Sam Venable
Department of Irony

There’s no telling what kind of wild tale David Sawyer will come back with when he goes hiking. Depending on the time of year, Sawyer’s trail exploits might revolve around bears or blizzards, bugs or blisters. 

And occasionally, bare butts. 

“I knew nobody would believe me if I just told ’em what I saw,” he noted, “So I took a picture.” 

And what a photograph it was! It proved oh-so-graphically that you never know what to expect in the great outdoors. 

This occurred one morning in June when Sawyer traveled to Roan Mountain. He knew that the Catawba Rhododendrons would be near the peak of their bloom by then, and he wanted to capture this botanical majesty. He left the parking lot at Carvers Gap shortly before sunrise, intending to hike all the way to the top of Grassy Ridge Bald, which veers off the Appalachian Trail. 

“Just before the junction I found some outstanding blooms right on the trail,” he recalled. “I set up my tripod and camera and had been taking photos for 10 or 15 minutes.” 

About that time, he heard the voices of approaching hikers. That’s no surprise to anyone who frequents the trails, of course. In fact, Sawyer didn’t even look up from his work when one of the walkers called out, “Hail! The summer solstice is upon us!” 

Sawyer was in process of snapping photos by remote cable, so he was engrossed with his equipment. He simply threw up a hand and hollered “Hail!” in reply.

As soon as the exposure was taken, however, he turned around. And his mouth dang-near dropped open. 

The three hikers headed his way had on nothing but backpacks, boots, and smiles. 

“It was three college-aged guys,” Sawyer said. 

“I asked them what in the world would bring them into the woods dressed like that. 

“They said on the summer solstice you’re supposed to hike naked. 

“In our short conversation – during which I maintained strict eye-to-eye contact, by the way–  they told me this was a old ritual of the Druids.” 

The merry men were soon on their way. Indeed, they were partway down the trail before Sawyer regained his senses, swung the camera around, and snapped a shot of them “naturally fading” into the distance. He’s been showing the picture to family and friends ever since. 

The reason I tell this tale right now is because the summer solstice is upon us once again. It arrives June 21. 

Naturally, David Sawyer plans to be on the same Roan Mountain trail, photographing the same rhododendrons. Or whatever else he happens to see. 

“I’m just hoping there are some women in the group next time,” he said.

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, humor columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, and a member of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. His latest book is “WARNING! This Product Contains Nuttiness!” He may be reached at