Jogging down the backroads of my native North Country, the sun soon fell behind the distant tree lines surrounding vast cornfields of the silent, frozen landscape. Some 1,100 miles from my current home in Western North Carolina. The sky turned from yellow to orange to red. My mind drifted into deep reflection of what was, what is, and what hopefully will come to pass.
When I last ran these roads, I was in the midst of a breakup that left me in a physical and emotional fog that only seemed to disappear and transition into much-needed clarity somewhere around Thanksgiving. It was a hot August sun then. Shorts and a T-shirt. My thoughts were cluttered and many, mostly about finding some sort of footing in the question we all find ourselves asking from time to time — what now?
And here we are, heading towards the end of the first month of 2019. New Year’s Eve already seems like some long, forgotten memory. A leftover half-bottle of whiskey bought in jovial haste on Dec. 31 is still sitting on my kitchen table back in Waynesville, gathering dust until another occasion demands its presence.
I came back to Clinton County, New York, to surprise my mother for her 70th birthday. It also happens to (usually) be the coldest time of year in the Champlain Valley. Blasting out of Haywood County just about a week ago, I shot up Interstate 81 along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia into the endless farmland of central Pennsylvania and New York.
A lot of thinking was done on that trek back north. My heart has seemingly found its balance again, regaining its natural rhythm and beat. My head isn’t so much in the clouds as it is once again determined to make the best of any situation, and to push ahead into the possibilities of tomorrow — a place where all our dreams lie as we work hard today towards the upcoming, unknown sunrise.
Pulling into my parents’ driveway somewhere around 9 p.m. Thursday, my mother was shocked to see me walk through the door. And though she figured that was probably the only big surprise of her 70th trip around the sun, she was beside herself when she came home Saturday afternoon to a house full of friends and family members all shouting, “Happy birthday, Kathy.”
Most of the faces at the party I myself hadn’t seen in sometime, many for several years. It isn’t until you cross paths and catch up with those beloved and familiar folks, that you finally take inventory of how long you’ve really been gone from home — in body and in mind.
For me, I’m coming into the seventh year of the “Western North Carolina experiment.” Back in 2012, I had nothing to my name and nowhere to go, really. And Waynesville become my home when I was offered full-time employment from this newspaper. A gig too-good-to-be-true, and yet here I am, still wondering (with my deep, ancestral Celtic skepticism) whether this dream of being a writer is just that — a dream.
Following my mom’s party, I headed into town (Plattsburgh) for some shenanigans with one of my best friends, a childhood crony who grew up just down the street from me. Bouncing between hundred-year-old parlors and dive bars, we caught up on what’s new and regaled each other with tales of old times, moments still vivid in the minds of those who never forgot.
Come morning, I found myself at the local diner around the corner. I sat down on the same stool I resided upon each and every morning when I called Plattsburgh home. I was in my early 20s, sitting there for hours, just writing in journals or reading books, sipping endless cups of coffee. A struggling writer, I couldn’t — and still can’t — walk away from something that means too much to me, a passion on levels I’m only now making sense of.
At 33, soon to be 34, I find the only times I come home are either for a milestone birthday, a wedding or a funeral. Most of the big birthdays have gone by in my family, so have most of the weddings in my friend circles (some of which now divorced).
And the inevitable circle of life results in the passing of loved ones, near and far. Which is why I aim to always take the time to jump in my truck and head for the North Country whenever an opportunity arises to spend time with those who know you the best and love you the most.
And as I’m writing this column, it’s last Tuesday morning. Back down in Western North Carolina, my co-workers are “putting the paper to bed,” as we say. Up in New York, as my time winds down before my return back to those ancient and sacred mountains of Southern Appalachia, I can only be in utter awe and gratitude to the path I continue to wander down.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Bluegrass act Balsam Range will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
2 Vermont singer-songwriter Zack DuPont (of The DuPont Brothers) will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at City Lights Cafe in Sylva; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Innovation Station in Dillsboro.
3 Folkmoot will host a Scottish Friendship Dinner and presentation from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center, located in the Historic Hazelwood School at 112 Virginia Avenue in Waynesville.
4 The Haywood Arts Regional Theatre will kick off its annual “Winter Studio Season” with the Sarah Ruhl comedy “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-26 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 in Waynesville.
5 Innovation Station (Dillsboro) will host Scott Low (Americana/indie) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.