Thursday, August 14, 2014

and the sound of butterfly wings...

And just like that, it is the last day here in paradise. It seems like it was so long ago that we set off to get here and were  surprised by fabulous lasagna we had en route at that river rat hang out, now ages past. We have had a great time here at this amazing place, but the days have run together like a water color, blending and swirling the days and hours into a unnamed hue and it is one that will never be seen again. It is simply an ephemeral experience to be here at this lodge because time is elastic and the reality of the outside world is held in check for the period we are here. This lodge, this bit of heaven is a Shangra-La, an Avalon, often shrouded in clouds, a sanctuary from the world out there beyond the mists, with a magic that is broken only by choice in opening the newspaper or checking your emails. It is quite possible to be here for days with no outside communication, if you want to, and to just be here in this oasis of quiet, where the sounds of the butterfly wing beats and the chirps of the Gold Finches are the loudest noises to disturb the peace.

It took us a while to learn how to be here. This is not your typical hotel. There are no televisions and what telephone signals there are, are very sketchy at best. Internet is available, if you want to bridge some of the gap to the other world that lives outside the boundaries of this place, but most folks do little connecting time. The difference here is that there is the lodge, the center point and focus of being here. It is where all of the guests meet to take meals together, where it is comfortable to grab a book and kick your shoes off with a room of folks who are doing the same thing. It is a place where it is possible to be able to get into the quiet of your own mind and yet be instant friends with the person sitting next to you. There is a simpatico with folks who come here. Most are outdoor focused, interested in nature, art, doing outdoor adventures, and who do not miss the constant barrage of information that intrudes our lives at home, most of which is horrible news leaving us in a daily wallow of high stress levels about things we have little control over.

When you turn your car into the driveway of the lodge and pass the moss covered little pump house at the base of the hill, it is suddenly quiet, like the quiet of a sanctuary before the service. There is an instant reverence felt as the car shifts to another gear to make it up to the top of the mountain driveway. The drive is steep and takes effort to climb, and then once at the top the sound of the gravel drive is soothing and says, you are safe and at home. The swing of the screened door and the feeling of entering the foyer is unlike any place I have been. Perhaps it is because we have been here so many times that I feel this relaxed energy, and I have become patterned to feel this, but I think the site, this building, and this mountain are the reason, and I think most who come here feel the same. It is this undefinable feeling that bonds the guests for the moments they are here and it drops the barriers of unfamiliarity. It has always been a great place to spend my birth week and this one was maybe, the best so far.

My birthday dinner, the other night, was capped off with a gorgeous cake made just for me by the chef, and hand delivered by Robert, the owner. It was a white cream cake with luscious layers upon layers of cream, cake, and strawberry jam, covered in toasted slivered almonds and topped with strawberries dipped in white chocolate. We finished what was left, off last night and I shared it with any one  in the dinning room, passing among new friends whose names I did not know.

Over the past days Mark has continued sharing his photography knowledge to those who have asked questions and who have wanted to learn more about their cameras and how to take nicer photos. After class there is the sack lunch time, which we have spent usually sitting in the screened summer house, with friends, mulling over what to do with the remaining hours of the day. We have hiked, and we have canoed in a deep and clear blue lake where the water met the  tree lined edge of the mountains and rose from there. I have fed the new chickens, in their newly built coup, blades of grass and have laughed at their silliness as they have jockeyed to get the grass away from the hen who first grabs it. I have marveled at the organic garden, so full of vegetables which make it to our plates each night for dinner, and at how the cooler temps here make working in a garden pleasant and fun as opposed to drudgery and toil in our humidity and heat back home. I have read and I have

written. I have drawn sketches, and I have talked with many people I haven’t known before and who I will probably never see again, I have sat in the rockers on the porch and just let the clouds go by. We have rebuilt the magical stacked rock cairns in the stream down on Rattler Ford, only to find them knocked back down after the rains came with the cold front, but thats okay, we will build them again, next time. We have eaten, and we have drunk in the whole experience and have enjoyed it all.

The inn keeper was taking reservation calls the other day and I over heard him trying to explain to a person on the other end who was planning to drive a six hour journey to this place for just one night only, and who wanted to know what the night life was like. Robert was tactfully trying to tell them that this was a very remote place and that the disco balls and rock and roll were not part of the scenery here. I wonder what these people will think when they get here. Will they get it? Or, will they sit bored, wondering how to entertain themselves and be angry because they simply can not? I will not know because, sadly, it is our time to leave tomorrow.

But for today, we are still here. I am happy and feeling the joy of breathing. Perhaps we will go back to the lake again today, who knows. There is no agenda to our remaining hours. Reality will hit soon enough once we head down the driveway to head home, but for now, it is all good. A very happy birth day was had by me, with hopes for many more. My birthday wish is for more to be had here, but that, is for fate to decide. We shall see. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Birthday, so far

Today is my birthday. I will let the number of how many eons I have been on planet Earth slide, but there have been a few. At breakfast I had a surprising, and very rousing chorus of Happy Birthday sung to me by friends, most of whom are students of Mark’s photo class up here in the mountains of North Carolina, and it was sweet. My breakfast was served with a candle aboard, not lit due to a fan blowing it out before getting to me, but it too was very sweet. Then when I returned to my room, this lovely duck was sitting on a box of chocolates waiting for me.

We have returned again on my birthday week to this piece of heaven, this lodge we have traveled to for many years. It is a place that holds magic in the many memories that I have of being here previously. I always hope to come back, every time I leave to go home, never knowing if I will. But I am, here, now, and that’s a very good thing.

We left on Friday with no particular route in mind, only knowing the general direction we wanted to head, letting the miles roll away with nothing planned. We were not supposed to check in to the lodge here until Sunday, so this left us plenty of time to wander around the mountains and to enjoy being untethered by the unbelievably miserable heat and humidity back home on the farm. 

Our first night we drove as far as the Ocoee River area, a river which was home to the white water part of a past Olympics. It is also a place that is very popular with folks looking for a bit of adventure rafting the river’s massive waves as the powerful water tumbles down the mountains. A constant parade of yellow school buses loaded with rafts of bright colors, and excited people wearing their helmets and holding their paddles, ride the road up to the top of the put in place. Once the rafts reach the bottom of the ride, they load up again to do it all over again. The river rats never seem to get tired of it.

There are several restaurants along the route to feed these masses of river rats, mostly beer and bad pizza places, and not having a lot of choices to decide on we chose the closest, the Ocoee Gondolier. Our hopes for a great meal were not high. The menu, however, looked interesting and we asked our waitress what was best. She pointed us to the lasagna, and to the pizza, and so we said okay, and ordered both to share.

A bowl was soon delivered to our table, a piping hot bowl of not your typical presentation of lasagna, of red sauce with gooey cheese with some pasta in there somewhere, that was so delicious that we were stunned. I had not had a sauce like that since my childhood and it was great. The bowl was spotless when the waitress brought the pizza. Again, no high hopes on river rat fodder pizza, and again were stunned at the freshness and goodness of a simple hand made pizza. It is nice to expect less and get more, and we did.

After leaving the river area behind, we ventured the next morning into a small town further north. We happened past a parking lot full of ancient tractors and pulled in. Old men in their straw hats or caps, some in overalls, stood around these tractors with a proprietary posture, while their wives stood in groups nearby chattering away. We got out and walked over to see these ancient machines and these people who had brought them here.

My mother’s father was a farmer in west Tennessee and when we were growing up we went each summer up to visit. Highlight of the trip was going out to the farm and getting to watch George, my grand dad, go about his day, feeding his angus cows, fixing fences, or doing other chores, but the best was when he got on his tractor. Over the years he had many, whose intended uses were varied, and so were their sizes and features. Walking among this group of tractors I recognized several that he had had at one point or another, Fords, John Deeres, and others. These renovated relics gleamed in their fresh coats of paint and their proud owners were more than happy to tell you everything and more about them. The coolest tractor and implement was the hay baler, where the tractor was parked
well away from the stationary baler. They were connected by a long belt, the distance intended to avoid catching the baler on fire,  which drove a plank up and down stuffing the hand loaded hay into a hopper. It looked like an accident just waiting to happen with so many pulleys, sharp things, and ways to get caught up in a very powerful moving machine, but interesting to see work, from a distance.
We asked advice from one couple there about a scenic route to wander and they sent us out to first Joe Brown Road, which led to the road they had a farm on, Hanging Dog Road. I don’t really want to know the story behind that last named road, but took their word and followed the directions of how to get there. 

Twisty, windy, twisty, windy, the roads never seemed to straighten out for long. Up we went and down, and in each turn there were small farms tucked in narrow valleys, most making the best use they could of the available useable land. We drove past derelict buildings, and stopped to photograph most.

One building in particular we had been told to look for was a fallen down church. It had been the childhood school of the old fellow who had given us the directions. White pews still sat in the now exposed sanctuary/school room. The steeple/cupola was still in pretty good shape but listed as the building hung to the side of the hill. Behind us, in sharp contrast, the newly built church sat in prim simplicity in its bright white coat.

Along the way we revisited the site of the first camp site that Mark and I stayed at on a trip to come back packing and fishing. We had gotten to the mountains in the dark, found a pull off, and set up a new tent in the dark (which is a story in its self). Early the next morning we woke to find ourselves not exactly in a wilderness, but more like in the middle of a hairpin turn on a busy mountain road and there now were a steady throng of cars and motorcycles busily going back and forth not very far from our tent opening. It was not the quietest nor private of breakfasts that morning by our small fire, but it was good to see the place and remember the folly of our selection of this camp site again after so many years.

We wandered further along on the unbeaten paths and eventually made our way on time to the lodge where we will be for the next week. Back in our usual room, back with long time friends from trips here before, and newer ones too, it is good to be here. It is good to be in a place where nothing is demanding my immediate or anytime attention, like doing anything in the heat. This is vacation world, and that is a good thing on occasion, and I know too, that it will end. Today, though, I am happy that I am still here, on planet Earth, in this moment, on the day of my birthday. The full moon will rise again tonight and take its celestial journey across the sky line from our vantage here high on this mountain. What a nice, bright candle for a birthday night.