South Dakota is home for me now, I can’t imagine ever leaving here. But there is still a part of me that I left back in Virginia, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once the mountains are in your soul they don’t leave you even if you leave them. On days like today, when the sky is clear blue, with dots of cloud fluff and the heat is stirred by the softest breath of a breeze I can smell the oak and pine, I can hear the water running, feel the dirt beneath my feet.
I grew up in those mountains. Not as a child, but as an adult, out of college and trying to find my place in the world. I spent nearly ten summers driving up into the mountains at least once a month, if not more. (Gas was cheaper, then.) The mountains were a place of refuge from the heat of my apartment (attic, no air conditioning), from crazy roommates, from the pressure of trying to fit into molds I was never made to fit into.
There is the picnic area where I would spread a blanket and spend hours lost in books, in dreaming, in listening to the silence.
There is the mountain and the rocks where I learned to face obstacles head on, to press on towards a goal even when fear says “You can’t do this!” I didn’t totally conquer my fear of heights that day, but I learned to not let fear stand in the way of my goals.
There is the stream with the rock in the middle where I learned to just sit, be silent and let the breath of God flow around me. It is the place where I first truly felt my soul reaching out to touch him.
There are the rocks where a small note lies decomposing between two boulders. “God, please let my friends’ baby live.” And there is the other mountain she is buried on, where I learned that he does not always say ‘yes’.
There is the trail I was walking on, one foggy spring day when out of the silence I heard several voices lifted in a praise song, and without thinking I joined in. We never saw each other, but for a moment we were one voice, praising the God we love.
There is the trail where I learned that I don’t have to impress anybody, I just have to let go and have fun.
The picnic grounds where on a chilly fall day I found the ashes of a campfire with still enough life in them to be stirred to warmth again, where I sat and roasted marshmallows and wrote depressing poetry for several hours as I waited for the embers in my own soul to begin to glow again.
The meadow where my husband kissed me.
The trail with the unexpected treasure of ripe blackberries.
Driving up in the dark to try to catch a lunar eclipse and being scared half to death by a cow wandering along the side of the parkway. Watching my odometer hit 100,000 miles on the way back home.
The mountains are still in my heart, still in my blood. They are a part of who I am, a part that feels undone, lost in this flat land with roads that never curve and bend to hug a mountain.
No, I wouldn’t change where I am at, but there will always be a part of me looking towards the east for a mountain to climb.