I LEFT VIRGINIA’S APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS late in the summer of 1978, my car pointed south toward my freshman year of college. I didn’t know it then but that date signaled more than my transition to adulthood. It also marked the start of a changed geographic life for me, a beautiful one spent in the midlands of South Carolina for the better part of 38 years. It surprises me to realize how much of my life has been lived where the land is flat and piney, with long, straight two-lanes dotted by the quintessential small towns that color so much of southern literature.
Not so in the mountains. In the mountains, life is choppy and rugged, the landscape itself the show, all forests and peaks, hollows and rocky ledges, shifting light and weather that’s ever-changing. It’s like the good Lord knows what a remarkable seat you have, positioned up high, and so puts on a spectacular show.
MY HUSBAND AND I WERE JUST IN HAWAII where we marveled at the geography there. Born of volcanoes that still create earth mass today these landforms make a spectacular statement, those severe rock cliffs that try to contain a wild, insistent sea. The entire scene is made beautiful and transcendent, somehow, because the water is a gorgeous, clear, incomparable sea glass blue.
We were dressed in summer clothes then, Tim and I, the temperature hanging around a rather perfect 80 degrees. And here we are now, not two weeks later, joyful, giddy really, watching the snow fall on North Carolina’s Black Mountains. It is a high elevation storm, one that blew in late this afternoon after we’d already been given a day pretty enough for an exploratory walk.
How thrilled we are to have Eliza with us. How surprised we all are to watch the weather change so fast.
IT IS OUR FIRST OFFICIAL overnight stay in these mountains, did I mention that? We’ve finally bought a weekend cabin after several years of searching. My husband promised to get me back to the mountains when we married nearly 14 years ago and this is the fulfillment of that lovely pledge.
My heart is happy.
ALL THIS GEOGRAPHY has got me to thinking about home and the many shades that color it, the things that make a place yours, just as you feel part of it. There are the people, of course, the first and most important consideration of all. I remember Robert Frost said Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. True that, as Eliza would say.
But there’s more to it than people. There is geography, a kind of gravity that pulls you to a place and holds you close to the ground when you are there. It’s like a force meant to keep you from the bobbling orbit we are all prone to–we humans who figuratively and quite literally spend our lives trying to find our way. Home, I believe, is the place that settles us down, tidies the ravel of frayed ends, whispers gently in our ear You belong here.
For me, that place is the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am captivated by the kaleidoscope as light moves across the ridges and valleys, colors shifting, day moving on. I love its tall trees and deep forests, the streams that rush and tumble, the life hidden within.
For my dear friend, Teresa, it is Edisto Island. The moment she passes beneath those ancient live oaks, gets a whiff of that earthy pluff mud and a look across the broad, breathtaking marsh, she melts right into the landscape. It’s something you can see, I swear. Walk with her out to the ocean’s edge and there is simply no doubt about it: This girl is home.
I BELIEVE THIS CALLING is more than legacy, I want to be clear about that. It’s more than coming to roost in the place of your birth, even if there are parallels in the examples I’ve just given. It’s soul connection I’m talking about–person to place, and place to person in a way that allows the grand grace of exhaling. It’s forgetting for a time the difficult daily work of making your way and simply being.
But not just being. Being there.
WE LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. How amazing it is that we can move about in it, discovering, exploring, falling in love with one place, and then another. How marvelous it is we can also go home–truly, joyfully, soulfully home.
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