Christianity Daffodil Flats God Heaven North Carolina reflection the Gospel Zion

Reflections in Daffodil Flats

Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.
“[Daffodil Flats is] The best possible and easiest to sell excuse to bring people to Linville Gorge.” Spencer Clary (@canyoneer_engineer)
Every year during the late weeks of February and the early weeks of March, a seemingly insignificant flat patch of land in the south eastern end of the Linville Gorge erupts into a magnificent yellow field of daffodils. Jenny and I were able to visit just before peak bloom in 2013, but unfortunately missed it this year. Several friends of mine went, via several routes ranging from hard to harder to hardest, so I got to see Daffodil Flats blow up my Facebook feed for a couple weeks. It was during this time that it occurred to me there are many parallels to Daffodil Flats. It acts as a sort of foreshadow of Zion. Not the national park, or even heaven, but when the final chapter of this age is over and the beginning of eternity writes its first page in the New Creation. The kingdom of God that is everlasting. The place the book of Revelation tells us about when, in the presence of God, every tear is wiped away, and death and suffering are no more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good? This seems to me to be an impossible statement. I submit to you for consideration that if a Christian is of little or no earthly good, then they are far too weak when it comes to being heavenly minded. Does any of that make you think of any Christians you know? What are we known for?
Well, we are known for a lot of things. There are plenty of things I could say here, but odds are that you already have a list in your mind if you haven’t given up on me already. Thank you for sticking around! A couple months ago on a Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question: What if Christians were known for what they were for instead of what they were against? (Matt Rawlings) What if… just, what if… the men and women and children who claim to follow Christ were known for their supercharged vision of a Kingdom and Age to come? Zion. It’s like we are in a slumber, so busy rolling lazily about in bed that we do not see the adventure that awaits. Yes, the road is long and the winters are cold, but spring is coming!
Let’s bounce back to Linville Gorge. Daffodil Flats is located just off the Linville Gorge Trail, over a mile south of one of the most notoriously brutal trails in North Carolina. Pinch In Trail. From the top to the bottom, the trail takes you 1.5 miles through the rough forest, down a rocky and exposed sunbeaten ridge, to a near mudslide embedded with roots until you finally get to the river 1700 vertical feet later. The Linville Gorge Trail is then far from flat with dead blowdown sometimes covering the trail. I mentioned that there was more than one way down, but that is the fastest, most accessible, most direct combination of footsteps to get there. Then you get out the same way you came in, and it’s brutal when PinchIn Trail makes your heart feel like it will burst from beneath your breathless lungs. That trip to Daffodil Flats is one of the hardest stretches of six miles that North Carolina has to offer. People see the daffodils and whimsically say, “I want to go there! How do I do it?” The response, no matter what directions they’re given, always includes the warning: count the cost. The reward is great, but the road is full of obstacles and difficulties. However, we still love to tell people that the difficult road is worth it. Indeed, it is.
My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn
As a Christian, how do I see Zion? If I am of little heavenly mind, I will think of this Kingdom with little enthusiasm. Do I have to just be good and hope I get to some ethereal cloud city of harp playing goody-two-shoes? Let’s consider Daffodil Flats as we know it. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a field of flowers that captures us with a passion to see them for ourselves, despite the path to get there. We who have been there tell those who have not that it is amazing and worth it. This Daffodil Flats exists in a world that is under the curse of sin. Sin is not just doing a bad thing. It is a prison that holds us and this world – including our gorges – in chains and bondage. The world will be made new – including our gorges – and this world will be our world redeemed and set free from the thick and oppressive entropy of sin. To quote Matt Chandler, “All creation is eagerly awaiting its liberation.” The field of yellow that we marvel over every year is like trying to see the real thing in a mirror that is fogged over. Spring is coming.
If Daffodil Flats is what we see in a mirror dimly, what is beyond? What is to come? What is in store for this earth (and us, for that matter) when it ceases to be a hope and literally, physically becomes where God dwells with man? Does that sound like a dream or a drag to you? We read in Psalm 16:11 (ESV), King David (Slingshot Goliath slaying David) saying to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If Daffodil Flats is a joy and pleasure that we behold, yet begins to fade as we turn our backs…what will Psalm 16:11 joy and pleasures mean? How could we as Christians not be excited to tell everyone we know about this? Our excitement for Zion should be an amplified excitement for Daffodil Flats! We tell people to place their hope and trust and joy in Christ with all the same excitement of telling them that it’ll be a good decision to get their wisdom teeth pulled or ingrown toenails removed. Our hope for eternity with God is lackluster. After the hard winter of life, Spring is coming. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every spring, after the cold icy winters, the daffodils emerge in a field of glory like tiny prophets who proclaim to the world that a resurrection is coming.
Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom
Maybe part of our slumber, what keeps us in the warm bed of not thinking about too much beyond today, is that there is some bad news involved in the good news – that pesky thing of sin that costs Christians to be shunned with the names of bigot and worse. If you’re still reading and rolling your eyes at me, can I ask you to spend your disbelief very briefly? I saw this thing called sin in a new light this past week. We know from the Gospels in the Bible that Judas betrayed Jesus over a measley 30 pieces of silver. Also, the Gospels tell us that Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. I heard a song this week, and it really struck me. It is perhaps one of the most honest songs I have ever come out of music.
He sings, “Judas sold you for thirty. I would have done it for less. Peter denied you three times. I’ve denied you more. What have we done?” We are all in either the shoes of Judas or Peter. Once they saw themselves as a wreck, the only difference between them is that Judas attempted to atone for himself on his own terms by committing suicide, and Peter came to Jesus for atonement on Jesus’s terms of asking to be forgiven. Sin is not merely a stain on our record, an F on our report card, or a mistake we once made. Sin is our prison, and it can even be a prison that we love. Its presence is still at work in every aspect of life, especially the indwelling remains in my own heart. Sin wrecks havoc against us in pain, death, and heartbreak. You know how all that feels, and you don’t need me to flesh it out. Sin separates us from God, puts us at odds with him as enemies, and the only way to be reconciled is through Jesus. He is our mediator. I’m here to tell you what I am for. I am for where God is. I am for being where God says he will be, dwelling with man, and I want you to be there too. I get no notch on my belt. I don’t get an A on my report card. I don’t get any brownie points for telling you. Jesus is the only door, which stands open. I want you to go, so you can feel what it feels like at Daffodil Flats without the burden of a curse. I am not asking you to behave yourself and straighten up. I’m telling you that there is a Good King, and a great good is coming. That is what I am for.
2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, we are given a window into the scene. We read in Luke 23:39-43 ESV – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I realize you may be doubting at this point. You may be like the person who has never hiked yet heard reputations of the Linville Gorge. You’re saying, “No way am I going down there.” From someone who has started walking the road, let me say with the most confidence I can give, that the journey is worth it. Yes, there is a cost. Yes, like Daffodil Flats (or any other place in the Linville Gorge, for that matter), it is difficult and takes effort and cuts and scrapes and exhaustion on the long path, but it is worth it because of the wonder and delight that is set before us. The King is a Good King, and he gives us reflections and signposts of Himself and His Kingdom. Reflections and signposts of paradise, unfading and unperishable joy, pleasures at his hand. That’s a key, though. The pleasures are His. If we reject Him, we reject everything, and gain nothing. If we, like the thief crucified next to Him with nothing to offer, only ask Him to remember us in His Kingdom, then we gain everything. We are adopted by the King, become His sons and daughters, and gain everything. That Jesus died to be the door to Himself for us is indeed great news.
When you see the rays of the morning or evening sun paint the skies, or the dance of the Aurora Borealis dance beneath the stars, do you see the reflection? Do you see the reflection in Daffodil Flats of when everything will be made new? That is why we celebrate. Happy Easter to you, dear friend. Resurrection is coming. Jesus’s has already happened, and ours will be next, either to life or death. May your long road take you to the Good King and the paradise that accompanies Him alone. Please, let’s talk about it together.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes ever, from the late since rising writer Keith Green. “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things…and it says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. Scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. It doesn’t matter to me…but I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years…and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”
Some people are far more eloquent and more fully minded towards eternity than I am. A few of those resources are…
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Heartbreak (Episode 565) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Sin (Episode 566) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Mediocrity (Episode 567) #AskPastorJohn 
How Does Delight in God Fuel Delight in Creation? (Episode 452) #AskPastorJohn 
Tales of New Creation (Part 1) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 2) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 3) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Heaven. A book by Randy Alcorn
Mere Christianity. A book by C.S. Lewis
The Explicit Gospel. A book by Matt Chandler
Daffodil Flats Marriage North Carolina PinchIn Trip Reports

Josh, Jenny and the Gorge. Take 2.

My birthday is coming up and I asked my wife Jenny for the same thing I asked for last year: a trip to Linville Gorge. Our 2012 trip was a mess that left us with plenty of good stories and started a blog (you can read it here: After the Sandy Flat trail turned waterfalls, hail storms, and the demoralizing walk from Conley Cove back to Wiseman’s View, I had to play it straight on this one.

We parked at PinchIn.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove into the Gorge from I-40 to exit 90 to Nebo, around Lake James, up 126 to Kistler Memorial Highway 105. This is my favorite entrance to the Gorge because of the spectacular views of Shortoff Mountain from the road. I’m always amazed at how quick we get to the exit, yet we’re still an hour away from parking because of the slow going the surrounding roads demand. We hit the gravel on Kistler and the adventure began. I am driving my 2007 Toyota Matrix, front wheel drive, with about 4/32’s of tread on the tires.

We made it to Pinnacle parking with no problem. A short hike up to the top gives the best view of Lake James from the west side of the Gorge, as well as an amazing view of the cliffs of Shortoff Mountain. Getting back to the car, the parking area was full of a group wearing hard hats and carrying orange Home Depot buckets. I’m guessing they were goat herders.

After a short drive, we now parked at PinchIn. The goal of this trip was to see Daffodil Flats, a field if daffodils deep down by the river. They typically bloom March-ish, and we had been seeing daffodils blooming since February so I thought it would be a decent time. Options to get to Daffodil Flats: 1) PinchIn to Linville Gorge Trail. All official, longer, and a difficult climb out. Nothing perilous. 2) Pinnacle to the Mountains to Sea Trail to Leadmine to LGT. Wet. Previously scouted and decided not the best place to bring the girls. 3) Unnamed. Yeah, right. Not after last year. If I was with some hardcore bushwhacking scrambling rhodo-cracker like Wigg Faulkner, you betcha. My sweet wife? I chose PinchIn. In an effort to make this easier for her, I let her use my trekking poles, and I packed everything else (except her DSLR Canon) in my 35L Gregory pack. She was packless, and I was the pack-mule hoping this hike wouldn’t turn me into the pack-ass.

Down we went. The hike down PinchIn was really sweet. On both sides of the ridge, the recent rain was audible in waterflow. A few trickles on the south side of the ridge, and a good creek on the north side from a plateau. I noted what looked like some remnant of trail and question if that plateau is where Rock Jock extends north up to the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail (MCRT). Once at the cliffs, we took on some of my favorite Gorge views. Shortoff to the south, the North Carolina Wall, Table Rock and Hawksbill to the north. I love being able to look at those areas and trace routes I’ve hiked previously. A wildfire from a few years ago has cleared off the ridge of all but a few charred tree trunks. There was some slip sliding down in some steeper section with dry and dusty dirt, and we just lolly gagged our way down to the river. That last leg on PinchIn after it heads north off the ridge is steeeeep, but none of it is treacherous. Just difficult. We tried to put thoughts of hiking back up PinchIn to the car out of our mind as we headed south on the LGT intersection.

Not too far from PinchIn are a few campsites, and the first one is pretty sweet right on the river. My feet and shins were complaining from walking the last mile and a half with the brakes on, and the river with a few broad rocks at the shore was pretty welcoming. Off with the socks and shoes, out with the trail mix (Omega-3 blend from Trader Joe’s is a winner). The Linville River was ICE COLD, but pretty rejuvenating to tired feet. A couple guys were camping on the east side, and I wondered where they came in from. a river crossing would have been extremely unpleasant, temperature wise. After shoeing back up, we headed south on the LGT. It was really cool to have the cliffs of Shortoff directly above us and be able to see the balcony in the side of the mountain where the Crack of Doom emerges. We were graced with the awesome sight of a blue heron gliding above the river and coming to rest on the east side. It took back to the air before we could get to a spot clear enough for a photo, but watching it gracefully fly back up the river was a truly spectacular sight.

I know that it’s easy to overestimate distance when hiking in the Gorge, but I was starting to question if I had missed it, even though I didn’t think so. About the time I started getting the urge to say, “It has to be just up ahead…?” I saw some yellow through the brush. Daffodil Flats.

They weren’t quite in full bloom, but there were still plenty enough not to disappoint. Jenny walked around and took some photos, while I checked out the area. The ground was extremely soggy along the west side of the flats, with a little stream coming down from the cliffs (from Rockefeller Plaza or Nate’s Waterfall, perhaps?). Several feet to either side of it, even though it looked dry, was boggy. I looked back when I heard the sucking sounds of Jenny pulling her feet loose from the muck. I set up the hammock (unmodified ENO DoubleNest with SlapStrapPro’s for anyone who cares), we sat back and enjoyed our turkey on hoagie sandwiches for lunch. Reclining side by side with Jenny in the hammock, leisurely enjoying our lunch, and feasting our eyes on that field of daffodils was one of those moments I wish I could have frozen time. Resting with my wife, who I love even more than hammocks in the Linville Gorge, is one of the sweetest balms to my soul. Life is difficult, and to have an excellent wife to run this race with brings so much joy to me. Honey, I love you so much.

We could have laid there forever. I was totally wishing I had packed camping gear because we would have pitched right there and stayed the night. Unfortunately, it was 2:30pm and now this good thing must come to an end. We had to head back, and this was the halfway point. I knew that this trip would have it’s difficulties, but I did not anticipate that our energy would be depleted as much as it was by the time we got to Daffodil Flats. We had over a mile before we got to the LGT PinchIn intersection where the work actually began! On the way out, we met Trish (AdventureSeeker, I think she said?) and a couple of her friends, said hi, talked about the forums at Always nice to run into a Gorge Rat.

So back onto the LGT. There was a bunch of blowdown on the trail, making it much more difficult than it needed to be. Several trees to climb over, and some points where the trail was blocked totally. That blowdown did provide me with a nice walking staff, which I actually picked up on the way in. After a mile of climbing over and under natural hurdles, we were at PinchIn. It was time to start praying that God, giver of all good things and mercies anew, would give us the energy to ascend the 1760′ of elevation over the next 1.5 miles that has been shorthandedly named PinchIn Trail. We felt spent. We knew what was waiting for us, looming over us, between us and the car. We each had a semi-frozen 32oz Gatorade, one for each of my side pockets in my cargo pants, hoping the heat of my body would accelerate its solid to liquid transition. We were gonna need what those drinks would provide. With one step forward, we began the grind out.

The first third of PinchIn is stupidly steep, as it climbs the north side of the ridge from the river. The only view to be had is the neck cramp inducing gaze to the top of the ridgeline. Up and up and dirty step after sliding step. Praise Jesus for trekking poles and that nice staff I found on the LGT. It felt like I was rowing a boat in Venice: stick planted, pull! Stick planted, pull! And what was not near soon enough, the trees began to thin out, and we were back on the bald ridgeline. Jenny asked how far we were, at least two-thirds of the way up PinchIn? No, only one-third. We had a ways to go. I don’t feel like the ridgeline is as difficult as that first climb up from the river, but that’s not to say it isn’t steep. A steady grade of I’m guessing above 40% on exposed ridgeline. Whoever does this in the sweltering heat of summer is asking for a horrific, if not even dangerous, time. Fortunately, we had the North Carolina Wall and cliffs of Shortoff ablaze and glowing in the setting sunlight to keep us company. Amazing views. Extremely rough hike out, but really amazing views. Pressing on.Fortunately there are plenty places and rocks and logs to sit and rest upon, braking up and easing the long haul out. I’m so glad there are very few obstacles, short of the incline, on this trail. Jim DeFriess, you do a beautiful job maintaining this beast of a trail. I imagined you out there swinging a Pulaski, and a deep appreciation came over me. Thank you for all the effort you’ve put into PinchIn. Finally we make it to the cliffs, taking rest in the shade, and enjoying the quartz woven into the rock. It’s everywhere, glistening jewels giving glory to God, extolling His name while being glad they’re in the Gorge and not a countertop. Back at the plateau, taking no note of southern Rock Jock, and into the trees. My hips were bearing the full burden of my loaded backpack, which was grinding on my hips like the trail was grinding my legs. The final third, and the car at the top of the ridge. Grinding step after step, hearts pounding, swigs of Gatorade, glorious views, the best wife in the world, and our legs screaming for mercy. My Matrix never looked so good, and we joked about how despondent we would be if we still had to road walk back to the car. I also joked to Jenny, “Imagine how tough that would have been if we were bushwhacking!” Ha ha hilarious. Jenny gracious allowed me to take our post-PinchIn portrait at the trailhead sign, where I left my walking staff (someone’s gonna need it!!) and we crashed into the front seats of the car. Mercies anew. But we weren’t done.

One of my biggest regrets from the Sandy Flat trip is that we parked at Wiseman’s View and didn’t go to the overlooks. Being so close to it, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass again, no matter how tired we were. The only thing that stood in our way now was the Kistler Memorial Highway, which has the reputation of being one of the roughest roads in western North Carolina.

Indeed. The Matrix was doing good, and it has decent ground clearance. Front wheel drive yes, but using the torque from first and second gears, using that shifter, got us through it. It was rough and rutty up to Conley Cove, but between there and Wiseman’s View was pretty sketchy. At one turn, on a steep incline (they’re everywhere in Linville Gorge, even the roads), there were several rocks jutting up from the road, and while I made it over them, I was fearful of what my oil pan and transmission pan looked like. After the bonejarring drive several miles up Kistler and then bouncing down the access drive to Wiseman’s, I was able to check the car out and I’m happy to report my Matrix survived. The views along Kistler were fantastic. I looked at the Ampitheater and feel like the hike out of there was even more grizzly than PinchIn.

Wiseman’s View is an easy paved walkway to the cliffs, and is even handicap accessible. A nice cool down stretch after the punishment we just put our bodies through. What a view the overlooks give here. Touristy or not, Wiseman’s View offers the easiest and most magnificent views of the Linville Gorge. We gazed upon Hawksbill and Table Rock, with Brown Mountain beyond, as the sun settled behind the ridge we were standing on. The curtain was closing on the Linville Gorge for the day, and we got to see its final call. Wonderful. What a great day with my wife.

We ducked under the guardrail on the north side of Wiseman’s to take a peek off the cliffs, which I’m pretty certain was UGs Point. Looking straight down into what I’m also pretty sure was Sandy Flats, we heard music. In the side of the cliff right in front of us, a guy had set up camp, tent pitched and radio playing “How Bizarre” by OMC, one of my least favorite songs ever.

Kistler Memorial Highway north of Wiseman’s View was still slow going but in much better condition than the southern section. Pretty soon we were back on 183, and I’m pretty sure I heard my car make a big such of relief. Either that, or I cheesily made the sigh on behalf of my car. My front wheel drive Matrix had driven the entirety of Kistler Memorial Highway. Rock on.

What a full day it was. We were so tired. I felt like my legs were going to atrophy in the driver’s seat, but we still had one more stop. That’s right. The part that no trip to the Gorge is complete without. We pulled into Famous Louise’s Rockhouse for a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. Grace upon grace and foretastes of Heaven beyond the hearth of that door! The grind of the day met with the delight of pie. What a shallow shell of an image of our life and when Jesus finally brings to fruition the new Earth and those who are His recline at the marriage supper of the Lamb who was slain. Thanks for the eschatological break there.

What a great day it was! Jenny, the Gorge, daffodils, wonderful conversation, and pie. With Linville Falls, Sandy Flat, Cathedral Falls, Conley Cove, Daffodil Flats, PinchIn (both ways!), 2 sections of the LGT, Kistler Memorial Highway, and strawberry rhubarb pie at Louise’s, I think Jenny has earned her stripes and is officially a Gorge Rat-ette…. and she’s still smiling at me.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

Proverbs 31:10 esv