I am by no means an outdoorsy person. For the most part, I like living in NYC. I like the hustle and bustle and the people all around me and the feeling that, at any given moment, something exciting is going on. They walk at my speed here. When I go on vacation, it's only ever to other cities.
Even so, when you live in Tennessee for 20-or-so years, some of that stuff just gets in your blood. So when I got opened the Great Smoky Mountains candle from Yankee Candle (one of six candles in their See America collection celebrating different national parks in the USA) this past week and took my first whiff, I have to admit I almost teared up a little thinking about what the Smokies mean to me. Because through all the chaos of my first 22 years--of family illness and death and change and clinical depression and college and heartbreak and just plain, 'ole existential angst, this is what the National Parks have been to me--a place where the world has suddenly stood still and simple.
A few memories:
- Wandering just a little bit off the path of one of the only synchronized firefly shows in the world and standing in the woods surrounded by thousands of fireflies blinking on and off in waves.
- Falling asleep underneath a blanket in the passenger seat of my then-boyfriend's car while going through the winding mountain paths on one of the many nights we decided to just go for a drive through the Smokies. Once, getting lost in the fog.
- Going to help rebuild some park benches and getting stuck in a sudden, giant downpour. Watching some of the people that would become my closest friends in the world race back to the bus. Having my wet jeans stuck to my legs. Stopping for steak.
- Feeling all sorts of angst about deciding to go to graduate school for neuroscience, which felt like I was choosing a specific life and leaving all my other possible lives behind. Driving up a narrow path next to Cade's Cove, staring at the mountains ahead and knowing that things already existed and would continue to exist it would all be ok.
An Old Elegy
The night Osama bin Laden died,
I listened to the cheering and
the shouts of U-S-A outside
of my window. Someone lit
off fireworks. All I could think
about were stones and how they sit.
There is a pebble that I got
from a river in the Smoky
Mountains that time we stopped
there on our way to my piano
competition because my
father wanted to know
their beauty. I kept it because I
thought it looked like his cancer.
The water has made it shy.
It is cool to the touch. If you hold
it in the palm of your hand, you
can feel the way that it is old
and heavy. It sinks into your skin
if you stand still for a little while.
It feels just like it’s always been.