Sitting on the cabin balcony, deep in heart of the Great Smoky Mountains this past weekend, I gazed out over an ancient and mystical landscape, one that has captivated our souls since the dawn of mankind. The morning cloud cover slowly burned off, ultimately revealing the endless mountain ridges, like ripples in a silent pond, as if God himself threw a pebble into the waters of possibility and chance.
And that mesmerizing nature of this region is only amplified by the people who inhabit it. When I moved to Western North Carolina in 2012, I didn’t know a single person in Southern Appalachia. Being someone who has uprooted and relocated numerous times before, and who has never met a stranger, the idea starting a whole new life every-so-often has always appealed to me. I’ve never really been able to sit still. Sure, I’d find incredible places to live and thrive in, but, like clockwork, I would get the six-month itch. After that time period, I’d start thinking about my next move. How I would end my current chapter in this life? Where would I begin the next? That itch brought me to stints in the Adirondack Mountains, Connecticut, Ireland, Idaho and endless nights cruising the glorious and unforgiving open road of this country with only a few dollars in my pocket and an air mattress in the truck bed.
When I took this position at The Smoky Mountain News, I was in dire need of work. All of my writing gigs dried up in New York and I applied to any and every journalism job I could find. Did I want to cover the oil boom in North Dakota? Town politics in Reno? Crimes and courts in Baltimore? Small town life on the Maine coast? The beauty of it was I had no idea what I was going to do. The terrifying thing was I had no idea what I was going to do.
When I got hired by this newspaper, I figured I’d give it a year and see what happens. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe I’ll be able to save some money in preparation of the next move in this ongoing game of chess between me and the cosmos above. Hell, if anything, I needed the work and here it was — writing and reporting in the South.
Thus, Waynesville became my home. And for the better part of the last three years I’ve roamed seemingly every highway and bi-way, back road and dirt path of this majestic region. I’ve crossed paths with innumerable people, places and things that stop me in my tracks, grab my attention, and leave an eternal imprint of generosity, sincerity and tranquility on my soul. I finally found the missing pieces of myself and of my purpose along this organized chaos of a journey in journalism around Western North Carolina and beyond.
And this past weekend justifies every one of those things I’ve experienced. Our cabin was filled with joyous voices, hearty laughter, priceless camaraderie and a sense of place only found by those with pure intent of the heart. I was surrounded by faces I did not know three years ago, faces that, now, I could never imagine not knowing, or calling for in times of celebration and times of desperation. These folks I turn to when I need advice, encouragement, or simply someone to grab the other red paint bucket and hit the town with me.
I’ve spent 30 years trying to figure out who I am in this world. That clarity I grasp for is ever-so-carefully revealing itself to me in my time here. Life, at least a life well lived, is a slow burn. I’d rather stroll a rugged path of beauty than drive down a paved road of boredom. Maybe it’s just me getting older. Maybe it’s the ways of the universe exposing its secrets to those who push hard enough for internal and external truths. Yet, at the end of the day, what matters most is who you surround yourself with, for those smiling faces and friendly handshakes are a mirror reflection of your soul.
As I finished that second cup of coffee, looking out once again at the essence of creation staring right back me, I shook my head in awe. How did I get here? How did I get so lucky to be in this situation? I smiled and readied myself for another unknown day. Funny, in the almost three years that I’ve been here in Southern Appalachia, I’ve never felt the need to scratch once.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 BearWaters Brewing (Waynesville) will have The Get Right Band (funk/folk) at 8 p.m. March 27.
2 A beer and cheese pairing with Heinzelmannchen Brewery and Looking Glass Creamery will be from 6 to 8 p.m. April 1 at City Lights Café in Sylva.
3 Daniel S. Pierce, author of Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay and Big Bill France, will give a presentation about the history of NASCAR on at 5:30 p.m. March 31 at the Canton Library.
4 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will have Pony Named Olga (Americana/punk) at 9 p.m. March 27.
5 Nantahala Brewing (Bryson City) will have Rye Baby (country/blues) at 8:30 p.m. March 28.