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Get into nature as soon as possible

On Aug. 4, 2007, I took a long, meditative walk in the Smoky Mountains. I know, because this column, for better or worse, has kept track of every week of our life — at least, since 1997.

I paused and wrote about my Smoky Mountain excursion also because that Aug. 4 day was my birthday. In 1997, I would have been somewhere between 21 and 41.

 I left the amazin’ blonde back in the room early that Saturday morning — along with our companions Coca-Cola Mike and Glory — and took off on that long walk up a trail that weaved up those Tennessee mountains. The trail runs by Gatlinburg’s Little Pigeon River, a stream that’s really more like a big rumbling creek than a river. Her assignment in life is mainly to murmur and churn over thousands of rocks every day and thrill the hearts of all who are honored to pass her way, as I was on that day.

With each step that day, I experienced a glad combination of nature and prayer. Prayer seemed to be as good that day as I can ever remember — perhaps because when you’re up in the mountains prayers don’t have as far to travel to reach their destination just inside heaven’s door.

Maybe that’s also why the murmuring river was in vintage form that morning, as it splattered its white foam forcefully against contented black rocks. It was just the river, me, and the Lord. His majestic creation was both inspiring and thrilling, filling all passerby’s with his awesome wonder.

You can rehearse life pretty well on that trail, for sure. As you do, you may find it hard to believe that one such as you and me — folks who likely have slipped and slid our way through life far more than we have strutted through — could gain an audience with the one who created the rocks and trees and this endlessly flowing stream that flows with glowing confidence beside the trail. 

You can’t help but wonder: What would behoove the rock of all the ages to answer our call? Some things are just hard to figure. But He did answer the call that morning, I am convinced, and he and I stayed on the line for quite a time. Ah, what a conversation it was — part talk and part praise, wrapped up neatly in an outpouring of thanksgiving.

But, alas, such talks must come to an end. There are promises to keep and miles to go – three hundred, in fact. Coca-Cola, Glory and the blonde waited patiently in the room for us to leave and head Georgia-ward.

After one last wistful glance back at the smiling Little Pigeon stream, I made my way back to my friends; and soon we were weaving and crawling our way back out of the Tennessee mountains to the northern hills of Georgia. But the early morning walk and talk with heaven stayed with me as we handled every curve back down the Tennessee hills.

We hadn’t gone far before I saw something that could not help but make me smile. Just a few miles into North Carolina, I saw a little sign on the side of the road that read, “A.S.A.P.,” along with some memorable words below.

A dozen years have come and gone since that morning. Today, as before, my three loyal traveling companions and I are beholding these same mountains, except that it’s fall now, and the green foliage of August has turned to a mixture of the beautiful reds and yellows of October.

But our need to make those calls to heaven remain in all kinds of scenery and seasons.

I still am glad that somebody nailed that sign on a pole in that little North Carolina town some 12 years ago — in case I should forget its message. I mentioned that there were some other memorable words written there, too. At the top, the acronymic A.S.A.P was scribbled in elementary penmanship. But just below were these words:

“Always say a prayer.”

Ah, now I see. I’ve never looked at the letters “A.S.A.P.” the same since.

Wherever you are, friends – though you likely are not strolling by the churning stream of the Little Pigeon River — I hope you will take time to say a prayer as you go about your day.

 If possible, do so A.S.A.P.