The Beginning of the End of the Beginning
Today: chickadees, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, robins, mourning doves, and more. Buds burst from the branches and the valley cooks with the anticipation of spring. Voles dart across the blacktop. Hares grow braver by the minute as they sun in the pastures atop Conley Ridge risking death for the feeling of sun, sun, sun. At dusk, six doe in the pines behind Ridgeway. By nightfall, the heat worn off and the cool-zip of nighttime in the mountains reassures that winter still has her hand in the valley yet. I drive to the top of Seven Mile Ridge to peer at the South Toe River Valley from above, crusing to 4,000 feet and earning an end-to-end view of the Black Mountains. High above, Orion shines his bright belt and the top of his sword twinkles. The mountains are as black as the sea, the deep green of hemlock muted to slate with the loss of daylight. An Azure sky silhouettes each peak with the accuracy of a ballpoint pen and think my God, how I will miss this valley. It has been four and a half years and now I have to move on.
I have found a place to live in Tinyville, NC up the slopes of Roan Mountain, that beast on the horizon that holds the NC/TN state line and over which the Appalachian Trail cuts. It seems fitting that I will go there next, as I’ve always held Roan on an equal or higher pedestal as the Black Mountains in my heart, and although it will keep my forty-five minutes from the river dips I love in the South Toe, it is not that far as the crow flies.
Turn north and parallel the river and the Blacks for eight miles, heading out of the valley. Head east for eight more miles towards the North Toe River and downtown LittleTown, NC. Then cut north again for ten miles and you’ll be in downtown Tinyville where there is one stop sign and one restaurant and one gallery and a fudge shop and three antique stores and a doctor’s clinic, a coffee shop, and a few artist’s studios. Stop at the stop sign, then press on for ten more minutes over Pumpkin Mountains and towards the cut slopes of Roan Mountain, deep into the Blue Ridge. A few more turns, then up to the end of the paved road. The driveway of the house I’ll be staying in starts where the road ends, and requires four wheel drive (which I do not have). Half a mile up, the road turns sharply, takes another switchback around, and puts you smack on the front steps of my new home on 34 acres that borders National Forest. Fully equipped with hot water (yes!) and a normal kitchen and – get ready for this – a real bathroom.
Tonight, standing on top of Seven Mile Ridge, if I do an about face and turn away from the past four and half years, I can see the tip of Roan Mountain on the farthest row of mountains in my view. I decide that this is the spot I must return to in one month when the move is final – this place where with one swoop of my arms and back I can hold and bow to the Black Mountains that have shaped my words and spirit for, well, longer than my college education took. Then I can swivel on my toes and turn, give way to the uncertainty, and rise up with open arms to greet the valley I’ll be moving to. Who knows what wonders it will hold, but in my heart I can feel already that it will hold the peace I need for writing, the quiet I need for growth, and the threads I need for community. It doesn’t feel like any of this will be easy, but that’s probably the best part.