When we arrived at Standing Bear Farm, we had just completed the Smokies, soaked to the bone by days of relentless rain. An eclectic hostel in a hollow just outside the National Park, it was known for its larger-than-life proprietor, Curtis Owen. We met him briefly that day, and were ushered to the “Honeymoon Suite,” since our sleeping bag didn’t allow us to take two bunks and the sodden hillside was no place to camp.
Down by the outdoor kitchen and the washing machine, I saw this joyful spirit peering out of an antique washer. It cheered me up, as did a bit of warm food and a place to get out of the rain.
When I heard from our friends at Laughing Heart that Curtis had passed away, it came as a surprise. I thought of this spirit, and how it moved me to smile. Many hikers stopped at Standing Bear, all looking for different things. I don’t know if Curtis, his wife Maria, or a passing hiker created this thoughtful work of art, but I do know that the spirit of Curtis is embedded deeply in this place. Rest in peace, traveler.