Sunday, October 12, 2008

Finally...fresh mountain air

Yes, thank you Lord, for giving me another day on Your earth so I could make it to the mountains. Took a little day trip up SC Scenic Hwy. 11 and then turned up 178 north to Rocky Bottom, where I lived for a couple of years in junior high. I tell can take the girl out of the mountains but you can't take the mountains out of the girl. It is as beautiful as it was. Our homeplace looked a little neater when we lived there; my dad took great care to keep the wilds from encroaching too much into the yard, but we lived there year-round, and apparently the people who own it now just have it as a part-time retreat. The hickory nuts had fallen in full force, and I walked along the road and gathered them in my sweater like Hansel and Gretel gathering bread crumbs. I'm sure the banged fingers I will have when I try to pry into those things will bring back some memories! Squirrels get into them much more easily than I do, and they don't even have to use a hammer. Drove up to the top of Sassafrass Mountain, the highest peak in SC at just under 3600 feet. There used to be a fire tower there that we would climb to look out over four states, but that was taken down 4 years ago, I am told by a friend. Stood at the top and looked out as best as I could, standing on a rock, but the trees at the top obscure the view. was beautiful, tranquil, fresh, and satisfying. Had a few nibbles of sassafras leaves; that bitter, lemony taste is quite refreshing.

Now that I'm back home, I wish I could recapture the feelings of being there. Thinking about it in retrospect and living it at the moment are not the same. When I drive a bit north of Atlanta and get even a glimpse of the tips of the mountains just out of my reach, my breath catches involuntarily. There is something deep within my DNA, something primal, that resonates in perfect pitch when I am in the mountains. I spent much of my youth in the Appalachians, Great Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains backpacking and camping with my mother and father. For my 10th birthday, they got me a charm bracelet with a charm for each of the mountains I had climbed to the top: Mt. LeConte, Clingman's Dome, Andrew's Bald, Devil's Courthouse, and several others. I loved hiking to the "bald" mountains. These are mountaintop areas that had forestation destroyed (usually by fire) at some point, but are maintained clear of trees by the forest service. Low-level shrubbery abounds here, so in the late spring and early summer these usually rocky, meadow-like grassy areas are ablaze in a thousand colors of azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and other flowering beauties including trillium and lady's slippers. My father was a master at telling the temperature by how curled up the rhododendron leaves were. It is breathtaking to hike for a couple of hours through forests of firs and balsams and emerge into a clearing at the top of a mountain and look over hundreds of miles of carpeted valleys and hills all around. Of course, when it comes to pitching a tent for the night, you head back down into the cover of the trees; the winds can be fierce at the top of those mountains if there's nothing to break it.

I did not grow up in a church building, but I grew up steeped in and praising God's creation. I saw all manner of wildlife, flowers, insects, and birds and observed the way they lived and interacted. I learned the names of all the trees. My parents invested in a few small field guides that would fit into my day pack, so I spent a lot of time with a book in one hand and a plant or insect in the other. I loved when our hike led us alongside a river. I could play for hours in the edge of the water, marveling at the perfectly smoothed surface of rocks and pebbles, wondering where they began their journey and how long they had lain in the cold water alongside trout and crayfish. My daughter, bless her sweet little heart, is a rock hound like her mom. She loves rocks of all sorts, and I have to fish them out of her pockets on laundry day as if she were a little boy.

I had forgotten what challenges I faced and overcame during those hiking trips. Crossing roaring rapids on trees that had fallen, or been felled, across the river -- scary!! Some places the trail was very narrow and the mountainside below was very steep and treacherous; I remember balking sometimes, thinking I couldn't make it. But my dad always said I could do it, and I always did. When he had to help me, he grasped my wrist and told me to grab his wrist; we had a much more secure grip on one another that way than by simply holding hands.

And, even today...while my earthly father believes in me, I know my Heavenly Father believes in me so much more and holds onto me more tightly through the tough spots. As I lean into Him and trust Him when He says, "Hold on and follow Me," I know the view at the top will be spectacular.

"My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." -- Psalm 121:2

1 comment:

Bryan said...

And a sincere and heartfelt, Amen.