The mid-November morning was mostly clear and seasonably cool. A bit of fog was hanging around in the valleys and near the Tennessee River. When I looked out the window and noticed the last of a colorful Red Maple's leaves moving in the breeze, I decided then and there I wanted to go to the woods….I wanted to take a walk through the woods. I wanted to feel the breeze in my face and experience the quiet of the forest from a perch on the edge of a mountain. And I knew just the place. Ten minutes later I was beginning the trek down Sweetgum Trail, one of the recently designed hiking trails in Jasper Highlands. The photographs summarize the experience…though I just missed a few of the inhabitants of the forest who shared space with me during the hike. I saw a Gray Squirrel clinging to the bark of an oak, a White-Breasted Nuthatch in the customary 'upside down' pose on the trunk of a maple, a Blue Jay squawking from a thicket near the creek, and from my seat on a log near the edge, a Red-Tailed Hawk soaring effortlessly on the currents rising from the valley floor. No doubt there was a White-Tailed Deer along the way, but this time I did not see one….though several times I had the feeling I was being watched, for along this trail there are many clandestine vantage points from which Odocoileus could have seen me without being seen. They are very good at such craft. Their very existence depends on it.
There were all kinds of features along this trail that caused me to pause and take note…..a rock wall standing strong and tall over the ravine through which part of the trail winds, the hardwood trees, primarily Red, White and Chestnut Oak, Red Maple, and Mockernut Hickory, but also a few towering Sweetgums (one specimen for which the trail is named). A seasonal creek meandered down the valley adjacent to the trail, and the relaxing trickle of the moving water was a welcome addition to the quiet forest. And then I could see the edge….a place where the mountain topography experienced a sudden change, giving rise to one of the most majestic views in all of the Southeast. I was there, the end of the trail. I placed my backpack and hiking stick on a fallen tree and began to enjoy the scene…..to the south was the Tennessee River and Lake Nickajack….and mountains beyond.
To the east was Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, to the west more tree covered mountains and valleys. Nothing like it….the panorama, the grandeur of The Tennessee River Valley, the quiet, the harmony of the forest. All it takes is a bit of time and initiative and Mother Nature will reward your efforts.
- Mark Bray, Land Specialist