Wildlife Wilderness Week in Pigeon Forge
By Christine Tibbetts
|Wilderness is the winter view behind Music
Road Hotel, with easy city access from the front.
In between, an
especially gracious gathering-place lobby and living room.
Pigeon Forge in the winter. That’s my
recommendation. Think not about the adrenaline rush of family
fun you already know about in this Smoky Mountain neck of the
woods. Tennessee woods.
Plan instead to immerse in folklore and
ballads, generations-tested stories and old-time music, with
access to mountain trails plus bears, possum, owls and oh the
|Some food’s fancy and some’s down to earth
in Pigeon Forge restaurants.
Hog legs are tender shank meat at
Bennett’s Pit BBQ.
Wildlife Wilderness Week – that’s the
Pigeon Forge focus to claim as late January 2015 unfolds.
I missed the first 23 of these annual weeks, ignorant I
guess, and then attended the 2014, wrapping myself up in
authentic Smoky Mountain voices and some serious down jackets
and woolen socks.
Outdoors is a choice; indoors guaranteed
in Pigeon Forge’s expansive conference center. Possible indeed
to open your heart and soul to the energies and memories and
traditions of the Smokies embracing Wilderness Wildlife Week,
In between the listening and the
learning, I found finer culinary than anticipated. My fault
assuming summer crowds in Pigeon Forge choosing the wax museum
and NASCAR-style racecars preferred fast food.
The truth? Excellent dining is abundant
enough to stay all week. Remember Bullfish Grill, Old Mill
Pottery House Café and others.
Pack some colored pencils or bright
highlighters because the program choices are abundant and
enticing, impossible to keep straight in your head.
The booklet lists 355 opportunities.
One morning I learned how to be a dowser.
Forked stick or metal rods equally reliable to expert dowers
Charlie and Sandy Monday. Not so much for me.
|Forked sticks guide dowsers to water, and
“The stick works for four out of 100
people,” Charlie says, and when it does, watch out.
Almost impossible to hold on. One teenager in my class
possessed the gift and her muscles popped as the stick pulled
and guided her.
Water’s not the only goal; dowsers seek
bodies too. Unmarked graves in historic family cemeteries. Male
or female, head this way, or feet. Really.
“Metal dowsing rods held parallel cross
over when passing over a body,” Charlie says. “Practice on
marked graves so you know the gender, rods always point to the
head of a woman and feet of a man.”
Astonishing detail like that abounds
through Wilderness Wildlife Week. Sometimes the legends,
folktales, myths and facts cross over too, like those dowsing
Sandy Monday also plays the standup bass
and her bluegrass band invited audience members to clog along in
an early evening concert. Footwork guidance provided.
Dowser and musician---Sandy Monday shares
multiple heritage skills at Wilderness Wildlife Week.
Music of the Smokies filters through
every day, concerts sometimes including a little history.
Here’s another kind of handy knowledge:
should you trap a possum and consider dinner, feed the critter
for a couple of months before the feast. Don’t cook while he’s
still processing goodness knows what meals from nature.
Possums have been holding on by their
hind feet since the age of dinosaurs because of opposable thumbs
back there I learned in a class called Possumology taught by
Simple mountain man?
Maybe but also a harmonica-playing, guitar strumming
musician, poetry reciter and author of maybe a dozen books.
Books, CDs and art could be reason enough
to schedule Wilderness Wildlife Week time simply to accomplish a
year’s worth of gift buying. Distinctive gifts.
Program presenters and other artisans in
the region of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park fill a big
exhibit hall, equally happy to share their stories as to sell
their art and their craft.
Milling about is almost as interesting as
devoting all day to one program after another.
|Pressing wildflowers of the Smokies the
old-fashioned way requires three
to four years, says artist and
author Mary Phillips who lives in Boogertown.
“I have yearned for the mountains my
whole life,” Becki Pearson told me as we thumbed through Doug
Elliott’s book display.
“When I was a child in the Texas
panhandle, I used to cry because other people could live in the
mountains and I didn’t.”
Decades later she came to Pigeon Forge on
her honeymoon. “Came back to stay six months later.
“These speakers bring to life what I’ve
known in the books,” Pearson said, hurrying off to another
Retirees to the Smoky Mountains aren’t
the only ones filling Wilderness Wildlife Week. Kids do too.
First grades and high schoolers, all ages.
Seems to be a serious academic week-long
field trip for homeschooling families from throughout the
Pigeon Forge is seven miles from the
Sugarlands Visitor Center entry to the national park. Pretty
drive on a stretch of the Foothills Parkway.
Cherokee, North Carolina is on the other
side, providing knowledgeable presenters about the Trail of
Tears and enduring Cherokee culture and heritage.
Jon Elder is a member of the Bird Clan,
one of seven Cherokee clans of matriarchal lineage.
To learn from him as his mother Betty
Walkingstick also sat in the audience felt a mighty privilege.
Elder showed lots of family photos on a big screen, some history
about which I knew a bit like George Guess a.k.a. Chief Sequoyah
who developed the first-ever syllabary of Cherokee language, and
some I didn’t.
Yonaguska was a new name to me.
Translates to Drowning Bear, a Cherokee who died in 1859,
managing to stay behind during the forced relocation in the
His stories will bring new understanding
when I visit Cherokee.
In addition to just plain fun, that’s the point of this winter
week in Pigeon Forge: new depth to familiar stories and songs,
crafts and traditions.
Nine million people visit the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park every year. Go in January and February
and some trails will be closed but the ones you do hike are
|Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountain National
Park reveal charming
scenes, and come in all levels from
gentle and easy to strenuous.
Walk on your own or choose from 45 guided
hikes and field trips as part of the Week. Easy or moderate or
strenuous all options but you won’t mistakenly choose one too
hiking desk is staffed to guide your selection with four and
five choices each day.
They’ll even help you keep a log in five-mile increments
to earn ribbons and prizes after you get to 50 miles.
Margaret Roy Steverson wins with the
title “Walkingest woman in the Smokies” and didn’t start until
she was 45 trying to ease arthritis and bursitis.
I’m not challenging her 12,000 lifetime
hikes and walks, averaging 10 miles a day for a total of 120,000
miles in the Smokies but I admire her other nickname---a
Enough learning. Choose afternoon or
evening concerts. Music fills conference rooms and stages in big
halls throughout Wilderness Wildlife Week. Old-time music.
Ballads. Hymns. Shape-note singing.
This is a glorious week for mandolin,
harmonica, fiddle, banjo, spoons, mountain flutes and recorders,
guitar and bass.
|Walk to this old home place in the national
park to imagine families
singing the ballads you heard during
Wilderness Wildlife Week.
So many harmonies.
Choose Lost Mill String Band every time you see them on
the program. This husband-wife duo shares songs as old as 300
years, sharing Appalachian folk legends behind the ballads.
“How precious, priceless really, it is to
stand in an old home place, pick up the dirt where the Ma and Pa
living here grew food, and sing the old-time songs,” says singer
and musician Joan Miller Paul.
Boogertown Gap presented mountain music
with deep heritage roots too. Photos of local folks through the
centuries filled large screens as this husband-wife team gave
historical perspective to the tunes and their words.
Real community this Boogertown Gap,
settled in the 1790s, also known as Oldham’s Creek. You have to
cross four or five gaps to get there, between Pigeon Forge and
Possibilities to think new thoughts are
ever-changing in the exhibit hall too. Close to a wildflower
pressing, watercolor painting writer of children’s books I found
a discoverer of creatures never seen before. Hundreds of them in
the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
|Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel even on
a cold January day
—simple stroll from the
“New to science” is what Park rangers say
about 923 discoveries, and more anticipated with ongoing
biodiversity inventories by Discover Life in America.
These scientists will let the rest of us
volunteer on vacation to help find what excites biologist
“What we can’t see is actually holding up
what we can see.”
thinking the seen and unseen in Pigeon Forge and the Wilderness
Wildlife Week could sustain one in the glories of the Smoky
Mountains for a long, long time.
Could next year’s 25th
anniversary offer even more?
Wilderness Wildlife Week Jan. 24 – 31, 2015