January 4, 2010 9:00 am – 6 Hoosiers including me begin our trip to Tennessee! Seven hours of driving plus stops was really exhausting even for me (who wasn’t driving). Initially I didn’t expect much to see here because I had never heard anything nice about Tennessee’s landscape, but I immediately felt in love after looking over the beautiful mountains, the ‘villas’ in Ed and Arleen’s property, and their cute little pets.
Our cultural introduction had started as early as the first night when the Cherokee Warrior gave us firsthand explanation on the history and cultural background of Cherokee nation. He also brought his vast collection of handmade crafts made by Cherokee Indians to give us a better picture on how the word Cherokee has always put obscure definition on every object and color that they used. That wasn’t all about it. Throughout our week we always had our lovely Ed and Arleen who would share stories during our dinner. So much stories that sometimes we spent 3 hours on the dining table talking about everything. I miss those moments.
It is the second day. We have to reschedule our itinerary because the mother earth didn’t allow us to go to the Snowbird Mountain. Arleen and Ed filled our day with homesteading activities. Yeah, time for blackberry jam canning, tree cutting and log splitting! We were all excited. For most of us it was our first time…except for Al who seemed so experienced in using conventional way of splitting the logs with an axe.
The following day was the moment where we really got to volunteer for the Snowbird Cherokee community in the mountains. But before that we had to go through ‘the Dragon’ to get there. It was a famous route with 318 curves in 11 miles. Good luck Kelly with your Dramamine! Our first stop was the Snowbird senior citizen center. We went for visit to share stories and paint gourds with them. And we also got to meet the Principal Chief for the Cherokee Nation (Eastern Band) and took a picture with him. He is like the President Obama of the Cherokee Nation, just to give you a picture on how famous he is in the Cherokee Nation.
After that we headed to the Viola’s to help her move furniture, crash cans, stuff new insulation, and clean her backyard. Next on our visit list was Shirley, one of the teachers of Cherokee language in Snowbird. We had a pleasant conversation with her and it was amazing to learn about the efforts that have been made by the remaining Cherokee speakers to preserve their language. We ended the day with a short 1-mile hike though the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. We got to see the Big Tree and a smiling log. Many memorable group pictures were taken! Now it’s time for the downhill ‘Dragon’! However, most of us were so tired that we didn’t even bother to get excited and decided to doze off on our way back.
Thursday – It’s time for social event. We were all excited to hit the road early at 8 to see the Lost Sea and the city of Gatlinburg. We had a great experience exploring the world’s largest underground lake, walking through stores in Gatlinburg (both chocolate and non-chocolate stores), watching a movie, and eating dinner at Applebee’s to celebrate Al’s belated birthday.
On Friday we went to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum to study the background of Sequoyah and his innovation in creating Cherokee language. We also helped Charlie from that museum in brainstorming on where and what sign should be put in order to promote their new trail. “Hike the Max!” is the slogan. Before we got back, we spent a couple of hours maintaining the Hike the Max! trail by cutting the ivy that grows on the trees because it has been killing them. It was great fun for me to be a ninja with the machete!
Saturday is when we packed up our stuff, cleaned the bunkhouse up, and said goodbye to Ed and Arleen. and Dixie. and Blue. and their cats. and Missi’s lost puppy across the road. We hit the road at 9 and were welcomed back to B-town!
p/s: When I applied for Alternative Winter Break in Tennessee I was expecting for a new experience in pursuing my passion in volunteering, but after a whole week of the trip I knew I was totally wrong; it goes far beyond that. It was a blend of fascinating cultural education, great teamwork experience, and absolute opportunity to build a strong rapport with a new social circle and community. This trip has also made a remarkable impact on my life and provided me with many new memories. I <3 AWB Tennessee!