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This must be the place: Oh California I’m coming home, oh make me feel good rock-n-roll band

Cataloochee Divide Trail. Cataloochee Divide Trail.

It was just about a month ago when I received a text from a dear friend, a truly cosmic and beautiful soul. She was heading back to her native home of Western North Carolina to visit family for the first time since November 2019, first time since “all of this” became our new normal. 

“Will you be around?” she messaged me. “For you? Of course,” I replied. 

Leaving her apartment, roommates and life back in California, she jumped on a cross-country flight and landed at the Asheville airport on Dec. 30. I arrived at the terminal in my old truck. She waved me down, tossed her luggage into the back of the pickup and hopped in. 

Immediately, I noticed how tan she was, all those lazy days walking the beaches of Santa Monica or meandering the boardwalks on her beach cruiser. Her radiant smile was just as I remembered, as was her charming laugh and engaging presence. 

It had been over a year since I’d laid eyes on her, but within our ever-flowing conversation, it felt like I’d seen her only yesterday — she’s just that kind of person who bestows that type of comfortability with such ease. 

Not ready to simply head back to her parents’ house in Waynesville, it was decided to grab a drink in West Asheville. Bellying up to the bar counter, we grabbed a seat and relaxed into the evening. 

She couldn’t get over the fact of merely being in a bar, seeing as California remains under strict rules and regulations due to the pandemic. For me, I couldn’t get over the fact of her being right next to me, this voice I’d only heard in endless phone calls over the last year during the shutdown. 

Phone calls in the midnight hour. Two lonely, curious souls on different coasts that couldn’t sleep, only to call the other to check in, perhaps catch up on the matters of the day. Or maybe dive a little deeper into the complex mysteries of time and place in the unknown universe. 

Her initial 18-day trip return home soon morphed into a 10-day extension. Just as I figured I’d have to eventually say goodbye (at least for now), she called me up from her parents — once again in the midnight hour — to say she was delaying her flight to California and if I “would be around this week?” Yep. Sold. 

As with all things fun and worthwhile, time flew by too quickly, so why not just throw caution to the wind and stay a little while longer? After all, there never seems to be enough time to be with loved ones when you circle back to the familiarity and warm embrace of your hometown after a period of exploration and personal growth, whether geographically or emotionally. 

While she makes her way back to the West Coast this week, our time together over the last month has felt like this whirlwind of adventures, conversations and interactions. Although I’d initially thought we’d see each other sporadically, we’ve ended up spending most of January wandering and pondering together, this serene ripple of cause and effect, and how everything is everything, even if it may seem all for nothing at the time. 

From a snowy, sunset hike along the Cataloochee Divide Trail to an early birthday dinner for two at Curate in downtown Asheville (hers being Feb. 13, mine Feb. 5), sharing new music on the stereo over a beverage on my couch or showing each other what we’ve picked up along the way in our respective paths of learning the acoustic guitar, there have been a bevy of moments now forever chiseled on the walls of my memory. 

But, the one moment that sticks out is getting breakfast a few days ago at the Haywood 209 Café just off Interstate 40 (north of Lake Junaluska). I’ve always been a big champion of the quality time between two human beings over coffee and eggs, sharing a corner booth with nothing but time on their hands — no place to be except for right here, right now, and with you. 

Being there, I realized how long it had been since I sat down with a kindred spirit at a diner amid rollicking banter and laughter over the absurdity that is life, for good or ill (but mostly good). I’ve been pretty much by myself during this ongoing pandemic (and so has she), and that meal together meant more to my heart and soul than I may ever realize — maybe someday in hindsight, eh?

By the time you read this column, she’ll already have left Western North Carolina, most likely on another cross-country flight somewhere halfway between here and California. Tens of thousands of feet high above in the air, her thoughts swirling around what the next move will be, what words and sentiments will fill these blank pages seemingly just around the corner. 

I don’t know the next time when we’ll cross paths. And I don’t know what each of us will say or do when that subsequent rendezvous reveals itself in due time. However, what I do know is, that the next chance encounter between these two souls on different coasts can’t come soon enough. 

But, alas, patience is a virtue. That, and you must let the cards fall where they may, come hell or high water. Chase the horizon, all while leaving yourself completely and utterly vulnerable to the possibility of today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. 

For, what’s the fun in not poking the chaos? You just never know where time and place will take you next. And, for that, I continue onward, always upward. 

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

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