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This must be the place: Do you believe in what you see, motionless wheel, nothing is real

Cataloochee Divide Trail. Cataloochee Divide Trail.

Stepping out of the muddy truck, I laced up my trail running shoes and disappeared down the Cataloochee Divide Trail for a few miles of trotting, wandering and pondering. 

About a mile and a half up the ridge, there’s this small opening looking down into Cataloochee Valley. I always stop there and gaze out, wondering who else is, perhaps, looking back at me from one of those faraway peaks. Last Friday, I stood at that spot and felt the first crisp breeze of an impending fall. 

It seems fall has been following me ever since I left Upstate New York after a whirlwind summer of nothing and everything. A couple weeks ago, I found myself in the depths of the Adirondack Mountains and the same crisp breeze greeted me while standing atop Coney Mountain near the small community of Tupper Lake. 

On that summit of Coney, I couldn’t help but reflect on this past summer: of what was, what is, what could have been, and what did come to be. None of us on this planet could have forecasted what 2020 would turn out to be. There’s been this sense of confusion and sadness, like an endless stream of ghosts roaming the streets, trying to not only make sense of what has happened, but also grasp some form of normalcy in one’s daily life. 

And yet, so many of us have been spending our days and our energy trying to seek out the silver linings in “all of this.” I know that I have been. I’m aiming to focus on what makes me happy, those simple things and situations in my existence that ground my mindset in happiness, passion, optimism and personal growth. 

Luckily, I’m someone who had pretty much tied up all those loose ends in my mind many years ago, whether that be in reference to my personal and professional dealings. Case in point, it was exactly 11 years ago when I found myself in the Black Rock Desert of rural northwest Nevada for the Burning Man gathering. 

This was 2009. I was 24 years old. With the U.S. economy in shambles and political fervor tearing the country apart, I found myself scraping by as a freelance writer, trying desperately to find creative and financial footing in the industry I wanted to work and thrive in. Living in my parents’ Upstate New York farmhouse, I took off for Nevada in hopes of finding myself: somewhere, anywhere, within, without. 

I remember strolling the massive festival grounds amid a dust storm, barely able to see out of my goggles, and yet who cares? Wherever I landed or wound up, I would be OK, so long as there was a song in my heart and a kick in my step. If the intent is pure, then everything else is just a minor detail, eh?

There was a moment right when that dust storm passed, as the sun was falling to the horizon. I was standing atop this Carolina fishing trawler (that was trucked out into the desert as an art installation), just watching the tens of thousands of buzzing dots of humanity bounce off each other in every direction. The dots were now all glowing in darkness, and I couldn’t wait to meet and interact with every single one: in due time, in some place. 

I realized back then what I felt justified this summer: I’m a writer and I want to share the beauty of the world around me with others through the written word. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and, thankfully, have kept doing these last 11 years (the last eight in Western North Carolina).

When I tied up that loose end in my mind back in 2009, in that Nevada desert, I knew that my mind, body and soul could push through any and all obstacles. Cue 2020. Here we are, and I return to that fishing trawler in my mind often, remembering the strength and persistence I discovered out there and have possessed ever since. 

Summer 2020 has come to a close, at least is does for me once Labor Day rolls around. Chaos and madness aside, I was able to not only find silver linings in my travels, but also within myself in the process. 

I rediscovered the things that make me happy: writing, hiking, listening to (and learning to play) music. And, most importantly, circling back to quality time with friends and family, for that’s all that really matters in our universe: the love and memories you make and share with others. 

I walk away from this summer with images of my niece blowing out the candles on her sixth birthday cake, my little sister walking down the aisle at her wedding, going for an afternoon hike in the Adirondacks with my parents, having a margarita with my mother, trail running with my father, picking up a vintage guitar and learning how to play a few chords (over and over), and so forth. 

The air is getting cooler outside my front door here in Southern Appalachia. Summer is slowly, but surely, transitioning into fall, as it has for all of time on this hurtling rock through space. Summer to fall, onward to winter and back around to spring. The seasonal cycle. The circle of life. 

The clock keeps ticking, but who is even listening to that sound anymore? Step away from your computer. Go outside. Embrace the beauty around you. Immerse yourself in Mother Nature. Jump into a cold river. Raise your head towards the sunshine falling upon your harmonious vibration. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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