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. 


No comments:

Post a Comment