myself.
I follow the signs through the area and find my way to the park entrance. Crossing the bridge into the park (Pictured above); I drive into the mystic.
Being one of very few cars on the road, I slow down a bit to observe the grand entrance mother nature is providing for me. There is definitely a scientific explanation for the resulting weather experience but I revel in its mystery nonetheless.
I continue over the bridge and through the woods. There are spots to hike on the waters edge but the park is much bigger; I venture further in. The plants and trees are similar to that of Michigan.
Journeying through the park with no real destination in mind, there are signs for an Elk and Bison prairie, nature station, planetarium, visitor center and other various attractions the park offers. I drive through the swaying landscape; rolling down the windows, I take a deep breath and catch some fresh air.
Things here are beautiful on the eyes, natural on the nose, and peaceful to the soul. The wildlife continues to thrive. Every worry in my mind seems to dissolve. An overwhelming sense of peace envelopes me.
I see a sign: “Higgins Cemetery.” What are the chances of this. I keep driving but decide to turn around and investigate. Following the dirt road into the hills; I drive slow out of reverence to the unfamiliar area. I navigate up and around many twists and turns, hugging the trees. A group of hunters pull aside to let me pass. Sending them a wave as I continue on my way. The occasional bird chirps breaking the silence of the absent wind.
I drive for a few miles and pull off to break in a clearing about the size of a football field. Peanuts and dried fruit. Following back down the dusty dirt track, I play it safe and turn around due to my lack of familiarity with the area.
Piloting on. A blue jay and a cardinal fly together on my left. Arriving at the end of the section of highway I pull off and write home then jot a few things down in a journal that a friend gave me.
I persist onward. I find myself intrigued by an off road trail around the north side of the island. Driving down the trail and its twists and turns for a while, my inner child is ecstatic. Mud flying in the air, my knuckles white with excitement all while coming within hairs of the trees to my left and right. Realizing I do not have an off road permit, and I am alone on muddy ground, I play it safe. To my inner child’s disliking, I turn around in the mud; which proved to be quite the task. Nonetheless, I make my way back to the pavement I was previously familiar with.
Trekking forward, I fly down a hill and find myself driving along side a large body of water. I encounter a family of deer off to the left side of the road. I come around the corner and a few hundred feet farther on the right, a flock or “rafter” of turkeys move along the far side of a plowed field.
The stretch of road spills into the Cravens Bay Campground Site, along the north east side of the island. Parking the car, I get out and walk down a boat launch to the waters edge. What I think is a sand hill crane is enjoying the shallow water to my right. A very thin sheet of ice is all that is left of the last blast of freezing weather.
After a few pictures and a walk up the shore line, I arrive back at the car. After cleaning the mud off of my mirrors and lights, I get back in the drivers seat and put it in gear.
My experience at the Trail of Tears National Forest; a mere introduction, while the Land Between the Lakes proves to be my first step into the abyss.