An Intimate Sense of Place
This was my very first blog post back in June of 2013. I was visiting North Carolina for a 2 week long training in the mountains outside North Carolina and the first weekend I was there I stayed with a friend in Asheville. Spending 2 weeks in the NC mountains left quite an impression on me. There was one experience in particular that changed the way that I view the world when I travel and you are about to read it. Even though this is an older post I wanted to share it because it will help to communicate how I relate to nature and the great outdoors!
I started out jogging. I left my friend’s house in Asheville, NC with only my cell phone. He had given me verbal directions to the local trail head for the Carolina Mountains to Sea trail that ran very near his home. I started my journey down the driveway and turned left. As I passed house after house I looked for familiar plants in the front yards. I recognized some, some I didn’t. I continued on my way. While crossing a bridge that spanned interstate 40 on the south side of Asheville I looked to my right and was stopped in my tracks.
If I was previously unaware (and to a very small degree I was) at that moment I realized that I was no longer in Mississippi or that type of landscape so familiar to me in Mississippi. To my right and left I could see mountain tops; lush, green and teeming with life. To the east the sun was just beginning to peak over the mountain’s horizon and shone bright orange against the heavy gray clouds looming overhead. Having my own small but far from insignificant spiritual experience, I wanted to exist in this moment forever, but I knew that there were more wonderful surprises waiting for me on my trek. I gathered my thoughts and continued on my way.
I found East Porter Rd. turned left; proceeded down the hill towards the much anticipated trail head that was my destination. Along the way I fought the urge to stop and admire a group of Tritoma or red hot pokers. These are some of my favorite flowers that I previously had never seen in person. I have planted seeds on several occasions but to no avail as I have never been successful at getting them to grow in MS. I pushed on.
At last I reached the trail head. I hesitated a bit contemplating the richness of the moment. I was about to set foot on the North Carolina Mountains to Sea trail; following in the footsteps of countless other Americans. In this way I was about to share this experience with thousands of total strangers even though I was completely alone. The forest seemed so calm and serene. It beckoned me to explore all the natural awe and splendor that was contained within its borders. I felt as though I was being extended an invitation into the forest.
The very first thing that greeted me when I stepped into the forest was a small group of dainty red flowers. Their petals seemed to wave at me as they swayed in the breeze. I now know this flower to be fire pink. I didn’t stop jogging and pushed on. Every few steps I wanted to stop jogging to admire this alien but somehow strangely familiar forest. I had planned to continue and finish my run unimpeded but Mother Nature had other plans. After jogging on the trail for about 10-15 minutes I decided to head back.
The moment that I turned around I came face to face with an extremely familiar sight. Right before my eyes was a single flame azalea in bloom. I’d seen these back home in MS. It was not the largest or most ostentatious specimen that I’d ever encountered but for some reason on that morning it completely grabbed my attention and refused to let go. I realized that I had run right past it just a few seconds before without even noticing. Seeing this plant in full bloom I realized how/why it got its name. The yellowish orange flowers stick out like a sore thumb in the vast sea of greens and browns in the forest just as a flame would. I thought about what other sights I missed because I was so focused on running. I decided to slowly walk the way back to the trail head.
I began to realize all the details of the forest that I had missed while jogging. While jogging I noticed groups of plants and on occasion individual plants and the colors associated with them. While walking I noticed the leaves on the plants, the shapes of the leaves and how they swayed in the breeze.
I thought to myself that I might still be missing something so I decided to stop walking and sit in one place for a while. I found a large log, made myself comfortable and sat there. I made a conscious effort to clear my mind and just exist, there in that moment.
Being sedentary I could see small insects scurrying around on the ground. I touched and manipulated the leaves of the plants nearby. I inspected the veination of the leaves, noticing the different patterns of the different plants. I noticed how the ground along the trail differed from the ground just inches away off the trail. Off the trail the ground was covered with detritus and leaf litter. I could find several bugs just by disturbing a small area of ground.
As I sat quietly the birds began to flit about nearby. The only birds that I could identify were Eastern Towhee. There were several of these nearby along with countless that I saw and heard; birds that I’d never seen before. I did not have my binoculars so I couldn’t get a good look in an effort to identify them. I slowly realized that in order to truly know a place you can’t have just traveled through, you have to stop and “visit” for a while. I can truly say that I have an intimate knowledge of that section of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea trail right there near “my” log. From this moment forward I intend to obtain “an intimate sense of place” where ever my travels may lead me to. I already long to return to the North Carolina mountains and to “my” log.
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