Lessons from goats: Valuing community over technology

By Anne Baker | Aug 30, 2013
Photo by: Anne Baker Reach the 6,040-foot Tennent Mountain summit via a short hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The desire to hurl my iPhone off the summit of Tennent Mountain came suddenly. I was standing at the top of the 6,040-foot mountain, taking panorama shots using the built-in camera, when I realized I hadn’t once stopped looking at the screen of my phone to really see the beauty that surrounded me. Instead of my own eyes, I was relying on that expensive piece of technology in my hand to take in everything for me — and for what purpose?

I’ve always been one to complain that landscape photos do not do justice to such views when they are experienced in person (sorry, Ansel Adams). And yet I’m still obsessed with the idea of taking pictures of my surroundings.

I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Photographs supplement our memories, often sharpening them and bringing wonderful experiences back into focus. Yet my concern lies with the scenario I described above — using technology to emphatically capture what’s around us while forgetting to actually experience those mountains with the people we're hiking with.

The desire to smash my phone happened again as I was walking back to the trailhead where my car was waiting. I passed a couple, laughing, heading the opposite direction. After saying hello, they asked me, “Did you see the goats?”

Five minutes later, I came across the goats in question. The baaing duo, one black, and one brown, scampered along the cliffs, looking more at home in the mountains than I’m sure any of us hikers did. There were a couple of people who had stopped in the middle of the trail, watching the animals as they followed their human guide along the path. It made a beautiful scene — pygmy-turned-mountain goats enjoying the landscape. So, of course, I pulled out my phone again and began snapping pictures.

I became frustrated with myself after realizing I had passed the goat's owner and hadn't taken the time to talk to her about her animals. I was beginning to see that the thing I valued most about hiking — the sense of community — was coming in second to my desire to document everything around me with a piece of technology.

And almost everyone around me was doing the same thing.

Maybe one day we’ll all be able to put down our cameras or various bits of technology when we see things like goats following their owner calmly, hiking the trail just like a dog would. Maybe instead of taking the picture for novelty’s sake, we’ll stop and ask the woman leading the animals how in the world she managed to train them to obey her so well.

Maybe we'll learn how to actually experience what's around us by creating memories based on face-to-face interactions with family and friends (and the strangers we meet who become friends because we take the time to strike up a conversation). After all, isn't that one of the most enjoyable things about hiking?

Try it this weekend. I can’t guarantee that the goats will be back, but put down the technology and check out what I think is one of the most beautiful family-friendly hikes in Haywood County: the section of the Art Loeb Trail that crosses Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain. The trailhead is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway — after milepost 420, watch for a right-hand turn onto Black Balsam Road, or FS 816. After driving a few tenths of a mile, you’ll see the gap where the Art Loeb Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail cross, and you can easily park along the road (this time of year, though, there are lots of blueberry pickers up that way — I’d recommend getting there early just in case it’s crowded). Head up the Art Loeb Trail (it’s the one on your left, and it is marked as such) and after a quick half-mile walk, you’ll be on top of Black Balsam, a beautiful knob that offers panoramic views. This part of the trail only gains about 400 feet in elevation, but it is rocky, so make sure you keep an eye on the kids. From Black Balsam, you can continue on the Art Loeb Trail to Tennent Mountain, another gorgeous bald that is a nice lunch spot, and then return to your car. It isn’t that long of a hike — about three miles round trip — but the views are so beautiful you’ll want to allow plenty of time to enjoy them with your hiking partners. Also, be sure to bring lots of water and snacks.

Do you have a favorite hike that you would like Anne to feature? She can be reached at lifestyles@themountaineer.com or by calling 452-0661 ext. 114.