It was already raining when we set out up the mountain, just after lunch, driving south on U.S. 441 from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Cherokee, North Carolina, some 35 miles, all within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
We hoped against hope to see colorful leaf-change scenery, perhaps a bear or an elk along the way.
The rain was light, but bad weather, even light snow, had been predicted for the higher mountains. We counted on that coming later, after dark, and pushed on.
The rain grew heavy enough to impair our view of the road itself and the other vehicles we met or followed. Then, we hit thick patches of heavy fog. We had traveled high enough up the mountain road to be in the clouds. Yet there must have been even more clouds above us because the rain continued coming from somewhere. Any potential scenery was invisible. We went on, cautiously, through a combined heavy fog and rainstorm. It diminished only as we neared the lower elevations on the south side of the mountains.
Bull elk! Suddenly, beside the highway, we saw a large herd of elk -- cows, calves, spike bucks and a single large, elegant bull, with a rack of antlers some four feet high and four feet wide. He moved slowly among the herd, inspecting individual cows.
Park rangers clad in rain gear stood by, insisting that drivers move on or park off the roadway. I figure their real purpose was to keep idiotic or careless sightseers from straying, on foot, dangerously close to the herd of maybe 50.
All of the animals we saw, a ranger told us, were either members of the bull elk's harem or his offspring.
The animals are a part of a larger elk population that makes its home in the valleys around. They had ventured into the open in the middle of the day to graze in the flat-lands fields. They found the clouds, rain and 50s temperatures pleasant. On sunny days they usually stay in the shade of the deep woods.
Fowl sightings: On another early-morning drive, days earlier, in a different part of the park, we had seen a flock of perhaps two dozen wild turkeys, foraging in a roadside field, supervised by a pair of tom turkeys that strutted with tail feathers spread into classic fans, maintaining claims on what must have been their harems.
When we passed the same field, hours later in full sun, all the birds were absent. On that day's park excursion, we also saw perhaps a dozen deer, but none of the wild creatures the national park is known for, not a sign of a black bear.
More WWII soldiers? Gary LeCompte, of Bayou Blue, reached me in Gatlinburg by cellphone to offer to lend a book he just finished reading, an account of an Terrebonne/Lafourche area World War II father's wartime experiences, written by his son. LeCompte thinks the book's research into the families of the soldiers might be of value in the search for names and situations of some the WWII dead already memorialized in front of Terrebonne High or found during research by the Terrebonne Garden Club.
LeCompte will deliver the book as soon as I return home this week.
Lockport Dance today: 2- 5 p.m., Lockport Fire Station, Pete Pitre band, $10 a person.
Friends trivia today! At Terrebonne Main Library, Library Drive, 2 p.m., the monthly trivia competition sponsored by the Friends of the Library, unless I am mistaken. Light refreshments, modest entry fee, waived for Friends members. Everyone welcome.
Career Fair today: "Life After High School,” 2-5 p.m., Terrebonne Main Library, providing free resources to those interested in continuing education and/or workforce opportunities. College, technical and trade school representatives, along with military recruiters. Info: 876-5861, opt. 2.
College Night: Parents and students are welcome to explore financial aid and other college entry factors at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the East Houma Branch Library's College Night. It's free and open to the public. Info: 876-7072.
Questions: Since 22 is twenty-two, why isn't the number “11” pronounced “onety-one”?
What hair color do they put on the driver's licenses of bald men?
Duty calls! Elections come Saturday. Short ballot but very important. Every citizen should get out and vote.
Responding? Contact Bill Ellzey at 985 381-6256, at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or c/o The Courier, P.O. Box 2717, Houma, LA 70361.