Between Heaven and Earth

Today’s post title comes from German artist Anselm Kiefer:

“I grew up in a forest. It’s like a room. It’s protected. Like a cathedral . . . it is a place between heaven and earth.”

It is a fitting description of how today’s Blue Ridge Parkway hikes landed with me.

Day 2 - richland-balsam trail 1

Day 2 - richland-balsam lichen

I started with a short drive from the Grandview Lodge to the Parkway to the Haywood-Jackson overlook for the first of several short hikes (more about this hike below in the Featured Hike segment). I followed that with a quick drive down to the Graveyard Fields overlook, where I enjoyed a quiet, simple lunch and finished reading Max Weber‘s essay, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (I know, I know . . . I’m really fun at parties.) After that, I drove to the Pisgah Forest entrance, stopped off at popular-with-tourists Looking Glass Falls, and then made my way into Brevard for the night.

Day 2 - pisgah - looking glass falls

Day 2 - pisgah - tourists

The rain yesterday and today has been steady, but it has not been torrential. It mostly has had the effect of scaring off less-committed drivers and hikers, essentially leaving the Parkway and its many trails for me to explore on my own. The result: Multiple opportunities for solitude, reflection, and contemplation.

Day 2 - wild berries

I think my favorite contemplative moment today was at the Graveyard Fields overlook, where I turned off the truck, leaned the seat back, and finished Weber’s essay, all to the sound of a gentle, light rain on my roof. When I finished Weber’s essay, I took a short hike down to the lower falls of the Yellowstone Falls series of cascades and listened to the rain-swollen water rush by.

Day 2 - graveyard fields lower falls 2

Day 2 - graveyard fields lower falls 1

* * *

Featured Hike — Richland Balsam Summit at Haywood-Jackson Overlook (MM 431.0)

I set out on this short loop trail hike because I knew that doing so would take me to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway (6,410 feet), but what I found on the way was a much more intimate and personal experience than I anticipated.

Day 2 - richland-balsam peak

As I noted above, there was no one else on the trail. Every 1,000 feet or so, there were short spurs off of the main trail, all of which ended in small chambers formed by tall balsam trees and carpeted with balsam needles.

Day 2 - richland-balsam trail 2

Day 2 - richland-balsam cedar

The smell of balsam alone was worth the hike. But what was most compelling about the hike was the trail guide receptacle at the trail head. Inside the weatherproof container was a laminated trail guide keyed to about 20 or so points along the loop, but in addition, there was a new journal with a pen. Much like the Kindred Spirit mailbox at the end of the world on Bird Island near Sunset Beach earlier this year, the journal appeared to have been placed with the goal of getting hikers to leave their thoughts. Based on the dates in the journal, it had only been there for a few days, but already it was filled with observations, quotes, and personal thoughts. At the end of my hike, I read through all of the entries and then added my own. It felt very good to be connected through writing with other visitors to the Parkway; I hope what I added will register with the next hikers in the same way that what I read (as it turns out, my favorite quote from “The Great Gatsby”; see if you can make it out in the photo below) immediately registered with me.

Day 2 - richland-balsam journal

* * *

Accommodations: Etowah Valley Lodge, Brevard/Hendersonville — This is a golf resort of sorts. Nothing to report, really. Wish the Pisgah Inn had had a vacancy.

Dinner: Marco Trattoria — I led off with a mozarella and risotto arancini, followed by the grilled swordfish special. The swordfish in particular (for which I rolled the dice and opted over local brook trout) was very good.

I also stopped by Brevard Brewing Company beforehand and enjoyed a seasonal Oktoberfest (Marzen), one of my favorite styles. I followed that up with their Dunkel (also one of my favorites) at dinner later that night.

Drive music: “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie (performed by Pete Seeger, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and others — This recording is part of a tribute album released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in the late ’80s to accompany a compilation of original recordings of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Guthrie wrote the song as an answer to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which he did not think represented the America he and most working-class Americans knew. Hard not to think of Guthrie as I strolled through the quiet balsam forest at the peak of the Parkway, or as I wove down Hwy 26 through Pisgah coming off the Parkway. Runner-up: Little Richard‘s joyful and over-the-top rendition of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line.” Try not to smile when you listen to his gospel-infused version.

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