May - 2001
ATo the mind that is still,
The whole universe surrenders.@
I love the
people in my life.
Solitude, however, has a strong appeal for me. I
am one who needs to immerse myself in silence and in nature for periods of
time, however short, in order to strengthen my defenses against pain, illness
and negative energy. When my
starved spirit sends its warning signal, I know it is time to return to the
mountains, the waterfalls, the clouds and the stillness within my soul.
I have always loved solitude in nature, perhaps because it has provided security and comfort through all the hard times of my life. Having spent my childhood playing on three acres of land between the houses of my parents and grandparents, I felt protected - sheltered under the trees between two loving homes. At one point, at age 2, I even toddled through the woods to my grandmother's house, scaring my parents to death when they discovered me missing, but feeling right at home with the smells and sights of the land, literally a babe in the woods. It was where I ran for comfort during my painful adolescence, hiding in the woods and sobbing into the friendly trunk of a tree that stood at the top of the hill between families. I climbed the hill and found healing. I'm still climbing.
Because of that special upbringing, I am more a part of the forest than I am the man-made world of concrete and shattering noise. I must separate myself from humankind in order to feel my connection to the Universe and experience the magic of the earth. It is not a running from, but a running to - a return to the womb.
This was the purpose of the trip to Pisgah National Forest in North
Carolina in May of 2001 and this is what I accomplished
- a soothing my soul. The spiritual
state of simply being
is something that has been discussed in every culture, however, for me, “being”
means leaving yourself and your self-consciousness behind to experience the
earth on her own terms. Silence
within is necessary to survive the stresses of everyday life. We must empty
ourselves before we can be filled again with wonder. And these
ancient mountains, among the oldest in the world, were a spiritual home for
And these ancient mountains, among the oldest in the world, were a spiritual home for me.
I return time and time again to the same forest because I have
always found healing there. It
has never disappointed me.
I am drawn to this spot.
I come to it as to an oracle; I return to it as a man years later
will seek out the battlefield where he lost a leg or an arm.
come into the peace of wild things who do not tax
lives with grief. I come into the
presence of still water.
I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
a time I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”
It was already hot with temperatures in the nineties in Columbia, SC and I felt a blessed relief as I left it behind me and drove the highway toward the mountains. I felt smothered, as I do every summer, by the heat and humidity of the town I call home. The heat and blinding light of summer has always made me feel claustrophobic and hyper-sensitive - as if my brain is being bombarded with far too many sounds and images all at once. The stress of work, obligations and unwanted commitments frayed my nerves. I longed for peace.
As I crossed the North Carolina state line, a baptism of heavy, cleansing rain fell in sheets across the windshield. Instead of being concerned about the driving conditions, I felt exhilarated, rejuvenated, and reborn. I lowered the window and let the rain spray onto my hot face and gave a rebel yell to passing cars. I'm sure they thought I was a maniac, but I didn't care. Passing through the storm, I saw the mountains up ahead, draped in mist and fast moving clouds. I felt as if I was witnessing a dance of veils on a monumental scale and hurried toward the spectacle hoping to become enveloped by the mist and lose my tense city-self within it. My spiritual home was in sight.
Part of my mountain ritual involves a trip to the Asheville Farmer’s Market
for special fresh breads and cheeses to eat on my steam-side picnics.
I drove to the bustling market, parked the car and walked straight to my favorite bakery stall.
The young woman who waited on me looked very tired and a bit depressed.
I told her that her little store was the first place I visited when I
traveled to Asheville and how much my family and I enjoyed her breads and
pastries. She seemed to light up,
a glow coming from her dark eyes. She glanced around and in a low voice, said “God bless you.”
There was a connection between us of a kind – something I’ve felt
before with others. Maybe I’ll
return and get to know her better. I love the connections I sometimes feel with
strangers - a sudden empathy that passes between two people who may never see
each other again - a flash of light between two souls.
I love the connections I sometimes feel with strangers - a sudden empathy that passes between two people who may never see each other again - a flash of light between two souls.
The rain fell with glimpses of blue sky peeking out for mere seconds before the clouds moved back in. I drove into Pisgah National Forest and felt as if I had come home as soon as I turned onto the road that led to the forest. I realized that I was smiling as I entered the dark woods and lowered the car windows. Mist rose from the road, the stream and the new-green branches dripped raindrops. I had traveled back in time! Here was Spring again! The air was clean, cool, mint-scented and I breathed it in with relief. This is what I was seeking - cool darkness under a roof of branches.
I slowly drove the winding road up into the clouds, passing through heavy mist and drizzling rain. I seemed to be only person in the Forest. It was a weekday after all and the tourist season had not yet begun. Rising toward the Parkway, I felt empty space on both sides of me – sheer drops on both sides of the road. I was suspended in the void. The birds seemed to sing in celebration as I passed.
I left the green forest below and drove onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
At the first overlook, I stopped, turned off the car engine and just
For those of us who are city-born, there is an orientation period
back into silence. Once I thought
I heard a car approaching, only to discover it was the wind through the trees
on top of the mountain. Magical
moments of rippling light and darkness took place at this overlook.
I looked to my left at the solid rock face of the mountain and found it all but hidden by a racing mist.
Then, glancing to my right at the blue curves of mountain ridges,
bright sunlight suddenly lit the valley below blanketing the mountain
laurel with a pink glow. Looking
back at the rocks, the ancient stone glistened and shone
as if it were alive.
Black veins spread through the rock splintering into pebbles as tiny
rivulets of water streamed down onto moss.
Then the mist moved in once again, totally obscuring the view.
I seemed to float on a cloud.
I sat in the car suspended in time between the age-old stone and the windy void below. I could have stayed in that spot forever; listening, feeling, smelling and rejoicing. The wind carried my soul on wings of light and mist.
“Thank You God for most this amazing day:
for leaping greenly spirits of trees and a
blue dream of sky; for everything which is natural which is
infinite which is yes…”
There is always a
strong feeling of homecoming for me when I return to the Blue Ridge Mountains
of North Carolina. There is a
familiarity in the smells and shapes of the landscape that I cannot explain.
I have no fear here and none of the reluctance to explore that I have
in other places.
“I have lived in this place before
between the light and darkness
surrounded by singing stone
protected by the calls of birds
nurtured by sweet curves of blue.”
Tibby Dozier Steedly
My first awakening to the great heart of these mountains was over thirty years ago while I was attending Brevard College. I was with a date driving back to Brevard from Asheville over the Blue Ridge Parkway when his car broke down. It was after midnight and no cars passed us while we waited for around forty-five minutes for assistance. He kindly told me to lock the doors, pull up the windows and wait while he went for help. I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of waiting alone on the Parkway, but my high-heel shoes prevented me from joining him on the walk. I was a very young nineteen. It was dark. I was alone.
Or so I first thought. I rolled down the window and listened to my date’s footsteps grow faint as he began his trek down the mountain. The stillness was unbroken at first, but gradually I heard the chirps of tree frogs and crickets singing in the valley below. Tiny, scuttling sounds moved through the forest around me, small creatures on their nightly prowl. Occasionally, I would hear something larger moving through the underbrush and would imagine I saw a dark shape move across the road. A breeze whispered through the trees and over the mountain. At first I was scared and sat frozen in my metal cocoon, but as time passed, the sounds became familiar and comforting. Hadn't I listened to these sounds in my childhood? A warmth began to move through my veins - a kind of homecoming. Once, in the distance, I heard the eerie, lonesome cry of a coyote. Answering howls came from far away and I thought of these beautiful animals seeking each other in the darkness.
The darkness changed. It is difficult to explain in words how one's perception of an environment can flip into a new reality. Where before I felt cold and afraid, now I could feel an unfolding of sorts. I felt cradled and safe. As my fear passed and the minutes grew into hours, I began to see a totally different world around me. The lights of Asheville beyond the trees created a soft glow in the distance. The stars were bright and I began to see a faint sparkle of light from the rocks around me. Tree branches were silhouetted against the night sky. I felt more intensely alive and alert that I remember being for years. The night had become magical, beautiful and warm. I felt protected as if I were nestled in a safe nest of stone. I had no fear at all, lost in the wonder of the night on the mountain as it opened its heart to me.
Surprisingly, not a single car passed by during this time. Finally, around 3:00 am, I saw headlights in the distance moving in and out of the mountain’s shadow and wondered if it was my date. I was reluctant to leave my new nest, but was also apprehensive about being discovered by humans. As the car approached and pulled over, I saw it was my gallant date after all. When he arrived, driven by a teacher from the college, he found me sitting on the edge the road with my feet in the grass, high-heel shoes by my side. Instead of an hysterical young girl, he found a newly born woman with starlight in her eyes and the wind in her hair. I have never felt afraid in the wild again. Granted, this was on the Blue Ridge Parkway, not lost in the wilderness, but since that night I have hiked in remote areas of Pisgah Forest and never felt frightened of anything natural.
still. The trees ahead and bushes
not lost. Wherever you are is
you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
ask permission to know it and be known.
still. The forest knows where you
must let it find you.”
The sound of thunder rolling over the mountains brought me back to the present and I thought I had better leave this overlook and travel to my hotel. After checking in and enjoying the solitude of my room overlooking mountains as far as the eye could see, I drove back down the Parkway to see the sunset.
It was beautiful. Another gift given. As I watched the sun set over the mountains, the birds chirped around me. I felt the balance of light and darkness in my bones.
Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
peace of the Flowing Air to you.
peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
peace of the Shining Stars to you.
peace of the Gentle Night to you.
peace of the Daughters and Sons of Peace to you.
and Stars pour their healing light on you.
peace to you.
At the close of my first night in the mountains, I sat on my balcony
and watched the stars appear. Lightning
flashed in the distance as Mars rose huge and red on the eastern horizon.
I thought of Columbia encased in heat and enjoyed the cool breeze even more.
My heart was at peace.
cool my fire
soothe my fever
with cold winds
cleanse my spirit
with healing rain.
Tibby Dozier Steedly
May 22, 2001
I slept later than usual the next morning, having no place I had to
be and nothing I had to do. This new
feeling of timelessness was wonderful. Having no watch or
clock, I found myself looking at the position of the sun for the correct time.
I loved the feeling of time being a companion – not a master.
Around mid-morning, I drove back down the mountain toward Pisgah
Forest equipped with cameras, video camera, tripod, picnic, and an open heart.
The soundtrack to “Oscar and Lucinda” played on the tape player as
I made my way around the sharp curves of the mountain road.
I pulled over at one of the first small overlooks and discovered a beautiful, green path leading down a mountain. Following this path, I heard a Wood Thrush sing in the branches accompanied by the harsh cries of a Pileated Woodpecker. The song of the Wood Thrush brought back memories of my childhood, waking up at my grandmother's house. I hadn't hear the song in years and the sound made me feel even more at home. Small birds with beautiful, liquid calls sang to the mountains the entire time I was there.
I had an interesting companion with me all morning.
As I had turned from the Parkway into the forest, a huge black crow
swooped down in front of the car, flying ahead of me as I drove.
I had the feeling that he was guiding me.
He (or another just like him) flew along the mountain path squawking
loudly just ahead of me.
My next stop was a pretty place by a stream where I decided to make
my “camp.” Spreading a mat
out on the wet ground by the water, I ate cheese and garlic bread.
Rushing water, wind through the trees, and distant thunder were the
only sounds I heard.
I was so relaxed that I decided to stay at this lovely spot as long as I could before another heavy rain fell. Settling back on the mat and gazing up through the trees, I tried to clear my mind and experience the moment. I remembered a poem I had read that spoke of asking nature for permission to share in its glory. I looked around me and said out loud, “May I share the morning here?” And waited.
Beautiful long-winged insects rose from the water and flew up into the trees. The sunlight came out from behind a cloud and caught the tiny creatures in a golden glow. I imagined them as fairies and the forest became enchanted. What is it about the forest that brings out the imagination of a child? So many have lost their connection to this most important part of ourselves. Without imagination, we are nothing. Without the child within us, we are lost.
I lay down and looked at the rocks covered in deep, green moss.
The shape of the huge stone wall where small dark caves had been
sculpted by ages of water passing, seemed a sleeping giant.
A light drizzle of rain started, but I was content under my canopy of
branches. The water flowed.
“Up high all the birds have
A single cloud drifts across the sky.
We settle down together,
never tiring of each other,
only the two of us,
the mountain and I.”
8th Century Taoist Poet
I must have dozed off because suddenly the screeching of a large, black crow awakened me. He darted back and forth on a branch above me, looking straight at me as he scolded furiously. I told him that I was going to be on my way soon. From the light through the trees, I assumed that I must have slept for over an hour. Reluctantly, as I gathered my picnic remnants together, a worn, carving on a tree caught my eye. It said “J.D.” Of course, it had to be just a coincidence, but those happened to my father’s initials. I liked to think that my father had carved these letters in a tree on one of his treks through Pisgah Forest – possibly when I was a child. I realized this was pure fancy on my part, but I liked the thought. I had just packed up all my camera equipment and gotten in the car when the bottom dropped out! It rained – it poured and as I sat dry in my car by the stream, I sent a silent “thank you” to my crow friend. It was rather uncanny how this crow stayed with me all morning and awakened me just in time to miss the downpour. But, then again, animals are true messengers, a fact I had discovered long ago and deeply treasure.
After the storm passed, I drove down the road to what my husband, Homer, and I call “The Rock Place.” I love this spot where a deep, clear pool flows under a great stone wall and over thousands of rocks of all shapes, sizes and colors. It is impossible for me to visit this place without leaving bulging pockets filled with smooth, river rocks. When I return to Columbia, I always place these stones on the table by my bed - a talisman of protection from nature.
There was yet another magical experience waiting for me by the car after my rock hunt. I had noticed several beautiful, yellow butterflies fluttering around me as I gathered rocks, but didn’t really pay much attention. As I approached the car, I saw around forty of them drinking from the mud by the car while hundreds flew around the branches overhead. It was a soft, breezy day and the winged creatures flew around my head as I frantically snapped pictures.
butterfly counts not months, but moments,
has time enough.”
the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
master calls a butterfly.”
After a brief visit to the town of Brevard for gas, I gratefully left the world of people and returned to the winding road up through the forest. Gliding over the wet road, going higher and higher into the clouds, I felt a healing peace even more than I had before since I now had the recent experience of harsh sounds and sights in the town. The contrast was sharp and I felt a small sense of vertigo.
6:30 PM – May 22, 2001
I returned to the hotel perched on the side of Mount Pisgah and lay down to take a nap. With the window open, I could see the sky from my bed and drifted off into a very peaceful slumber.
When I woke up and looked out my window, I saw nothing
but a blanket of white. The
clouds had captured the mountains, trees and the entire sky.
I was inside a cloud.
I was inside a cloud.
I sat at my little writing table to record the day’s events and have a supper of more bread and cheese. Glancing out the window, I saw a miraculous transformation take place! Suddenly the clouds rapidly blew over and the evening sun slit up the valley in yellow and red patches of bright color. Beautiful and unusual clouds formed almost at eye level while a low mist poured over the mountains like a river.
I then began an orgy of recording nature’s beauty. Out came the video camera and two photo cameras. The landscape changed so rapidly that I was frantic to capture it all on film.
The evening gave a exhibition of such beauty that it seemed to me like this place had to be the only true existence in the world.
The strangely shaped clouds moved toward the horizon driven by the wind. I could hear thunder rolling through the valley as dark clouds flowed by followed by sunlight.
I felt as if I could reach out and touch the clouds.
The ever-changing clouds turned pink as the sun set and the wind
picked up. As the sky darkened,
it became very cold. The wind
whistled under my door as I packed up the cameras and came inside to get warm.
I stepped back out onto the balcony for a moment and looking down, stared right into the eyes of a young, black bear! Dashing back into the room, I grabbed the video camera and raced back outside. The bear hadn’t moved, but as soon as I began filming, he walked slowly by as if this was the most natural thing in the world. I could see other guests of the hotel standing on their balconies and gaping in surprise at the unexpected visit from a bear. We called and laughed to each other at this wonderful gift. As many times as I have visited this area, I’ve never seen a bear in the wild. Here was yet another unexpected gift.
The sky became dark, but I was too excited to sleep.
I sat on the balcony and
watched the stars appear until chattering teeth and shivering brought me
This day and the day before were filled with so many magical
experiences that I was filled with a great, cleansing joy.
I finally drifted to sleep around 1:00 am only to get up again at 5:00
to watch the sun rise.
Venus shone over the valley as the sun began to rise. I watched the distant lights of a town far over the mountains and thought of my family. I was now ready to return home and leave the mountains behind until my next visit.
we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun
shine more brightly than ever he has done,
shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts,
and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light,
warm and serene and golden
on a bankside in autumn.”
Henry David Thoreau
Note: The mountains beckoned so strongly, the my husband and I left Columbia and moved to a house just 10 minutes from Pisgah National Forest in 2004. We are more at home here than I ever was in my "home town." Something within me is now complete.
This journal and poetry is the property of Elizabeth Dozier Steedly copyright (c) 2007. Please do not use or reprint without permission. You can email me at email@example.com if you would like to use any of this journal.