I ran away from home on Sunday. Well, not exactly; I had the full support of my sweet Dan to go on a mission of love to check on a dear friend who is struggling in North Carolina. My BFF, Diane, very kindly offered to join me- no easy task during these challenging times of COVID-19, traveling with great caution from Lincoln, Nebraska. We brought Marley with us, along with an arsenal of Lysol disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers, and face masks. These times are not friendly to travelers, to say the least.
We decided to take two days to stop in my soul place, the Nantahala Gorge in Western North Carolina, before heading on to Asheville. From the first moment that I visited this region on my very first trip with Dan seventeen years ago, this place has been my solace, my mental safe place when times are challenging. No matter where I am, I can call up the sights and sounds of Knottyhead Falls and find my peace again. To me, there is magic here, a place where my spirit resonates as it does in no other place.
Dan proposed to me on the Summer Solstice in 2003 on this waterfall. A year later, we married on the same ancient rock formation, the powerful waters swirling around us as we pledged our lives to each other. We have come back most every year to reconnect with our foundation, our beginning, feeling the amazing energy of this beautiful place.
This literally holds pieces of my heart. Aside from the precious beginnings of my love for Dan and our beautiful relationship, we released my mother’s ashes here. We also have released the ashes of three of my dogs. Someday, Dan and I will become one with the Nantahala in this most elemental way. What a beautiful circle of life. It very much feels like my loved ones are now an elemental part of this special place.
Having Diane with me has been very special. We have traveled together many times over our over thirty years of friendship, but never have we traveled just for the enjoyment of being together without our clarinets and work obligations. How freeing it has been after these difficult months of isolation, of battling an invisible but incredibly destructive foe to be able to do something that feels so normal- being with my best friend, talking and laughing until the tears run down our faces. Medicinal at the very least. We stayed in a quiet and peaceful cabin, the sounds of a bold creek serenading us.
Along with visiting the waterfall, we took Marley to hike some on the Appalachian Trail and around the Nantahala Outdoor Center and enjoyed a couple of lovely meals in downtown Bryson City, just five minutes from our cabin. we packed a lot into this rare BFF adventure while still making time to enjoy the serenity of the cabin.
Today we headed to Asheville and to my ‘Momma’ Carol, a woman who is truly like a mother to Dan and to me. I can never repay her for her friendship, love, and unconditional support during the one of the darkest times in my life. she has been isolated for months after a congestive heart failure diagnosis, and our visit (masked, distanced, and outdoors) made all of us burst into tears.
We spent the last evening of our adventure by visiting another favorite place of mine in North Carolina, the historic Grove Park Inn for dinner on the famed Sunset Terrace. It did not dissappoint.
Tomorrow morning we head back to Birmingham, this mission of love and connection coming to its conclusion. I am feeling quite emotional; emotional from finally getting to see Carol and worrying about her, and emotional from not wanting to leave the solitude of the cabin life behind me. The world is wearing on me, my soft heart not handling the constant fear, division, and chaos that is our daily lot for the foreseeable future. I am hoping these short couple of days helped to bring some sort of renewal to my flagging spirits.
I really needed this before the uncertainties of the fall semester come racing into view. I am just not ready for any of it yet, but I will do my best. I have to stay positive and hopeful for my students- and for my own mental health. It’s all wearing us down, and I’m doing everything I can not to grow numb from the onslaught.
Tomorrow I head home to Dan, where the rest of my heart resides. He is the glue that holds all of the pieces together.
No matter what craziness the world has in store for us, our love will get us through to the other side. How grateful I am for dear friends like Diane and Carol and their unwavering love and support. Together is the only way that we will get through it all. There is no other way.