This was going to be the hard day, the one with all the memories attached. Moments in time never really go away and three years worth of those moments were going to be felt that day (refer to previous entry Return to the South Forty – Day 2).
I woke up and looked at the mountain I had driven beside thousands of times. The road on it had taken us to the grocery store, school, work, ball fields, Tennessee, friends homes’, our home, our very livelihood, and secret memories of someone special I’d rather not share. Yes, this was going to be tougher than I though because I already felt the flood of memories and emotions coming in. This would, by far, be the most bittersweet day of all, and the most important.
The first place of all to go to was the ball fields. I worked, my kiddo played ball; all kinds of ball. Baseball, football, soccer, even basketball. He was pretty darn good at it to, especially baseball and football. When that ball connected with the bat, you would hope the bases were loaded because he would bring those runners in. Football? He became an expert on the quarterback sack. I’d seen him chase the quarterback the whole football field and then drop him five yards from touchdown. Yea, these are some good memories so it has to start with the ball field.
My, how things have changed. A couple of the front fields were gone and had been made into a nice park area, complete with a walking/running/biking path. Whoever designed it made it where the Valley River was in the forefront of the meandering pathway. Benches and swings had been set beside the river but the old trees that hung over the banks, the ones we had sat our butts on so many times, were still there and had grown so much over the years. I sat down on one of those overhanging trees and listened to the river flow, the imaginary loudspeaker yelling home run, the fans cheering in the bleachers, remembering my kiddo and I playing tennis and knocking so many tennis balls over the fence, which landed in the river, never to be seen again. Beautiful world, beautiful place to be but then again, it always was to me. An important place doing some of the really important things in life. Having fun.
I did a drive-by of the town but that was all I needed to do. I’d already settled it in my mind. Forever onward, I headed east towards the next county. Another fine place and where the real South Forty is and those special memories that come with it. I did a drive-by and realized that although everything had changed, it was still the same. Enough of that. Onward again, this time heading south in the North Georgia mountains.
My, my. What a view! Nothing can be any prettier than a view of the North Georgia mountains, unless you’re in North Georgia and looking at the view of the North Carolina mountains. Even after seeing either view thousands of times, it never gets old. Dropped in at Brasstown Valley Resort and spent some time sitting in an old rocking chair, looking at the view. Kiddo, friends and I would go there to eat, play pool and shoot darts. Kiddo became quite a pool shark at his young age. He actually won $10 from this fella. I wasn’t going to let him keep the money but the poor fella said please let him keep it because he earned it, fair and square. I couldn’t argue with that logic. All of this passed through my memory bank as I sat in that rocking chair, looking at the mountains in the not so distant distance. But, forever onward. There was a lot of ground to cover that day and the most important part would be the most time-consuming and most bittersweet.
I headed north and then headed west, then headed north again. Destination known. Fires Creek. Probably the most important place to be. Go way up and down the road (literally) and hang a left at the sign. About two miles in, this is where we camped (very primitive), swam, played, lounged, talked, laughed, met new people, squealed when we put our hot bodies in that cold water, hiked. Our home away from home unless we were going camping somewhere else, which we frequently did, like every single weekend, excluding winter. I never worried about my kiddo while we were out there, not even when he slashed his foot open and I didn’t have enough first aid equipment available for that deep cut. Yea, up and out we went, to the hospital a ways down the road. Doc fixed him right up and said get back to camping. What a cool doc!
I sat down on one of the many big rocks by the creek. In my mind, I was watching my kiddo slide down the falls, jumping straight into the deep hole, watching him float, get hung up on the rocks, and make friends with any and all other kids. I remembered the big copperhead that was under the big rock that I sat or laid on while kiddo played. He was safe; nobody was going to be messing with him, especially me! I remembered the Easter Sunday that Dana, April, kiddo and I went to the creek after church and a meal that Dana had prepared while we were at church. We spent the afternoon together at the creek and had a wonderful time. Great time, great food and great friends that were closer than family.
I loved this place and didn’t want to leave. Leaving my perch on the rock and grabbing my backpack, I decided it was time to hike the trails. I knew none of them would be outside of my physical boundaries so I was really looking forward to the gentle exertion. It’s not like I haven’t hiked them all before because I have; it’s because I wanted to hike them again and that was the memory day. As luck would have it, there were even more trails than before and I was on them all, as far as I could go, wherever they should lead, which was usually to some spot on the river that was sloping slowly upwards. I spent the rest of the day there, enjoying the peace and wonder of it all. I felt all the same things I felt all those other times. Some places are just special and have a significance that we might not can identify. All I know is I felt so close to the Creator while there, and always have. I don’t need a photo to remind me of that spiritual place; it was and is, forever and always, engrained in my heart and soul.
Leaving a piece of my soul behind and taking with me the peace of the creek, I headed out to the main drag again. Out of the woods. Into the real world. Turned east towards town then south again, towards the lake. Talk about memories! These are the funny ones. The mountain lakes are full of clay; actually, the whole world is clay. And it sticks. Forever. Even with clorox. (Big Laugh)! Well, me not exactly realizing so much about how clay works, I proceeded to be creative with the kiddo. In other words, he was going to become a piece of art. I was going to paint him with clay. So, I did. Even his hair. Oh my, the funniest sight I have ever seen! And he dried like that! Until he finally got in the lake to get the clay off. Well, that didn’t work out so well. At all. This was not good. Finally got him cleaned up enough where he could change clothes and get him home for a shower. That pretty much did the trick, except for his scalp. It was clay red. As in stuck forever clay red. Don’t know how many times we scrubbed that scalp but that clay was no going anywhere! Oh dear, and he has to go to school tomorrow. However is he going to explain this? My mama painted me? I would imagine that somewhere, somehow, there’s still some of Lake Chatuge’s red clay stuck on that head somewhere! Great memories!
Forever onward, I headed back out to the main drag, headed west again back to my town, then east. Beautiful drive between these two towns and I needed to see those ‘grey-backed gorilla’ mountains that I loved. This lands me in the Nantahala Gorge, a most wonderful drive with a mountain at one side and a river at the other. Destination known. Nantahala Outdoor Center to get on the Appalachian Trail. Yes!!! Received my day pass for parking and up the trail I went. It was a pretty nice hike. Easier than I expected, especially since I’d never been on this part of the trail before. Hiked and hiked and hiked until I knew it was time to turn around and head back down to civilization. Saw quite a few thru-hikers on my daily excursions in and around the trail and they’re pretty interesting people. Me? I was just happy to be on the trail once again.
It’s getting late in the day and time to reach the end destination although I wasn’t really for sure where that would be. My parking pass included the next two days and I wanted to be close enough to NOC without having a long drive. As I drove out of the Gorge and along the road heading east, I knew where I wanted to go. With a name like Ridge Top, where could you go wrong? Destination reached.
It was time for food, replenishing the nighttime snack supply and going over the day to see how it all felt.
Day 3 has ended on a good note; Day 4 is coming up next.