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This must be the place: It’s a Monday, it’s so mundane, what exciting things will happen today?

The summit of Rich Mountain. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) The summit of Rich Mountain. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Just east of Hot Springs, I pulled off U.S. 70 and turned into the small, muddy parking lot. Emerging from the truck, I threw on the rest of my trail running gear. Heading northbound on the Appalachian Trail, the destination was the Rich Mountain Tower. 

It was Monday afternoon. Though the sunshine was bright and the air somewhat balmy, the temperature would drop considerably while making my way around the north side of the mountain or wandering deep into a holler en route to the top of the ridge (the route a 5.3-mile roundtrip with 1,446 feet of elevation gain). 

Immersed in the depths of solitude along the trail, there wasn’t another soul around for miles. And, as per usual in these situations, I let my mind and thoughts drift. Visions of friends and family back home in the North Country. Dusty memories of long gone lovers. Hopes for the unknown tomorrow (and the days thereafter). 

And I kept coming back to my impending birthday this Saturday. I’ll be turning 37. At least socially-speaking, it’s a number that isn’t really significant birthday-wise, at least not like 13, 18, 21, 30, 50, 75 or 100. But, for some reason, 37 weighed heavily in my head as I pushed further and farther up the ridge towards the tower. 

Maybe it’s because 37 means I’m “officially” in my late 30s, which means “you’re almost 40,” as a friend jokingly reminded me over a happy hour drink last week. Forty means 50, onward to 75 and eventually 100. 

This is how fast my mind works, as most of us can attest to. The thought of fleeting time and life flying by you is a haunting notion, especially more so nowadays amid incessant white noise and technological distraction — all the more reason to disappear regularly into the depths of Mother Nature. 

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And throughout the trek up Rich Mountain, the soundtrack swirling around these restless thoughts was that of Australian indie/rock singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Later that day, Barnett would take the stage at a sold-out performance in The Orange Peel in Asheville. 

But, before I would wander into the venue and soak in the essence of one of the finest modern-day rock-n-rollers, Barnett’s melodies bounced across any and all emotions felt within my heart and soul. The songs are, well, like lullabies for adults, these cozy numbers that wrap around the listener, ultimately bringing forth a sense of ease only found in the confines of unique, timeless music. 

Whether it was standing atop the Rich Mountain Tower overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains or standing at The Orange Peel and gazing out across a sea of faces, Barnett’s words and tone seems to bring everything into focus — to be keenly aware of the moment you’re in, and to find gratitude in any situation. 

Beyond the unknown depths of Barnett’s lyrical prowess, the album titles seem to become personal mantras within 21st century human beings just trying to keep our heads above water: “Things Take Time, Take Time,” “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.” 

These days, it’s as if we’re all constantly on the edge of this existential crisis — everyone stuck in confusion about time and place, nothing and everything — with Barnett this melodic tether pulling us back in from floating out into the dark abyss, “Stars in the sky are gonna die, eventually, it’s fine, just like a lonely satellite, drifting for a little while.”

Leaning against the railing of the tower, I kept replaying the deeply-held sentiments of Barnett’s signature selection “Avant Gardener” across my field-of-vision. Although, in essence, the song is about an asthma attack, it speaks more to the absurdity of daily life, for good or ill, “Should've stayed in bed today, I much prefer the mundane, I take a hit from an asthma puffer, I do it wrong, I was never good at smoking bongs, I'm not that good at breathing in.”

Stand in the crowd and soak in the message of this singular, mesmerizing artist up there onstage behind the microphone. Soak in the beauty of the adult lullabies when everything slows down, all while holding an honest sense of solidarity when the guitar gets louder and angrier. 

The sheer joy of live music, that communal sense of self and of the greater universe all found in the presence of an Australian whose perspective on the grand scheme of things brings forth the lost art of simple happiness and the ongoing act of self-realization to the countless faces in the crowd — find humor in everyday life, kindness breeds kindness, seek out and be aware of the absurdity of your own existence (for none of us will get of here alive, don’tcha know?).

The ebb and flow of frustration and compassion, of tension and release we experience collectively, whether we realize it or not, “Sit beside me, watch the world burn, we'll never learn, we don't deserve nice things, and we'll scream self-righteously, we did our best, but what does that really mean?”

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

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