With the tender rhythm of the blues, narrative folk songs, soulful gospel, ostentatious Graceland and the Grand Ol’ Oprey, Tennessee shines as a living music box. I stare through my own reflections at the Gibson Guitar Factory, admiring the craftsmanship of finely strung devices. Sanded, coated and polished with incredible precision, the bellies of these instruments seem to breathe with life. However, none of them sing notes of beauty, or ring out with nostalgic melodies.
Endless rows of acoustic guitars glisten in deep maroons, vibrant blues and rich woods. I watch as one of these hollow masterpieces is gently lifted from her case, leaving only a velvet impression behind. She remains alluringly silent until five fingers delicately stroke her body. Like Venus de Milo, her elegance is revealed. When the flesh no longer manipulates the strings, the echo is muted once again. I am reminded that it is our hands that are instruments of perfection. Our complex composition of skin and bones awaken an untouchable world, revealing mysterious truths and opening doors that otherwise remain locked. Within this realm of poetic melodies, music is in the palm of your hand. Life, faith and honesty are valued here, and the evidence is revealed when someone takes the time to strum.
We wander into The Lost Sea and discover an underground lake. Years ago, explorers looked for a way out of the caves by stocking the water with fish, hoping they could lead them out. The fish never left, but they went blind from living in the dark. Now people have to feed them, and the water is filthy. A guide takes us onto the lake with a small boat, and the stench alone makes me wish that the area were still lost from entrepreneurs.
In Chattanooga, we visit Lookout Mountain, Point Park, and The World’s Steepest Incline. The Bluff View Art District is inspiring, but none of it compares to the experience we have in Cookeville. At the Cookeville Art Center, two creative geniuses talk to us about their work and inspirations. They feed us some fruit bread and send us on our way. We don’t make it far before stopping at East 1st Coffee House, were we talk with the guy behind the counter. He appears to be in his twenties and is so excited about us being there that he calls up one of his friends so I can talk to them on the phone! For some reason, people in this town feel the need to feed us when we tell them our story. I am not complaining, because the warm soup was just what we needed to relax our bodies from the winter chill. We ask our new acquaintance if there is anything around that we shouldn’t miss, and he begins to tell us about this cave that the locals go to. “It is on private land, so you won’t find a visitor’s center or tour guide, but it is really worth exploring,” he says. Unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly know the street names, so he gives us very vague directions that include landmarks such as “you’ll see a painted rock,” and “you’ll pass a community of Mennonites.” We don’t want to waste any time, so we head off in search of the cave. We are in such a hurry that we don’t think to pick up supplies, and when we finally decipher the coded directions, it is dusk. We only have one small flashlight to guide us, so as we turn away from the mouth of the cave, we promise each other that we will return.