We sought shelter under the patio eaves of an abandoned cottage that hadn’t yet been reclaimed by nature, grateful for the park ranger’s mercy on us to let us stay dry during the never-ending downpour. “These structures are dangerous, so DON’T go inside,” she warned us. Dusk slowly turned to night, anticipation to resignation, and excitement to disappointment. Then the sadness came as I watched the family who had joined us at the impromptu shelter. Grandparents, admonishing the little boy to be polite…the grandmother leading the little boy on a mini-adventure to bide the time…the polite teenage son, chatting with his parents.

Opportunities that I will never, ever have. The depression settling over my poncho mixed with the rain, fighting to take hold.

Just like that, my companions noticed the first of the miniature lights: first one in the distance, then another in a tree, still another floating close by as the rain subsided. The fireflies had begun their dance. They lit up the bushes with their synchronicity, as more and more joined the dance, lighting up and dimming in waves. On the other side, the roar of the Little River kept some of the fireflies at bay, but soon they danced on either side of the gravel path.

And just like that, the serenity enveloped me as I felt my Tony’s spirit all around me. One firefly hovered close and then brushed against my neck, a kiss from Tony. I felt emotion welling up inside me, transfixed by the majestic sight of the dance. This spectacular scene was nature’s version of Christmas lights in June!


tree in the mist

The next morning, driving towards Newfound Gap in the early hours, I seemed to be the only person on the winding road. I stopped at the same pull-offs I had stopped at last summer when I had asked “Baby, can you see me?” with tears streaming down my face. This time, I still implored, and I still cried even as I was comforted by the mist shrouding the distant mountain tops, knowing that his spirit also surrounded me.


a robin enjoys the peaceful morning


signpost to the Appalachian Trail

I continued on to Clingman’s Dome, where there were already buses and other vehicles in the parking lot. A group of teenagers wearing shorts, some carrying backpacks, chattered, delighting in their morning. I began the half-mile ascent to the tallest peak, eager to get away from their banter. I smiled at the fearless robin, his silence more in tune with what I sought. Halfway up the path, I paused at the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail and fantasized about being a through-hiker someday.


amid the clouds, atop Clingman’s Dome

I finally reached the top and was rewarded with the view of the clouds I had longed for. Here, I felt my strongest connection to Tony as I faced a puffy, white cloud in the shape of an “O.” The longer I stood, oh how the enormity of my loss grew in my heart. Unbidden, the tears rolled down my face once again. My reverie was broken by the chatter of a young family, making their way up the path. As I listened to the mom and dad call out to their children, a little boy and a little girl, my tears continued. I felt myself envious of their nuclear family, of their lightheartedness, of their intact group.

The mother tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would take a photo of their group. She pulled back in horror when she realized that she had interrupted my meltdown. She began to apologize, but I cut her off and tried to smile as I took the camera phone from her. “Why is that lady crying?” the little girl asked with curiosity. I snapped their picture and returned her phone without meeting her eyes before I ran down the path. Who knows how their witness to my mourning affected that family’s morning.

Later, I walked another trail from the Park Headquarters to the sign at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I reached the sign, I planned to snap a photo, but it was also the prime spot for many tourist families to take their photos. Seeing that I was alone, one group asked if I would take their picture, and soon several more waited while I took pictures with their cameras.

This time, I smiled. I felt peace. I knew I was paying it forward. This act of kindness was in memory of Tony James Phillips.

  1. […] Communing: blog post about seeking solace in the mist. […]

  2. Debra Reagan says:

    Beautifully written and heart breaking.

    Big Hugs, Debra

  3. Debra Reagan says:

    So beautifully written, and so touching.

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