Green, green, green are the mansions of the forest along the Little Cataloochee Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, turned to emerald by the ceaseless rain. More than 70 inches of rain a year fall on these woods, mothering flowing brooks and ferns and soft mosses and verdure wherever the eye can see.
Higher up the hiker's trail a sea of mountain tops comes into view, confirming the appropriateness of the trail's name, for cataloochee, a Cherokee word, means "wave-on-wave."
I am no veteran camper or hiker. The delights of the Little Cataloochee Trail were shown to me by the leaders of Wilderness Southeast, a not-for-profit educational group dedicated to leading both the inexperienced and the experienced into nature's bosom in the Great Smokies, the coastal islands of Georgia, Okefenokee Swamp and the Florida keys.
I found my introduction to the world outdoors exhilarating and trouble-free.
Wilderness East is offering two more three-day explorations of the Great Smokies this year similar to the trip I took. The first trip, a guided search for edible wild plants, especially mushrooms, begins Aug. 23 and costs $90. A less structured hiking tour, for $80, begins Oct. 11.
Free brochures and information about these and other trips are available from Wilderness East, Route 3, Box 619-WP, Savannah, Ga. 31406, or telephone 912/355-8008. CAPTION: Picture 1, Main picture, at upper left, the nourishing rains shed moisture so copiously upon the forest that moss and ferns flourish everywhere, enveloping the hemlocks that are the principal trees along the Little Cataloochee Trail until the greenness of the scene reaches the improbable hue of a billiard table; Picture 2, Trailside underbrush, uncluttered and undisturbed by passersby, has been touched only by Nature; Picture 3, At left, bees eagerly gather pollen from a mint plant in full flower; Picture 4, Above, moss blankets a hemlock log abandoned by a woodcutter of the past; Picture 5, At an overlook near the summit of the trail, the Smokies recede wave on wave into the distance; Picture 6, Delicate fruiting bodies rear their heads out of the carpet of a moss-covered hemlock as if they were miniature pennants waving in the breezes of a tiny garden tended by the forest elves; Picture 7, Hikers on this journey through the Smokies sacked out for the night at a campsite underneath the sheltering arms of a stand of white pines. Picture 8, Above, in a cranny a wood lily raises its blossom, one of the many wildflowers that ornament the forest floor. By Bill Snead