Friday, May 27

My Tribute to Life in the Blue Ridge

After thousands of golf stories, I want to share on other topics. This commentary is autobiographical and appeared in the Sunday Roanoke Times a few weeks ago. Thanks for reading.

THE BLUE RIDGE BECKONS IN A THOUSAND WAYS, many of which are hard to explain in casual conversation with strangers. This ancient region casts a spell on wanderers. People think they're just passing through, but they'll probably be back. Some of them will stay forever.

I know this like I know my own name because it happened to me, and then, years later, it happened to my closest family members. I didn’t see any of it coming, even though now it’s as clear as a mountain creek.

Looking toward the Shenandoah Valley
from the crest of the Blue Ridge.
For a dozen years, I've been having this odd and slightly awkward conversation with new acquaintances. Their eyebrows may rise and they might lean a little closer when they hear me say "Seattle." "Did you say Seattle?" they ask. "How did you get here from Seattle?"

Even after 12 years in Floyd, near the crest of the Blue Ridge, my wife and I marvel about this very same thing. How did this happen?

I still stumble through an explanation when meeting new people. Do I give the short version or the longer story about our move from the "Emerald City" to a one-stoplight town in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains? I never seem to know what to say, so I mumble things such as lifestyle, raising our daughters, friends, slowing things down, adventure and cost of living. Often I'm unsatisfied with my explanation. In those brief encounters, words fail to convey the essence of our family's move from the urban Pacific Northwest to rural life in the Blue Ridge.

And yet this Blue Ridge life constantly explains itself in a thousand wordless ways. Like the misty view of Buffalo Mountain I see when I'm walking along Storker's Knob a mile from my brick house on the edge of Floyd. Or watching a high-school football game on a clear autumn night with seemingly the entire town filling the aluminum bleachers. Or driving along any road in any season, drinking in nature and spotting creatures in every direction—wild turkeys, buzzards and hawks; groundhogs and foxes; deer, always deer; and even the occasional black bear and her cubs.

In 2002 the Blue Ridge enchanted us like it has so many others. It took us a year to plan and make the cross-country move from a city and region we still love to the town and mountains that now feel as comfortable as a handmade quilt. Our daughters have grown up here. Our neighbors and community have accepted us, even though we’ll never be from here and will always be come-latelys.

I've come to realize that life in the Blue Ridge is a feeling, and a sense of place and being, that makes explanations elusive.

Now it has also attracted my brother, who is my only sibling, and his wife. They visited us on a few occasions in recent years. They traveled the Appalachian chain, from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Boone, North Carolina. These mountains still called to them long after they had flown back to the West Coast.

My brother and I are only two years apart in age, but we have been separated in distance by a thousand and more miles for the last three decades — until February 2015. That’s when he, my sister-in-law and our 80-something-year-old parents moved to Waynesboro, Virginia — from L.A! Now, I expect, my brother has to answer that same funny question: "How did you get here from there?"

Whatever his answer, here we are, two brothers and other family members reunited in the lush mountains and valleys of Virginia. What a strange coincidence that both my brother and I now live within a 10-minute drive of the Blue Ridge Parkway, his nearest entry point at Milepost 0 on Afton Mountain and mine at Milepost 165 in Tuggles Gap.

On the other hand, it's not strange at all. The Blue Ridge Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding locales are a magnetic force of nature. They pulled us close — not only to them, but to each other.

This unique place of family re-connection defies a simple explanation, whether to strangers or even to myself. And so, much like looking at Buffalo Mountain in the distance, I just shake my head in silent wonder and gratitude.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, nice piece. I was born and raised just outside of Martinsville and graduated from VT. So I went through Floyd frequently. Beautiful country. I'm in NOVA now but still get down that way a few times a year.

Brian Kuehn said...

Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

Josh said...

Great piece. Having relocated to the Blue Ridge Mountains from Connecticut, I can relate...