Folklore: Canyon Casanova

December 11, 2013 in Winter 2013 Issue by Lookout Alabama

Canyon-Casanova-illustration

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by NEAL WOOTEN

“Canyon Casanova” by Neal Wooten was one of four finalists in the lookout Alabama- SELTI Writing Contest, sponsored by this magazine, the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative, DeKalb Tourism and Greater Gadsden Area Tourism. The competition, which challenged writers to compose fictional short stories set in real places in Alabama’s Lookout Mountain region, was the nation’s second tourism-fiction contest and was judged by a panel including New York Times bestselling author Homer Hickam, university representatives and tourism professionals. Special thanks to everyone who entered the contest. We will feature other finalists’ stories in the Folklore department of future issues.

It’s been 25 years and I still can’t visit the canyon without thinking of that girl. I still remember when I first saw her walk into the gym. It was like an image from a thought stolen from a vision in a dream, like an angel on our earthly plane. Well, mostly it was the tight leotards. She was totally hot at five-foot-six with auburn hair, brown eyes and a stunning figure. It took me several days to get up the courage to speak.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]“New to the gym, huh?” Was I smooth or what?

She smiled. “New to Montgomery; new to Alabama even.”

“Ah, military family,” I said.

She seemed impressed. “Yes, my dad is a colonel in the Air Force.”

We talked as we exercised that day. Over the next few weeks we got to know each other more. I learned she was from Pennsylvania and loved nature and hiking. I seized my opportunity.

“Have you ever been to Lookout Mountain?” I asked one day. “I’ve never heard of it,” she said.

When I described all the attractions and asked if she wanted to check them out, she was in like Flynn.

We met at the gym the next Saturday morning. It was a stunning spring day, warm but not hot, and not a cloud in the sky. She got out of her car holding an Alabama map. “Can you show me exactly where we’re going?”

“Sure,” I said. I traced the line of the mountain from Chattanooga to Gadsden. Next I pointed to where my parents live on Sand Mountain, which runs parallel to Lookout Mountain in North Alabama. “And here’s where we’ll be staying tonight. My parents live in a small town called Sylvania.” Then I decided to showcase my knowledge. “‘Wooded area’ is what the word ‘Sylvania’ means.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m from that big wooded area that William Penn discovered.”

Open mouth; insert foot.

We headed north. As we picked up I-59 outside Birmingham, I pointed out my favorite business by the interstate – John’s plumbing. I love their slogan: “We repair what your husband Fixed.”

Our first stop was Noccalula Falls just above Gadsden, a beautiful waterfall over the Black Creek ravine. As she stared at the statue of the Princess Noccalulu, she was in awe, her lips slighted parted as I recited the lover’s leap tale of woe. I got a little choked up and my voice began to crack. I was acting of course since the Y chromosome technically prevents men from having a sensitive side, but we know women dig that sort of thing.

From there we drove straight to Chattanooga and to the Incline Railway. As we rode one of the world’s steepest passenger railways up “America’s Most amazing Mile,” the view across the dancing evergreens and hardwoods literally sucked the air from our lungs. As her eyes absorbed the panoramic serenity, she squeezed my hand. “Now I know there is a God,” she whispered.

Next I took her to see Ruby Falls. “Oh my,” was all she could say as she stared at the 145-foot underground waterfall free-falling into the crystal clear pool at the bottom, the light refracting through the mist and casting mystical prisms throughout the enchanted cavern. I had to drag her away. After seeing the view from lookout Mountain tower, the millions of natural rock formations, and a visit to the gift shop, I knew she was putty in my hands.

We hopped over to Rock City to see another magnificent waterfall careening down the mountain. She took a deep breath as we crossed the swing-a-long bridge, hugging me as we got to the other side. I was on cloud nine. We took in a spectacular birds-of-prey show, and finally climbed out over lover’s leap to try to decipher the seven states in our view. She loved it all.

The sun was hanging lazily in the western sky as we headed back to my parents’ home. I took the scenic road on top of the mountain so we could squeeze in one more stop: Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding in rising Fawn, Ga. We watched as daredevils flew off the ramp into the groundless abyss. She was mesmerized by the view of the valley below, the separation of the fields looking much like they do from an airplane. I nudged her and pointed high above us.

“What?” she asked as her eyes searched the sky. Then she saw them: three tiny triangles contrast against the blue void at altitudes unimaginable. “How do they get that high?”

“It takes practice to know how to work the air currents,” I replied as if I knew what I was talking about.

“You do this?” she asked.

I smiled and nodded. “Oh, sure. I like anything that provides a thrill, no matter how dangerous.” I was also lying through my teeth. To this day I think there’s something seriously wrong with running off the edge of a perfectly good mountain.

As we got to my parents’ home, they showed off their Southern hospitality with a huge supper as they put out a spread worthy of royalty. Dad made his special chili recipe, which is to die for, then regaled us with jokes, funny stories and tales of strange mountain critters, some real, some exaggerated, some a complete farce. His was in full charm mode.

Later my mom showed her where she could sleep. With all my siblings and me now moved away, we had several bedrooms to choose from. I took my old bedroom and as I lay under the covers, I stared at the ceiling with a great feeling. I knew I had shown her an awe-inspiring day and for tomorrow I still had my ace in the hole – the canyon. I wondered what we would name our children.

After breakfast, which consisted of enough scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, hash browns, ham, sausage, grits, gravy and fried green tomatoes to feed a confederate regiment, we set off for one of my favorite spots on earth – DeSoto Falls. It’s host to one of the first hydroelectric dams in the South and perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in the state.

“This is so amazing,” she said as we made our way along the edge of the cliff to get a better view of the falls. It had rained a lot in the last week so the water cascaded over the dam and galloped over the rock wall with thunderous applause into the ravine cut away over a long period of time by little river, one of the few rivers in the nation that flows almost entirely atop a mountain.

From there it was a short drive over to Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort.

“You’re pulling my leg,” she said. “A ski resort in Alabama?” I knew I would have to prove it, so I showed her where the ski slope ends right beside the first green. “This is where I learned to ski and play golf,” I said. Of course I embellished my prowess in both sports. The truth is that on the fairway or the slope, I usually ended up out of bounds. I also stopped playing the second green altogether because it was getting too costly. It seems that whenever I buy golf balls, I always end up with defective ones that have a mysterious magnetic attraction to water.

We left and drove through DeSoto State Park as she marveled at the cabins and chalets. I took her around the scenic road that winds around the canyon, stopping at several overlook locations where you can see the ravine in its grand splendor.

“I can’t believe the beauty,” she said.

I agreed. “Neither can I.” Of course I wasn’t looking only at the canyon.

We drove on around to what still remains the location for one of my favorite childhood memories.

“Oh my goodness. This used to be an amusement park?”

“Yes, it did,” I said. “It was called Canyon Land Park. I remember coming here as a young kid with my parents. I remember taking the chair lifts down to the canyon floor and back up. I even remember eating cotton candy.”

A force of energy seemed to sweep through the dilapidated buildings and rusted ruins of the old rides. I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or the ghosts of past amusement park guests.

“I still come by here every summer,” I said, “hoping that someone has invested in bringing the old place back to life, but it remains just a haunt of an old kid’s memory.” A single tear fell from my left eye. It was totally fake of course. Remember – Y chromosome. She squeezed my hand again. That’s right; it worked like a charm.

We shot down into the valley to visit the Mouth Park and body surf the rapids. We cooked out as we dried off and ate scorched burgers and blackened hotdogs. The light was waning so we began the trip back to Montgomery.

“This has been the best day of my life,” she said as we drove, her stare burning into the depths of my heart with her soft brown eyes.

“I’m glad,” I said. Ah yes, it worked better than I could ever have imagined. I hoped she wasn’t expecting a long engagement.

It was dark as we got back to the gym in Montgomery. I got out and walked her to her car.

“Thanks again,” she said.

“You’re welcome.” I leaned in ever so slightly and waited.

“It’s truly amazing,” she said. “All of those incredible places to visit and all of them right there practically in the same location. I’ve lived with my family all over the country and have never seen so many wonderful and magical attractions in my life.”

I nodded and leaned in a little more. “I can’t wait to tell my fiancé about it.” I straightened up. “Your… your… your what?”

She smiled. “Yes, my fiancé. He’s coming down next week so you’ll get to meet him. Maybe we all three can go back to lookout Mountain together. Wouldn’t that be great?”

This time the tear wasn’t fake. “Uh… yes. That would just be so great. Really, so great. Imagine how great that would be. Wow. That’s just great.”

She smiled, gave me a friend’s hug, and got into her car and drove away. I watched as her taillights disappeared into a thousand red and white lights and she was gone. I walked to my car as I replayed the last part of our conversation. Fiancé? How could she not tell me about that little detail before our trip? In retrospect, however, it was clearly a question I forgot to ask in the beginning. I won’t make that mistake again. It wasn’t a total loss, however. After all, it was an awesome weekend.

As I opened my car door, another car pulled up beside me. The window lowered, and I immediately smelled the sweet scent of perfume. As the blond hair and blue eyes came into focus, I thought it was an angel in a vision from a dream. Yes, she was smoking hot.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you work out here at the gym?”

I nodded. “Yes, I do.”

“I was thinking of joining. Do you recommend it?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Join up and I’ll be glad to show you around.”

She smiled, her pearly white teeth seeming to illuminate the inside of her car.

“Thank you. That’s very nice of you. I think I will join.”

“Great,” I said. Then I leaned in a little closer.

“Ever been to Lookout Mountain?”[/s2If]