“Desire is full of endless distance.” ~ Robert Hass
The best part of leaving Western North Carolina is returning. After a week sailing in the Caribbean, it was the first glimpse of the soft rolling mountains on the horizon that awakened something in me. When my eyes first gaze the Blue Ridge Mountains, the feeling is always the same – my breathing softens, my eyes smile, and my heart opens wide. I’m home.
It wasn’t always that way. I spent most of my twenties and thirties searching for a place. I thought I’d discover where I belonged if only I looked hard enough. I moved from Maryland to Wisconsin to Australia to Delaware to Chicago to California. And then I spent a decade hopping around California from Monterey to the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and back again. I was always going – sometimes solo, sometimes partnered, sometimes moving for a job, sometimes having nothing lined up, but always looking for a place to call home. By my mid-thirties, the new and novel lost some of its allure, tinged with loneliness. The idea of traveling somewhere to see the sun set in another beautiful place with no one to share it with no longer appealed to me.
After quitting my job to travel, I followed a man to Southern Appalachia. I never intended to stay, but the universe had other plans for me. It turns out that finding a place to call home required me to stick around for longer than a season.
Those melancholy blue ridges are more beautiful because of their distance. Small molecules of oxygen and nitrogen in the air scatter shorter wavelengths of light, coloring the mountains blue. That dreamy atmospheric blue only exists from a distance. Whenever I climb a mountain, chasing a better view, I lose that beautiful haze altogether. Once I get to the place on the horizon, it changes to the up-close and I’m left chasing the next mountains, the ones even further away.
Up close, those mountains aren’t blue at all. At first, the mountains teased and taunted me with a promise that turned to disappointment. I could never arrive at the place, to stand in the hazy blue promise land, far more beautiful than the yellows and greens and browns and greys of up close.
I’ll always be restless and tempted to explore new places. I’m a drifter, a dabbler, eager for the new. The distance tempts me with promises that are always just out of reach. But the Blue Ridge Mountains remind me that there are some things we can’t possess and I can admire that certain beauty that owes itself to the distance, admiring it without ever wanting to get there.
My son, a toddler now, and I spend our time together outside. Whenever I point to the mountains in the distance, he’s more enchanted with a rock, leaf or stone by his foot. He finds contentment in our own yard, most of the time not even caring if we ever leave our driveway. His wonder is contagious, and he’s taught me how to find contentment right where I am. I’m finding my sweet mountain town is more than enough, that there’s wonder in every new bloom. Instead of chasing the far away, these days I’m focused on what’s right in front of me.
I still admire the beauty of the far away, but I try to live life up close, engaging with the world right where I am. Living up close sometimes means turning inward, exploring my own depths and chasing the edges of my imagination and crevices of my soul. The blue-hued mountains always within view have helped me to bridge the distance between myself, becoming my place in the world.