Making a Home in the Mountains

Coon Ridge is a little outcropping between Burnt Mountain and Woody Ridge, shown here without a label on the Polaris Cartography view of the Black Mountains. Even as a teenager I marveled at maps such as this one (though at the time I was looking at ranges in the Pacific Northwest) and knew that someday I wanted to be able to call a mountain range my home. It’s thrilling to look at that little outcropping on the map and know exactly where I am in relation to all that mass of stone, forest, and wildlife. If you’re curious what it looks like up top, I did a little solo trip last March and posted a video of the adventure.

There are still plenty of trails in the Black Mountains that I haven’t hiked–and even more old hunting or Forest Service roads I’ve never seen, though I’ve traced their veins with my fingertips across my topo maps. One of my goals is to hike every mapped trail on both the eastern and western slopes of this range. It’s completely do-able, although I’d like to take a friend along with me for some of the hikes, since all trails and “roads” (code for abandoned old logging treads sometimes, if rarely, maintained) outside the small boundaries of the Mt. Mitchell State Park are cared for only by volunteers. Those lands are Forest Service lands–legal for hunting, among other things–and markers can be few and far between. Furthermore, the old roads often loop and switchback illogically. I’ve known more than one hiker who has gotten “bluffed out” at higher elevations.

Ordinarily, fall is my favorite time of year to hike. But with Airstream repairs a top priority, I’m learning that the comforts of domestic living come with a price. Already, two rainstorms have brought many leaves down prematurely from this year’s colorful trees. With more wind predicted, it’s looking like fall might flare out in a matter of one or two weeks. I haven’t even put in a full day for a good, long hike yet. Copyedits for Flashes of War are due soon, and immediately following I’ll be taking a week-long vacation to the beach (vacation = time to work on the novel!). It looks like I might be more of a winter hiker this year than anything else. But hey, don’t these hand silk-screened linen curtains by my friend and artist Dana Fehsenfeld look lovely? Domesticity isn’t so bad, after all.

The other thing I’m learning about the comforts of domestic living is that there’s no way I could have done this alone. My parents have helped endlessly, from drilling holes to sewing curtains, and local artist friends provide me with a model for living the studio artist’s life. I’m not moving around from house to house, state to state anymore, but I’ve got plenty of adventures of learning the art of moving in, settling down, and reinvesting in long-term community.

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