Updated: Dec 19, 2020
Gravitational pull is stronger in the mountains than lower environments on Earth. You can feel the greater mass under your feet when you stand there. There’s a grounding weight to each step. Perhaps that gravitational pull is what drew me there from my home.
The mountains are a difficult but rewarding place to live. You have to be honest with yourself or they will chew you up and spit you out. Nothing but truth is tolerated by these million year old landforms. These ancient geologic behemoths require patience, too. Everything happens more slowly and decidedly on their timeline. If you are patient and honest, you’ll be rewarded with understanding of one of the wildest landscapes on Earth. The land will trust you with it’s story if you seek it and wait for it, and if you are honest before yourself and God. I did not yet know how to be honest with myself when I moved to the Appalachians, but I started to learn how to be when I was there.
My most important lessons were learned beside cold running creeks and amongst wildflowers. Peaceful walks alone in the woods taught me the value of bold but quiet honesty. The best hike for this was the Boone Fork Trail, a five-mile loop that goes through fields and forests and streams. I couldn’t count how many times I travelled that loop. I went when I was feeling anxious about changing my major at App State or when the weather was so nice that I couldn’t resist gleefully skipping class for a hike. I went to this trail to walk and sit and listen, watching the hours and seasons change as nature instructed me. What glories and truths were found there!
The people of Appalachia changed me perhaps even more than my encounters with Mother Earth. People who call this region home are gruff with a glint in their eye as cold as a February gale, and they are rarely without a weapon of either metal or tongue. Yet they are tender enough to invite you in for a cup of coffee and a song or a story. And every Appalachian I spoke with loved nature. I have not seen any of them for years but I still feel a sharp pain when I think about the relationships I had there that faded when I left. I had a deep crush on an Appalachian boy in a coffee shop and was best friends with a mountain girl who loved to dance.
We have the best memories from going to community contra dance nights above the old bakery, drinking a mug full of something warm while watching the snowfall outside, and going for long walks on sunny days. We shared bad memories too - car wrecks on early morning ice, fights over who was wrong and who was right, and nights that never should have happened. Losing those relationships broke me, but I would not trade my time with them for anything because they taught me so much. A truer and more honest people I have never met, and I promise that the community of Appalachia will leave a deep imprint on you.
The aroma of Appalachia encapsulates my memories and feelings of the people and land of this place. Morning dew on decidedly uncut grass. Hot coffee. Fresh cut pine. Apples straight from the orchard. Smoke from a campfire. The memories of this place are mostly good, some painful. Shame and loss and fear come wafting in along with that pleasant mountain perfume. But I don’t think this land would have it any other way. If I did not remember the pain with the joy then I would not be true to myself or my experience. The Appalachians taught me how to be a stronger woman in the end. On one of my last hikes before moving out of Boone, I realized that for a long time I had been deluding myself into a daydream and trying to fit everything, including myself, into that.
This life doesn’t fit into a daydream though, it has sharp edges and a rich wildness to it. The mountains know that better than anyone. Only when I left the Blue Ridge and my daydream behind did I realize that all along those mountains were teaching me how to see the world with brave honesty and experience every moment truthfully.
Go and seek the mountains for yourself. They have all the wisdom and truth of Earth’s history to teach.