Off-Trail in the Smokies

Music: James R. Carlson
Text: Jenny Bennett
Commissioned by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Premier: June 13, 2009, Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains National Park

MIDI Preview Recording (w/composer as narrator)

1. Mt. Cammerer via a Trailless Ridge

Up the fin-backed spine,
backbone of the dinosaur,
we climbed in mist,
its tendrils closing in.
Miles away the mountaintops
raised their heads above the lake of clouds.
English Mountain, Snowbird—
you asked if I could name them.
Above the mountain mass
advanced a wall of cloud,
thick and wide--an army.
We laughed!
Our helplessness was clear.
Engulfed by fog,
we spent the afternoon in shining gray,
trapped inside a paperweight.

2. Brushy Mountain

I scrambled on my hands and knees
through a bed of laurel leaves.
I crawled at least a quarter mile
through tangled tortured heath,
through passageways like partings
in a giant’s hair.
Lightning flickered in the mist.
Now and then I surfaced
into stormy air,
up to knees in myrtle--
Each clump of pale pink flowers
clung tightly to a rock,
a tiny Japanese garden.
Strands of clouds streamed up the peak.
I’d dive again into the brush,
between the living arms,
squeezing, struggling, pushing.
At last I reached the top.
Sopping wet with sweat and dirt,
I ran before the storm could hit me
across the chiseled rocks.

3. Andrews Bald

Blue molten sky pressed down on the mountain.
We sat on warm grass the color of metal
in a fragrant winter garden.
When the wind stopped, it left utter silence.
The horizon was a layered design
of interleaved slate-colored ridgelines.
Behind a silver veil
the furthest peak was a fortress.
Beside a giant spruce, I gazed across the east,
the vast unfolding forest pelt.
Everything was bright and clean
as in an age of heroes.


James R. Carlson, composer