The Ice Cream Social

The day began with a 9am meeting with Sheridan so that I could sign a piece of paper that I had, in fact, already signed. 45-minutes later not only was I still at HQ, I’d been introduced to three other staffers and invited to an ice cream social that evening. Sheridan told me it was an intimate gathering and I shouldn’t mention it to anyone because she was only allowed to bring one guest. My secret keeping abilities were immediately put to the test when I found myself sitting outside under a Hemlock tree for the rest of the morning getting to know my neighbor Ben, the bearded, barefoot, Biologist who benevolently helped me mend my broken blinds back when I began this blog. But I needent feel bad because Ben was driving out to Ashville that night to see Steve Martin’s bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers, play a free concert in a park. After Ben left, I spent a pleasant afternoon sifting through hiking books and planning how best to spend my quickly diminishing time in the park.

So many trails, such questionable leg capacity.

I had plans to meet Sheridan at her house at 5.45pm to drive over to the party together. Like most of the park’s administrative employees I’ve met so far, Sheridan is a deeply compassionate, capable, and slightly harassed woman and if I hadn’t know it before (and I did) this evening’s meet up would have taught me that timeliness is not her defining characteristic. 5.45 pm became 6.15 pm which became 6.45 pm and by the time we left her house it was after 7 pm. But man! What a house! She has a screened in porch overlooking the park that she uses as a bedroom and the whole place is filled with color and trinkets and magnificent, mottled light. It’s basically a fairy treehouse and I covet it hard.

Sheridan is an NYC transplant. She was a professional dancer and worked for the parks department on the Lower East Side before moving down to the Smokies. Never has it been more clear that you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl than as I watched her try on and discard at least half a dozen dresses, apply shimmery eye make-up, and debate the merits of wearing a large gold bracelet on and off for half an hour. She was headed over to her famous, woodcarver, paramour’s house after the party so she was pulling out all the stops. By 7 pm people were calling to find out where we were so she poured us an NPS water bottle filled with three kinds of booze and off we went.

It was a half hour drive to Misty Pines, the home of Keith and Rita, the volunteers who were hosting the event. It was easily one of the cheeriest and most comfortable gatherings I have ever been to. I was the youngest guest by at least a decade but felt an immediate kinship to most everyone there. Keith and Rita are devoted hikers, travelers, and art collectors who have spent their lives building Misty Pines- one of the most perfectly situated homes I have ever seen- a hillside house overlooking a valley and river with mountains rising up on all sides. Rita gave me a tour of their house which is full of local artwork, some with secret drawings on the back, another embroidered with fabric from a dress she had a little girl in Eastern Kentucky that was made out of a feed sack. Rita and I share a quiet enthusiasm for our surroundings, appreciation of an aesthetic with an internal logic that makes itself known over time, and a philosophy of following our impulses. I can only hope that we will be friends forever.

A work by Paul Murray, a local artist of renown

After dinner, a home cooked meal that in taste and presentation would put the Barefoot Countess to shame, Sheridan poured half the NPS booze bottle into my cup and I settled happily into a chair on their front porch while John gave me a historical rundown of Sevier Country and Christine told a story about how a man had once followed her up a trail talking about the books he’d written about attacking various women. Eventually she made a break for it and began to run in large circles through the woods so that if he followed her footsteps he would think she’d kept going. A valuable lesson for the frequent, female, solo hiker.

Long after the fireflies had gone to sleep, Sheridan drove me back to my car with the promise to pick me up at 6.30am to drive out to an area of the park I’d not yet been to for the Cade’s Cove bike ride and staff pancake breakfast. We determined, at my suggestion, that if, for whatever reason, she was not there by 6.45am I should just head out on my own.