On the Trail to Truth and Beauty

(Ariel and Tom on the bald at Craggy

When I was a child, my Mama could walk.  And some of my best memories are of the long walks we’d take together.  My love of hiking came from her, as did my love of the Appalachian Mountains. 

Although we lived in eastern North Carolina, near the coast, we made our way west to the Blue Ridge every chance we got.  Daddy loved the mountains, too, and he and Mama used to talk and dream about moving there someday, after they retired.   But in a particularly cruel twist of fate, Mama was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also know as Lou Gehrig’s disease) the day after Daddy officially retired.  Mama was just a little older than I am now.  She was soon confined to a wheelchair, and although she and I had some grand adventures during the wheelchair days (I could push that baby up to about twenty MPH!), our mountain hiking days were over.  But the memories linger, and I still smile to remember her striding, strong and true, up the steep trail at Craggy Gardens.

Craggy Gardens, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, was just about my Mama’s favorite place in this world.   No mountain vacation was ever complete without a trip to Craggy.  Though it’s known for the Catawba rhododendron that grows there in profusion in May and June, we never saw them blooming.  But it didn’t really matter—it was a special place any time of year.

And it still is.  We went there a week ago on one of our roadtrips.  Although Craggy Gardens itself is closed to Parkway traffic due to the collapse of a retaining wall, you can access it via a trail from the picnic grounds.  And it is all the more special without the noise and smell of cars and motorcycles.  It was heavenly.

(We hiked up the Craggy Pinnacle Trail for this view.  The body of water you see is the North Fork reservoir, which is the water supply for the city of Asheville)

I won’t even attempt to write about our day there.  But I’ll tell you that both of my children said it was one of the best days of their lives, and I felt the same.  And I’ll tell you this:  my Mama was there.  I felt her presence as we hiked across the grassy bald, as we walked up the rhododendron-tunneled trails, and as we sat at the top, breathing deeply of the cool, crisp air and not saying much at all.  

Because, sometimes, words are superfluous.  At times like that, when you are away from the din and clamor of the world, you connect with what is pure and essential, and you realize that we talk way too much.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in that surfeit of words, and I need to come up for air.  Because, sometimes, words cannot express the purest, the truest, and the deepest things that we feel.  And, sometimes, when you stop and listen and pay attention, you will find what you are seeking.  You will find…truth.   And, as Nadine Gordimer says, “The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.”

(Ariel contemplates truth and beauty)

(Atop the Craggy bald)

(Grasshopper in camouflage we saw off the trail)

(So many butterflies we saw that day!  This is a Painted Lady on Joe-Pye weed)

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11 Responses to “On the Trail to Truth and Beauty”

  1. Judy Says:

    The pictures are just breathtaking. I can only imagine how wonderful the real view must be. I went back and read the post about your mother. I never heard that name before. It is beautiful. I had a friend that died with ALS. It only took six months from the diagnosis. I am sure she was with you on that trip. I have felt my mother’s presence many times since her death. This was a wonderful post and I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing your trip and your memories.

  2. Margie Miller Says:

    What lovely pictures. I have never been there but your descriptions and the pictures were marvelous!

    Aren’t memories wonderful? It was tragic about your mom.

  3. wesleyjeanne Says:

    I love the one of Ariel on the railing!

    As you know I have special ties ot Craggy, too. And so many memories: walking the trails with my parents, picking wild blueberries on the bald, seeing wildlife, picniking, sipping from springs along the trail, scrambling on the rocks to gaze at the view, going with my Grandma and Grandpa to see the rhodendron and mtn laurel in bloom…

    It was always my place of peace and truth and beauty, the place I would go when I fought with my mom or broke up with a boyfriend or needed to figure out a direction in life. I always felt close to God there.

    I would bet your Mom did, too.

    Beautiful essay, as always. Beautiful tribute.

  4. luckypennies Says:

    I’ve always missed my Grandma, but just knowing that there are pieces of her in you and that in some way her spirit is near us makes me feel at peace. That was a wonderful day. :)

  5. CountryDew Says:

    What a lovely post and a beautiful tribute to your mom. How wonderful that you have those memories.

  6. Nancy Says:

    Isn’t it wonderful to see and feel the presence of our parents in the world around us and in our own children? I love the way your growing/grown up children have such a close relationship with you and BRBC Man, too. As my father would’ve said, “You’ve got it right, kid!”

  7. Clara Melvin Says:

    Oh I would love to see Craggy bald. It looks a little like Heaven to me. I can remember walking with my Mother. She loved to go into the woods. I think I got my love of nature from her. Thank You, Mother! And thank you Beth for making me remember!

  8. June Says:

    These are the days that make a life! You’re rich in a way that I can never be…

  9. Benjamin Says:

    I’m already missing you, Mommy (and the freedom of the parkway!). Best day of my life (out of many best days with y’all). As usual, you write as you always have (beautifully) and you invoke joy in my heart talking about it. Thank you!

  10. Finding Beauty in the Everyday, Everywhere « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    [...] an earlier post, I wrote about how my Mama loved Craggy Gardens and how she went there as often as possible before she was stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral [...]

  11. Seeing God in Everything…and Everyone « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    [...] place mostly to ourselves, such as our hikes last year at Craggy Gardens, which you can read about here, here, and [...]

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