I was raised in a flat concrete suburb. I live in a flat concrete city. I belong here in this paved world and I am content. But I long for an Appalachian Fall. I long for the muddled embrace of mountains I can’t see around. I long and my heart implodes into an aching tenderness beneath my ribs.
My childhood neighborhood was tract housing, row upon row of identical bungalows encapsulating a scant 900-square feet of living space. Cement driveways spilled between the houses off paved streets into backyards defined by chain link fences. In front of each house, an orphaned maple tree stood in the easement between the sidewalk and the street.
One day I realized those sapling trees were memorials to a lost world. One day I glimpsed the old world. One day. I remember it like a calendar. That day expunged the breath from my lungs and raised up the hundreds of freckles on my 10-year-old body. That day I saw home. That day, I climbed to the top of the world at the Raven’s Roost overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and beheld the Appalachian Mountains.
“Daddy, they’re so beautiful,” I said. I had scrambled with Gumby knees and hips that moved like pliant silicone onto a foot-high natural stone ledge and leaned, snug as a bug in a rug, against my tall, lanky father. His solid arm circled my shoulders, pinning me against the washed-soft cotton of his white T-shirt and the pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in his pocket. I felt his sturdiness, his warmth, and his universe, comingled with the skin of my back under my blue seersucker blouse. His chin was tucked into my strawberry-blond hair, plaited into pig-tailed braids that hung below my shoulders. Daddy was balding early, and sensitive about it, but to me he thirty-something handsome. We shared turquoise eyes. We shared a hunger for nature. We shared a thirst for freedom. Both of us blinked back unbidden wonder.
Behind us, in a blue Ford station wagon parked under a canopy of trees, my mother, two sisters and two baby brothers slept, curled in safety among worn suitcases, pillows, and a green scuffed Coleman cooler. We had hit the road before daylight because Mom had heard mice scampering in the thin walls of the cheap motel we’d stopped at for the night. My father had pulled into the overlook and declared time for a stretch break. Dawn had lifted up night’s curtain to reveal forms that had pushed up out of flatness, mountains we’d rolled into in darkness.
Morning’s light filtered through clouds that God had lowered to kiss the hills with ephemeral fog. Frail sunlight flirted from behind these misty eyelids, sending watery beams to scold the chill morning air and tease my daddy and me with a hint of delicious warm affection. The mountains were dusky purple, steel blue, grey-green, layers of undulating curves that stretched to eternity, an unabashed curvy earthen body whose sinews sprang from a core of tenderness and strength. I smelled the color green, a perfume that would, from that point on, scent my trail through life.
“One day I’m going to live in these mountains,” I said. I twisted around to look up at my Dad. He bent, looked straight into the eyes we shared, and nodded. “Lin, you can do whatever you set your mind to,” he said.
I set my mind to the mountains. They hugged me home for 25 years and not a day goes by that I don’t hug them back. From the heart of my today home in the desert, I tender my gratitude for one of my beloved country’s most beautiful and blessed landscapes.
Copyright 2020: Linda Sandel Pettit
Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, offers Zoom-based or phone conversations from her home in the Arizona desert. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding, and clinical experience, in service to others. She be found at www.thedrspettit.com. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. Email Linda for more information or fee assistance.