When the Writer in Residence is not…

When the Writer in Residence is not…

Note from Frances Figart, editor of Smokies LIVE and Smokies Life:

Nature writer and photographer Sue Wasserman of Bakersville, North Carolina, was the winner of the second annual Steve Kemp Writer’s Residency. She was to arrive in the Smokies on April 3 and stay in the park for six weeks, visiting iconic park places and spending time with Kemp himself. But due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, plans had to change. Now, through Smokies LIVE, she can share with us as the writer-not-in-residence. 

By Sue Wasserman

From the moment I received the phone call last November letting me know I was to be GSMA’s Steve Kemp Writer-in-Residence for 2020, I started counting the days until April 3 when I would move into an apartment in the park. 

Since it was only Thanksgiving, there was plenty of time to think how I would use the time. Where would I begin? An avid wanderer, I planned to explore as many trails as possible. Beyond working on personal projects such as a book of haiku incorporating my nature photography, and creating new outdoor learning opportunities for children, what would I focus on?

Having met some of the park’s rangers and scientists and learned about some of the projects currently underway in the park, my curiosity was on overdrive. I hoped to spend time with a few of these folks during my residency to learn more about their work and perhaps incorporate it into my own. Because I’d recently written two articles about the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community for Smokies Life, I had also discovered just how rich the region’s history is and knew my job was to uncover even more. 

COVID-19 put a wrench into my plans. Chances are, I won’t be in the park as a resident until 2021; I don’t really know. But the thing I do know is that obstacles always create opportunities if I’m open to them. With that in mind, I plan on sharing some of my discoveries and insights as the writer-not-in-residence.

There’s no better time for outdoor discovering than spring. For me, the season’s early days are like a promise. When I see those first hints of wildflower blossoms, I feel my spirit perk up, realizing that warmer weather and vibrant colors are on the horizon. I get giddy with anticipation. 

It’s hard to explain the feeling that comes over me when I see the first blooms of any wildflower throughout the year. It’s like welcoming back an old friend you know can only stay in town briefly, so you want to make the most of the visit. 

That thought of hanging out with friends drove me to one of my regular haunts not far from home to see the Dutchman’s Breeches and Squirrel Corn that grow so abundantly. These fairy-like flowers, one shaped like upside down pants, hence the name, and the other like hearts, are among my favorites. 

To my dismay, the remote section of trail where they thrive was closed for repairs. My disappointment was soothed by the sounds of the creek flowing freely beside me. I began to wonder…The flowers I was seeking grow along the banks of the creek. Might there be patches earlier in the trail I’d simply never looked for before?

When I came to a clearing where I could walk easily, I veered off to explore. Sure enough, a flash of bright white caught my eye. There, at my feet, were the Dutchman’s Breeches and Squirrel Corn I hoped to find. I laughed, thinking how many times I’d missed this wonderful patch because I’d only been open to the thought they blossomed elsewhere.

Like I said earlier, obstacles can create opportunities. As you adjust to your new normal, and even as it changes daily, see if you can find some new discoveries that might not have been found before. 

Happy, safe trails, my friends. Here’s to the possibilities.

From top: Dutchman's Breeches; Squirrel Corn. Photos by Sue Wasserman

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