October 13, Wiggins
and Noland Creek
Another year and another autumn season soon to reveal the many brilliant colors of our varied tree foliage, and the mountain ranges changing from intense deep green to multicolored panoramas east to west. The past summer was hot and muggy as usual but the weather is making way for cooler temps.
This October venture into the lowland hills above the Road to Nowhere, toward the main ridge just outside of Bryson City, was perfectly timed for the trip up Noland Creek with the North Shore Cemetery Association. This cemetery visit completes the last gravesite excursion of the year of 2019. A movement of hard work and determination is destined to continue this heartwarming and worthy experience for family, relatives and friends alike.
These cemetery visits are an opportunity to look back on our early American Mountaineers who gathered and settled throughout these ancient mountains and still feel relevant and real today. It is most alluring to be sure, for those of us with inquiring minds, warm hearts and a grasp of the understanding of love and family.
For me, to be joining this genuine, caring group of folks up Noland Creek will become another moving experience amid my heartfelt interest and compassion towards this cause. The anticipated Sunday finally arrived for the venture up Noland Creek to visit neighbors from the past and pay homage and respect for their hard, selfless work and the opening up of these priceless mountain ranges.
The morning weather was gray and overcast, with rain seeming likely. With a helping hand from the National Park Service personnel assisting us into the mountains, with Henry and Karen in the lead and me behind, we were on our way up the Noland Creek access road, soon to join the many that left the Park road prior to 10 a.m.
The rough road is truly a trek of sorts, climbing upwards into the folds and hollows of numerous mountains, standing silently above the creek valley. Crossing four bridges, back and forth over Noland Creek, we soon arrived at the station point below the Wiggins Cemetery site, having traveled 4 miles to this point.
Following greetings and hellos and organizing food plans for later, our Park Service friends were ready to shuttle these fine, down-home people the last mile to the site over the rough truck road, fording Noland Creek twice amid the forest as fresh sunlight filtered down from the sky, illuminating this surreal wilderness.
We passed by a huge white granite boulder, sitting comfortably just off the truck trail. Along a flat area to our left across the creek, we passed by a log cabin chimney reaching just above ground cover and small saplings where a home of proud settlers once stood. This forest, the endless sky above us, the sacred ground beneath our feet, watches over this land many have forgotten.
These ancient mountains are an historical treasure trove of man and family that came before us surviving in this outback, God’s country, until the forming of the Park pushed them out. What they left behind we can preserve, cherish and wholeheartedly appreciate for time everlasting. They were truly strong folk to take on these endless wilds.
We gathered below the cemetery site, and anticipation pushed the group up the winding path towards the peaceful and secluded gravesite.
Reaching our destination, a solemn mood spread throughout the visitors, coupled with a sigh of relief to be here now. Colorful flower decorations were placed over the four sites, stories were shared, questions asked and answered. We prayed and sang, sharing memories venturing back in time and feeling one with the past, if only for moments to savor.
This lil’ plot hasn’t changed much since mountain people roamed and foraged amid these pastoral hillocks and dale. The forest trees have come and gone and returned again. The predominate poplar trees, share hillsides with locust, birch and oak, along with abundant and varied understory, including young hemlocks thriving and not giving up on a new start. It was a vision of unsurpassed beauty and perfection. These poplars stood up straight as an arrow, reaching heights of 80 feet and more; a dream scene for the tree lovers among us, and a lasting impression of Mother Nature’s unique ability to grow living things everywhere one gazes.
Finally, we granted the lil’ gravesite up Noland Creek our heartfelt sympathy and reverence until the net time, taking with us something special inside to be cherished. Time to head back trail to the pickup site and return and gather ‘round and feast at the station.
With both vehicles full to capacity for the return, Henry, astute director for the association, and I were left to wait for a turnaround vehicle or to make the walk back on our own.
Together, we chose to go by foot; a walk I’ll never forget. This man is molded in a pioneer fashion in his own right and is truly gifted and devoted to past WNC times and places. He is a scholar of mountaineer lore, always willing and eager to share his vast, intricate knowledge of today’s mountains and the times that have passed by.
The association made a wise choice with Henry as the next leader following the venerable Vance sisters. They are forever and always remembered and highly respected for their longtime work and dedication to the North Shore movement, modern day pioneers in their own right. Without their tireless efforts, this important period of early America would probably have been long forgotten. Incredible people, including our Park personnel.
By now, everyone is nicely full from the home cookin’, deep in a friendly forest. With another visit complete, there is a satisfying glow in our hearts. A wonderful Sunday in the Smokies! Our neighborly ancestors live on in hearts, souls and memories, never to be forgotten. We will not forsake you. We’ll be back. See you next April!