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The Great Smoky Mountains

The misty haze that often covers high peaks and settles in valleys gives the Great Smoky Mountains their name. Heavily forested hills give off a lot of moisture, and when you couple that with over eight inches of annual rainfall, you get fog. Most pictures will carry the trademark “smoke” that is the namesake of the most visited of all the national parks.

A mountain overlook framed by green trees and fluffy clouds in a partly sunny sky A summer view from Clingmans Dome. Photo courtesy Kristina Plaas & the National Park Service

The Great Smokies are a study of contrasts and diversity. Move through the park from the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, toward Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and you go from hundreds of miles of not seeing a gas station or fast-food restaurant to a sudden cacophony of strip-mall style sight and sound. Keep driving and you put asphalt and neon in the rearview mirror for the testimony of nature’s own wisdom on building a community, with old growth forests and black bears, elk, and white-tailed deer just wandering about.


Contrasts appears at every turn outside the park and inside: banjo-strumming crooners and singing animated bears in Dollywood. Wood thrushes and waterfalls at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Pigeon River. Plush resorts and thrill-producing roller coasters of suburbia. Water-powered gristmills and the hand-hewn log cabin of the pioneers who settled in the valley in the nineteenth century.


And then there’s the various seasons of the park. Spring and fall are both beautiful, but for different reasons – one is the beginning of tender green leaves and delicate pastel flowers, the other a seasonal end to those same leaves in fiery reds and bright burning yellows boldly painting the outline of the horizon. Summer’s shady canopies hide wildlife in the branches and keep sunlight from the valley floor, whereas winter exposes the framework of the forest’s elegant structure and reveals craggy rocks and persistent green growth peeking through the snow, foretelling the miracle of the coming of next spring.


In the Great Smoky Mountains, the natural diversity of living things displays the beauty of how difference leads to something wonderful. Driving the park is like looking from a distance at a tapestry that depicts a scene or image. Leaving the car behind to walk the trails and stopping long enough to let the fresh air into your lungs lets you see the individual threads that make the larger image possible. Both views are a wonder. Both are remarkably different. It is all made possible because it is not the same.


Isn’t all of creation, God’s creation, the same?


Desmond Tutu once said, “We inhabit a universe that is characterized by diversity.”


When we read the creation narrative of Genesis 1, we hear that God created light and dark, day and night, water and sky, sea and earth. As perfect as this may sound, it leaves out much of the rest of creation. Dawn and dusk are a combination of night and day. Tidal zones and swamps are a mixture of land and sea. These in-between spaces are often places with the most diverse and unique species.



Where do you see diversity in our world? What might it mean to see beauty in the diversity of the human family?


Grace and peace,


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