A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘Am I doing it right? It doesn’t matter, just keep telling the story’

The top of Max Patch. The top of Max Patch. Garret K. Woodward photo.

Whether it’s Sunday evening, Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, I’m usually trying to sit down and write this here column. Most likely, it’s Tuesday morning. Words, thoughts and sentiments spilling out of my fingertips in a haste to make the late Tuesday morning deadline to ensure I make the print copy before it gets kicked out the door, onward to the printer as we finally “put the paper to bed.”

It’s not that I purposely wait until Tuesday morning to put the final touches on this weekly column. Honestly, I start out with sincere intentions of getting the column to my publisher to edit and proof by Monday afternoon, at latest. But, as per usual, something always pops up in my daily life that’ll distract or derail me until Tuesday morning — that moment where I awaken into “press day,” and yet I still have work to do. 

And, like clockwork, I was getting ready to sit down and let the emotions flow along the keyboard on Monday. But, a phone call late in the morning threw the entire day into whack. It was a dear friend. He called to ask a couple quick questions: “Are you ordained?” and “What are doing later today?” I replied, “Yes, and nothing planned at the moment.” Well, seemingly-mundane Monday sure took a turn, eh? 

Seeing as my girlfriend and I are close friends of the couple at-hand, the two of us suddenly found ourselves scrambling about in an effort to grab what we needed for the gathering, and to track down my “go-to wedding invocation” from four previous ceremonies that I’ve been honored to ordain. Substitute the new names and add in a little flavor, perhaps detail, to make it more genuine. 

Skip ahead to late Monday afternoon. Vehicles of close friends and family rolled up to a humble abode in the depths of Haywood County. Everyone pack into a handful of cars and caravan out to Max Patch for a sunset wedding. I found myself leading the charge down J. Creek to Interstate 40, onward to Exit 7 at Harmon Den where the pavement turns to gravel turns to dirt for several miles up the mountain ridge. 

Cruising up the dirt road, I realized that it’d been awhile since I’d been atop Max Patch, mainly due to the inundation of tourists and lack of enthusiasm to “escaping into nature” while surrounded by an endless stream of humanity snapping photos and wondering where the closest Taco Bell is. Give me pure solitude, off-the-beaten path, full and complete immersion into the Mother Nature — on my own terms and in my own time and place. 

Regardless, as the once-hot afternoon ball of fire in the sky began its descent behind the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, we were soon straddling the state line. Our vehicles pulled up and into the small and dusty parking lot at the bottom of Max Patch. Putting the truck into park, we emerged into a serene, picturesque sight. 

Even if it’s a tourist trap, the beauty of Max Patch sure ain’t lost on this guy. It was also in that moment when we noticed another couple getting out of their cars in a wedding dress and tuxedo, their entourage also carrying up small coolers of beverages alongside camera gear and a keen spirit for spur-of-the-moment Monday adventures. 

Fill up our small cooler with a handful of Miller High Life cans purchased last minute at a gas station in Maggie Valley. Grab the bottle of bourbon for the ceremonial toast at the finale of the gathering. Don’t forget your jacket if it gets chilly up there once the sun ducks behind the ancient peaks to the west. 

One-third of a mile later, we had successfully trucked up the winding trail in our formal and semi-formal attire, coolers and camera gear and whatever else safely in-tow. Standing in the middle of the Appalachian Trail that meanders across Max Patch, the bride and groom scouted out the ideal spot for the ceremony. 

In the distance was the other sunset wedding, as was an impromptu wedding engagement photo session within earshot, so it was decided to head in the opposite direction, slightly over the ridge where it was a quieter and a tad more private of an occasion. Drop the coolers down and pop a cold one in the fading rays of another glorious day in Southern Appalachia. 

A few minutes thereafter, I found myself standing in front of the happy couple, their hands shaking with nervousness and excitement amid a misty-eyed scene unfolding in real time. The close friends and family formed a semi-circle around the duo, myself the only one with their back to the sunset, the warmth of the ball of fire in the sky now on my shoulders. 

And as quickly as the moment of marital bliss arrived, it soon dispersed into the ether — a new, unknown chapter of existence now appearing in front of the young couple and their entourage. Pull the cork out of the bourbon bottle, pour out a small portion in each cup put forth in your direction — salute the sunset and beloved faces within arm’s length. 

Shortly after, the bride and groom said a few words of thanks and gratitude to the whirlwind day and who was able to partake in the ceremony. As things quieted down and we sipped the bourbon with gusto, a quote popped into my head from a film I’d just so happened to see the night prior. 

In the midst of “Asteroid City,” the latest offering from director Wes Anderson, is another beautifully-poignant deep dive into the existentialism of Anderson and our modern society in the grand scheme of the universe. The quote, as follows, escaped my mind and mouth atop Max Patch as I was overwhelmed by the scene in front of me — “‘Am I doing it right? It doesn’t matter, just keep telling the story.”

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

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