Written by David Reedy, Community Development Specialist

I am incredibly lucky. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my backyard as I live in on-campus housing at Tremont Institute. I have a trail to Spruce Flats Falls that begins 30 feet from my front door. I have front row tickets to wildflowers blooming each spring. I regularly get to dip my toes into the Middle Prong. But sometimes, I forget that I am lucky.

In every place that I have lived, I have found that the extraordinary becomes ordinary. Here in the Smokies, I might walk past a new growth of trillium because I have to call my parents or because I really want to finish my book. And this problem is not new for me. I used to live in Boston, Massachusetts, and as I prepared to move to Tennessee, I questioned what happened to my wonder for that city. While enmeshed in my life in Boston, I would casually pass by sites that people travel halfway around the world just to see—without even glancing up from my smartphone as I strolled by!

White trillium flowers
Trillium flowers by katerha is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After two and a half years living in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I catch myself falling into that same trap. It is not that I lose interest in the world around me, but simply sometimes I get caught up in everything else going on in life. And for most of us, there is a LOT going on. Even when something stops me in my tracks on the trail, I am shocked to discover that, without even thinking about it, I have taken a picture and created plans to send it along to friends and family later. Not to say that taking a picture is a bad thing, but simply that at this point, I rarely find myself getting lost in the wonder of the moment.

A close-up photo of moss
“Moss” by [luis] is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sometimes I must remind myself to stop what I am doing and embrace the wonder around me. That is one skill I have started to work on during my time at Tremont Institute. By embracing our education philosophy, taking classes, and connecting with my peers, I have slowly strengthened this skill.

And I must stress this: stopping to smell the flowers IS a skill. For some it may come more naturally than others, but for someone like me, I must remind myself every day to pay attention to the world around me.

Because, I find that when I do stop
to look at the stars
to appreciate the sunlight hitting a leaf
to listen to a bird
to feel the moss beneath my feet
to smell the flowers
I am reminded about how lucky I am.