OH goodness. It has been quite some time since we had ourselves a little chat, and the last chat was a bit of a downer, I suppose. I will say, that I had a great response from it. I got exactly the response I was looking for: People that were silently dealing with the same mud I was wallowing in came out of the woodwork to talk to me about their own struggles. It's good when we share.
I'm sitting here listening to Big Star with my sleepy dog beside me, like a personal heater, and the rain is plinking on my tin roof. It's 66 degrees right now, in November, and THAT, my friends, is why I love living in the south. It's humid and misty, but not unpleasant in any way. My windows are open, and the rain smells good.
As I was driving home last night from Relapse through patches of dense fog, I was reminded of my time in Shenandoah National Park a few years ago (....10?). I was working at a gift shop/camp store/cafe as a slave to Miss (a carton of cigarettes a day) Dolores, but that's a different story entirely. On my coveted days off, when I wasn't rushing down to the nearest town off the mountain to drink real Dr. Pepper (Dr....Best? is just not the same) (and, yes, these are the things I voted on as important...10? years ago. Shut. Up.), I was exploring the park.
The great (hahaha) thing about Shenandoah National Park is that it sits on the top of a 105 mile ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. It sits on top. ON TOP. So, anywhere you might find yourself exploring, you are going to be going down, and to return to your starting place, you are going to have to go up. It took me a while to figure this out. I was determined to spend the summer running the trails.
It was a lovely foggy day up on the ridge at Skyland when I set out on one of my seemingly simple jogs. I was running along the drive, headed for a trail head a mile *down the road. It was so easy. I felt like I must be hitting a runner's high awfully soon in the run, but I was pretty much a bad-ass, so this did not surprise me in the least. I took a little break at an overlook of an ancient hemlock forest. I read the information marker, and played a balancing game with the stone wall that separated the highway from the drop into the forest below. It was here that I saw my first bear of the summer.
Everyone had been talking about bears. People would run into the store randomly shouting about how everyone needed to run out to see the bears eating the garbage (ah, the great outdoors), but I was stuck behind my stupid counter restocking film (stuff that was once used to make pictures), or gum. GUM. I wanted to see a bear, dammit. Instead, I just stuffed my face with fudge when Delores wasn't looking. BUT TODAY! Today, I saw a bear. A bear cub, my friends, a cute bear cub, foraging on the side of the road, the edge of the woods, across the highway from me. THIS was an accomplishment. Not only had I run a delightful mile (entirely down hill), but I had stopped at just the right spot to see a bear.
I stared for a moment, then slowly tiptoed away (despite the noisy vehicles on the drive). I kept balancing on the stone wall. Someone may have slowed down to warn me of the dangers of my behavior, but I didn't care. I had totally just seen a bear. On my left, Skyline drive wound along the ridge, and on my right, a thick fog rested on the tops of some of the trees down in the valley.
I found my trail head and made my way...up. Tried running a little, realized I wasn't quite the athlete I had assumed, but finally made my way to the overlook....I assumed. I knew where I was because I had been to the overlook via a different route a number of times, but this time it was a bit of a mystery because of the fog. I sat on the edge of the cliff, and rested my body against the wall of cloud in front of me. I was sitting in a cloud. It was misty and cool, but not cold. I knew the cloud was hiding the drop directly in front of me, and that felt amazing. I was sitting in a blind cloud on top of a mountain, a huge invisible drop beneath my dangling feet.
I suppose there should be a point to this, a wrap up. But there isn't actually. It's just a story. A day I spent in the woods/not the woods. Shenandoah was like that. This bizarre amalgamation of actual wild-life and the people that are terrified of it watching it from the comfort of their cars. I saw many bears after that. They mostly hung around the employee dorms eating our trash. I never really saw one in the true wild, but I saw plenty of deer. One of my first days in the park I was exploring a trail early in the season that was delightfully empty. It crossed the AT at one point and got pretty narrow. This is where I saw my first buck. It was standing in the middle of the trail, inches from me. I had to keep going forward to get back to the dorms, so I slowly made my way towards the buck. He watched me the whole way, but he never moved. He allowed me to slide myself between him and the drop off the trail into the hollow. I could'v touched him, but I didn't. I didn't make any noise either. We just watched each other. I don't know why, but I too was a bit nervous as to what he would do.
Then I went back to my dorm, ate some fudge, and listened to the guy in the room next door watch episode after episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.