Photos by Sue Wasserman
The road to knowingness is paved with a whole lot of meandering.
As much as I love exploring new trails in the Smokies, I long to find trails with which I can become intimately acquainted, too. Porters Creek is becoming one such trail for me. I happened upon it several years ago when I was in between interviews for a Smokies Life article on the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community and in desperate need of a mind-clearing walk. Thanks to a serendipitous encounter, I learned about the white-fringed phacelia that bloom there. While I didn’t have the time that day to cross the bridge that would lead me to them, I was able to return the next day.
The sea of white I encountered the next day defied description. The landscape was awash in it. As I knelt to take a closer look at the seamstress-like fringes and periwinkle stamens, I noticed bloodroot, early-stage large-flowered trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, wood anemone, star chickweed, violets, bishop’s cap, and trout lily. Yes, I’d hit the spring ephemeral motherlode!
|An abundance of trilliums in full bloom|
The questions struck fast. What accounted for such incredible diversity? What other blooms would follow? Part of the answer was clearly above my pay grade, but I knew I could find the second half of the question by returning and returning and returning.
Even just a week or so can make a dramatic difference. When I returned to Porters Creek ten or so days after my initial spring adventure there, the bloodroot flowers were gone. What struck me first was a huge swath of large-flowered and nodding trilliums in full bloom, more than I think I’ve seen anywhere else. A massive patch of dwarf-crested irises followed, along with foamflower interspersed here and there. Although impossible to imagine, the white-fringed phacelia across the bridge seemed even more abundant, giving me pause to realize my first foray was a little shy of peak bloom.
Thanks to a friend’s previous-day adventure, and a chance encounter with two high-spirited, flower-seeking sisters, I found myself on a mission to uncover dwarf ginseng, a plant I hadn’t known existed. I had the sense I would uncover it once out of the phacelia fray. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the widest grin crossed my face as my eyes fell upon them. Reminding me somewhat of speckled wood lily, I began wondering if they, too, would soon be blooming on this trail.
I may not have to wait long to discover the answer. I’ll be back to participate in the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage the last week of April, which also coincides with the start of my role as the Steve Kemp Writer-in-Residence. While the programs I’ve chosen are scattered across a variety of trails, all of which I can’t wait to discover, I plan to return to Porters Creek. Perhaps I’ll be able to see the answer to my speckled wood lily question for myself. Who knows? Either way, it’s all part of that journey into knowingness. Either way, I am quite sure I win!
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.