Saturday, May 18, 2013

I have been sick all week, nothing serious but sick enough to keep me indoors. So I have a special offering for you, a guest blogger. And next weekend I have a two day show, so no promises of a new post, but I will do my best. Thanks for understanding. So now, please enjoy this gift from my youngest son, Zach, a talented writer and musician and a fabulous human being.

The Line Between Wilderness and Home

I was raised (by the usual author of this blog) not just to appreciate and respect nature, but to absorb it into every pore. My early childhood in western Massachusetts was spent in the shadows of dark and looming hills, in gray woods beside overgrown railroad tracks, and at the rocky, weedy verge of serpentine rivers. Later, in North Carolina, it was driftwood on salt-blown beaches and herons wading through the muck of depthless marshes. Nature was an inextricable facet of who I became as a person, and now it's as much a part of me as a limb or an eye.

My wife and I live in the city of Burlington, NC near Greensboro. I love Burlington, but to an outsider, it can seem a bleak place, a haunted landscape of boarded-up homes and collapsing textile mills, slowly giving way to endless, logo-drenched sprawl. I am fascinated by the history of this active little city and the delight of my own faded 1910 house looming above the tide of traffic. But nature is not what sprang to mind when I first arrived here. I still pined (pun intended) for the towering mountain passes cloaked in evergreens and the isolated campfire glows in the gloom of my beloved High Country where I attended college. I was spoiled by the proximity to such sweeping natural beauty. Sometimes, you have to look hard to find it later on.

But find it I did in the form of Shallow Ford Natural Area, a humble patch of trails and steep rocky climbs over the Haw River just north of Burlington limits. Chancing on this rather new park on Election Day of last year when I was eager to steer clear of media for fear of bad news, I immediately fell in hopeless love. An outpost within the city but lush and green and alive, dotted with the ruins of old homesteads and grist mills, Shallow Ford's precarious trails climb to a thrilling vista over the placid Haw, the once mighty river that gave Burlington life by powering its industry.

Shallow Ford has very much become "my place" in a way nowhere ever has before. I've walked every trail, and my wife and I recently backpacked to the primitive campground to spend a night away from the hectic bustle of town. How powerful to be entirely alone within a city and to camp so far from any parking lot. We were enchanted by the slugs, snakes and tiny frogs we met on our journey, but most of all, the immense vastness of the quiet forest impressed us with its own subtle force. We may as well have been hundreds of miles from home instead of a mere ten minute drive.

One of my favorite musicians and personal inspirations is Phil Elverum, a Washington State resident who makes woods-enraptured folk music under the name Mount Eerie. In a recent interview, he offered the idea that "nature" itself doesn't exist; that the term is something that's used to separate us from out there, from the wilderness, and to therefore draw an invisible line between the two. In reality, everything is nature, from a Kmart in suburban Cleveland to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

It was all wilderness before we arrived. So when I found my spot of beauty in the midst of my busy little city, it wasn't nature so much as home.

"When I reached the summit, I made no camp,
But I unrolled my sleeping bag in the stream,
And let the cold water pour in my ears."

Mount Eerie, Cold Mountain


  1. "I would rather sit on a pumpkin,
    and have it all to myself,
    than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

    Zach,you are your mother's son.