The line for Dollywood’s “Wild Eagle” was non-existent last night. The rain and cold had, I am sure, scared away the crowds. I climbed the stairs to the roller coaster’s loading dock behind a woman in a disposable plastic rain poncho. She vigilantly protected the burning tip of her cigarette with the tiny, make-shift umbrella of her hand. Kenny and Dolly’s “I believe in Santa Claus” was playing through the overhead speakers. After ascending the stairs, I noticed a verse of scripture had been carved into a wall-mounted board and that the roller coaster seats dangled from wings of bald eagles.
“My God! This is the most American place on Earth.” I said.
“Yep,” Michele agreed with a nod.
Dollywood, in case you haven’t been, is an amusement park which was opened by and is centered around the great Dolly Parton. It is basically the Cracker Barrel Restaurant and General Store, but with roller coasters. The park has a chapel, an elaborate train scape, and deep-fried everything. The aforementioned “Wild Eagle” was my daughter’s favorite attraction, and my son’s was “Blazing Fury,” a cruise-style ride which is similar to Disney’s “Small World,” but with amorous hillbillies instead of clog-wearing Dutch children.
Michele, my best friend and a native Tennessean, goes to Dollywood several times each year. This weekend’s trip to the Smokey Mountains was her idea. A way to celebrate the ending of the largely-unpleasant year that has been 2013.
“Aren’t you glad this year is finally over?” I asked Michele as we roamed the park.
“Yes, I am!”
How can I adequately convey in writing the enthusiasm of her answer without childishly tacking five exclamation points on to the end? Okay, how about this: Imagine, instead, that I asked her, Aren’t you glad they finally figured out that there was a dead possum in your heating ducts, and aren’t you glad they removed it so your house wouldn’t smell so putrid? Imagine that was the question I posed. And then imagine, again, her response. Yes, I am!
What was so bad about 2013? I don’t want to enumerate – not because anything was especially horrible, but because the negative events of the year were banal. Not unlike the problems you had. They were boring, grown-up problems (as opposed the the dramatic problems we manufactured for ourselves as teenagers for the sake of having something to gossip and complain about). Just insert into the story your own tribulations, then throw a shovel of dirt onto 2013’s casket as father time lowers it into the ground, and help yourself to a pinch of Dollywood‘s famous cinnamon bread.
Michele, my family and I packed a lot into this two-day trip. In addition to Dollywood, we went to WonderWorks (which is basically the love child of a Science museum and arcade), the outlet mall, toy stores, candy stores, and several restaurants that exclusively served gravy-covered food. The most enjoyable part of the weekend, though, was the evening. We’d go to the cabin, light the fire, put on a pot of coffee and read by lamp light as the kids played.
I thumbed through a book of Sadaris essays and also a news magazine. The latest issue of The Week.
Listen to what I read in the Science section: Australian scientists have discovered a much-needed reserve of freshwater. Care to guess where they found it? Beneath the seabed! Beneath the continental shelves off Australia, China, North America and South America. It was formed by rain water – we are talking hundreds of thousands of years ago when the sea level was lower. A layer of sediment and clay formed over this freshwater, and as the sea level rose, this protective layer kept the freshwater separate from the rising salt water. 120,000 cubic miles of water. It is not terribly accessible, but you know what? Its there. With some work, scientists think it can be tapped to address some of the worsening water shortages that many countries are facing.
I thought about that previously-unknown freshwater as I sipped my coffee. How amazing; there has been a tremendous resource beneath us that we didn’t know existed. Maybe it is like Dolly Parton, who came from nothing, a child of 11 in a poor family, who drilled through her circumstances and tapped into her talent to become a singer with a catalog of albums that spans five decades (plus her own amusement park!). Maybe it is a little like the business Todd started this year, successful already (though born out of anxiety). Maybe it is a something like my little blog, which has become a personal source of refreshment (though born out of stress and a need for distraction).
In each of us, as with the world we inhabit, there are untapped resources. If we will just take the time to explore, if we will take the plunge, we might be able to suffer through the briny hard times long enough to find something potable.