(Words: 2017, Tweaked: 2020, Photo: 2019) Home is a word pregnant with meaning for me right now. And Homesickness drove me tonight to search a hashtag of a very old childhood haunt, the one most likely to produce results on Instagram. Our second home on Cold Mountain (not the one from the awful book/movie) wouldn't, as it now has a new owner. Schoolhouse Falls was within walking distance (a couple of miles) and was owned by a power company. My parents, ever gracious, asked permission to enter the property. Trespassing was the ultimate violation of our family code. I had free reign of my days on that mountain as young as 9 or 10. I didn't need a map. The boundaries bore their way deep into my heart from hours with my parents exploring our untouched land.
The way to the falls was an old railroad switchback where we would find railroad ties and garnet and quartz crystals. The path from the "road" was hidden, and I had to bend low under the outstretched tangle of rhododendron arms to get to what was then the most secret of falls. I got caught in numerous thunderstorms and hunkered under some poor choice of haven as the mountains rang with cannon-sized echoes and rain saturated my skin to the bone.
I can recall only two times in roughly 30 years that I ran into another soul on the formica dappled shore of the falls. Usually the individual had lost his way from Cashiers, looking bedraggled and pushing his way into the opening through the overgrowth on the opposite bank. It was pure heaven for an introverted kid with a lot of deep thoughts.
But as I scrolled through the hashtag feed, I grew more and more...sad at the loss of the falls. One poster called it "the most well known fall in Panthertown Valley." (He went on to explain that it's pronounced Paintertown, which is a complete misunderstanding of the local people and their rich accent- sounding more like Paynthertown.) People set up camps with hammocks and take selfies and talk about their yoga experiences and add their photos to larger hashtags about how great nature is. The modern world has encroached upon my past, and I am jealous for what once was.
The ache runs deep these days as my children one by one make their way into their own lives. They've never quite known the sense of place I have and long a little to create that for themselves. One thing I've grown to understand more and more is how place only shapes our souls through presence. And while I was usually without another human, Presence was profound there, rising up from the glacial mist and scattered about my feet. Deep, familiar lines from repeated wear etched the way Home into my memory and now give me a map to follow when I've trespassed and profaned the sacred. When I've wandered too far, may I only look down to see the ancient gold dust still clinging to my toes and remember the way back.