The Mountains Every Time

For one writer, memories and marvels rekindle each summer in the forests, waterfalls, and valleys of Western North Carolina

Garden and Gun

June/July 2019

The man and I drove all day through the Shenandoah Valley and entered the Blue Ridge by sunset, finding the turnoff only after dark. We serpentined into the mountains until our cell service slipped, until we were singing along to a station tuned to silence. The road to Cashiers ambled through low wet forest, skirted sheer drops that whispered in the darkness of falling water. At the end of it, there was a hedge, a gate, an old fellow in a rocking chair to nod to, then a fireplace roaring on a screened porch, a tumbler full of Scotch. I fell asleep to the sound of tree frogs, woke up in a pool of sun. It wasn’t until I looked out at the view—a cliff reaching, sheer white, above the tallest trees—that I realized I’d been here before.

That before was far away and cut to pieces: a log cabin, a dirt road that just kept rising. Four years old, in corduroy overalls, I trundled up the mountain, a parent in each hand. Above us, Whiteside rose, one of the highest cliffs east of the Mississippi. I’d been promised peanut butter crackers and falcons at the top, but what I really wanted was a piggyback ride. When I discovered one was not forthcoming, I whined, stomped, cried. Did some good old sitting in the dirt. Finally, I just had to lie. “Daddy,” I said, deadpan, “I’m having a heart attack.”

I got my way.

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