There is no question that the campus is a little different this fall. There is also no question that 2020 should never be repeated…ever. For the current college generation, 2020 will forever be in your memories as 2001 is forever in the minds of the generation I went to college with – both of these years are historic fixed points for our lives. Yet through new adversity often comes new opportunities, and while campus looks different this fall, I hope that you might see something fresh about the Truett McConnell University campus and the surrounding North Georgia Mountains. I hope you will see opportunities to stave off the mundane and that you will take new advantage of this peaceful place many of us call home. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Go Take a Hike

Walking on a trail is simple. You put on a good pair of walking shoes, follow a brown strip of dirt through the woods, and experience the magnificence and beauty of our Creator. You also take advantage of a myriad of beneficial physiological changes to your health, wellness, and attitude as you cruise through mesic pine, cove hardwood, and marshy bottomland ecosystems of the mountains.

North Georgia has no shortage of high-quality hiking trails. Three local hiking trails in particular are especially worth meeting a group of friends for a socially distanced jaunt. The Bottoms Loop trail at Unicoi State Park is a rolling two-mile walk along Smith Creek and several small tributaries that feed this trout stream. The trailhead is at the back of the Unicoi Lodge parking lot ($5 parking fee required or yearly State Park pass). Unicoi State Park also offers several other hiking trails from the same parking area. The De Soto Falls trail leads to a beautiful waterfall named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who it is rumored passed by Upper De Soto Falls on an expedition; a rumor spurred by the discovery of pieces of armor reportedly found near the falls (at least goes the story recounted by Donald Pfitzer in his guide book Hiking Georgia: A Guide to Georgia’s Greatest Hiking Adventures). Located in the De Soto Fall Recreation Area, the trail starts from a USFS campground. As you cross a small footbridge, head to the right to reach Upper De Soto Falls or head left to see a smaller waterfall sometimes named in the guide literate either Lower De Soto Falls or Frogtown Creek Falls. Lastly, the rite of passage hike for all TMU students is the Mount Yonah Trail. A short drive from campus, Mount Yonah sits, as its namesake suggests, like a lumbering bear overlooking Cleveland. The hike is only about two miles, but plan to spend at least three hours on the trail. The hike is straight up the mountain, and the views at both the Yonah Mountain Lower Helipad and the summit are worth the time it takes to ponder your tiny, insignificant existence in God’s massive creation…and then to also realize that the Creator of all died for you.

Stop and Look Up

One of my most memorable experiences on TMU’s campus—and in my life—occurred a little after 2:30 pm on August 21, 2017, as I along with my wife, two sons, and the entire TMU campus community stood looking into the sky waiting for the sun to fully disappear behind the moon. This historic moment, forever etched on my mind, is a phenomenon that I have already planned to view again On April 8, 2024 (even if it means driving to Indiana or Illinois to catch a glimpse). In the meantime, as we wait for the next total solar eclipse, the sky has much more to offer. Here are a few things to look for on a dark clear night in the mountains.

As Earth travels about its orbit, it passes through clouds of particles left by passing comets or from the breakdown of asteroids (think small planet-sized rocks) orbiting the sun. As these particles encounter Earth’s atmosphere, the friction causes the objects to heat up and then these objects can be seen as light streaking across the sky. Meteor showers predictably occur throughout the year (calendars are available) allowing observers plenty of opportunities to see “shooting stars” in the night sky. Next up for North Georgia are the Draconid (averaging six shooting stars per hour at peak around October 9) and the Orionid (averaging fifteen shooting stars per hour at peak on October 21 and 22) meteor showers. By the way, on the hill by the cross will be a great place to gaze up to the heavens on one of October’s many crisp, clear nights.

Lastly, since 1998 the International Space Station (ISS) has circled the planet in low Earth orbit (about 254 miles away). It takes the ISS about 93 minutes to make one complete trip around the planet (7.66 km/sec) which means it passes directly overhead with surprising frequency. Under ideal conditions from your viewing location (an orbital path above the viewer’s horizon and at a time when sunlight can reflect of the surface of the station), you can very clearly see the ISS as a point of fast-moving light cutting across the sky. Fortunately, because of Newtonian physics, with absolute certainty, the ISS’s location of appearance, path and time of transit through the sky, and location of disappearance are all predictable relative to your geographic position on Earth. While the math involved in predicting the orbits of planetary bodies can be tedious, there is an app for that. The ISS Detector is a succinct and free tool to take the guesswork out of seeing the ISS in the night sky.

While the pandemic roars on around us, and Wal-Mart remains off-limits as a nighttime hang out, have a break from preparing for your next test or writing another paper, and go take a hike or stop and look up and seize the beauty of what is around you. In the words of Dr. Wallace Atwood, former president of Clark University: “The secret is to never lose the power of wonder. If you keep that alive, you stay young forever.  If you lose it, you die.”


Dr. Robert Bowen is the Dean of the School of STEM and Associate Professor of Physiology.

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