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Please forgive this very personal blog. And I apologize if my experiences do not match occasions in your life and bring up unpleasant memories for you. I just feel I need to share some events in my life that can be summarized in one word … “Blessed”.

As most of you know, I have three boys who are just great young men. Andrew works for Cru (formally Campus Crusade for Christ) on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. Steven is in his second year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. John Thomas is in his second year at the University of Tennessee.

We live in an idyllic setting, running Hemlock Inn in the beautiful mountains of the Great Smokies. All three boys grew up working here. It can be challenging sometimes helping with the family business, working for Dad, and being on call all the time. But they handled it fine.

But we have had our share of challenges too. John Thomas was diagnosed with Patella Malalignment in the 8 th grade, tore up both knees, had surgery on both, and had to give up sports at a young age. In his senior year of high school, Steven was driving to school one morning when a sudden cold snap froze the roads. His car slid off the road, went over a 50 foot embankment, hit a tree while flying through the air, and landed upright just shy of the Tuckaseegie River. He was able to walk away from the accident. Last Thursday, Andrew called at 12:30am to report that he was standing in the parking lot watching his apartment go up in flames. He escaped with very little as the rapidly moving blaze consumed his third floor apartment.

As I have revisited those events and others in my life, I couldn’t help thinking how I have been blessed. I shouldn’t waste my time concentrating on the “what ifs”. John Thomas can walk; Steven and Andrew both survived very scary and potentially dangerous situations.

Times are difficult right now for many folks. Unemployment remains high. Businesses are closing at an alarming rate while others are struggling just to survive. To some extent, Hemlock Inn is in that last category. But it is important for me to remember that the blessings I have received far exceed the hardships I have experienced. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not always remember that. I need to focus more on being thankful and counting my blessings. But I also realize that there is more to it than that. I am also compelled to pass my blessings to others. If I allow myself to concentrate only on the blessings I have received, I am selfish. Many around me need to receive my blessing through simple acts of kindness, generosity, compassion, concern….giving. That is where Hemlock Inn has been so instrumental. It is a tool where we can touch other people’s lives and be a part of their good times as well as the hard times. I hope and pray that I will always take the time and opportunity given to me to pass blessings not only to my family, but also our guests, our staff, and others.

I am blessed and so are you. I just hope I can be a blessing to others…..


A Great Way to Clear and Energize Your Mind

blog50When I am flustered and frustrated, I am not always the best person to be around. I can be moody and sometimes downright grouchy. When that happens, Lainey always knows what to say…”Mort, take a hike”. Literally…She is not giving up on me, just sending me to woods to walk. She knows that when I do, I think more clearly.

That reality was validated recently by a study published in Proceedings, an online medical journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Among other things, it suggests that regular exercise like walking or hiking can improve the brain’s memory function and perhaps even lessen the risk of dementia. Another study from the University of Rochester noted a 20% increase in energy for people who spent a minimum of 20 minutes outdoors as opposed to individuals who exercised indoors.

I know getting out and walking works for me. First, it just calms me down. I blend in with the peaceful setting and enjoy the quiet. Then an interesting thing happens, my mind kicks into gear. My thought process clarifies and I have a better perspective on the tasks and challenges I am facing. I am able to mentally compose letters, plan activities and organize my thoughts.

It happened to me yesterday as I hiked the Loop Trail at Deep Creek. It is so close by that I should do it more often. I walked up Deep Creek trail following the creek, listening to it tumble over the rocks. I could hear the birds singing and even spotted a wild turkey in the brush. As I started up Sunkota Ridge, everything changed. The roar of the creek melted away, the breeze died down and suddenly I was in the most still setting I could remember in a long time. There was not a leaf moving, not a bird fluttering or squirrel scampering anywhere. It was the most peaceful, quiet surrounding imaginable. I was not thinking about anything but the wonder at the beauty of the woods and the stillness all around me. As I topped Sunkota Ridge and started back down, I first heard and then saw the first evidence of a small spring beginning to make its way down to Indian Creek. Some Rhododendron bushes began to rustle and the forest began to come back to life. Shortly, I could hear the roar of Indian Creek heading down to Indian Creek Falls. It was an auditory delight.

When I reached Indian Creek Falls, I was just a mile from the trailhead and my thinking was energized. By the time I was back at the car, I had mentally composed some correspondence I needed to do but had been putting off. That evening it was on paper…completed.

I will be leading hikes the week of September 12. Every morning we will be going out to some of my favorite trails, experiencing some beautiful scenery, having some wonderful conversation, and clearing our minds. Come join us.

— Mort

The Disappearance of Rural America

Did you read the recent article about the disappearance of rural America? It seems that only 16% of the nation’s population now lives in a rural setting… the lowest percentage ever. By contrast, there is a growing number of “megalopolises”. In fact, the boundary lines between many cities is becoming more and more blurred. Moderate size metro areas are blending together to form larger and larger megapolitan areas.

The article went on to point out the many advantages folks see in larger communities from economic opportunities to mass transit systems, to the many conveniences larger cities offer. Anything you want or need can be found just a short distance from home. I remember years ago, when Bryson City finally got a McDonald’s (we still have only one small one). A guest asked how long it would take us to drive to it from the inn. After we told him it would take about 10 minutes, he told us he had 5 within 5 minutes of his home.

But with all its advantages, there is a also a downside to metropolitan living as well. Lainey had a birthday last week and wanted a manicure and pedicure. I offered to drop her by the nail salon while I ran some errands. The nail salon was busier than usual and I ended up having to wait for her for a while. After reading all the People magazines they had (one) and passing on Women’s Wear Daily, I struck up a conversation with another husband. He was visiting the area and when I asked where he was from, he named a North Carolina city which will remain nameless. Then the fun began. He proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with the city from traffic to crime to schools. If that was not bad enough, a lady, waiting her turn to have her nails done, joined in conversation saying “You think you’ve got it bad, I live in ……..”(another unnamed city in a bordernig state). For the next few minutes, these two adults argued over who lived in the worst city while I sat listening, amazed at what I was witnessing.

blog48Our mountain community does not qualify in any way shape or form as a metro area. We have about 15,000 year round residents. 87% of the land in our county is owned by the government and is very rural…including much of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Nantahala National Forest land, TVA (Lake Fontana is part of the TVA system). We don’t have many of the conveniences or resources of the larger areas.

My nephew, Chad Gilbert, just moved here from Marietta, Georgia to help us with the inn’s operation. We are delighted to have him here. One of the first things he did was try to get internet service in his home. After two days of discussions with the service provider, he was told that the lines were full at this time and he would not be able to get service until someone moved. Welcome the the mountains Chad.

We are not perfect, we have our share of problems too, but I also believe we have something very special. Peace, quiet, and tranquility. Rather than super highways, we have tree covered trails. Rather than water parks, we have mountain streams Rather than huge shopping centers, we have small towns filled with unique shops of local interest. Rather than big resort facilities, we have quaint country inns and bed and breakfasts. We may have to drive a little ways to find something we need, but the drive is beautiful and pleasant.

In closing, the article said… “Far Flung rural counties boasting vacation and outdoor recreation will continue as popular destination points for young couples, retirees, and empty nesters”. I believe that is true and hope that if you live in a big “megalopolis”, and are looking for a quiet get away, come see us. We’ll be sitting in our rocking chair looking over our mountain valley….waiting for you.


Thunderstorms, Front Porches, and a Little Patience

blog47We have had an adventurous few weeks around here. The first of the month, we hosted the Hester Family reunion and were the venue for Janey and Joel Yarborough’s wedding all the same weekend. Congratulations to them. The following week, we thoroughly enjoyed having the Summer Hostel group from Lipscomb University, followed immediately by more small family reunions for the Calverts, Beasons, and Jones.

But our weeks had challenges as well. After a very warm spell in late May and early June, the weather turned stormy to say the least. We had wave after wave of heavy thunderstorms with high winds and even small hail to accompany the drenching rains.

The most severe storm hit our area just two hours before the arrival of the Lipscomb University group. The event included a severe squall line, wind shear, or even small tornado that successfully took down a number of power poles, including three that served our inn. Fortunately, we have a gas stove and a small generator that provides electricity to our kitchen and dining room, so our meals were served as usual. All the guests were extremely understanding and the power company did their best to restore our electricity as soon as possible under difficult circumstances. We were inconvenienced, but the temperatures were cool and comfortable, the food hot and delicious, and our guests were extraordinarily patient.

Unfortunately, I was not as calm and patient as our guests. I felt it was my task was to make everyone’s stay as perfect as possible and was frustrated that I had no control over this particular situation. Impatience got the better of me. I repeatedly called the power company to remind them we were out of power and to find out how much longer it would be before it was restored. I would even drive my truck throughout the area, looking for the downed lines and the repair trucks. I guess I thought I could hijack one, tell them where the problems were, and convince them to stop whatever they were doing and come to Hemlock Inn.

I didn’t have any luck finding the repairmen, but I did start to notice an interesting phenomenon wherever I drove. In the evening, I would see folks sitting outside their homes on their front porches, stoops, carports, or even in their front yards. It reminded me of my childhood, especially at my grandmothers house, where that was a nightly occurrence. Before the advent of television, computers, and air conditioning, all the neighbors would congregate outside in the evenings and visit.

Unfortunately, most homes today don’t have front porches. It is much more common to find houses with back porches or decks or patios. Author Phillip Gulley wrote about front and back porches in his book For Everything, There is a Season. He felt people with front porches were honest, open and don’t have anything to fear while folks with back porches had something to hide. I don’t know about that, but I do know the folks I saw sitting outside seemed very content and calm, while I was nervously driving around.

Hemlock Inn has a front porch and for almost 60 years, it is where our guests have gathered before and after our meals to share about the events of their day. It is a special time filled with laughter and wild stories. Many of our guests have formed bonds and friendships that have lasted for years while visiting on our porch and around our tables. I would have been far better served if I had just done what I tell our guests so often… sit awhile, relax, enjoy the view and each other. The power came back on, it always does. The blackouts never last very long, but the peaceful time, watching the moon rise, the stars come out and spending time with friends and family are memories that last forever. I will try to remember that next time.

— Mort

Nature’s Theme Park

blog45A few years ago, a local businessman proposed a marketing plan for our region entitled “Nature’s Theme Park”. The premise of his proposal was that all the natural activities in and around the Great Smoky Mountains were as good as those found in any theme park. Personally, I liked the idea, but it never caught on and the idea quietly died.

Don’t get me wrong, my family loves theme parks. As our boys were growing up, we visited several of the large parks and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We loved all the rides, excitement, and food. But I was also never really interested in going to one in the summer. They were crowded, noisy, and because of all the concrete, very hot.

I would much rather be walking on a nice trail following a mountain stream with a canopy of trees across my path. As for water rides, our area is full of places to tube, whitewater raft, canoe, kayak, or boat. I will guarantee that the water in our streams are cooler than any you will find in a water park.

A local newscaster recently said “…there is one place where we can guarantee it will always be 60 degrees…our creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes.” We have found that to be very true.

In addition, there are numerous other outdoor activities including mountain biking, zip lining, rock climbing, fishing and more. There is so much to fill anyone’s day. If you stay with us at Hemlock Inn, you have the added bonus of our wonderful southern meals. Combine that with our discounts and you have can have a very affordable vacation.

There is another wonderful feature of the mountains. The days may be warm, but our mornings and evenings are cool. After dinner, many of our guests go outside and sit on our deck watching the sunset. Even though our rooms are air conditioned, some of our guest actually turn them off and open the windows to take advantage of the 60 degree nights.

I am a believer that we live in Nature’s Theme Park and I think you will too. Come experience it yourself.


Spring Flowers in Bloom!

blog43Jim Burbank and his wife, Eleanor, just left the inn after two wonderful weeks of wildflower walks. I don’t think we have ever had more perfect weather. After the recent storms passed, the temperature was cool and the skies were crystal clear. It was a great time to search out flowers such as the spring beauty, jack in the pulpit, trillium, iris, and even the elusive yellow lady slipper as well as many many more.

The signature flowers of our mountains are now coming in bloom, even here on our property. Many folks confuse the Mountain Laurel and the Rhododendron. Here are pictures of both found right here. The Rhododendron, admittedly a hybrid, is found just below our deck (above right photo).

The Mountain Laurel (in photo on right) is located all around the Innkeepers Cottage and both are found on our 2 mile nature trail located on our 57 acres.

Spring is such a pretty month and there are still rooms available through May. Memorial Day is not far away and we hope you will especially take advantage of the long weekend to escape to the mountains to see the Laurel and Rhododendron and combine that with a few nights rest in the mountain air and our homecooked meals and you will leave refreshed and renewed.

See you soon!



Easter is very late this year. Does anyone really understand how the date for Easter is set each year? All I know, it has to do with some guy named Vernal Equinox. At any rate, Easter falls on April 24 this year, which is past our normal opening date. This late date has affected our reservations since our normal early spring crowd, that usually comes the third week in April, will wait til the week after Easter to come this year. So then, the group that normally comes the fourth week in April will come the first week of May. And then….well you get the idea.

The interesting thing is that few want to comes over Easter Weekend. We have noticed this in earlier years as well. The prevailing thought seems to be that most want to be in their home church on Easter morning and who can blame them. Easter is the harbinger of spring, a time of school holidays, and a welcome time of warmth after a cold winter. But as we all know, it is much more than that. While spring welcomes new natural life in the form of beautiful flowers, new leaves and green grass, Easter is really about a resurrected life that we should be celebrating with our local body of believers.

So we will be closed over Easter weekend. Our son, John Thomas, will be home from college. We will have time to visit with him and then attend our church together. We sincerely hope your Easter is wonderful as well. We all have reason to rejoice in this most special and holy of times.

We will reopen on Monday, April 25 and look forward to your visit. Don’t forget our wildflower walks April 25-May 7 with Jim Burbank and our new Digital Photography workshop May 16-18.



Perfectly Glorious!

blog40Lainey and I started out this past Sunday morning with good intentions. Steven has a classmate whose parents started a new church in Cashiers, and since this was the last Sunday we would be available for a while, we decided to visit. We got up early, allowed plenty of time for the drive to Cashiers, and set out eager to meet these folks and enjoy a good church service. We knew the name of the church and knew the directions. The only thing we didn’t know was the time the service started and sure enough, we arrived at the church to find the service started earlier than we expected. The pastor was already part way into his sermon and, since it was such a small church, it would have caused disruption if we walked in so late.

So we regrouped and decided to leisurely drive to Highlands, find a place for lunch and then head back home. We took the beautiful drive to Highlands but since it is still early in the season, many places were still closed. We eventually found a small restaurant on Main Street in what appeared to be a converted home. We were taken to a small room and seated at a table next to a pair of windows. We ordered our meal and as we waited, it finally struck me just how nice the day was. There was a blue ski, a comfortable breeze coming through the window, as well as wonderful company. It was for lack of a better term “Perfectly Glorious”.

Our winter and early spring, like most of yours I imagine, was adventurous to say the least. December and January were especially cold much more snowy than usual. Lately, it seems we have been getting one huge thunderstorm with high winds and tornado warnings after another. But that was all forgotten by this single moment of peace and tranquility. Spring is here and the dogwoods and tulips are in bloom. Warm air has returned and all is good
I imagine many of you have been wondering when all the storms are going to stop. There seems to be nothing but bad news everywhere. Maybe it is time for all of us to stop paying so much attention to the news, and start paying more attention to our blessings. Perhaps we should be counting the good things surrounding us, including our family, friends, and health. I imagine if we paid more attention to our blessings, we would find our lives, much like last Sunday morning, are “Perfectly Glorious”.

Hemlock Inn will open for our new season, Friday, April 15. We hope you come enjoy our peaceful setting, wonderful home cooked meals, and genuine hospitality.

See you soon!


The Internet is great, but…

The internet is a marketing jewel. No one can argue that it is the most powerful way to get your message to the public. “Social Networking” is also growing at a phenomenal rate. Hemlock Inn has a wonderful website and has recently added Facebook too. There is no question that these two wonderful tools bring the vast majority of new business to our inn.

However, the old fashioned way still brings in a few. Today, I had two examples of this happen within a short period of time. Two nice folks walked up to the inn this afternoon and told me they rented a cabin in the area “sight unseen” and were very disappointed when they arrived. They discovered it was located on a highway, was very small, and noisy. They rode the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad today and got into a discussion with a fellow rider and told them of their frustration. The rider convinced them that they needed to stay at Hemlock Inn. So they came up, looked around and said “This is what we had in mind”. They will stay with us for the next few nights.

We were discussing this at mealtime and another guest told us of their experience. They were in the area earlier in the summer and were tubing in Cherokee. They literally ran into another tuber and got into a discussion about the area. Our guest told her new friend she was looking for a place to bring her mother where she could sit on the porch in a rocking chair and look at the mountains. The fellow tuber told her that Hemlock Inn was the place she needed to be.

For many years, “word of mouth” was the primary reason new guests came to the inn. It was the tried a true way someone felt comfortable going to a new place. The endorsement of a trusted friend was all they needed. Folks now have the advantage of “visiting” new places through the internet and can usually get a good feel for the place they are researching. But that is not always the case, as our first couple found out. Surprises are not always pleasant when traveling.

We are thrilled that we have such loyal and faithful guests that tell others of our inn. We know this happens far more than we can ever imagine and we are appreciative beyond measure. No Innkeeper could ever ask for more than a satisfied guests who shares his experience with others. Thank you all for your love and support of Hemlock Inn. It means more than you could ever dream!

— Mort

End of Summer

It’s been a while since I have written. We had a pretty good late summer surge that kept us busy for a while followed by the Francis Asbury Society Retreats in August. They have been coming to the inn for 28 years every August. We are very thankful for them. Now, schools are starting back up and things begin to slow down around here. It’s a shame too because September is one of the best months to travel. The weather is cooler (finally), the crowds are smaller, and there are discounts to be found. We are extending our own discount for the whole month of September…stay the first night at regular price and all other nights are 25% off. Can’t beat a deal like that. We also have a photography workshop September 10-13 and opportunities for watercolor and pottery as well.

October will be great as always with the wonderful fall colors. Rooms are still available though, so give us a call. Thanksgiving is filling up, but a few rooms remain. Believe it or not, Polar Express is already a hot item. Some of the First Class runs on December weekends are almost full. Plenty of other time still open. I still advise you reserve early for this great family event. It is very popular.

This economic environment has been a challenge for everyone, but we are encouraged by the support of many folks like you that continue to visit and send your friends. It has been interesting that we have heard from a number of former guests who haven’t been here in a while. They seem to be reaching back and thinking of the fun times and good memories of the inn. I got an email recently from former guests now living out west. They summed it up nicely when they said…

“Today, my husband and I were reminiscing about our lovely vacations in NC back in the 70’s….Since the 80’s, we have moved around the country but have never forgotten the Hemlock Inn. …Many times over the years when we have cooked bacon, we have been reminded of your place and the smell of cooking bacon. Staying and eating there made such an impact on our emotions….We hope to stay with you in the future when we make one of our sentimental journeys back to our beloved South. Now I need to find some golf courses in Bryson City because that is our passion. Well, golf and bacon.”

We hope to see them soon…especially since we do have golf courses in Bryson City now. We hope to see you too.