I have a rocking chair that I love to sit in and rock while looking out at our small Maryville street, letting my mind wander. Additionally, I often check the Live360 app to stay updated on the whereabouts of my parents, who happen to be only five minutes away from the apartment that I rent with my husband, Andrew.
Feeling overwhelmed by the time change and lack of sleep (we just got back from our honeymoon in Maui), my brain is racing with things I need to do, while my body and mind are reluctant. It’s a familiar feeling I experience after a change in schedule and life.
As a high school teacher in the neighboring city of Knoxville, TN, I find immense joy in teaching. It has become a recent passion of mine, and I am excited to explore it in the long term. Notably, one of the many perks of being a teacher is having summers off, which brings me to the purpose of writing this blog.
I am trying to shift into a new headspace of sleeping in, binging the latest Apple TV series, and enjoying cookouts with our best friends. Additionally, I am finding ways to build on my growing business as an elopement planner and photographer.
“Andrew, our parents are here. Let’s go,” I say, gesturing towards the white Audi pulling into our small parking lot. I hop off the rocker and walk inside for one more quick check of the lights and blinds before we head out.
With Mom behind the wheel (she always has to be in control) and Dad enjoying some fries from the Chick-fil-A bag, Andrew and I quickly hop in the car. In a lighthearted moment, I grab an extra fry from Dad and split it with Andrew. As we drive, we zoom past Sonic and El Jimador on the left and Little River Trading Company on the right. Our route takes us through small towns like Walland and Townsend, with my favorite spot for photo sessions near Maryville, The Foothills Parkway, passing by.
Making a left turn at the Jeep Store light, we embark on Wears Valley Road. While there are multiple routes to reach Elkmont, in my opinion, the best one (the road less taken, driven by locals) is driving through Wears Valley to Met Calf Bottoms, then turning left onto the main drive towards Gatlinburg.
Our destination is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we will witness the annual Synchronous Firefly Event.
Upon arriving in the Elkmont area and parking, Mom puts the top down and rolls the windows down, instantly feeling the 5-degree cooler temperature up in the park.
Dad hands out the food, and we eagerly start to chow down on what I affectionately call the Lord’s Chicken—Chick-fil-A.
“I’m not sure we came prepared,” Mom repeats over and over again as we observe people with chairs and blankets beginning their journey towards the two trailheads. Nevertheless, I reassure her and the whole gang that we will be fine.
People from all over wait years to be chosen to participate in this event. Tickets are given out through a lottery system to avoid overpopulating and disturbing the fireflies during mating season. You have to plan ahead for sure, the and mark your calendars each year the lottery takes place at the end of April. I usually can keep up with all the park events by going to National Park Service Website. So, when Mom mentioned that she was chosen and invited Andrew and me to drive up with them, I had to say yes. Undoubtedly, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In order to avoid attracting bears or other large critters, we pack up our snacks in a zippered cooler and place it in the back of our car.
Mom pulls out her all-natural bug spray to share. I’m so glad she did because I forgot mine, and besides, all of us are wearing shorts. Next time, we should probably wear pants—for warmth and to avoid getting eaten by mosquitoes. By the way, some of my favorite bug spray and other natural products come from Rain Water Farms, which is local to East Tennessee.
Fortunately, we all brought our jackets and put them on as we start walking towards the trailheads, as the light begins to fade over the mountainside.
“I have to use the restroom one more time,” Mom’s voice trails off as she walks into one of the portable toilets at the trail entrance. I follow suit for one last visit. Note to self: don’t wear overalls when using a portable toilet.
Park rangers are everywhere, and we approach one of them to ask for trail recommendations.
“You have two trails to choose from. Little River Trail to your left up ahead will give you the feeling of fireflies all around you. If you follow Jake’s Creek Trail, you will see fireflies on one side of the forest,” says the park ranger, whom I’ll refer to as Parker Ranger Guy #1.
Taking his advice, we decide to hang a left and try the Little River Trail, hoping for the best show!
As we walk, we pass by families and friends grouped together on each side and at the cul-de-sacs of the trail. They are passing out snacks and drinks, talking and laughing, and playing card games while waiting for it to get dark enough to watch the fireflies begin to shine.
“We really came unprepared,” Mom keeps saying as we walk by. All of us start laughing, knowing that we had indeed come completely unprepared for this, but still excited to be here and anticipating the unknown.
“Katie mentioned to me that she and her family came up here one year and saw nothing, so I’m not too sure what to expect,” I say as a warning so that we aren’t all disappointed when it gets dark and nothing happens. I often do this to lessen the blow when things don’t go as expected.
Park Ranger Guy #2 shouts, “You folks know where you’re going.” Mom is really good at situations like this. I get nervous and sometimes lie to these kinds of people to get out of talking to them, but in reality, it’s good to let them know you are new to this, so they can help. “Not at all,” she says. “This is our first time at this event, and we would love your advice on where to stand.”
Park Ranger Guy #2 is quite talkative and tells us all kinds of cool information. I think he’s quite quirky and talks too much. My anxiety kicks in, and I start to get uncomfortable. Luckily, my family members are the best at continuing conversations with strangers and engage in chit-chat with Park Ranger Guy #2.
Here are some random firefly facts from Park Ranger Guy #2, translated into Rachel Kosky language:
As the light seeps out of the sky and darkness sets in, our eyes start to adjust to see not just one, but two, and now THREE fireflies. As time passes and the light fades, we can see more and more fireflies come to life and start their dance.
Watching this phenomenon is quite inspirational. How unique of an experience to see the synchronizing fireflies in this precious place we call home.
We watch as each firefly makes its appearance. When we decide to turn on the path to walk back (Dad was getting cold, and we had seen all we wanted to see), our eyes take in the beauty around us. We walk slowly, Mom and I taking turns making sure Dad and Andrew don’t stumble over rocks or roots on the way back.
Our journey back is quieter, but in a peaceful way. We listen to the sounds of the forest, our feet crunching the gravel beneath us. We take a moment to look up at the stars, realizing how small we are in comparison to the universe.
With every step and glance upwards, Mom, Dad, Andrew, and I keep saying, “Wow.”
We stop to embrace the sight. A tear sheds down my cheek, feeling lighter from the experience of seeing these lights in deep darkness. Andrew holds my hand while Mom and Dad lead the way back, with little lights shining in and out on either side.
To enjoy this event with my family, I was not able to get epic photos or video footage of this even but you can find a little snip of what to expect here!
A few things to know before you go: