During the first half of July we traveled to Tennessee and then the Blue Ridge Mountains/foothills of North Carolina, my favorite place since childhood. As we were traveling there I happened to be finishing up a book by John O'Donohue called Eternal Echoes. It explores the ideas of longing and belonging as two modes of being woven through life, especially as they relate to geographical locations. We live constantly in creative tension between longing and belonging, usually leaning more to the longing side, but sometimes finding reprieve in the comfort of belonging. I found the concept very helpful as a way viewing and and understanding my past and present, the places and phases I have passed through.
Many people have written about the specialness and distinctiveness of Appalachia, and I suppose that it would be difficult to understand unless you have been there and formed a bond for yourself-- felt the enchantment of this region. I caught it when I was very little and it has never left me. I used to daydream about the Blue Ridge Mountains in grade school. In college I grew fond of the Tennessee side of things via the Cherokee National Forest which was a short distance from campus.
Between all of my extended family members, I can pick out the ones of us who share the deep love for this area and the ones whose attention has drifted away to other places. I try not to be prejudiced, but I cannot help but feel that those who have the deep love for the mountains of Appalachia, who feel more deeply drawn to it than anywhere else, have a particularly deep soul and refined taste (smile). Now I am trying to expose my girls to this place so that they will have the opportunity to form that deep bond as well. I know this is not something that can be forced, but it is also something that is more likely to happen if they are given the time and opportunity. I try not to hope for too much, but I do carry a secret dream in my pocket that my children will grow up feeling what I always felt about this place. The last time we travelled there, they were too young to do much or understand much. Hiking was not a realistic option, and they were not even able to form a very firm memory of being there. But this visit was a turning point. We took them hiking every day and spent lots of time wading in mountain streams. They collected rocks, observed spiderwebs, bugs, butterflies, mushrooms, and took in some scenic views. They were excellent sports and we had no trouble keeping them motivated along the rocky, sometimes steep inclines. At one point my oldest stopped in her tracks, threw her hands up in the air, did a spin, and said: "This path is so beautiful!"
I know that the Blue Ridge Mountains are not he most spectacular or impressive mountains in the world, but to me they are the most lovable and the most rightfully mine, and I feel a profound sense of contentment when I am enfolded in their shadows. I feel safe there--quelled, calmed, and soothed. It helps also that a big part of my family on my mother's side has strong ties there and have settled there permanently. My grandmother's sister was the first to build a cabin there (some of the photos below are of the cabin she built ages ago), and now three of my mom's cousins live there permanently and I see them every time I visit. Most of them have lived other places but then came back to North Carolina. I know that they understand the specialness of the place and value it in the same way that I do. I always imagine that my life will, if life allows, follow the same pattern.
There are other kinds of belonging and I know that right now they have a legitimate claim on me-- the obligations here in the Midwest where we actually live and work and own a house (and--ack--will soon be starting homeschool a short time from now). And that is necessary, I know. Part of me was sulky about coming back to a hot, muggy July beneath the Midwestern sun, unmitigated by any contours in the flat landscape. But once we were back I felt consoled by the normalcy of simply being home and slid right back into that other mode of belonging where I keep busy with projects, duties, and hobbies. Right now I belong here in the Midwest, but only in a way that is more utilitarian and de facto, not visceral or emotional. I will never feel the connection to this region that I have to the southeast. The adult part of me knows all of this and accepts it. I know there is no final resolution for the ongoing tensions of identity, place, necessity, and responsibility--not for me, not for anyone. The taste of belonging sometimes only exacerbates longing even more. But the more childlike (childish?) part of me daydreams of ways to get back to Appalachia and to--ever so stubbornly--never budge.
by Shel Silverstein
A tree house, a free house
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house.
A street house, a neat house,
Be sure and wipe your feet house,
Is not my kind of house at all--
Let's go live in a tree house.
* * *
|Houses with names.|
|Braided rugs galore.|
|The real log cabin my great aunt built. Now her daughter is actually selling it after all this time. Please, someone nice buy it so that I can still visit it.|
|The main room in the cabin built by my great aunt.|
|The crazy pathway leading down. It's rumored that a woman once broke her leg going down this path. Yikes.|
|The stream behind the cabin my grandparents built.|
|Another magical tree house.|
|Another second cousin of mine who happened to be visiting at the same time with a group of her friends from DC. They all took Esme rock sliding. Elsa called them "the fancy girls." Esme ate it up.|
|At Shindig on the Green: traditional mountain music, clogging, and square dancing in downtown Ashville.|
|A day trip to Hendersonville.|
|View from the Blue Ridge Parkway.|
|Appy State girl for a day-- visit to Boone.|
|On the Blue Ridge Parkway|
|The cabin kitchen-- basically unchanged since the 1950s.|
|Two little puppy dogs.|
|This luna moth perched on our cabin doorstep for a long while.|
|"Nooks and Grannies"|
|Mountain stream roaring just beyond...|
|Sweaty and happy after hiking with my second cousin Janie.|
|Nod to whitewater rafting in the Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee.|