On Not Going Somewhere

The first time I visited the deep, steep-sided holler where we now live, I felt like I’d left my ordinary position in the world and entered someplace more primeval.

Our car jumped and bounced over ruts and rocks in the drive, pushing six-foot tall weeds to the side to make passage. Twigs scraped the sides and roof, and I clutched the overhead strap in my Jeep, craning my neck to see what might unfold around the next curve. Joe Pye weed towered overhead. Milkweed, wild rose, and virgin’s bower rioted all around.

After a sharp climb at the end of the driveway, we pulled into a soft, muddy space beside the house we had come to see, and I worried that we might not be able to get the car back out of the mire.

Joe Pye weed

It was once my habit to frequently be thinking about going somewhere. Somewhere else. Somewhere I wasn’t. I was accustomed to always being in motion, able to leave easily at a moment’s notice.

This quarter-mile of rutted driveway, the impenetrable weeds, and the soft, sucking mud all seemed to suggest I should consider staying. Or at least slowing. For practical reasons, if nothing else.

Once the engine cut off, it was oddly quiet.

Damp, breathing, green.

I pushed my door open against a knotted wall of vines and stepped cautiously into the lush wet.

Nothing here was paved or organized for efficient coming and going. It wasn’t neat or tame. None of this dense vegetation came from a building where people could buy plants indoors and insert them outdoors in tidy rows where they wouldn’t block the sidewalks or driveways.

Our harried, unhappy realtor picked her way to the front steps; she was sure this was not the house for us, but now that we were here, she impatiently waited for us to follow. But for once, we were rooted in place, reluctant to go in just yet. The mud wicked up the sides of my tennis shoes as I gazed around at the Big Green. Everywhere jewelweed, with its yellow and orange blooms, was as high as my chest. I couldn’t see more than a few yards into the woods all around us, but I noticed small plant-crushed passageways here and there leading in, or up.

That was where I wanted to go.

But of course, we toured the house. And as soon as possible we were outside again, wandering around, looking curiously up into the hardwoods rising seventy-five, a hundred feet above us, crowded close around the house. I realized they would block the sun for most of the day in this narrow fold of mountain. My father’s family homeplace in the foothills of the Appalachians was situated in a similar way. So despite my many years in the city, it felt like home. Like coming back to center, becoming grounded again.

Two days later we arranged another visit to the house in the holler. Standing in the mud and weeds, we made a plan. Lance took one direction and I took the other, heading into the woods to see what they might hold. The realtor sat uncomfortably in the house, sorting papers.

It seemed like we were only gone a few minutes, but now that I know the ways of walking on the mountain, it was likely much longer. Coming back toward each other through the woods, we shouted back and forth to stay on track, unable to see through the tangle, or over the swells and curves of the land.

“There’s a creek in there!” I reported breathlessly, once we met again. “And an old trail, I think. Some swampy areas, and a field. The trees bordering the field are enormous. I need to go again, when we have longer. What did you find?”

And he showed me a handful of blueberries and raspberries scavenged from bushes and canes hidden in the weeds. I was absolutely charmed. We wanted to stay.

Violets and moss on a creek stone
Violets and moss on a creek stone

Everyone except the two of us agreed it was a terrible idea, our buying this place.

The realtor was horrified, the inspector counseled against it, and the list of things broken, rotted, and wrong with the house was twenty-five official pages and would end up costing us triple what we estimated. Plus we’d just come out of a year of being unemployed followed by another year of being self-employed. The bank came to hate our constant phone calls as we limped toward the purchasing process, submitting form after special form, pleading our case, making our promises.

We have never worked so hard to try to stay in one spot.

The first several years we lived here I spent time cutting in trails, learning the names of all the wildflowers, and beginning to forage on the mountain. I would walk out with the idea of spending a few minutes hiking, and when I came back I’d discover I’d been gone for hours.

But it was less “going somewhere” and much more just being on the mountain. Wandering, witnessing, breathing.

In the years that we’ve lived here I’ve found earthstars and ghost pipes; I’ve startled crows and coyotes. I’ve picked up bones and buckeyes and owl pellets.

In our first few weeks here we dug a channel to route the spring which was making our parking area a swamp, and every day now I marvel over the salamanders and crawdads that have come to live there. I leave thank offerings of quartz chips, acorns, and turkey feathers on mossy logs or flat stones in the woods.

We had our barely navigable driveway graded and graveled so that we could more easily come and go, but despite Yaktrax (ice grips) and chainsaws, sometimes we’re confined by heavy snows, ice, or downed trees.  We’re much better now at not “going somewhere” all the time.

Of course I go into town for groceries, or for a workout at the gym. We have a date night once in a while and go to a restaurant, or see a film. I still go places.

But the balance has shifted.

I do more being than going these days, largely because of this mountain holler, the way it holds and slows. I think I’m learning to be measured, to take a long view and a deep breath. It’s a palpable change. And it feels like a good thing.

A very good thing.

Driveway at dusk
Our driveway at dusk

16 comments on “On Not Going Somewhere

  1. Sonny and Annie

    Lovely. I’m a bit jealous … of your being so dadgum centered :-}

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      Welp, y’all got your own special appreciation for living out here (in addition to the hills and mountains you came from). I am hella glad to have found you as friends. xoxo

  2. Beautiful. I knew of your place, but now how you came to belong there. Thanks for writing and sharing it, Lisa.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      Thank you, Mary! We considered waiting until we retired. Actually we didn’t. Lots of people wait, but we decided to upend our entire lives and move out here from the burbs — it was definitely not the conservative decision to make. But I’m so glad we did it!

  3. Laura Brown

    A perfect line: “Damp. Breathing. Green.”

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      Definitely captured the moment, y’know? xoxo

  4. Hunter Purdy

    Being. Just That. Allowing Being to source the doing. I love everything about this and you.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      I knew you would understand. You are one of the people who has helped me lean into that. So glad to call you heart-family.

  5. What a beautiful, thought- filled post. I try to go out no more than twice a week, and even that feels like too much, like I am interrupting the rhythm of my life. Your place sounds magical.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      Susanna, I just found your website (!!), and it looks like you do many of the same kinds of things when you go out — gardening, breathing, being. (Your pups are adorable, and your photos are so green!)

  6. Such a joy to see and hear how you soak up this beautiful place we live in. Thanks for sharing, and reminding us to be.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      What a lovely thing to say, Wendy. Thank you. I don’t regret all the years in the city or the ‘burbs, but I’m SO glad to be here now.

  7. Virginia (Gram)

    I just loved hearing about the beginnings, since I’ve been blessed to visit several times. I miss being there . Gram

  8. Crystal Robbins

    Thank you for you being you. For putting words down. In all the ways you do. I wish life had tossed us together more than the days it did. But I’m grateful we still do life together in the ways we do. Big hugs to you and Lance.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      You’re right; we didn’t have many years to enjoy together in person, but the ones we had for so formative for me, and I remember them with joy. Many, many blessings to your and your family Crystal, and here’s to more connection (across the continent, but still heartfelt)!

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