The word the Cherokee used to describe the mountains that dominated their landscape was shaconage, meaning “blue, like smoke.” And following a rainstorm, a blue, mist-like haze envelops the mountains that we now call, appropriately enough, the Smokies. The Smokies are the dominant feature of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but as spectacular as the Smokies are, they are only part of a vast ecosystem that features an abundance of wildlife and an incredibly diverse hardwood forest, along with a variety of shrubs and wildflowers. You can approach and drive through the Smokies from several directions; I drove from Gatlinburg on Route 441 So., gaining an elevation of more than 5,000 feet and eventually crossing over from Tennessee into North Carolina. Later that day I pulled into Waynesville, found a great place to stay (the Oak Park Inn), had a good dinner at a local restaurant (Bogarts) and enjoyed chatting with a retired high school principal who has lived in the town for more than 40 years. The next day was about connections. Just by chance, I met a shop keeper in Waynesville who knows the parents of a friend of mine in Concord. Later on I reconnected with friends that I had met in Oregon back in July. They live in Black Mountain, just outside of Asheville, and had invited me to stop by if I happened to be passing by that way. I was…and I did. It was great to see them and share stories of the road. Black Mountain was also home to the Black Mountain School, known for its innovative approach to teaching. It was where Robert Creeley attended and later taught. He founded the Black Mountain Poetry Review and became one of this country’s leading 20th century poets. Creeley grew up in West Acton, Mass. This trip has been about people, places and connections, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them.