Don’t Miss the Beauty for Your Expectations

Don’t Miss the Beauty for Your Expectations

Sue Wasserman

Have you ever noticed that expectations can potentially put a damper on a perfectly good day? That was the thought bumping around my brain after driving into Cataloochee Valley, one of the more remote sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Between friends and online searches, it sounded as if it was best to be there at dawn to see the elk and listen to them “bugle” their way into their potential mates’ hearts. The early morning sky was as dark and foggy as my senses when my navigation system told me to make a slight left, which I slightly missed. Irritation bubbled to the surface as I wound up on the ramp to I-40, realizing I cost myself another 15 or 20 minutes of driving.

I laughed at myself once I was able to turn around on what seemed like an endless stretch of road between exits. Would 15 or 20 minutes seriously make a dramatic difference?

Smoky Mountain Bull Elk
Sunlight colors the Smoky Mountain horizon as two bull elk graze in the frost-covered field. Photo courtesy of Sue Wasserman.

Interestingly, that lost time made all the difference. The sun, in high spirits, partnered with the early morning mist to offer an extraordinary sunrise. I tried several times to no avail to find a break in the trees from which to watch. Five minutes later, I came to the wished-for pullout. I laughed again, sensing Nature had a bigger plan than mine, perhaps causing me to miss that initial turn.  

Once the colors began folding into the morning blue, I jumped in the car, worried that I was going to get into the valley too late. Winding and rutted, the road presented an obstacle for my must-be-there-in-the-next-minute mindset. When I arrived at the first open fields, my heart sank. There were no elk. I must have missed them.

Disappointed, I drove on. A moment later I saw cars parked along the side of the road. I found a spot, grabbed my camera, and headed to where people were gathered. There, scattered across the frost-kissed field, was a gang of grazing elk. My excitement bubbled over as I heard that first bugle call of a bull with well-endowed antlers. There were four on the field, but this one was in control, continually charging his smaller-antlered peers to keep them at bay.

Seeing the elk felt like a great gift, but it was simply the icing on an already delicious cake.
"Seeing the elk felt like a great gift, but it was simply the icing on an already delicious cake." Photo courtesy of Sue Wasserman.

While watching the bull harass his potential mates was both fascinating and funny, the bigger picture was awe-inspiring. Now that my expectations had been met, I could relax and truly breathe in my surroundings. The light set the hillside aglow, amplifying fall’s rich colors, creating an amazing backdrop from which to view the elk in motion.

Seeing the elk felt like a great gift, but it was simply the icing on an already delicious cake. Had I not seen them, I was still surrounded by so much natural beauty.

I left the elk to explore one of the trails, stopping occasionally to listen to the leaves falling to the ground like a gentle rain. When I finally got back in the car, I drove slowly to catch all the wondrous details I missed on my frenzied arrival.

Now that I’ve got the benefit of hindsight, I am certain the day was always going to be glorious. The only obstacle was my expectations. I’ll be sure to leave them at home from now on.

Smokies LIVE

Sue Wasserman is the author of A Moment’s Notice and Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom. She has also written for the New York Times and Southern Living. She currently lives in North Carolina.

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