Around the Fenster

Great Smoky Mountains

Tennessee

May 2013

In the western section of the Great Smoky Mountains is an area called Cades Cove.  The brochures proudly refer to Cades Cove as a “fenster.”  That’s what I was thinking it was.  A fenster.  You know, an erosional break in an overthrust rock sheet, exposing the rocks that underlie the sheet.  Yep.

The word fenster, or fënster, is a German meaning “window” or “windöw”.  I’m no geologist but I wonder about calling what we have here at the Smokies a window, because what we have here is a flat plain, a meadow, surrounded by mountains.  I’m sure there is more here than I can see and that would explain it.  Eh?

When we summited Guadalupe Peak in Texas, we were enjoying our lunch at the highest natural feature, flat rock right by the high point marker 8749 feet above sea level.  We got to talking with another Highpointing couple, or rather, Kevin, half of the couple, got to talking to us.  Apparently, incessant talking is something he does because as soon as he launched, his girlfriend Lori looked at her watch and announced, “Kevin, you’ve got ten minutes.”  Five minutes later, she warned him, “Kevin, you’ve got five minutes.”  Five minutes more and sure enough, Kevin was done.  Lori made sure of that.  Then they left.

Among the many “pontifications of Kevin” was Cades Cove.  He advised us that when we visit the Smokies, we must visit Cades Cove.  Whether Kevin knew that Cades Cove was a fester, we don’t know, but now Lisa and I have to see what is all the hullabaloo.


Cades Cove is a broad valley (a fenster, obviously) that supposedly offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park.  Sightings of white-tailed deer, coyote, groundhog, turkey, bear, raccoon and skunk have all been reported.  This area is rich in history, a former home to the Cherokee and to the first European settlers, so you’ll find a variety of old buildings and mixed cultures here.  Churches, of course, a grist mill, barns, houses made of logs.

There are three ways to tour Cades Cove.  One is by foot, where you can wander around the fields more or less aimlessly, as there are no trails or other pathways within the perimeter.  A second way to visit Cades Cove is to jump on your bicycle and pedal your way around on the paved road.  On Wednesday and Saturday mornings before 10 a.m., motor vehicles are prohibited so that people with a bicycle, or with feet, can travel the route without fear of collision with an automobile.  At these times, Cades Cove is quieter and smells much better.

The third method is to drive your vehicle.  The one-way single-lane road circles the fenster for eleven miles, and there are pullouts for anyone who wants to get out of the stream of cars and spend more leisurely time viewing whatever there might be to view.

Long, snaking lines of cars loop the Cove during peak season.  We are presently in one of these long, snaking lines of cars.  It’s a holiday, peak season.  I’ve been in faster moving parking lots.

And now, because we’ve been in this long line for a while, I have this to say:  To the dude or dudette who is up there driving so painfully slowly in the lead of those of us in the two dozen vehicles following you as we drive around Cades Cove…  I have very bad words to describe you.  How can you be so arrogantly defiant to the many vehicles behind you?  Do you not think for just the briefest moment that every time you stop in the road, everyone behind you also has to stop?  Do you simply not care that you are pissing off twenty-four other drivers, plus their passengers, or are you that much of a sociopath that you get some perverse pleasure in screwing with the pace of the many strangers who are regrettably, agonizingly following you.  Each time you stop to gaze at a deer — by the way, Lisa has them in her back yard — or a moving leaf or fallen tree trunk, we all must stop too, wondering what you are looking at but not able to see, and not able to move.  Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you could use a pullout and let a few retched souls pass by?

Man!  You are harshing my mellow.

Lisa’s back yard

Oh, and by the way, do you know what your kid has been doing, the kid who has been hanging half way out the passenger window as you motor around in first gear?  Granted, he is probably only eleven years old, the age when we live a life of experimentation.  But you haven’t seen him work up his drooling gobs of spit and sputum, and teased by gravity, allow this excrescence to ooze out of his mouth onto the ground, or during right turns, onto the side of the vehicle, your vehicle, your insufferably slowly moving van.

Great green globs of greasy
Grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat,
Dirty little birdie feet…

Yah, I know, this is our vacation and it is our time to relax.  But to me, that means relaxing on our schedule, not yours.

Besides, I’m very relaxed!

Lisa says, “Thanks, Kevin, for the great recommendation.”


Somehow though, as long as it takes, we make it around the fenster.  Perhaps seeing one particular tourist family fussing with their dog helped.  They were adjusting the canine’s jacket — yes, they dressed their dog in clothing.  What works for Lisa and me is that the dog’s jacket is a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket.  As it should be.

Or maybe it is lunch that elevates our mood.  Along the eleven-mile loop, we pull over and leave the car to take a short hike up the Cooper Road Trail into the woods.  I mentioned that there are no hiking trails within the loop, and this is true.  But there are a few trails that lead away from Cades Cove, on the outside of the one-lane perimeter highway.  Not only do we get out of the endless stream of non-mobile mobiles, we also find the perfect sit-upon log for our lunch.

A group of folks pass and the girl asks, “See any bear?”  Even in the Smokies, which has as many as 1800 bear who call this place home, bear are not an especially likely sighting.  In fact, the Smoky Mountains are home to the densest black bear population in the eastern United States.  But still…

“Nope,” I say, “No bear.  Just tourists.”

We are lucky enough however to see a rare black face deer behind us and what might be a stork above us.

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