Finding a Magical Japanese Dragon on the Appalachian Trail

I’m pretty sure I’ve told you Appalachia can be a magical place – especially when you least expect it.

A few months back, while hiking in the Smokies, Tom and I unexpectedly stumbled upon a collection of woodland trolls.

But on today’s hike – roughly 1969 miles south of Katahdin, Maine – the magical encounter was with a burly hiker with the unlikely name of “Cupcake.”

"Cupcake"

Does this man look like a cupcake to you?

Not at all, right?

No matter. Experienced AT thru-hiker and blogger Evans Prater explains that trail names often describe a quirk, habit, or funny mishap a hiker has endured. These nicknames add to the sense of uniqueness of each hiker – to the sense of escape, personal discovery and soul searching each individual is on the Trail to experience. Hikers are are given the freedom of a new life and a new identity by the simple act of changing their names.

In the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, there is a split second when you first look at something, a moment when all you experience is the form the universe has created. And it is in this gap of thought that the key to presence, awareness, and peace exists – an acceptance of the universe just as it actually is – nameless, formless.

And so it was with “Cupcake.” I did not ask him how he got his name or who gave it to him. It didn’t matter to me.

I was more interested in the stories in his trail weary skin – especially the fantastic, colorful creature crawling up his leg, baring its sharp fangs at me.

Qilin

 

“It’s a Kirin,” Cupcake explained, “a Japanese mythological creature.”

Japanese? I asked.

“I’m a quarter Japanese,” replied the burly red-haired Scottish lumberjack-looking dude matter-of-factly – as if I was unable to tell from his appearance.

Research later revealed that Kirin is the Japanese form of the Chinese “qilin.” The kirin is often depicted as a dragon shaped like a deer with an ox’s tail instead of the tail of a lion. It is also often portrayed as partially unicorn-like in appearance, but with a backwards curving horn.

In the Chinese hierarchy of mythological animals, the qilin is ranked as the third most powerful creature (after the dragon and phoenix), but in Japan, the kirin occupies the top spot.

Kirins are said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler. They are usually depicted with raised forelegs, flames around their bodies and wings to help them fly across the sky – all of which may help inspire weary hikers on a 2,190 mile trek.

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They are extremely gentle creatures and never step on grass and insects as they move around – very much in keeping with the philosophy of nature-respecting, long distance hikers.

A Kirin is also a good omen – thought to occasion prosperity or serenity. They appear when all is right with the world.

And so it was this afternoon, as we briefly crossed paths on the Appalachian Trail and compared body art – one a day-hiker with flowers on her leg; the other a thru-hiker committed to months on the AT with a Japanese dragon on his.

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A brief exchange stories, the sighting of a magical creature, hours spent in fresh air and the ancient beauty of the Smokies.

Moments when all was right with the world.

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Wishing Cupcake good trail karma over his next two thousand miles …

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… and whatever lies beyond.

 

 

Naked in Denmark (or, How a Winter Night in Appalachia Inspired Me to Live Fearlessly)

I was standing on the very edge of terra firma in Denmark, looking across a dark sea of chilly water towards a distant Sweden.

Dawn was breaking and I was stark naked.

Why I was standing there, ready to jump into the cold water, can be blamed upon something I experienced one winter’s night in Appalachia.

But to explain how this bizarre moment came about, I should first tell you a little something of the circumstances that led me to take off all my clothes in public in a foreign land – not normally a habit of mine!

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When I moved to the mountains, I was an uptight, stressed-out mess. Years of single parenting, a year of intense care-giving for my father, the death of my unique and wonderful artist sister, the incessant struggles of being self-employed in the documentary film business had all taken a toll on my equilibrium. Or, at that point, lack of.

Like a team of persistent and pernicious sculptors, all of these challenges had etched themselves into lines on my face and on my psyche, chipping away pieces of my potentially happier self.

These circumstances had all been demanding and tough in their own way, but even worse for me was just the grinding competitiveness of daily life in a big city. And the fears. Two decades of the fear that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my kids, that I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or the mortgage or any of the bills, fear that I would die in a plane accident (or a car accident), that my kids would be shot at school, be injured playing sports, crash while learning to drive, fear that I would get cancer like my sister, fear that I was eating the wrong things, cooking with the wrong pans, etc. Scared that someone would steal the idea for the book I had spent more than a couple of years researching and writing (yes, that actually happened) and scared that I was too jaded or miserable to attract true love into my life.

One of only two single parents in a large neighborhood of smug marrieds, as Bridget Jones might characterize them, I let these fears eat away at my potential for well being and happiness like acid rain.

As soon as I could, I escaped to the mountains, relying only on blind instinct that this would be a place to heal and renew.

The mountains surrounding Asheville are, after all, some of the world’s oldest – so they know a thing or two about survival.

I only knew I needed peace and quiet, and their healing energy.

Although I had often gone to various churches (more off than on) during the big city years, I made a conscious decision that would not be a part of my new life in Asheville.

I just wanted to be in nature, be still,

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and just “be.”

But then a chance encounter with six words took place in (of all places) a church, and (of all times) – on Christmas Eve. The irony of this was not lost on me.

Why was I even in a church, you might ask?

The simple answer is that I was doing my former husband’s girlfriend a favor.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and my son, my former husband (yes, he moved to Asheville, too), his girlfriend (Nan), and I had gathered together at my new little home on the mountainside overlooking a bird sanctuary for a festive holiday meal and an exchange of gifts.

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It was later in the evening when I heard Nan say she wanted to go to a service that night at Jubilee church. Steve (my former, her current) didn’t appear to be interested in going.

A little tipsy on the spirit of Christmas and goodwill toward all mankind, I heard myself say that I would take her.

What on earth did you just say?! my startled inner self exclaimed. It’s dark and cold out there! Wouldn’t you rather stay home, drink wine, fall asleep by the fireplace?

Yes, dammit, I would!

But it was too late. As Nan’s face lit up with gratitude, I realized I was committed.

And so, within half an hour, there I was, reluctantly sitting in a circle, inside a church, along with dozens of others bundled up against the chill, trying my best to tune out the words of Howard Hanger, the charismatic minister of the Asheville Jubilee experience.

He was going through the Christmas story and I’d heard it all before. Many times before. So instead, I turned my thoughts to what people were wearing and might there possibly be any handsome single men there.

Thus occupied, I didn’t hear any of the sermon until, about 2o minutes into the service, clear as a bell, in the midst of the random muck of my mind, I heard these words:

What if you were not afraid?

Howard Hanger had just gotten to the bit about the angels appearing and startling the shepherds.

Hah, that’s crazy, I thought. I can’t imagine not being afraid.

Think about it, Howard said, pausing to look intently at each person in the large circle around him, including me.

What would your life be like if – you – were – not – afraid?

It would be quite amazing and glorious, I realized.

So captivating was this thought that I then missed the rest of his sermon, completely wrapped up in those six words, and a different vision of my life from what I had been used to.

The idea of being not afraid, the permission to be not afraid, the idea that it might actually be okay to be not afraid, was so alluring that I decided that evening, instead of a New Year’s resolution, I would adopt it as my “New Year’s mantra” in the coming year.

And that was why and how – nine months after this Appalachian experience – I found myself standing naked to the world as dawn was breaking on the shores of Denmark, ready to jump in some chilly, chilly Scandinavian waters.

Be not afraid, I whispered to myself.

And jumped.

 

[read Naked in Denmark, part two]

An Encounter with Hostile Natives

If you move here, expect to upset some of the natives.

Six months after my arrival in Appalachia, I was having a mobile office morning at my local coffeehouse –

DSC05409which at the time went by the name of Port City Java (even though the Ashevillage is at least five hours away from an actual port city.)

Despite the “do not disturb” aura I was hoping to project, a stocky, middle-aged bald man with dark circles under his eyes approached my table. He was dressed in blue jeans, black loafers and a blue sweatshirt.

“Excuse me,” he said, politely.

Reluctantly, I looked up.

He gestured toward his companion – a heavyset brunette at a nearby table wearing a lime green sweater with matching socks, and brown pants. By her side was a handbag that looked like it was made from fabric rescued from a vintage 1960s sofa, the kind you often see around here abandoned on a sidewalk or stuck out on a front porch when it no longer matters if it gets rained upon.

“My friend and I are taking a survey,” the stocky man said, by way of an introduction. “How long have you lived in the Ashevillage?”

“Since June 30th,” I responded politely. He shook his head and turned away.

Surprised, I called after him, “Why do you ask?”

“My friend doubts there’s nobody in this coffee shop who’s lived in the Ashevillage more than five years,” he replied over his shoulder.

Less than six months! I heard him whisper to his lady friend in a tsk-tsk tone as he lowered himself back into his chair with a small grunt. I took note that, for some reason, out of the two dozen or so around us, the ‘survey’ had so far only included me.

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Hardly a scientific method.

Piqued, and determined to correct the record, I called out –

“The first person I met in this coffee shop moved here in 1966!” deftly asserting the fact that I was actually friends with a bona fide local, my friend Moni.

“Well,” his brown-and-lime-green clad companion said with a withering, smug look, “we were both born here.”

Irritated, and unable to let it go, I racked my brains for something to establish my localism, hoping to stave off any further hostile vibes from the natives.

“I live in a 50-year-old house!” I offered up.

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It was, I realize, a pathetic and transparently ingratiating attempt to demonstrate that I was not to be categorized with the clear-the-trees-from-the-mountainsides-so-we-can build-a-starter-mansion transplants the locals (with good reason) so love to loathe.

“Well,” sofa-handbag woman sniffed, “that helps a little.”

But it was too late.

Too riled to continue working, I packed up my laptop moments later and crept back up to my 50-year-old sanctuary on the mountainside.

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It was not the first time I’d encountered this attitude – and, of course, it wouldn’t be the last.

The first book I’d purchased after moving here was a guide book to finding your way in the Ashevillage, written by a local worm farmer who would soon become a city councilman.  (True story – Because Asheville)

It’s a meandering, heartfelt and quirky read, extolling all the whimsical virtues of the Ashevilleage.

And it’s possibly the only guide book that begins and ends with the words,

“Please, please don’t move here.”

A Moment of Mountain Humor

One December afternoon, several years ago, I made it down the wintry roads and into the local UPS store to ship off a number of packages.

The woman behind the counter was very pleasant and while she typed up labels for me, we got to talking about the morning’s ice storm that had shut down schools for those of us in the higher elevations.

Which, naturally,

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 led to a discussion about our kids.

Reading the address on one of my boxes, she remarked, “Oh, my older daughter’s name is Savannah!”

“People often ask me if she was conceived in Savannah,” she continued conversationally, “and that’s why we named her that.”

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“Was she?” I asked, tentatively.

“No!” she replied with a laugh.

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“But it would have sounded pretty odd to call her Woodfin.”

A Chance Encounter in Appalachia

A new stitch in the tapestry of life that is Appalachia was added one morning when I got a surprise phone call from a doctor in Boston.

“Did you get my email?” he asked.  There was a sense of urgency in his voice.

His name was completely unfamiliar to me.  After a few moments, however, I found his message tucked inside in my spam folder.

 Dr Sohur had written to me in a desperate effort to find Moni Taylor –

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the “Woman Named Hello.”

Dr Sohur, a neuroscientist now living in Boston, hails from Mauritius – an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 400 miles east of Madagascar.  Ten years ago, he told me, his family held a reunion in – of all places – the Ashevillage.  His parents, who lived in Mauritius, traveled all the way to western North Carolina to partake in the celebration.

And, in the small world way of things, someone in the family hired Moni to photograph the event.

“I am appealing to your kindness,” Dr Sohur said. “I would be appreciative if you would be so kind to connect me to Ms Moni Taylor, for her approval for us to use a picture she took in 2004 of my parents.”

In his search to find her, Dr Sohur had come across Moni’s name on my site.

His father had just died, he explained when we spoke.

And to honor him, Dr Sohur had written a whimsical and moving obituary, which he wanted to illustrate with a photograph of both his father and his mother, who had died a few years earlier – a photograph taken by Moni.

Sohurs By Taylor June 2004

“This is the best couple image we have of them,” he said.

“And I am hoping that this picture would accompany a lyrical prose piece I am writing for the leading English weekly in the island of Mauritius where my parents lived.  In the same vein, I plan to do some pro bono work to decrease diabetes on the island and would like to use this picture as my motivation of what I am doing. Thanks much for any help connecting with Ms. Taylor.”

I hadn’t been in touch with Moni for quite some time, but as the piece was due to be published within days, I sent a message to her as soon as I got off the phone. She responded almost immediately, giving Dr Sohur permission to use her photograph of his parents.

The following week, I received a copy of the printed memorial –

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and marveled at the wonder and magic of feeling connected to total strangers from vastly different cultures, ever so briefly, due to a chance encounter in a little town in Appalachia more than ten years ago.

Lucky indeed.

What Lies Beneath…

One morning, a few months after we moved into the Ashevillage (back when we lived in the house we lived in before moving into Casa Mia), I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and staring out the window…

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when I saw a car pull into the top of my long driveway.

That wasn’t unusual and so I waited to see if it would drive on down to the house or just turn around – as cars pulling into my driveway often did.

But neither happened.

Instead, I watched as the car door opened and someone got out.  Then whoever that person was walked around to the trunk of the car and pulled out a shovel.

That’s a bit odd, I thought, continuing to soap the dishes and stare out the window.

The stranger closed the trunk and then, shovel in hand, walked down the road along the top of my garden.

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About half way down the the property line, there looms a rather large metal power pole.  It’s not very attractive, but the forsythia has always been so voracious on the hillside

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I figured at some point it would win the battle for control of the landscape and cover up the tower.

The person (I still couldn’t tell if it was a male or female) stopped at the large metal power pole, looked around, and then started digging around the base of it.  In my garden.

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Eyes still glued to the scene unfolding on the hillside, I dried my hands.

My rational self quickly tried to take control of the situation – perhaps it was someone from the city utilities department?  But the not-so-rational voice inside my head didn’t for one moment believe it.  Weird stuff was going on up there, for sure.

The stranger continued digging away feverishly around the base of the power tower.  The dirt flew for a few more moments and then stopped.

The stranger knelt down, pulled something from the pocket of his or her coat, and put it in the ground.

What the heck?!  I wondered.

(Actually, my thought cloud contained a different word, but for the sake of the general readership, I won’t use it here.)

A moment later, the shovel was back at work, covering up the evidence.

Fascinated, I continued to watch.

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A few moments later,  the stranger got up, swept off the dirt from his or her coat, and walked back to the car at the top of my driveway and got in.  The car reversed out of the driveway and drove away.

In case you’re wondering why didn’t I just go out there and ask what was going on –

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well, this is Appalachia and many people in these mountains have guns and I’d heard that on occasion they do actually use them.

And a homeowner interfering with the burying of evidence in her garden just might be such an occasion, I thought….

So in the end, I did nothing until after the stranger had vanished.

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Then I climbed up the hill to check out the area around the base of the tower, but apart from some disturbed dirt, nothing else seemed amiss.

Several days later, the phone rang.

It was Laurel, the lovely woman from whom I’d bought the house.  She had purchased it to renovate and re-sell, but had not actually lived in it herself.

We chatted for awhile and then I mentioned the stranger with the shovel.

Oh, that was me!  she laughed.

That was you?  I asked, incredulous.  What on earth were you doing?

Burying crystals, she explained.  It was something I meant to do before you moved in to the house, to protect you.

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Concerned about potential negative energies emanating from the large metal power pole, Laurel had handcrafted pieces of orgonite – a mixture of catalyzed fiberglass resin with metal shavings, particles and powders – and buried them around the base.

After a little research, I had a better understanding of her gift.  Orgonite is believed to have positive energy and helps create an electromagnetic-free zone.  Crystals buried pointing away from your own home are thought to help deflect negative energy or transform it into positive energy.

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What an incredibly wonderful introduction to life in the Ashevillage.

Ten years later, I am sure it is still there, buried somewhere under all that forsythia and sending out good vibes to the new inhabitants of the house on the hillside.

How an Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk band and a dog named Cupcake saved the day

As the door opened, I heard a woman’s voice say, “No!  Don’t let the dogs out!”

I was out for a stroll in my little neighborhood with my own dogs. Curious, I turned my head just in time to see two snarling beasts hurling themselves at us from over a stone wall.  And then they were upon us, growling, gnashing, biting.

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My Golden Doodle tried to hide all 95 pounds of her frantic self between my legs, but my little guy – a Schnoodle named Bandit – was at jaw level and took the brunt of this unexpected attack. Someone later told me he could hear Bandit’s scream a block away.

A few minutes-that-seemed-like-hours later, the owner was able to get her vicious beasts under control. Shaken, but mostly okay (or so I thought), we straggled back home to assess the damages.

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Klejne, the Golden Doodle, seemed to have escaped damage, but there was  a bloody gash in the grey fur on Bandit’s backside – scary, but not enough to warrant the expense of a weekend vet visit, I hoped.

Once home, Bandit crept into a dark corner and refused to come out the rest of the day.

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Not even for meals.

Yes, even in the magical Ashevillage, bad things do happen.

The interesting thing, however, is paying attention to what happens in the wake of bad experiences.

Unexpectedly, the first stitch toward mending the upsetting rent in the fabric of our lives came in the form of another dog –

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a 180 lb Mastiff named Cupcake, who, when I happened to pass her by later that afternoon on my way to the market, was snoozing peacefully in the sun.

Tiny blue ribbons adorned her ears.

Surprised by the ribbons, I leaned over the fence to ask Cupcake’s owner, Meg – a neighbor I barely knew, for permission to take a few photographs.

Cupcake just got back from the groomer, Meg said, by way of explanation for the ribbons.

And so began an entirely pleasant conversation that ended with an invitation from my new friend to stop back by that evening for a house party.

A popular local band – the amazing Sirius.B – musicians who describe themselves as Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk –

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would be playing, in her house – walking distance from my own!

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Curious to know what Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk sounded like, I returned later, along with a number of other neighbors.

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The day had already improved immeasurably, but concerns over little Bandit still hovered in my mind.

I still wasn’t sure whether or not his wound needed a professional attention. And so, between songs, I sought out advice from other dog-owning neighbors.

Meanwhile, the strains of Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk – like musical incense – were floating out beyond Meg’s house, up the block, and over to another street, reaching into the ears of a young nurse sitting on her front porch six or seven houses away – a nurse who just happened to be a big fan of the band.

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Hearing what she knew right away was the music of Sirius.B, she wandered over to join the little throng enjoying the music inside and outside the house of Cupcake.

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When I discovered she was an emergency room nurse, I told her about Bandit’s misfortune. Should I take him to the weekend vet clinic? I asked. By then it was late in the evening.

“Let me take a look at him first,” she offered.

Two other neighbors, having heard the story, tagged along on our short walk back to my place, stopping along the way to pick up some emergency medical supplies.

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And that is how, a short while later, the four of us came to be performing spontaneous Schnoodle triage on my sofa by the spotlight of a handheld iPhone.

This compassionate care by three people who only hours earlier had been complete strangers to me, resulted in a happy and mended little Bandit.

After they left, I watched him snoozing peacefully, thinking of the day’s unexpected kindnesses – the invitation to a house party with great music, meeting new friends and neighbors, the midnight nursing to fix him up –

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none of which would have happened but for the luck of encountering a giant Cupcake with little blue ribbons on her ears.

Hiking with Puffins – on the Appalachian Trail?

Would you hike with these guys?

If you are an Appalachian Trail hiker, you might be able to do just that if the International Appalachian Trail, a multinational committee, gets its way!

Would you hike with these guys?

If you are an Appalachian Trail hiker, you might be able to do just that if the International Appalachian Trail, a multinational committee, gets its way.

And, if they are successful in extending the path from Maine to Iceland, the additional miles will raise the bar considerably for through-hikers.

At 2180 miles, the AT is already one of the longest footpaths in the world.

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Beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia, it traverses the crests and valleys of the entire Appalachian mountain range which meanders through fourteen states before ending in Katahdin, Maine.

Geological evidence suggests, however, that the mountains that are home to Appalachia were once part of the Central Pangean Mountains – back when North America and Western Europe were one continent (about 250 million years ago.)

With the break-up of Pangaea, the various mountain ranges drifted apart, eventually becoming different continents and countries.

Fueled by the desire to build mutual understanding between people of different nationalities, IAT enthusiasts propose an extended hiking path that would hop scotch along the ridges of the former Central Pangean Mountains, passing through Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and into Iceland –

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before continuing on through Norway, Denmark, Scotland, and beyond.

Which means, that in addition to looking like this…

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the AT will now also look …

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like this.

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And, in addition to black bears, elk, moose, porcupines, snakes, foxes, and salamanders –

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IAT hikers may also be sharing their trek with puffins and wild Icelandic horses.

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They may even have to scramble across a glacier or two – and camp out on beds of hardened lava.

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But one advantage of having the IAT run through Iceland is the opportunity for 20-hour long hike days –

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because this is what midnight looks like in Iceland – at least during summer months.

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Is this a good idea? Let us hear your thoughts!

It Takes An (Appalachian) Village

Most days, late in the afternoon, my dogs and I take a several mile ramble through the neighborhoods of Asheville.

Sometimes we walk with friends and sometimes we’re on our own,

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 but we almost always run into dogs and people we know.

We walk past bungalows and castles,

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and up and down the mountainsides.

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And if something is ever bothering my brain, or if I just have the blues, a mountain walk with the pups seems to take care of it –

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thanks to the fresh air and the conversations along the way.

Last summer, my aging (but spritely) mother moved in with me,

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and I found myself taking these walks a little more often.

She moved in at my invitation, and I had the best of intentions when I suggested it, eager as I was for her to experience the wonders and delights of life in the southern highlands of Appalachia.

And so…

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I took her to my favorite coffee shops, wine bars,

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restaurants and book stores – all of which quickly became

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her favorite coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants.

We went out to hear live music whenever we could.

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She liked one band so much, she grabbed their tip jar and worked the room –

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much to their delight.

On weekends, we drove out through the mountains to nearby small towns.

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She marveled at,

and enjoyed,

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everything.

In order to accommodate this new world order, however,

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Casa Mia had to go through some necessary repairs and renovations.

Likewise, my lifestyle had to take a major shift.

Every day was now “take your mother to work day” and I sometimes found myself with a less than perfect attitude about it all.

Ideas for positive solutions were all around me, however, and although it took awhile for me to notice it –

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Zach, a chef down the street, listened patiently in his garden one day as I stressed about the goings-on at Casa Mia.

When I paused to take a breath, he looked at me and smiled gently.

“This too,” he said.

“Shall pass?” I asked hopefully, finishing the sentence for him.

“Nope.  Just ‘this too,'” he said.  “Everything that is already going on in your life, and now – this, too.”

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“It’s a Buddhist mantra,” he explained with a benevolent smile.

I thanked him politely and moved on, feeling less than consoled.

But his words stayed with me (dammit) – taunting me to accept them.

A few days later, I ran into another neighbor and once again,

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 my concerns came tumbling out.

She listened, then said kindly, “You don’t have to do this,” giving me the idea that change might even be possible.

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More walks and more ideas.  Help was springing up everywhere.

  A former geriatric nurse volunteered to come sit with my mother whenever I needed a break.  Others shared their loving (and often humorous) experiences taking care of their elderly parents.

Retired missionaries living across the street and the women from the shelter next door (the ones remaking their own lives!) all kept an eye out for her.

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One reason I had taken the elderly (but spritely) mother in was to show my kids this is how we take care of one another.

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But it quickly became apparent – as I watched my kids fence and parry her quirky ways and limitations with their gentle teasing and humor – that they were the teachers, not me.

Over time, walk by walk, piece by piece, words, advice and suggestions began to come together, forming a framework of support and ideas.  The answers were all around me, the village was responding.

The final piece in the puzzle turned out to have actually been the very first piece – I just hadn’t realized it at the time.

Several months before my aging (but spritely) mother had arrived at Casa Mia, the almost always patient Tom had taken a detour one day (a not unusual occurrence) so that he could show me the retirement home his grandfather had lived in for many years.  It was already dark out and I humored him, but didn’t pay much attention at the time.

By magical coincidence, it turned out this same village within a village was also the home of another mother –

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belonging to one of the craftsmen currently working on the transformation of Casa Mia.

And so, my aging (but spritely) mother and I went to see this home for similarly aging and spritely elders and discovered

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 it was the perfect solution!

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the aging (but spritely) mother moved back out, and into her very own garden apartment on a neighboring mountain.

Last weekend, I took her out for the afternoon and after a tasty tavern lunch, we strolled around her new little town, looking at the shops.

Eventually, we wandered into a local art gallery and there, in the back room, leaning up against the wall, was a small framed painting by Ashevillage plein air artist Colleen Webster

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the exact scene from the wine bar where my aging (but spritely) mother had, just months earlier, passed the tips bowl for the musicians.

It was the perfect souvenir of our months living together 🙂

Gorilla in the Mist ~ Kayaking Appalachia

You can hear the Gorilla long before you see it. It has a mighty roar, as if waiting to claim its next victim.

For hikers, there’s only one way to reach the Gorilla –

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a not-for-the-faint-of-heart scramble down 1600 feet of steep mountainside, clinging to exposed roots and frayed ropes –

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in order to reach the “Garden of the Gods” and the Green River Narrows, through which Gorilla flows.

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And that is how I spent this past Saturday, scrambling down a steep mountainside in the company of good friends.

But hikers like us have it easy compared with what awaits kayakers.

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Just 35 miles south of Asheville, the Green River Narrows was first successfully navigated in 1988. One of the most extreme kayaking runs in the Eastern US, it is now a rite of passage for serious paddlers.

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Because for kayakers, the opportunity to “huck” themselves off the Gorilla – a Class V rapids with five segments (Pencil Sharpener, The Notch, The Flume, Scream Machine, and Nies’ Pieces) –

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is just irresistible.

So irresistible, it made National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List in 2014.

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The source of the Green River Narrows’ ferociousness is the Tuxedo Power station, which lies upstream. The Tuxedo periodically releases water at a rate of up to 216 cubic feet per second over this canyon of ancient Appalachian bedrock, creating a fierce playground for paddlers.

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Gorilla, one of the “Big Three” rapids on the river, is perhaps the most visually impressive.

It starts with a narrow 4-foot slot that is immediately followed by two waterfalls –

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“The Flume” and the “Scream Machine” – for a total drop of 28 feet.

A famous training ground for extreme kayaking, the Green River is legendary and the pinnacle of many kayakers’ careers.

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Each November, many of the world’s best paddlers descend on the Green to participate in the annual Green Race, considered by many to be the most competitive and coveted whitewater race on the planet. Kayaker Grady Kellog describes the experience:

“The Green is a river where anyone can have a bad day –

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(but) it’s a magnificent run that will have you high on adrenaline for days.”

For hikers, the adrenaline rush is also there –

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and can be safely appreciated (and photographed) from solid ground.

Curious to know more?  Check out the following videos and websites ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsHMeGDpxQk

http://alltrails.com/trail/us/south-carolina/green-river-narrows

In memory of Boyce Greer of LiquidLogic ~ friend & kayak enthusiast.

© dating appalachia dot com & kristin fellows photography