(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)