The wide river stretched over the rich green valley and dark green and gray mountains loomed in the distance. I drove over the bridge and an electrical impulse ran through my solar plexus and I caught my breath. “Wow!” I exhaled. My cat, caged in the carrier next to me, meowed, and I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my dog’s black head pop up. She had been asleep in her crate too, and she released anxious whimpers as we came around one bend and began to curve around another. We were here in the Appalachian mountains and the longest part of our journey was about to become breathtaking.
Two days prior to that, I loaded up my pets and luggage in my gray SUV and headed south on highway 45. I had spent a week with my parents and prior to that a week with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. In their homes and with them, I had comfort and security. My mind didn’t wander to “what ifs” or any daydream of what was to come the day I set out for the Asheville, North Carolina, area. When I reached Paducah on Saturday, my friend’s hospitality took over and I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to board my dog or cat or sleep for the night. He didn’t even let me consider the possibility of a hotel room, and so I had another full day of comfort and security. As we walked the historic downtown waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner, I began to share with him a little of my worries and concerns about the path I had chosen and how lost I was starting to feel. He didn’t even give me a chance to second guess myself. Instead, he bought a handcrafted copper compass keychain from a street artist whose wares we had been admiring. After the artist soldered the O-ring in place, my friend handed the gift to me, smiled, and said, “This is so you’ll be able to always find your way back home and find your place in this world, no matter where you are.”
In Nashville on Sunday, I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel and another friend picked me up for dinner. We ate at Chauhan Ale & Masala restaurant where the chefs blended art and traditional style Indian food. It was super delicious and had a great atmosphere. We ate Gol Guppa Shots for an appetizer – puffs of semolina with garbanzo beans and potatoes inside that you fill with mint water and shove in your mouth for an explosion of flavor. For our main course, we chose traditional Indian dishes that were equally amazing. As we talked, I realized that I would soon have the opportunity to explore deliciously prepared food where I was headed. I could also take my time to shop the farmer’s markets and really tune into enjoying my food instead of shoving something down my gullet (like my oh so reliable peanut butter and jelly sandwich) so I could get back to teaching, grading, or working on my lesson plans. We toured downtown Nashville (which has such a super-chill vibe despite the fact that it’s 600,000 people in the city alone) and wound up having dessert at Five Sisters Bakery in the swanky 12 South neighborhood. For once, I was excited to indulge on so much food, and even took the last of my peach-glazed donut to go so I could enjoy it early the next morning before I left.
The next day, I began the drive to Asheville. I crested a big hill in Cherokee National Forest and curved around a bend and saw a fathomless sea of tree tops. I dipped down into a low valley and the trees towered above me. I passed through two tunnels inside the very same mountain chain I had been admiring a few minutes before. Up I climbed again and at the top of the hill I saw more mountains in the distance and a wide open blue sky. I felt a shudder in my heart as if my body knew before my mind that my new life was upon me. I took in the view as much as I could at the scenic overlook and rest area outside of the park. I arrived later at my cottage and hurriedly brought my luggage and pets inside as thunder rolled in the distance. I explored my new cottage home and stopped at a cafe to eat then grocery shopped while an evening rainstorm passed through. I tirelessly unpacked until late in the night as a storm rolled in.
This morning I tried to set up some type of routine for myself so I wouldn’t feel as if I was pissing my time away. I awoke at 6:30 a.m., made coffee, and walked Lucy down the lane as the mist rolled off the hill across the street and some unseen roosters crowed. I ate a simple breakfast, read my book, and wrote for a half an hour. A decent yoga practice came next followed by meeting the woman from whom I’m renting the cottage. I went to the post office and got my P.O. Box set up and then walked Lucy in the Nature Park right off of Main Street. I returned home to eat lunch and visit with my neighbor, and have been writing ever since.
For an unknown reason, a bit of melancholy has come over me now that the thrill of yesterday’s drive has gone. I keep wondering “Now what?” as I go through my new normal and try to strategize my next move once the middle of September has come and gone. What am I doing here and why have I come on this journey? Then, I think back to what both my friends in Paducah and Nashville reminded me of: that this is a time to enjoy my life. To soak in the pleasures of all the simple things this world has to offer. That there is no need to justify wanting to eat delicious food, walk in beautiful scenery, live in a quaint cottage, and just be creative for the sake of being creative. These mountains, these lush trees, the sounds of the chirping birds, and the breezes of the wind, the thunder and lightning, the screen of misting rain in front of the backdrop of sunshine, the local and friendly waiter, cashier, dog owner, restaurant customer, all are seeping into my veins and soaking into my bones and shaping my destiny. All I have to do is let it happen.