one night in a tent and maybe I have good karma

I stopped believing in karma years ago.

In college and in graduate school I got deep into Marianne Williamson and a Return to Love and it left me leaving quarters in phone booths and allowing at least one twenty something boy to take advantage of my goal of being totally loving. The idea was just put love out there over and over and you are love and I am love and all there is, is love.

I lived like karma was my best friend for at least some of my twenties. But as I grew up and later, as Addy got sick, I lost or abandoned most of my faith in just about everything. I reckoned no one was looking out for me no matter how much good and love I put out into the world.

And one piece of scientific knowledge just cinched the deal for me. Did you know that children with Down Syndrome are more likely to have leukemia? I mean, how can there be a God if that is true?

But this weekend with my pal, Amy, was magical. I mean completely spectacular and fantastical. I started to think after a week of being a budding librarian that maybe it is my turn for good things. Maybe karma is on my side.

[I am well aware that my life is a gift of wonder. I have six amazing children becoming six loving adults and that was the goal. A roof over my head. Watermelon going bad in my fridge. Fudgesicles in my freezer. An appointment to have my Subrau window fixed. A little money in the bank. I get that life is a mixture of good and bad and ugly and beauty. “Life is freaking brutiful” as Glennon Doyle Melton tells us. We are whole in our brokenness. I’m not wallowing by acknowledging my struggle. I’m not a horrible complainer by sharing my pain. Anne Lamott and Glennon tell me so. I can write this horrible stuff and you can know that I am awesome and full and whole. But this time, I had a good 24 hours.]

Elkmont Campsites Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

I had volunteered to sleep in a tent in the Smokies to see the synchronous fireflies. My cousin had reserved the spot and she couldn’t use it. Amy and I couldn’t decide if a night of movies on the couch should be usurped by a night in the wilderness but the chance of seeing fireflies making magic won us over even if it was a four hour drive.

We set up Amy’s tent like professionals and hiked to the site of the legendary lightning bugs about two and a half hours early. We were not deterred by the rangers setting up a huge bear trap. Or by the monstrous mosquitoes. As the fireflies started blinking one at a time just like in my backyard before dusk, I spread my beach towel on the path and Amy was laughing at another Mim story. This one is about how she comes out naked every morning we are at my mom’s house and she requests kettle corn popcorn from the microwave and she stretches her lanky dark self and as she walks back to bed, says “tell me when the coffee is ready.” I’m standing in the center of the path stretching my arms up to the sky and watching how the trees leave each other space so that they can share the sunlight and Amy is saying “what would we do without Mim” and I am flooded by joy and fullness because it is likely that I will always have Mim. And she is such a all encompassing gift. She takes so many minutes and she holds me tight in her need and her love. I’m so lucky to have her. To imagine all the babies in the world needing adopting and all the families in the world wanting to adopt and she and I have each other- a one in a gazillion chance.

George taught me about the trees sharing the sunshine and sky.

More fireflies blink low to the ground at the edge of the ferns, as dusk comes.

Amy and I are alone in the woods. A person or two passed by earlier but now we are alone. And I am wishing that I didn’t know so much about ghosts from my podcast Ghosts in the Burbs and I’m wishing that helpful camper hadn’t given me directions that included up the hill to the left and past the cemetery. The fireflies seem to have moved and as it gets truly dark, we wonder if we picked a good spot. We wander back down our path. As we walk back toward the bear trap and the huge chimneys which we can no longer see, Wonder appears. This mesmerizing blinking of tiny fairy lights throughout the thick woods pulled us down the path. The promise of getting closer to the concentration of these little buggers kept us walking toward our campground. The fireflies stay just out of reach with only a few landing on us. Masses of the fireflies parade on either side of the path staying low to the ground and calling us to join. It is dark and we avoid the red flashlights and fellow voyeurs with headlights covered in red film so as not to distract the magic stars of the show. I want to be near people but not by people and we walk down the center of the path pulled by the possibility of more fireflies congregating and mingling and blinking. The hillside was blanketed by the special effects of the tiny creatures that can only be named Tinkerbell and the blanket of sparkle moved in waves up and down the hill like Mother Nature stood at the top of the hill and lifted and lowered the sheets with a flick of her wrists as she made her bed for the night. Rise and fall up the hillside. Twinkle Twinkle.

Hard to capture on film. ( I was lucky and I was not with the crowds of people because I had a campsite.) My new tradition.
We sure did- by only eating in restaurants.

After a restful sleep in the tent and before coffee was available (Amy and I brought no food to our campsite which made bear prepping very easy) we hiked around to sit by streams filled with small boulders and smooth pebbles. But has luck will have it we ran into Daisy Town, an old gathering of cottages and cabins that were well loved until they had to be vacated after a 99 year lease by the National Park Service. Amy and I are old house lovers through magazines, Pinterest and instagram’s @cheapoldhouses.

Amy and I send each other links to these houses late at night past our bedtimes and allow ourselves to dream before we fall asleep.

But Daisy Town was live in the flesh -well, more like a ghost town of the loveliest family cottages left to nature and now being rebuilt and repainted by the National Park Service just for walk throughs and looky loos like us, not for renting. We wandered into a dream, opening the extremely creaky screen doors and peeking in the clapboard rooms and linoleum floor additions next to the ancient bathrooms with claw foot tubs collecting leaves and spiders. I couldn’t go into the one with a low ceiling. It felt like the demons from my podcast in Wellesley Massachusetts might be vacationing in Daisy Town. The paint colors were dreamy the deep weathered blue was my favorite. Some of the windows still had the wavy glass and others were large bare peep holes to the thick forests. The old logging and vacation community was fought for and loved and wishful thinking wants it to survive but maybe it is best that it is cared for by the Parks. If you want to know more watch this docuseries from the NBS news in Knoxville TN from 2017, just click on the underlined words.

Amy took this photo. I know- she is good.
Inside a cottage in Daisy Town

Walking around close to our campsite but on the wrong loop we happen upon two more gifts from the heaves. A blue heron flew right over my little caffeine headachy head. Those wide elegant but clumsy wings and legs dabbled in the creek catching his breakfast.

Amy and I watched and I pretended my iphone was a professional camera as she used her actual big girl camera. The thing about Amy is that she encourages me to use my iphone and makes me feel like a real photographer, writer, artist. She believes in me and lifts me up and that is the only kind of friend to have. So I photograph and video my great blue heron with no embarrassment or shame, only glee.

The second unlikely gift that we happened upon were the Sisters on the Fly. We had noticed cute campers with vintage feels and we walked over to get a closer look at a homemade umbrella. The owner of the remade vintage camper had made a cover for her sun umbrella out of two polyester quilts. She came right over and told us all about her passion. She introduced us to Sisters on The Fly which is a club of sorts of women who camp together. They certainly know how to do it up right- painting flowers on their airstreams, adding pottery sinks to a canned ham, and lighting the night with either homemade chandeliers or string lights. They had reserved the week of the fireflies and were reuniting with each other and talking campsites and hookups. Of course, the women we met were retired teachers. Too much time on their hands after retiring but instead of crying in their beer- they found a new hobby. I’m a tiny bit concerned that Mim would be the only black Sister on the Fly so I haven’t rightly joined up just yet. It’s just nice to know that women are finding their passion. Living their dream and that I will, too. And it doesn’t have to involve pilates or marble countertops.

Sisters on the Fly campsite
I want to fill every state.

I created a summer list of activities and goals and sleeping in a tent can be crossed off! I love that we went and enjoyed ourselves. At first, we would say this would be so fun with the kids. The kids would love balancing on that huge fallen tree or Gidge would love skipping rocks. But later, we rehearsed our new lines. This is a beautiful place for us to come and read magazines in our hammocks. Or I could sit on this boulder soaking up the sunshine. We can love Elkmont Campsite for us. We can learn to love adventures for ourselves and not just through our children. Did all my good karma save up like the pennies in my piggy bank for when I am older?

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